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Martin John BRYANT






"The Port Arthur Massacre"
Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Revenge
Number of victims: 35
Date of murders: April 28, 1996
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: May 7, 1967
Victims profile: Winifred Joyce Aplin (58) / Walter John Bennett (66) / Nicole Louise Burgess (17) / Sou Leng Chung (32) / Elva Rhonda Gaylard (48) / Zoe Anne Hall (28) / Elizabeth Jayne Howard (26) / Mary Elizabeth Howard (57) / Mervyn John Howard (55) / Ronald Noel Jary (71) / Tony Vadivelu Kistan (51) / Leslie Dennis Lever (53) / Sarah Kate Loughton (15) / David Martin (72) / Noelene Joyce Martin (69) / Pauline Virjeana Masters (49) / Alannah Louise Mikac (6) / Madeline Grace Mikac (3) / Nanette Patricia Mikac (36) / Andrew Bruce Mills (49) / Peter Brenton Nash (32) / Gwenda Joan Neander (67) / Moh Yee Willing Ng (48) / Anthony Nightingale (44) / Mary Rose Nixon (60) / Glen Roy Pears (35) / Russell James Pollard (72) / Janette Kathleen Quin (50) / Helene Maria Salzmann (50) / Robert Graham Salzmann (58) / Kate Elizabeth Scott (21) / Kevin Vincent Sharp (68) / Raymond John Sharp (67) / Royce William Thompson (59) / Jason Bernard Winter (29)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia
Status: Sentenced to 35 life sentences without possibility of parole on November 22, 1996
photo gallery 1 photo gallery 2

Supreme Court

The Queen v. Martin Bryant

Carl Wernerhoff

what's going on?: a critical study of the port arthur massacre

Martin John Bryant (born May 7, 1967) murdered 35 people and injured 37 others in the Port Arthur massacre, a killing spree in Tasmania in 1996. He is currently serving 35 life sentences in Hobart's Risdon Prison.


Martin Bryant is the elder of two children of Maurice and Carleen Bryant. Bryant was regarded as unusual in his childhood and in the early years of his schooling was diagnosed as having an IQ of 66 (which is considered to indicate mental disability) and put into special education classes.

He was described by teachers as unusually detached from reality and as either unemotional or as expressing inappropriate emotions. He was apparently a disruptive and sometimes violent child, and was severely bullied by other children.

Bryant was referred for psychiatric treatment several times during his childhood. In 1984, a psychological evaluation by Dr Eric Cunningham Dax described him as mentally retarded and stated that he had a personality disorder.


Descriptions of Bryant's behaviour as a young man show that he continued to be disturbed. When his father, who had taken early retirement to care for him, died in an apparent suicide, ambulance officers described Bryant as quite excited by the search and unconcerned about the death.

Bryant was eligible for a disability pension due to his low IQ and lived on a pension for some years. He took on odd jobs as a handyman and gardener. One of these odd jobs led to him meeting Helen Harvey, heiress to a share in the Tattersall's Lottery fortune.

Harvey befriended Bryant, inviting him to live with her. She was reported to spend large amounts of money on him. Harvey and Bryant moved together to Copping, where they lived until her death in a traffic accident.

Bryant was named the sole beneficiary of Harvey's will and came into possession of a mansion in Hobart and other assets totalling more than half a million dollars.

In 1993 his mother applied for and was granted a guardianship order placing Bryant's assets under the management of trustees. The order was based on evidence of Bryant's diminished intellectual capacity.

Bryant travelled extensively both in Australia and internationally during this period, apparently seeking social contact with other travellers, but was frustrated at people's negative reactions to him.

Port Arthur Massacre and aftermath

Bryant has provided conflicting and confused accounts of what led him to kill 35 people at the Port Arthur site on 28 April 1996. It appears his desire for attention (he allegedly told a next door neighbour "I'll do something that will make everyone remember me"), as well as mounting frustration at his social isolation, had made him unbearably angry.

The possible trigger for the massacre, according to a psychiatric report cited by News Limited, was being prevented from selling home-made trinkets outside the Broad Arrow Cafe, when he was 9 years old.

His first victims, David and Sally Martin, who owned a guest house in the area, had apparently angered him by buying a guest house he wanted to buy. He shot them in the guest house before traveling to the Port Arthur ruins and opening fire on visitors.

After he killed most of his victims at the site itself and the remainder during his escape, he returned to the guest house where police, unaware that the Martins were already dead, assumed that he had them as hostages and besieged the guest house.

One potential victim was spared because when Bryant pointed the gun at him, their eyes met and Bryant immediately recognised him as someone he'd been acquainted with before and seemingly decided to let him live before moving on to continue the killings.

After 18 hours, Bryant set fire to the guest house and attempted to escape in the confusion. He suffered burns to one side of his body, was captured and taken to Royal Hobart Hospital where he was treated for the burns and kept under heavy guard.

