The Port Arthur massacre of 28 April 1996 was a killing spree which claimed the lives of 35 people and wounded 21 others mainly at the historic Port Arthur prison colony, a popular tourist site in south-eastern Tasmania, Australia.Martin Bryant, a 28-year-old from New Town, a suburb of Hobart, eventually pleaded guilty to the crimes and was given 35 life sentences without possibility of parole. He is now interned in the Wilfred Lopes Centre near Risdon Prison. The Port Arthur massacre remains Australia’s deadliest killing spree and one of the deadliest such incidents worldwide in recent times.
Martin Bryant inherited a great deal of money from a family friend, Helen Harvey, who left her estate to him. He used part of this money to go on many trips around the world from 1993 onwards. Bryant also withdrew many thousands of dollars during this period. He used at least some of this money in late 1993 to purchase an AR-10 semi-automatic rifle through a newspaper advertisement in Tasmania. In March 1996, he had his AR-10 repaired at a gun shop and made enquiries about AR-15 rifles in other gun shops. In April 1995, he also purchased cleaning kits for a .30 calibre weapon and 12 gauge shotgun. He purchased a sports bag and told a shop attendant that it would need to be strong enough to carry large amounts of ammunition. He told his girlfriend, Petra Wilmot, a different story about the purpose of the bag. He also hid the weapons and a large amount of ammunition at his house. His girlfriend was initially employed as a gardener by Bryant, and she never saw any weapons or ammunition in the house.
Bryant’s father had tried to purchase a B & B property called Seascape, but David and Noelene Martin bought this property before his father could ready his finances, much to the disappointment of the father who often complained to his son of the “double dealing” the Martins had done to secure the purchase. Bryant offered to buy another property for the Martins at Palmers Lookout Road, but they declined the offer. It is unknown if this was responsible for the father’s depression and subsequent suicide. However, Bryant apparently believed the Martins had deliberately bought the property to hurt his family and blamed the Martins for the depression that led to his father’s death, later describing them as “very mean people” and as “the worse people in my life”(sic).
28 April 1996
The events of this day were pieced together after investigation by police. The facts were then presented in court on 19 November 1996.
Bryant woke up at 6 a.m., when his alarm clock went off. His girlfriend and other family members said he had never been known to use it since he did not work and had no other commitments. At 8 a.m., his girlfriend left the house, inherited from Helen Harvey, to visit her parents. Bryant left the house and engaged the alarm, which registered the time as 9:47 a.m. He left a large amount of ammunition in the hallways of the house.
At around 10:30 a.m., Bryant purchased a cigarette lighter from Midway Point News Agency, paying with a large note without waiting for his change. Initially he entered the shop without money to clarify that the shop did sell lighters, and upon hearing that they did, went back to his car to retrieve the money. He then travelled to Sorell Supermarket and purchased a bottle of tomato sauce, which he paid for with coins (between 20 cents and $2). He then travelled to Forcett Village, arriving sometime around 11 a.m. He stopped at the Shell service station and bought a cup of coffee. He told the attendant he was going surfing at Roaring Beach, but the attendant noted it was a very calm day. He drove past Eaglehawk Neck area and stopped at the service station “Convict Bakery” to purchase $15 worth of petrol. The attendant saw Bryant staring at the bay and its calm water. Bryant had a surf board on the roof rack of his yellow Volvo and the attendant also noted that the surfing conditions that day were poor.
He continued down to Port Arthur and was seen driving into Seascape down the Arthur Highway around 11:45. He stopped at the Seascape guest accommodation site that his father had wanted to purchase, owned by David and Noelene Martin. Bryant went inside and fired several shots, then gagged David Martin and stabbed him. Witnesses testified to different numbers of shots fired at this time. It was claimed in court that it was believed that this was the time that Bryant killed the Martins.
