Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Port Arthur Massacre
The Port Arthur Massacre is the name given to a tragedy that occurred on the afternoon of April 28, 1996, that resulted in the deaths of 35 people, and the serious injury to 37 more. The tragedy occurred at the ruins of the Port Arthur Prison Colony, a popular historic tourist site in the town of Port Arthur in south-eastern Tasmania, Australia. The perpetrator of these crimes was Martin Bryant, a 29 year-old man from Hobart, who principally used a semi-automatic rifle to carry out the murders.
Timeline of events
The murder spree began at a guesthouse outside of Port Arthur, where Bryant murdered the elderly couple who owned the business. It is believed that Bryant had made several offers to purchase this guesthouse in the previous months (using funds from a large inheritance), and was angry at the refusals.
After leaving the guesthouse, Bryant drove to the Port Arthur tourist site. At around 2.00 PM Bryant entered the "Broad Arrow Cafe", ordered and ate a light lunch, and then removed his rifles from his bag and commenced firing. Bryant rapidly fired 29 rounds, resulting in the death of 22 people. Bryant then moved to the car park and commenced firing at random, with several more fatalities as a result. Leaving the carpark, Bryant walked up the hill to the Park entrance, where, at point blank range, he murdered a mother and her two small children who were trying to escape.
Bryant then went to a petrol station, held-up a BMW at gunpoint, murdered the four occupants and drove the car back to the guesthouse. Police surrounded the guesthouse within an hour, and an 18-hour standoff ensued (the police being unaware that the owners were already dead, not being held hostage).
Capture and prosecution
Bryant was captured the following afternoon when he set fire to the guesthouse (apparently believing he could escape in the confusion of the fire). Bryant initially pleaded not guilty to the 35 murders but after the prosecution began presenting evidence, changed his plea to guilty. He is currently serving a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
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 unenthusiastic about firearm control, quickly took action to restrict the availability of firearms. The federal Howard government pushed through a national ban on self-loading rifles and 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.
Much discussion has occurred as to the level of Bryant's mental health. It is generally accepted that he has a sub-normal IQ (estimated at 20-30 points below normal) and he was previously the recipient of an invalid's pension on the basis of being mentally handicapped. Media reports also detailed his odd behaviour as a child. However, he was also able to obtain both car and gun licences (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), and was assessed to be fit to stand trial as a mentally competent adult.
After Bryant's imprisonment, several other prisoners boasted of their intention to murder Bryant in jail. Hence, for his own safety, Bryant has been held in near-solitary confinement since his sentencing in November 1996. His motivation for the massacre remains unknown, except to his lawyer (with whom Bryant discussed the crime) who is bound not to reveal those discussions without his client's consent.
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 massacre at Port Arthur created a tragic kinship with the Scottish town of Dunblane, which had suffered a similarly horrific event only weeks previously. The two communities exchanged items to place at their respective memorials.
The details of the Port Arthur massacre were, in the months after the massacre, shown in greater detail in overseas news than in the Tasmanian media.
There have occasionally been claims, mainly originating from author Joe Vialls , that the massacre was not conducted by Bryant and that police faked evidence to secure his conviction. These claims are regarded as baseless conspiracy theories by the vast majority of Australians, particularly given the large number of witnesses to the shooting.
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