As a response to the spree killing, the Howard government banned semi-automatic center-fire rifles, high-capacity repeating shotguns and high-capacity rifle magazines. In addition to this, heavy limitations were also put into place on low-capacity repeating shotguns and rim-fire semi-automatic rifles.

The Tasmanian state government attempted to ignore this directive but was 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 media opinion and mounting public opinion in the wake of the shootings.

Trial and imprisonment

Despite his mental dysfunction, Bryant was judged as fit to stand trial and a trial was scheduled to begin 7 November 1996, but Bryant, persuaded by his court-appointed lawyer, pleaded guilty to murder.

Two weeks later, Hobart Supreme Court Judge William Cox gave Bryant 35 life sentences and recommended that he should remain in prison until he dies.

He has attempted suicide 6 times while being imprisoned. For the first eight months of his imprisonment, he was held in a purpose-built special suicide prevention cell, in almost complete solitary confinement. He remained in protective custody for his own safety, until he recently moved detention centres, a decade after his conviction. Recent reports from visitors have described Bryant as an 'overweight, shambolic wreck'.

On Monday 13 November 2006, Bryant was moved into Hobart's Wilfred Lopes Centre, a secure mental health unit run by the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services. The 35-bed unit for inmates with serious mental illness is staffed inside with doctors, nurses and other support workers. Inmates are not locked down and can come and go from their cells. Exterior security at the facility is provided by a three-wall perimeter patrolled by private contract guards.

Media coverage

Newspaper coverage immediately after the massacre raised serious questions about journalistic practices. Photographs of Martin Bryant had been digitally manipulated with the effect of making Bryant appear deranged. There were also questions as to how the photographs had been obtained.

The Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutors warned the media that the reporting compromised a fair trial and writs were issued against the Hobart Mercury (which used Bryant’s picture under the headline “This is the man”), The Australian, The Age and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over their coverage.

The Australian Press Council chairman, David Flint, argued that because Australian newspapers regularly ignored contempt-of-court provisions, this showed that the law, not the newspapers, needed change. Flint suggested that such a change in the law would not necessarily lead to trial by media.


The Port Arthur massacre of 28 April 1996 was a killing spree which claimed the lives of 35 people and wounded 37 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, 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.

Resulting in the deaths of 35 people, the Port Arthur massacre remains Australia's worst incident of a mass killing spree and is among one of the worst such incidents worldwide in recent times.


Martin Bryant inherited a great deal of money from a deceased 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.

He is known to have visited Singapore, Bangkok, London, Sweden, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Sydney, Tokyo, Poland, and Auckland; some of these locations more than once, and the United Kingdom many times. Bryant also travelled all over Australia, making a vast number of interstate trips.

On several occasions he made last-minute flight changes to destinations unknown. Eventually his estate manager was forced to restrict his funds and Bryant stopped travelling frequently.

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. He made enquiries about AR-15 rifles in other gun shops. He later purchased an AR-15 from Terry Hill, a local gun shop owner.

In April 1996, 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, measured out with a tape measure.

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 property called Seascape, but David and Noelene Martin bought this property before his father was able to ready his finances, much to the disappointment of the father.

It is unknown if this was responsible for the father's depression and subsequent suicide. Bryant offered to buy another property owned by Mr and Mrs Martin at Palmers Lookout Road, but they declined the offer.

28th 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.

Morning events

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 (which was also inherited from Miss 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 gold and silver denomination 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 which he paid for with five and ten cent coins. He told the attendant he was going surfing at Roaring Beach, but the attendant had already noticed it was a very calm day.

He then drove past Eaglehawk Neck area and stopped at the service station "Convict Bakery" and purchased fifteen dollars 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 noted that the surfing conditions that day were poor.

He then continued down to Port Arthur and stopped at the Seascape guest accommodation site, which was owned by David and Sally Martin. Bryant was seen driving into Seascape down the Arthur Highway around 11:45.

Bryant went inside and fired several shots, then gagged Mr 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 Mr. and Mrs. Martin.

A couple then arrived at Seascape and Bryant appeared outside. They asked if they could have a look at the accommodation. Bryant told them that they couldn't because his parents were away and his girlfriend was inside. His demeanour was 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 then drove to Port Arthur, taking with him 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 the Martin's Palmer's Lookout Road property, where he came across Mr. Roger Larner driving out of his driveway. Mr. Larner had met him on some occasions over 15 years ago and did not initially recognise him.

Bryant told Mr. 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 then asked if Mrs. Marian Larner was home, and asked if he could continue down the driveway of the farm to see her. Mr. Larner said OK, but told Bryant he would come also. Bryant then 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 of 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 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. He was seen to continually move his hands about, waving away wasps flying around the area. (Bryant's remarks about "wasps" were interpreted by some Australian and overseas media as meaning "White Anglo Saxon Protestants", but there is no evidence to support this.)