A couple stopped at Seascape and Bryant appeared outside. They asked if they could have a look at the accommodation. Bryant told them that they could not because his parents were away and his girlfriend was inside. His demeanour was described as quite rude and the couple felt uncomfortable. They left at about 12:35 p.m. Bryant’s car was seen reversed up to the front door. It is assumed he unloaded ammunition
Bryant drove to Port Arthur, taking the keys to the Seascape properties after locking the doors. Bryant stopped at a car which had pulled over from overheating and talked with two people there. He suggested that they come to the Port Arthur cafe for some coffee later.
He travelled past the Port Arthur historic site toward a Palmer’s Lookout Road property owned by the Martins, where he came across Roger Larner driving out of his driveway. Larner had met him on some occasions over 15 years ago but did not initially recognise him. Bryant told Larner he had been surfing and had bought a property called Fogg Lodge and was now looking to buy some cattle from Larner. Bryant also made several comments about buying the Martins’ place next door. He asked if Marian Larner was home, and asked if he could continue down the driveway of the farm to see her. Larner said OK, but told Bryant he would come also. Bryant changed his mind and left, claiming he was going to return in the afternoon.
Port Arthur Historic Site
At around 1:10 p.m., Bryant got in line behind other cars at the toll booth at the entrance to the historic site. Upon getting close to the toll booth, he left the line and moved to the back again. Eventually getting to the front of the line, he claimed someone almost reversed into him. He paid the entry fee and proceeded to park near the Broad Arrow Cafe, near the water’s edge. The site security manager told him to park with the other cars because that area was reserved for camper-vans and the car park was very busy that day. Bryant moved his car to another area and sat in his car for a few minutes. He then moved his car back near the water, outside the cafe. The security manager saw him go up to the cafe carrying a large bag and a video camera, but ignored him.
Bryant went into the cafe and purchased a meal, which he ate on the deck outside. People held the door open for him and commented on the large amount of food he had. He replied that he was hungry from surfing. Bryant started conversations with several people about European wasps in the area and the lack of Japanese tourists, but seemed to be mainly mumbling to himself. He appeared nervous and continually looked back to the car-park and into the cafe.
Broad Arrow Cafe murders
Bryant finished his meal, walked into the cafe and returned his tray, assisted by some people who opened the door for him. He put down his bag on a table and pulled out an AR-15 rifle with one 30-round magazine attached. He left the bag which contained, among other things, the knife with which he had stabbed Martin, on the table. It is believed the magazine was partially emptied from the previous rounds fired at Seascape.
The cafe was very small with the tables very close together. The cafe was particularly busy that day as people waited for the next ferry. The events happened extremely quickly. Bryant took aim from his hip and pointed his rifle at Moh Yee (William) Ng and Sou Leng Chung, who were visiting from Malaysia, who were at a table beside Bryant. He shot them at close range, killing both instantly. Bryant lifted the rifle to his shoulder and fired a shot at Mick Sargent, grazing his scalp and knocking him to the floor. He fired a fourth shot, a fatal one that hit Sargent’s girlfriend, 21-year-old Kate Elizabeth Scott, in the back of the head
A 28-year-old New Zealand winemaker, Jason Winter, had been helping the staff at the busy cafe. As Bryant turned towards Winter’s wife, Joanne, and their 15-month-old son, Mitchell, Winter threw a serving tray at Bryant in an attempt to distract him. Joanne Winter’s father pushed his daughter and grandson to the floor and under the table.
Anthony Nightingale stood up after the sound of the first shots, but had no time to move. Nightingale yelled “No, not here!” as Bryant pointed the weapon at him. As Nightingale leaned forward, he was fatally shot through the neck and spin
The next table had held a group of ten friends, but some had just left the table to return their meal trays and visit the gift shop. Bryant fired one shot that hit Kevin Vincent Sharp, 68, killing him. The second hit Walter Bennett, passed through his body and struck Raymond John Sharp, 67, Kevin Sharp’s brother, killing both.The three had their backs towards Bryant, and were unaware what was happening. One of them even made the comment “That’s not funny” after hearing the first few shots, not realising it was a real gun. The shots were all close range, with the gun at, or just inches away from, the back of their heads. Gerald Broome, Gaye Fidler and her husband John were all struck by bullet fragments, but survived.
