Like the World Trade Centre, or when Man first walked on the moon, most Australians remember where they were when tragedy struck in Port Arthur in 1996. On what was a typical day for staff and tourists alike a lone gunman opened fire, and 35 people lost their lives.
It was an atrocity that stunned a nation, that shocked a world, and left many questioning how such an event could happen on the small Australian State.
Previously known for being a former convict settlement on the Tasmanian Peninsula, and as one of the Australia’s most significant heritage areas that all that changed twenty-two years ago the peaceful tourist destination of Port Arthur, located 97km from the state capital of Hobart, became the target for a Massacre that struck fear into an entire nation.
35 people were killed, a further 23 wounded as a then 28-year old intellectually disabled Martin Bryant entered the popular Broad Arrow Cafe and opened fire, killing twenty people in the space of just two minutes.
On the 28th of April 1996 the somewhat docile state of Tasmania, a popular tourist destination with both overseas and mainland visitors became the scene of the largest massacre EVER to hit Australia, as an intellectually disabled Martin Bryant opened fire in the historic township of Port Arthur.
At approximately 1:30pm in the afternoon as a reported 500 visitors explored the historic Port Arthur site unsuspecting of the young man with long-surfer like blonde locks sitting and eating a meal at the Broad Arrow Cafe who in just thirty-minutes would become synonymous with evil.
After finishing his meal the young man, well known to many locals as Martin Bryant, carried his duffel bag to a vacant table at the back of the cafe, he took out a video camera and placed it – recording – on the table before collecting a semi-automatic Colt AR15 riffle.
With the high powered weapon cocked and ready the young man turned around in the busy cafe and opened fire. Within two minutes twenty-people inside the building were dead, but the carnage was only just beginning. He changed magazines and exited the building shooting as he fled, through the car park and out the window of his yellow Volvo 244 as he drove away – killing a further four and injuring six.
Just three hundred metres down the road Bryant noticed a mother and two children walking, he stopped and fired two shots killing the woman and the child she was carrying, the other child ran into nearby trees but Martin Bryant exited his vehicle and followed her, killing her with a single shot.
Further down the road Martin Bryant killed four others after forcing their gold coloured BMW off the road, stealing the car, after again driving a short distance Bryant saw a couple standing alongside a white Toyota. Pulling his weapon out he ordered the male into the boot of his stolen BMW, before firing a shot through the windscreen of the Toyota killing the female passenger instantly.
Bryant arrived at the Seascape Cottage, where police believe he had killed the owners David and Sally Martin hours earlier, police soon closed in and attempted to negotiate with the lone gunman. However, negotiations stalled when the battery on the phone being used by Bryant died.
At some point during the siege Bryant killed his only hostage, the male passenger he had forced into the boot of the stolen BMW.
The next morning, eighteen hours later, Bryant set fire to the guest house and attempted to escape in the confusion. Suffering burns to his back and buttocks, he was captured and taken to Royal Hobart Hospital where he was treated and kept under heavy guard.
Bryant was judged fit to stand trial, and his trial was scheduled to begin 7 November 1996. Bryant initially pleaded not guilty, but was persuaded by his court-appointed lawyer and the prosecution to plead guilty to all charges.
Two weeks later, Hobart Supreme Court Judge William Cox gave Bryant 35 life sentences for the murders plus 1,035 years for other crimes, and ordered that he should remain in prison for the “rest of his life”.
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 was moved to a newly built detention centre ten years after his conviction.
On 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 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.
Bryant attempted suicide on 25 March 2007 by slashing his wrist with a razor blade. On 27 March he cut his throat with another razor blade and was hospitalised briefly.
As of 2015, Bryant is housed in the maximum-security Risdon Prison near Hobart.
Whilst in prison Bryant was diagnosed with having borderline intellectual functioning, asperger syndrome and antisocial personality disorder.