Broad Arrow Cafe murders

Bryant, having 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 on the table, which contained, among other things, the knife he had stabbed Mr Martin with. It is believed the magazine was partially emptied from the previous rounds fired at Seascape.

The cafe was very small, so all the tables were 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. Bryant pointed his rifle at Mr Moh Yee Ng and Miss Sou Leng Chung of Malaysia, who were at a table beside Bryant.

He shot them at close range, killing them instantly. Bryant then lifted the rifle to his shoulder and fired a shot at Mick Sargent, grazing his scalp and knocking him to the floor, and fired a fourth shot that hit Mick's girlfriend, 21 year old Kate Elizabeth Scott, fatally 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. As Winter's father pushed his daughter-in-law and grandson to the floor and under the table, Jason Winter was shot by Bryant.

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. Nightingale leaned forward, and was shot fatally through the neck and spine.

The next table had held a group of ten people, but some had just left the table to return their meal trays and visit the gift shop. Bryant fired twice. One shot hit Mr Sharp, killing him. The second hit Walter Bennett, passed through his body and struck another Mr Sharp (related to the first), 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, who was also at the same table, was struck in the face by a bullet fragment from one of these two shots, and he survived. Gaye Fidler, also at the table, suffered wounds to her back from fragments of one of the previous shots. John Fidler was also struck in the head by bullet fragments. Both Fidlers survived.

Bryant then turned towards another table where two couples, Tony and Mrs Kistan and Andrew and Mrs Mills, were sitting. Both men stood up at the noise of the initial shots but had no time to move away. Mr Mills was shot in the head. Mr Kistan was also shot from about 2 metres away, also in the head. In the second before this he had managed to push his wife away. Mrs Mills and Mrs Kistan were apparently not seen by Bryant, as they both were under the table. Bryant did not shoot at them.

Thelma Walker and Pamelia Law at another table behind this were struck with fragments from the shots that killed Mr Kistan and Mr Mills. Peter Crosswell at the same table was able to drag both women to the ground and the three sheltered underneath the table. Also hit by fragments from the same shots was Patricia Barker, who survived.

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, hitting Graham Colyer in the neck. Despite choking on his own blood for some time, he survived.

Bryant then pivoted around and fatally shot Mervyn Howard who was still seated. The bullet travelled through him, through a window of the cafe, and hit a table on the outside balcony. Several people outside then realised there was real danger and began to run away. Bryant quickly followed up with a shot to the neck of Elizabeth Howard. Bryant then leaned over and pointed the gun at her head and shot her a second time.

Sarah Loughton, having seen Mr Colyer shot, ran towards her mother who had been moving between tables. The mother took them to ground and lay on top of her daughter. Bryant shot Carolyn Loughton in the back, then shot her daughter in the head. Mrs Loughton had her eardrum ruptured by the sonic boom from the gun going off beside her ear. The mother survived and learned of her daughter's death in hospital later.

Gift shop murders

As Bryant was near the exit, people had not attempted to run past him and escape. Bryant then 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, Mr Elliott realised he would soon be seen. He could not hide under the table as it was full of people. Instead he tried to run over to a fireplace. He was shot in the arm and head as he ran and survived after extensive surgery.

All of these events, from the first bullet that killed Mr Ng, took approximately 15 seconds. In this time, 12 people were dead and 9 more were wounded. As Bryant moved toward the gift shop area, many people had time to hide under tables and behind shop displays. Mrs Lever, Mrs Jary, Mrs Morr and Mrs Wanderpeer hid behind a fabric screen.

Peter and Mrs Nash had attempted to open the locked door but could not. Mr Nash then lay down on top of his wife to hide her from Bryant, who then moved into the gift shop area where people were trapped with nowhere to go, and were simply crouched down in the corners. He calmly walked up to Nicole Burgess and shot her in the head. He then pointed the gun at Mr Lever and shot him in the head, fatally. Mrs Neander was then also shot in the head and killed.

Bryant then saw movement in the café and moved back there to near the front door. He shot at a table and hit Mr Crosswell, who was hiding under it, in the buttock. Mr 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 and shot him as he was getting up, the bullet hitting his hand, neck and chest. Bryant moved back towards Mr Winter and shot him in the head, killing him. Fragments from those shots struck Dennis Olsen who had been hiding with Mr Winter, but Bryant did not see him and he survived.

It is not clear what happened next. At some point Bryant reloaded, either before or after killing other people. It appears Bryant walked back to the cafe but returned to the gift shop yet again, 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 Mrs Nash underneath Mr Nash.

At some point either before or after these killings, 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. The order of events was indeterminable, in any case Bryant then left the building.

29 rounds were fired in the cafe in approximately 90 seconds. Very few shots missed and most were fired from extremely close range. 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 where 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.

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.

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 the 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 run away and survive.