Bryant then turned towards Tony and Sarah Kistan and Andrew Mills.Both men stood up at the noise of the initial shots but had no time to move away. Andrew Mills was shot in the head. Tony Kistan was also shot from about 2 metres away, also in the head, but had managed to push his wife away prior to being shot. Sarah Mills was apparently not seen by Bryant, as she was under the table by that time.
Thelma Walker and Pamelia Law were injured by shrapnel before being dragged to the ground by their friend, Peter Crosswell, as the three sheltered underneath the table. Also injured by fragments from these shots was Patricia Barker.
It was only then that the majority of the people in the cafe began to realise what was happening and that the shots were not some sort of noise from a re-enactment at the historical site. At this point there was great confusion, with many people not knowing what to do, as Bryant was near the main exit.
Bryant moved just a few metres and began shooting at another table, where Graham Colyer, Carolyn Loughton and her daughter Sarah were seated. Colyer was injured in the jaw, causing him to nearly choke to death on his own blood. Sarah Loughton ran towards her mother who had been moving between tables. Carolyn Loughton threw herself on top of her daughter. Bryant shot Carolyn Loughton in the back, her eardrum ruptured by the sonic boom from the gun going off beside her ear.Carolyn Loughton survived her injuries, although her daughter was shot in the head. The elder Loughton did not discover until she came out of surgery that despite her efforts, Sarah was fatally injured.
Bryant pivoted around and fatally shot Mervyn Howard, a football administrator, who was still seated. The bullet travelled through him, through a window of the cafe, and hit a table on the outside balcony. Bryant quickly followed up with a shot to the neck of Mervyn Howard’s wife, Elizabeth.Bryant then leaned over a vacant baby stroller and pointed the gun at her head and shot her a second time.Both of the Howards’ injuries were fatal.Several people outside then realised there was real danger and began to run away.
Bryant was near the exit, preventing others from attempting to run past him and escape. Bryant moved across the cafe towards the gift shop area. There was an exit door through the display area to the outside balcony, but it was locked and could only be opened with a key. As Bryant moved along, Robert Elliott stood up, perhaps hoping to distract Bryant. He was shot in the arm and head, left slumping against the fireplace but alive.
All of these events, from the first bullet that killed Ng, took approximately 15 seconds, during which 12 people were dead and 10 more were wounded.
Gift shop murders
Bryant moved toward the gift shop area, giving many people time to hide under tables and behind shop displays. He shot the two local women who worked in the gift shop, Nicole Burgess, 17, and Elizabeth Howard, 26.Burgess was shot in the head and Howard in the arm and chest.Both succumbed to their injuries.
Coralee Lever and Vera Jary hid behind a hessian screen with others. Lever’s husband, Dennis, was shot in the head and died. Pauline Masters, Vera Jary’s husband Ron, and Peter and Carolyn Nash had attempted to escape through a locked door but could not.Peter Nash lay down on top of his wife to hide her from Bryant.Bryant moved into the gift shop area where people, trapped with nowhere to go, were crouched down in the corners.Gwen Neander, trying to escape through the door, was shot in the head and killed.
Bryant saw movement in the café and moved near the front door. He shot at a table and hit Peter Crosswell, who was hiding under it, in the buttock.Jason Winter, hiding in the gift shop, thought Bryant had left the building and made some comment about it to people near him before moving out into the open. Bryant saw him, with Winter stating “No, no” just prior to being shot, the bullet hitting his hand, neck and chest. A second shot to the head proved fatal to Winter.Fragments from those shots struck American tourist Dennis Olson who had been hiding with his wife, Mary, and Winter Dennis Olson suffered shrapnel injuries to his hand, scalp, eye and chest, but survived the injuries.
It is not clear what happened next, although at some point, Bryant reloaded his weapon. Bryant walked back to the cafe and then returned to the gift shop, this time looking down to another corner of the shop where he found several people hiding in the corner, trapped. He walked up to them and shot Ronald Jary through the neck, killing him. He then shot Peter Nash and Pauline Masters, killing both of them. He did not see Carolyn Nash who was lying under her husband.Bryant aimed his gun at an unidentified Asian man, but the rifle’s magazine was empty.Bryant then quickly moved to the gift shop counter where he reloaded his rifle, leaving an empty magazine on the service counter and left the building.