Bryant then quickly moved around another coach and fired at another group of people. Winifred Aplin was fatally shot in the chest. She had been running to get to cover behind another coach. 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 they were informed by shouting that Bryant was moving that way, so they tried to double back around the coaches to where Mrs Cook was previously shot. However Bryant had turned around and also gone back. Janette Quin was shot by Bryant in the back. She lay there unable to move.

Bryant then continued along the car park as people tried to escape along the shore. More shooting took place and some people decided to hide in the coaches instead of running. Mr 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. Douglas Hutchinson tried to move between the cars to the jetty, but Bryant noticed her and shot at her. The shot missed her and she escaped.

Bryant then moved back to the buses where Mrs Quin was lying injured from the earlier shot. He 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 Quin, 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 noticed Mr Quin. He fired at him, but missed. Bryant chased Mr Quin around the coaches as Mr Quin tried to escape. Bryant fired at him at least once more before Mr Quin ran onto a coach, in the hope of escaping Bryant.

However, his attempts were unsuccessful and Bryant entered the coach and pointed the gun at Mr 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. He was momentarily paralysed. After Bryant had left, he was able to find his wife and she later died in his arms. Mr Quin was eventually taken away by helicopter and survived.

As Bryant left the coach, James Balasko, a U.S. 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 wasn't 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. She 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. Mrs 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!". Calmly, Bryant told Mrs Mikac to get on her knees. She did so, saying, "Please don't hurt my babies".

Bryant then 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. Alannah ran off and hid behind a tree. 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 appears no-one at the toll booth area knew what was happening.

Bryant then drove up to the toll booth where there were several vehicles. Apparently Bryant had put his gun away at this point. He got out of his car where he was involved in an argument with Robert Salzmann. It is not known why, this may have been because Bryant could not proceed due to cars blocking the road. Bryant then took out the FAL and shot Mr Salzmann, killing him.

A driver got out of his BMW and went towards Bryant. It is not clear why or if he was attempting to stop Bryant. Bryant walked up to him and 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.

It is not clear what happened now as no-one was nearby. It appears that Bryant pulled two more women occupants from the car and shot them dead, dragging their bodies onto the road. Bryant then 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 then drove to the service station close by where he tried to inform people what was happening. Bryant then 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 Zoe Hall in the passenger seat. Bryant quickly exited the car with his rifle in hand and tried to pull Miss Hall from the car. Mr Pears got out of the car and approached Bryant. Bryant then pointed the gun at Pears and pushed him backwards, eventually directing him into the now open boot of the BMW. He locked Mr Pears inside the boot.

Bryant then moved back to the passenger side of Mr Pears' car. Miss Hall was said to have climbed over to the driver's seat. Bryant raised his rifle and fired three shots, killing her. However, her body was later seen by a police officer in the passenger seat. Many people around the service station saw this and ran to hide in the nearby bush.

The service station attendant told everyone to lie down and he locked the main doors. He grabbed his rifle, but as per Australian law, the ammunition was kept locked in a safe. By the time it was retrieved and the gun loaded, Bryant was back in his car and gone. A police officer arrived several minutes later and then went in the direction of Bryant.

Seascape roadway

As Bryant drove down to Seascape he shot at one red vehicle 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. The driver then swapped seats with her boyfriend 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 wasn't 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 Mrs White and her boyfriend tried to get in, but Mr Horner did not realise the situation and drove on. When they saw that Mrs 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 driver in the hand. The passenger, 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 Mr 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, probably using the lighter he purchased earlier in the day. He is believed to have arrived at the house by about 2 p.m.

Police arrival

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. At some point, as night fell, one of the police saw a woman running around naked and screaming, but she seemed to eventually run back into the house. It is possible this was Noelene Martin.

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 he would release one hostage, Mr Pears, and only keep Mrs Martin, if the helicopter arrived. It is possible that both Mrs Martin and Mr Pears were still alive at this time.

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.

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 gunfire place the time of death of David and Sally Martin as being at 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 once the prosecution began presenting evidence. 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 murders and grievous bodily harm for shooting at, and injuring, numerous people).

His prison papers indicate that he is never to be released. He is serving 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 shotguns and pump-action shotguns, together with a 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 diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome by a psychiatrist appointed by the Crown (prosecution), Dr Sale.

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.

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.

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. Interviewers lie to him that they are not talking about him.

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.

The murder of Nanette Mikac and her daughters Alannah and Madeline inspired Dr Phil West, another Australian father of two young girls to establish a foundation in honour of the murdered girls. Dr West had two girls similar in age to the murdered children.

When watching a news item a few days after the massacre, Phil West was moved by some drawings done by Alannah Mikac which were flashed on the TV screen. He looked at his own children's drawings and painting around the walls and on the fridge and at that moment dreamed of a Foundation to honour the murdered girls.

Dr West contacted Walter Mikac to ask for his support. Together the two men worked to establish the Foundation which was launched by the Prime Minister on the first anniversary of the massacre. The Foundation supports child victims of violent crime and sudden loss and is called the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. The Foundation also runs a national anti-bullying program known as 'Buddy Bear'.

In his book "To Have and to Hold", Walter writes about the launch of the Foundation: "When it's my turn to address the crowd, I tell them that the idea for the Foundation came from another Melbourne father, Phil West, who just like me had two daughters...To me this illustrated how an ordinary person can make a difference and it is an ability that is in every one of us..."

Alternative theories

At least two conspiracy theories about the massacre have been promoted.

The most prominent advocate of conspiracy theories was Joe Vialls, who asserted that Bryant was framed by one or more people who were actually the shooters. A range of theories were posed by some opponents of gun control, suggesting that the gun control lobby staged the massacre in order to gain public support for gun control laws.

For example, the militia organisation Australian Freedom Scouts argued that Bryant did not have the requisite weapons proficiency to carry out the massacre. One theory compared the massacre with the assassination of President of the United States John F. Kennedy.

These alternative theories have generally been dismissed as without foundation by the mainstream media and the authorities. The Government of Tasmania, the Tasmania Police, the prosecutor Damian Bugg and Bryant's own defence lawyer John Avery have all dismissed the suggestion that Bryant was not acting alone, saying that the evidence simply does not support any of the conclusions reached by the theorists.

In 2001, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson caused controversy when she claimed that the Commonwealth had ruled out "a full investigation" when "a lot of people are asking questions" about Port Arthur.

The Sporting Shooters' Association of Australia rejected all conspiracy theories surrounding the massacre, stating that the claims were "ludicrous," and urged One Nation to change their position or risk being seen as influenced by extreme elements within the community.


  • Bingham, M (1996) Suddenly One Sunday. Sydney: Harper Collins

  • Ludeke, M (2006) Ten Events Shaping Tasmania's History. Hobart: Ludeke Publishing.

  • Scott, M (1996) Port Arthur: A Story of Strength and Courage. Australia: Random House


The Port Arthur Massacre: A Killer Among Us

by Patrick Bellamy

Suddenly One Sunday

For the owners of the numerous shops and cafés at the Port Arthur Historical site in Tasmania, fine weather usually meant good crowds and Sunday April 28, 1996 was no exception.  Once the site of one of Australia's most brutal penal settlements, Port Arthur had become the premiere tourist attraction in Tasmania.  By 1.00 pm, over five hundred visitors were at the site, enjoying the many attractions that the area had to offer.

By 1.30 pm the pace at the 'Broad Arrow' café had slowed after the busy lunchtime period but at least sixty people still remained, finishing meals or browsing through the gift shop.  No one seems to recall seeing the young man with long blond hair enter the café and order a meal, but they do remember his comment when he sat down on the front balcony area to eat his lunch.  "There's a lot of wasps about today," he said to no one in particular and began to eat his meal.  A few minutes later, he made another remark about the lack of Japanese tourists.

He made no further comments as he finished his meal and picked up his bags and went back into the café.  Moving towards the back of the room, he lifted a long, blue sports bag onto a vacant table and placed a video camera beside it.  For several minutes he stood staring at a group of diners at an adjoining table before turning his attention to an Asian couple that were sitting near him. 

Before anyone had realized what was happening, he unzipped the larger bag and produced an AR15 semi-automatic rifle and shot the Asian man, Moh Yee Ng, in the neck, killing him instantly.  Swinging the rifle from the hip he pointed it towards Soo Leng Chung, the man's companion, and shot her through the head. 

Turning his attention back to the first group he lifted the rifle to his shoulder and fired a shot at Mick Sargent, grazing his scalp and knocking him to the floor.  Before Mick could shout a warning, the gunman fired a fourth shot that hit Mick's girlfriend in the back of the head.  In a matter of seconds, the young man had claimed three victims.

The fusillade continued as the gunman selected new targets, the acrid smell of gun smoke hanging in the air as his helpless victims dodged for cover.  One man at the front of the room who bravely stood to shout a belated warning, died when a bullet tore through his neck. 

Husbands were killed as they tried to protect their wives and families, one man receiving massive head injuries when a bullet that had passed through a previous victim hit him.  Some were killed instantly but many others lay bleeding from their wounds. 

Walking towards the front entrance of the café, the gunman fired methodically, shooting left and right as the terrified crowd scrambled for cover.  Fifteen seconds later, a total of twenty people lay dead with fifteen more wounded, many of them seriously.  Leaving the Broad Arrow, the gunman walked out into the parking lot where over a hundred people were milling about in confusion. 

Many, hearing the shots, had started walking in the general direction of the café in the mistaken belief that a re-enactment was in progress.  Others, who had been close enough to observe the carnage, ran for cover, screaming warnings to anyone they came in contact with.