29 rounds were fired in the cafe and gift shop areas in approximately 90–120 seconds. In that time, Bryant killed 20 people.
Car park murders
During the cafe shooting, some staff members had been able to escape through the kitchen and alert people outside. There were a number of coaches outside with lines of people, many of whom began to hide in the buses or in nearby buildings. Others did not understand the situation or were not sure where to go. Some people believed there was some sort of historical re-enactment happening, and moved towards the area.
Ashley John Law, a site employee, was moving people away from the café into the information centre when Bryant fired at him from 50–100 metres away. The bullets missed Law and hit some trees nearby.
Bryant then moved down towards the coaches. One of the coach drivers, Royce Thompson, was shot in the back as he was moving along the passengers’ side of a coach.He fell to the ground and was able to crawl, then roll under the bus to safety, but he later died of his wounds.Brigid Cook was trying to guide a number of people down between the buses and along the jetty area to cover. She had only been informed of what was happening and was worried that she was making a fool of herself in over-reacting, although her actions no doubt saved many lives. Bryant then moved to the front of this bus and walked across to the next coach. People had quickly moved from this coach towards the back end, in an attempt to seek cover. As Bryant walked around it he saw people scrambling to hide and shot at them. Brigid Cook was shot in the right thigh, causing the bone to fragment, the bullet lodging there.A coach driver, Ian McElwee, was hit by fragments of Miss Cook’s bone. Both were able to escape and survived.
Bryant then quickly moved around another coach and fired at another group of people. Winifred Aplin, running to get to cover behind another coach, was fatally shot in the side.Another bullet grazed Yvonne Lockley’s cheek, but she was able to enter one of the coaches to hide, and survived
Some people then started moving away from the car park towards the jetty. But someone shouted that Bryant was moving that way, so they tried to double back around the coaches to where Brigid Cook was previously shot. Bryant doubled back to where Janet and Neville Quin, who owned a wildlife park on the east coast of Tasmania, were beginning to move toward Mason Cove and away from the buses. Bryant shot Janet Quin in the back, where she fell, unable to move, near Royce Thompson
Bryant then continued along the car park as people tried to escape along the shore. Doug Hutchinson was attempting to get into a coach when he was shot in the arm.He quickly changed directions, ran around the front of the coach, and then along the shore to the jetty and hid.
Bryant then went to his vehicle, which was just past the coaches, and changed weapons to the FN FAL. He fired at Denise Cromer, who was near the penitentiary ruins. Gravel flew up in front of her, as the bullets hit the ground. Bryant then got in his car and sat there for a few moments before getting out again and moving back to the coaches. Some people were taking cover behind cars in the car park, and because of the elevation, Bryant could see them and the cars did not provide much cover. When they realised Bryant had seen them, they ran into the bush. He fired several shots, at least one hit a tree behind which someone was taking cover, but no-one was hit.
Bryant moved back to the buses where Janet Quin laid injured from the earlier shot. Bryant shot her in the back, then left; she later died from her wounds. Bryant then went onto one of the coaches and fired a shot at Elva Gaylard who was on the bus hiding, hitting her in the arm and chest, killing her.At an adjacent coach, Gordon Francis saw what happened and moved down the aisle to try and shut the door of the coach he was on.He was seen by Bryant and shot from the opposite coach. He survived but needed four major operations.
Neville Quin, husband of Janette, had escaped to the jetty area, but had come back to look for his wife. He had been forced to leave her earlier after Bryant had shot her. Bryant exited the coach and noticing Quin, chased Quin around the coaches as he tried to escape. Bryant fired at him at least twice before Quin ran onto a coach, in the hope of escaping Bryant. Bryant entered the coach and pointed the gun at Neville Quin’s face, saying, “No one gets away from me”. Mr Quin ducked when he realised Bryant was about to pull the trigger. The bullet missed his head but hit his neck, momentarily paralysing him.After Bryant had left, Quin managed to find his wife, although she later died in his arms.Neville Quin was eventually taken away by helicopter and survived.