Seeing the crowd gathered in the car park, the gunman opened fire.  Several tourists fell as the rest, finally aware of what was happening, screamed and ran.  Walking towards a tour bus parked nearby, the gunman shot the driver and three passengers.  As the latest fusillade echoed across the parking lot, several tourists who were waiting to board the bus crawled under it for safety but the gunman saw them and calmly squatted down and shot them before walking back to his car, a yellow Volvo 244GL sedan with a surfboard strapped to the roof.

The gunman then drove three hundred yards down the road, to where a young woman and her two children were walking beside the road.  Pulling to a stop, he fired two quick shots killing the woman and the child she was carrying. 

When the older child ran away to take refuge behind a tree, the gunman followed her and killed her with one shot.  Returning to his vehicle, the gunman then drove a further two hundred yards towards the entrance gate where a gold coloured BMW was parked.  Three shots were fired in rapid succession and the car's three male occupants lay dead.  After dragging the bodies from the car, the gunman transferred his firearms into the BMW and drove away.

A short distance up the road he saw a couple sitting in a white Toyota and stopped beside them.  The female driver froze as the man approached holding a gun and ordered her male companion to get out of the car.  The man obeyed, pleading with the gunman not to shoot, but the gunman ignored him and instead, ordered the man to climb into the open trunk of the BMW.

The gunman then slammed the lid and returned to the front of the car and fired two shots through the driver's window killing the young woman instantly.  With the man still locked in the trunk, the gunman sped away towards a local guesthouse called the Seascape Cottage where the final chapter of the deadly saga would eventually unfold.

Seascape Cottage

As he drove towards the entrance to Seascape Cottage, the gunman saw another vehicle approaching and opened fire, but his bullets missed their target.  Turning his attention to the next vehicle, a four-wheel-drive jeep driven by a holidaying couple from Melbourne, the young man fired two shots, one of which tore into the bonnet, the other smashing the windscreen. 

A second volley of shots ripped through the side windows showering the occupants with glass and hitting the female driver in the forearm.  Realizing the driver was hit; the male passenger leaned over and attempted to drive the vehicle to safety but was unable to do so as the throttle cable had been severed by one of the bullets.

Seconds later, a Ford sedan with two married couples on board, drove towards the cottage and were hit by a hail of bullets that penetrated the windshield, wounding the driver.  Bleeding profusely from his wounds, the driver of the Ford continued on to where the jeep was parked and managed to rescue the occupants before speeding away to the Fox and Hounds, another guesthouse further down the road.  Another vehicle, approaching along the Arthur Highway, saw the man standing on the road with a gun and rapidly changed direction.

After the Ford drove away, the gunman walked back to the BMW and drove down the entrance road and parked in front of the cottage.  He then removed his guns from the car before releasing the man from the trunk.  After taking him inside the house and handcuffing him to a stair rail, the gunman returned to the BMW, poured petrol over it and set it alight.

Only minutes after the shooting began at Port Arthur, the first police were summoned to the scene.  Hearing the emergency radio call, two young constables, Paul Hyland and Garry Whittle, drove rapidly towards the area.  As Constable Hyland approached Seascape Cottage, he saw the damaged vehicles on the side of the road and stopped to investigate. 

Seeing smoke billowing from the car parked in front of the cottage, he drove back down the highway to set up a roadblock.  By this time Constable Whittle had arrived and he also parked his vehicle across the highway on the other side of the entrance to seal off the area.

Soon after two other police arrived, the BMW exploded sending them diving for cover.  As they maneuvered their vehicles into safer positions, shots were fired in their direction from the cottage. 

The police held their positions until members of the Special Operations Group relieved them shortly after dark.  As they took up flanking positions around the guesthouse, more shots were fired from within the cottage.  The operation was further hampered by poor radio reception making it almost impossible for the police to confirm each other's positions.

As the hours ticked away, information about the gunman began to seep through.  The lone gunman was believed to be Martin Bryant, a twenty-eight-year-old resident of New Town, a suburb of Hobart.  Bryant was described as being tall with long blond hair and pale skin, almost albino in appearance and "a little slow."  Another piece of information that filtered through caused greater concern. 

In addition to the AR15 and FN semi-automatic rifles that Bryant was known to be carrying, he had access to several more firearms that belonged to David and Sally Martin, the owners of Seascape Cottage.  Given the additional weapons, at least three hostages and the lack of suitable cover around the cottage, a direct assault was ruled out and a specialist negotiation team was summoned.

Off and on for the next six hours, the senior police negotiator, Sergeant Terry McCarthy spoke to Bryant over the phone.  During the course of the negotiations, Bryant's only demand was that he be given a "ride" in an army helicopter.  Eventually, contact with the cottage was lost when the batteries went flat on the cordless phone that Bryant was using.  As the vigil continued, police reinforcements from as far away as Victoria and New South Wales arrived at the scene creating the largest single police action in Australia's history.

The charred ruins

The next morning, Monday, April 29, senior police met to decide the next course of action.  Shortly after, smoke was seen billowing from the cottage and at 8.25 am, Martin Bryant ran from the building, his clothing ablaze.  As police rushed forward to make the arrest, Bryant tore his clothes from his body and gave himself up. 