As Bryant left the coach, James Balasko, an American citizen, tried to catch Bryant on his video camera. He was successful but Bryant saw him and fired at him, hitting a nearby car. By now many people, unable to use their parked cars, were hiding or running along Jetty Road or the jetty itself. Most people did not know where Bryant was because the gunfire was extremely loud and difficult to pinpoint. It was not clear that Bryant was mobile, nor was it even clear from which direction the shots were coming.
Toll booth murders and car jacking
Bryant then got back into his car and proceeded to leave the car park. Witnesses say he was sounding the horn and waving, others say he was also firing. Bryant drove along Jetty Road towards the toll booth where a number of people were running away. Bryant passed by at least two people. Ahead of him were Nanette Mikac (Née Moulton) and her two young children, Madeline, 3, and Alannah, 6 years old.Nanette was carrying Madeline and Alannah was running slightly ahead. By now they had run approximately 600 metres from the car park. Nanette told Alannah, “We’re safe now, pumpkin.”Bryant opened his door and slowed down. Mikac moved towards the car, apparently thinking he was offering them help in escaping. Several more people witnessed this from further down the road. Someone then recognised him as the gunman and yelled out “It’s him!”. Bryant stepped out of the car, put his hand on Nanette Mikac’s shoulder and told her to get on her knees.She did so, saying, “Please don’t hurt my babies”
Bryant shot her in the temple, killing her, before firing a shot at Madeleine, which hit her in the shoulder, before shooting her fatally through the chest. Bryant shot twice at Alannah, as she ran behind the tree, missing. He then walked up, pressed the barrel of the gun into her neck and fired, killing her instantly. Bryant fired one or two more rounds at some people hiding in a bush, but he missed. Having seen the murders of the children, some people further up the road began running. They told drivers of cars coming down the road to go back. The people thought Bryant would head up the road, so instead they proceeded on foot down a dirt side road and hid in the bush. The cars reversed up the road to the toll booth, and drivers stopped to ask the staff member what was happening. It appeared no one at the toll booth area knew what was happening.
Bryant drove up to the toll booth where there were several vehicles and blocked a BMW. The car was owned by Mary Rose Nixon.The car, driven by Russell James Pollard, was also occupied by Helene and Robert Graham Salzmann.An argument with Robert Salzmann ensued, and Bryant took out the FAL and shot Salzmann at point blank range, killing him. Pollard emerged from the BMW and went towards Bryant, who shot him in the chest, killing him.More cars then arrived, seeing this, but were quickly able to reverse back up the road. Bryant then moved to the BMW and pulled Nixon and Helene Salzmann from the car and shot them dead, dragging their bodies onto the road. Bryant transferred ammunition, handcuffs, the AR-15 rifle and a fuel container to the BMW. Mary Nixon, Russell Pollard, and Helene Salzmann, as well as Graham Salzmann, are the people Bryant was charged with killing at the toll booth.
Another car then came towards the toll booth and Bryant shot at it.The driver, Graham Sutherland, was hit with glass. A second bullet hit the driver’s door. The car quickly reversed back up the road and left. Bryant then got into the BMW having left behind a number of items in his Volvo, including a shotgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
Service station murder and abduction
Graham Sutherland, who just had been shot at in his car, reversed back up the road and drove to the service station close by, where he tried to inform people what was happening. Bryant drove up to the service station and cut off a white Toyota Corolla that was attempting to exit onto the highway. Glenn Pears was driving the car with girlfriend Zoe Hall in the passenger seat. Bryant quickly exited the car with his rifle in hand and tried to pull Hall from the car. Pears got out of the car and approached Bryant. Bryant pointed the gun at Pears and pushed him backwards, eventually directing him into the now open boot of the BMW, locking Pears inside.