Later, as ambulance officers smothered his skin with ointment, Bryant asked them if it was petrol they were using.  He was later conveyed to the same hospital where many of his victims were fighting for their lives.  After the fire was put out, more bodies were found inside the cottage. 

Included in the dead were the Seascape's owners, David and Sally Martin and Glenn Pears, the man that had been locked in the car.  Police would later establish that Pears had been murdered sometime during the negotiations and Bryant killed the Martins prior to his arrival at Port Arthur. 

In a period of just over nineteen hours, Martin Bryant, a man described by locals as being "a quiet lad and a bit of a loner," had killed thirty-five men, women and children and wounded another eighteen making him the most notorious spree killer of all time. 

A Killer in Profile

From an early age, Martin Bryant was an unusual child.  His mother, Carleen, often told family and friends that she was concerned about young Martin's temperament.  His father Maurice would eventually take early retirement from his job as a dockworker to look after Martin.  By the time he started school, his erratic behavior distanced him from the other children.  It wasn't until he reached primary school that he was found to have a below average I.Q. and put into special classes. 

One of his teachers at New Town High remembers him as "totally isolated in his own little world."  In fact, he was more isolated than several deaf children who were in the same class.  What was more intriguing was that Martin seemed to prefer it that way and was at his happiest when he didn't have to interact with anybody. 

As he got older his "strange detachment," became more apparent, even when confronted with traumatic and sometimes dangerous situations.  On one occasion, when he and a girlfriend were marooned in a dinghy in heavy seas off Bass Strait, Martin showed "a complete lack of emotion" when the couple were rescued by a fisherman. 

He showed a similar detachment when his father supposedly committed suicide by drowning himself in a dam on the family's property.  When he was asked to help find his father's body, Martin seemed to be enjoying himself immensely and showed no sign of concern over his father's death. 

According to an ambulance officer at the scene, Martin knew more about the death of his father than he was telling.  Although Maurice Bryant was found in the bottom of a dam with a weighted diver's belt wrapped tightly around his throat, police treated the matter as a suicide when they found a suicide note and an amount of cash in a car on the property.

Because of his strange behavior, Martin was often bullied and on one occasion was almost drowned by a group of children he was tormenting.  As he grew, Martin's behavior became more cruel and bizarre.  In one incident, while skin diving with a friend, Martin jabbed a hand spear into the head of his companion while he was surfacing. 

Neighbors describe how, as a child, Martin would constantly torment them by throwing rocks at their children, cutting down trees, untying boats from their moorings and destroying fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

"A quiet lad and a bit of a loner."

After leaving school, Martin did not need to look for work as he qualified for a pension because his I.Q. was twenty to thirty points below average.  Sometime later however, he took a job that would change his life forever.  Helen Harvey, the rich, middle-aged eccentric heiress to the Tattersalls Lottery fortune, asked Martin to work for her as a handyman. 

From that time on, Martin formed a bond with Harvey that was seen by many as more than a working relationship.  Harvey lavished attention on Martin and often took him on shopping expeditions, sometimes spending thousands of dollars on him at a time.  She was known in the area for weaving strange tales about her life and for squandering large amounts of money needlessly.  During one particular year, she purchased a new car every month but never drove any of them. 

Jewelry was also a passion but she never wore any.  Eventually, Martin moved in to her mansion which was around the corner from his parent's home.  The house was a menagerie with scores of dogs, cats and birds living in and around the house.  On one occasion, the living conditions in the home had become so squalid that the RSPCA animal welfare association forced Harvey to clean up the property to comply with health regulations. 

After the job was completed, seven dumpsters full of rubbish were taken from inside the house alone.  Later, when the bins were emptied, apart from rubbish, they were found to contain several television sets in working order, cash and other valuables.  Eventually, Bryant and Harvey moved to the country.

After moving to the small rural town of Copping, Martin's behavior became increasingly erratic.  When he was kicked off a bus for harassing a young schoolgirl, he hailed a cab and chased the bus to abuse the driver.  Not long after moving to the new area, his neighbors began to complain about Martin prowling around their properties late at night. 

He was later reported for threatening a neighbor with a rifle and became increasingly obsessed with firearms.  One family friend remembers him constantly "showing off" with his guns and bragging about taking "pot shots" at the tourists who stopped at the apple stand near the property's front gate.

Regardless of the numerous complaints about his behavior, Martin spent some of the happiest years of his life in Harvey's company.  This was all to come to a tragic end when Harvey was killed in a traffic accident, which some believed was caused by Martin tugging at the steering wheel while Harvey was driving, a dangerous prank that Bryant was known for. 

The police later investigated the matter but cleared him of any involvement.  With the two most influential figures in his life dead, Martin was left largely on his own.  Named as the sole beneficiary of Harvey's estate, Martin now had a mansion in Hobart and cash in excess of $500,000 to spend any way he wanted.