Bryant then moved back to the passenger side of the Corolla as Hall attempted to climb over to the driver’s seat.Bryant raised his rifle and fired three shots, killing her.Many people around the service station saw this and ran to hide in nearby bushland. The service station attendant told everyone to lie down and he locked the main doors. He grabbed his rifle, but by the time he could retrieve some ammunition and load his gun, Bryant was back in his car and gone. A police officer arrived several minutes later and then went in the direction of Bryant.
As Bryant drove down to Seascape he shot at a red Falcon coming the other way, smashing its front windscreen. Upon arriving at Seascape, he got out of his car. A Frontera 4WD vehicle then approached Seascape along the road. They saw Bryant with his gun but believed him to be rabbit hunting and actually slowed down as they passed him. Bryant fired into the car, the first bullet hit the bonnet and broke the throttle cable.He fired at least two more bullets into the car as it passed, breaking the windows. One bullet hit the driver, Linda White, in the arm. The car was going downhill so it was able to roll down the road out of sight around a corner. White swapped seats with her boyfriend, Michael Wanders, who attempted to drive the car but was unable to, because of the broken throttle cable.
Another vehicle then drove down the road, carrying four people. It was not until they were almost adjacent to Bryant that they realised he was carrying a gun. Bryant shot at the car, smashing the windscreen. Douglas Horner was wounded by shrapnel from the shattered windscreen. The car proceeded ahead where White and Wanders tried to get in, but Horner did not realise the situation and drove on. When they saw that White had been shot, they came back and picked them up. Both parties then continued down to a local establishment called the Fox and Hound, where they called police.
Yet another car drove past and Bryant shot at it, hitting the passenger, Susan Williams, in the hand.The driver, Simon Williams, was struck by shrapnel.Another approaching vehicle saw this and reversed back up the road. Bryant also fired at this car hitting it but not injuring anyone. Bryant then got back into the BMW and drove down the Seascape driveway to the house.
Sometime after he stopped, Bryant removed Pears from the boot and handcuffed him to a stair rail within the house.At some point he also set the BMW on fire with fuel. He is believed to have arrived at the house by about 2 p.m.
At 1:30 p.m. the only two police officers in the area had received a radio message to attend Port Arthur and be on the look out for a yellow Volvo. They headed to Port Arthur in different cars, going different routes. On the way they were informed to look for the BMW and eventually they were informed of people at the Fox and Hound who had been shot.
One police officer then drove down the road past Seascape and past the disabled car of Mrs White. He looked at it for a moment and continued down to the Fox and Hound. He informed his partner about events and they then proceeded back to Seascape. At about 2 p.m. they were back at Seascape and could see the BMW on fire. At some point they were fired upon, and eventually had to hide in a ditch at the side of the road. Bryant fired at them whenever they tried to escape, and they were not able to move from that position for many hours.
At around 2:10 p.m. Bryant received a call from a woman from the ABC network, she had been ringing local businesses randomly trying to receive information about what was occurring, and Bryant answered the Seascape phone. Bryant informed her his name was Jamie and when she asked what was happening he replied “Lots of fun”. Bryant then informed her that if she phoned him again, he would shoot Mr Pears.
At about 3 p.m., shortly after forcing the police officers to take cover in the ditch, Bryant rang the local police station where the girlfriend of one of the police officers answered the phone. Bryant asked who she was and if she knew where her husband was. He also called himself Jamie. He asked if she knew or not if her husband was okay, and when she didn’t answer, Bryant then told her he was okay and that he knew where her husband was.
Around 9 p.m. a team from the Special Operations Group of the Tasmania Police had arrived and were eventually able to assist in removing the policemen from the ditch to safety by using the cover of darkness, riot shields and bullet proof jackets. They did not provide cover fire for fear of hitting hostages. An 18-hour standoff ensued during which time the police talked over the phone to Bryant who called himself ‘Jamie’. He made a request for a helicopter, saying that he wanted to be flown to a plane and then onto Adelaide in South Australia. He said that if the helicopter arrived he would release one hostage, Mr Pears, and only keep Mrs Martin. Bryant could see the movement of SOG officers and continually demanded their retreat each time they began an approach to the house. Police believed he had some kind of visual aid device, as he appeared to maintain excellent awareness of the events unfurling around him despite the pitch black of night, however none was ever found. A man was spotted on the roof of an adjacent building at one point, believed to be Bryant. Later in the night, the cordless phone Bryant was using began to run low on batteries. Police tried unsuccessfully to get him to return the phone to the charger, but it went dead and no further communications were established.
The following is a list of those killed in the Port Arthur massacre
Capture and prosecution
Bryant was captured the following morning when he presumably started a fire in the guest house. Bryant taunted police to ‘come and get him’, but the police, believing the hostage was already dead, decided that the fire would eventually bring him out. A large amount of ammunition had also ignited and was exploding sporadically as the house burned. He eventually ran out of the house with his clothes on fire and quickly removed his burning clothes. He was arrested by the police, and taken to hospital for treatment.
It was found that Mr Pears had been shot dead during or before the standoff and had died before the fire. The remains of the Martins were also found. It was also determined they had been shot, and in the case of Mrs Martin suffered blunt force trauma. They both died before the fire and witness accounts, as presented to the Supreme Court of Tasmania, of the gunfire place the time of death of David and Noelene Martin as being approximately noon on 28 April. One weapon was found burnt in the house, and the other on the roof of the adjacent building where police believed they had seen Bryant the night before. Both weapons had suffered from massive chamber blast pressure, possibly from the heat of the house fire. In his police interview Bryant admitted to having car jacked the BMW, but claimed it only had three occupants and denied shooting any person. He also claimed he did not take the BMW from the vicinity of the toll booth and that his hostage was taken from the BMW. He said that he thought the man he took hostage must have died in the boot when the car exploded. He did not distinguish between the car fire and the later house fire. He also denied visiting Port Arthur on that day, despite identification by several people including the toll attendant. Such discrepancies indicate that Bryant was either lying during the police interview, or was mentally incapable of recalling events accurately. Bryant also claimed that the guns found by police were not his, but admitted to owning the shotgun that was found with his passport back in his own car near the toll booth.
Initially Bryant pleaded not guilty to the 35 murders, laughing hysterically as the judge read out the charges against him. He later changed his plea to guilty after being sent back to solitary confinement. Bryant did not provide a confession. He was found guilty of all charges and is now serving 35 sentences of life imprisonment (for the 35 murders) plus 1,035 years in Hobart’s Risdon Prison (as cumulative penalty for various charges including attempted murder and grievous bodily harm for shooting at, and injuring, numerous people). His prison papers indicate that he is never to be released. He continues to serve his term without possibility of parole. This is very rare in Australia, where the majority of murder sentences allow for the possibility of parole after a long prison term. Martin Bryant remains Australia’s worst killing spree murderer and the incident is one of the worst cases worldwide of a mass killing spree in modern times.
Australians reacted to the event with widespread shock and horror, and the political effects were significant and long-lasting. Both federal and state governments, some of which (notably Tasmania itself and Queensland) were opposed to firearm control, quickly took action to restrict the availability of firearms. It should be noted that the Tasmanian state government initially attempted to ignore this directive, but was subsequently threatened with a number of penalties from the federal government. Though this resulted in stirring controversy, most Government opposition to the new laws was silenced by mounting public opinion in the wake of the shootings. Under federal government co-ordination all states and territories of Australia banned and heavily restricted the legal ownership and use of self-loading rifles, self-loading and pump-action shotguns, together with considerable tightening of other gun laws. Family members of victims, notably Walter Mikac (who lost his wife and two children), spoke out in favour of the changes. See gun politics in Australia for more information.