Following Harvey's funeral, Martin moved back to the house in Hobart but became restless.  With a virtually endless stream of income, he was free to choose any lifestyle he wanted.  He soon discovered overseas travel and made thirty trips within a three-year period. 

During this time he made few friends, his only social contacts were whoever sat beside him on the aircraft and shop owners and café proprietors, many of whom remember him for the many outrageous outfits he wore. 

His relationships with women were just as bizarre with Bryant making approaches to any female regardless of age, often making lewd comments about their appearance and his sexual preferences, which seemed to include bestiality.  Unable to build a normal relationship, Bryant indulged his physical needs by hiring prostitutes to come to his house.  Several who visited him at the mansion refused to go back as they found him and his surroundings "creepy."

In the months before the massacre, Martin visited Port Arthur several times.  During this time, he bought a new sports bag.  The shopkeeper who sold it to him, remembers him measuring several before deciding on which one to purchase. 

Although many psychologists believe that Martin Bryant's actions on that fateful day stemmed from impulsive behavior, the sports bag incident and the fact that he had visited the site numerous times in the weeks preceding the attack, suggests that the killings were planned in advance and carried out with cold, calculating precision.


While Martin Bryant recovered in Royal Hobart hospital under heavy guard, the families and friends of the victims attempted to come to terms with the tragedy.  After the police completed their reconstruction of the massacre, they estimated that, from the time Bryant had started shooting until the time he left the historic site, only eight minutes had elapsed. 

In just eight short minutes, Martin Bryant had taken the lives of 11 Tasmanians, 12 Victorians, 1 South Australian, 4 from New South Wales, 4 from Great Britain, 2 Malaysians and another man from South-East Asia.  Of the injured, 15 were Australians, two others a Canadian and an American.

When police later released the information that Bryant had purchased the "military style" weapons used in the attack, from a Hobart gun dealer without any form of licensing, it resulted in an uproar. 

Virtually overnight, large numbers of private citizens called newspapers, television stations and talk-back radio shows demanding that Australia's disparate gun laws be urgently reappraised.  Within days, many politicians added their support and met to discuss a new set of national gun laws including a total ban on all semi-automatic weapons. 

In response, representatives of several prominent pro-gun lobby groups protested against the sweeping changes, citing that the laws would only serve to place restrictions on decent, law-abiding citizens and not the "lunatic fringe" that procured their firearms illegally.

Although much of the blame for Port Arthur was centered on the availability of guns used in violent crimes, Australia's homicide statistics prove otherwise.  Tasmania, Martin Bryant's home state, has the lowest murder rate in the country with just 0.85 murders per 100,000 population, a rate far lower than Japan which has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. 

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, fists, knives and blunt instruments are the most frequently used weapons in homicides, with guns accounting for just 25%.

Despite numerous protests, Prime Minister John Howard later implemented sweeping reforms regarding gun ownership in Australia which included bans on the importation and sale of most "military style" semi-automatic weapons.

No Laughing Matter

In the weeks and months following the massacre, Bryant was subjected to four major psychological examinations but, despite theories that he may be suffering from schizophrenia and a personality disorder called Asperger Syndrome which resulted in "inappropriate mannerisms and actions," Martin Bryant was declared legally sane and fit to stand trial.

In an earlier police interview, when asked the reasons for his actions, a smiling Bryant said, "I'd really love to help you out, but I can't." 

The trial began on November 7, where evidence was heard relating to the slaughter.  Some of the most disturbing being when eye witnesses related the hideous injuries inflicted upon their friends and families by Bryant who was described as a "laughing, maniacal fool" during the shootings. 

During the entire trial, including the screening of an amateur video of part of the shooting frenzy, Bryant continued to smile and, on more than one occasion, laughed openly.  He continued to smile several days later when the jury handed down a guilty verdict after which he was sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole. 

Martin Bryant is now housed in Hobart's Risdon prison under protective custody.  His mother who, apart from his defense counsel, was Martin's only visitor during the trial, later told interviewers that she wished her son had died along with his victims.  When asked how Martin was adapting to life in prison, she answered, "He's his usual self, he's smiling and laughing.

In Memoriam

In a case such as this, it is all too easy to focus on the person responsible and neglect the most important element of any crime, the victim.  The following is a list of the thirty-five men, women and children that Martin Bryant senselessly murdered on April 28, 1996.  May they rest in peace.



The research for this story was taken from the following:

  • "A Dangerous Mind." A "Four Corners" programme on ABC Television, Australia.

  • "Port Arthur - A Story of Strength and Courage" by Margaret Scott.  Random House Australia.

  • "The Age" newspaper - May 3, 1996.

  • "The Bulletin" magazine - May 7, 1996.

  • "Time" magazine - May 13, 1996.

  • "The Bulletin" magazine - May 14, 1996.

  • "Time" magazine - December 2, 1996.


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