Much discussion has occurred as to the level of Bryant’s mental health. It is generally accepted that he has a subnormal IQ (estimated at 66, and in the lowest 2% of his age group) and at the time of the offences was in receipt of a Disability Support Pension on the basis of being mentally handicapped. Despite reports to the contrary, Bryant had never been diagnosed with schizophrenia, nor any major depressive disorder. Reports that he was schizophrenic were based on his mother’s misinterpretation of psychiatric advice. Media reports also detailed his odd behaviour as a child. However, he was able to drive a car and obtain a gun, despite lacking a gun licence. This was a matter which, in the public debate that followed, was widely regarded as a telling demonstration of the inadequacy of the nation’s gun laws.
Bryant was assessed as fit to stand trial as a mentally competent adult. There were no indications that he could be regarded as criminally insane at the time of the offences; as he clearly knew what he was doing. See the M’Naghten Rules for more information.
After Bryant’s imprisonment, several other prisoners boasted of their intention to murder him in jail. For his own safety, Bryant was held in near-solitary confinement in a specially built cell from his sentencing in November 1996 until July 1997.
His motivation for the massacre remains a closely guarded secret,known only to his lawyer, who is bound not to reveal confidences without his client’s consent. The lawyer later released a book outlining that Bryant was motivated largely by the media surrounding the then recent Dunblane massacre. From the moment he was captured he continually wanted to know how many people he had killed and seemed impressed by the number. Bryant is only allowed to listen to music on a radio outside his cell, and is denied access to any news reports of his massacre. Photographers allowed in to take pictures of him in his prison cell were forced to destroy the film in his presence when the Governor found out.
Aftermath and analysis
The Port Arthur tourist site reopened a few weeks later, and since then a new restaurant has been built. The former Broad Arrow Cafe has been converted into a “place for quiet reflection”, and the surrounding grounds converted into a memorial garden. The staff of Port Arthur do not like to talk about the event and prefer to concentrate on the site’s rich cultural history.
The massacre at Port Arthur created a kinship with the Scottish town of Dunblane, which had suffered a similar event, the Dunblane massacre, only weeks previously. The two communities exchanged items to place at their respective memorials.
Professor Paul Mullen, a forensic psychiatrist with extensive involvement following the string of massacres in Australia and New Zealand, attributes both the Port Arthur Massacre and some of the earlier massacres to the copycat effect. In this theory the saturation media coverage provides both instruction and perverse incentives for dysfunctional individuals to imitate previous crimes. In Tasmania, a coroner found that a report on the current affairs programme A Current Affair, a few months earlier had guided one suicide, and may have helped create the expectation of a massacre. The coverage of the Dunblane massacre, in particular the attention on the perpetrator, is thought to have provided the trigger for Bryant to act.
A substantial community fund was given for the victims of the Port Arthur massacre. The murder of Nanette Mikac and her daughters Alannah and Madeline inspired Dr Phil West of Melbourne, who had two girls similar in age to the murdered children, to set up a Foundation in their memory. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation (www.amf.org.au) supports child victims of violence and runs a national anti-bullying program. It was launched by the Prime Minister on the first anniversary of the massacre.
In 2007, Tasmanian playwright Tom Holloway dealt with the massacre in his play Beyond the Neck. Tasmanian composer Matthew Dewey also deals with these issues in his first symphony
At least two variants of a conspiracy theory about the massacre have been promoted. As there was no dispute that Bryant was responsible for the Seascape murders, police made little effort to identify him for Port Arthur. Of the few witnesses contacted by police, only two positively identified Bryant as the gunman at Port Arthur, both having first identified him on May 27, after the media had published his photograph naming him as the culprit. In their police statements, three witnesses, two of whom knew Bryant by sight, stated that they “did not recognise” the gunman as Bryant and a worker in the café later stated she had changed her mind because the gunman did not resemble the photographs published by the media. The conspiracy theories can be largely traced to this lack of identification.
Interviewed in 2006, Tony Rundle, who was premier of Tasmania at the time, admitted that because there was no trial the evidence made public was possibly insufficient to support that Bryant had been the gunman: At the time, the view was that a trial could do no good for the victims and their families. Now I think maybe that wasn’t the case. If all the evidence was heard, then maybe it would have provided some closure and stopped the proliferation of conspiracy theories that sprang up over the years.