7 May 1967 |
|Criminal penalty||35 life sentences + 1,035 years without parole|
|Motive||Depression and anger|
|Date||28–29 April 1996|
|Location(s)||Port Arthur, Tasmania,
|Weapon(s)||Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine,
Martin Bryant (born 7 May 1967) is an Australian mass murderer who pleaded guilty to murdering 35 people and injuring 21 others in the Port Arthur massacre, a shooting spree in Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia, in 1996. He is currently serving 35 life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole in the psychiatric wing of Risdon Prison in Hobart, Tasmania. His rampage ranks among the deadliest of the 20th century.
Martin Bryant was born in Tasmania, Australia, the first son born to Maurice and Carleen Bryant. His father was an English immigrant from Dunston, Tyne and Wear in North East England. Although the family home was in Lenah Valley, Tasmania, Bryant spent some of his childhood at their beach home in Carnarvon Bay, Tasmania. In a 2011 interview, his mother recalls that she would often find his toys broken at a very young age, branding him an "annoying" and "different" child. A psychologist's view was that he would never hold down a job as he would aggravate people to such an extent that he'd always be in trouble.
Other cases that locals can recall include that he once pulled the snorkel from another boy while diving, and cut down trees on a neighbour's property. He was described by teachers as being distant from reality and unemotional. At school he was a disruptive and sometimes violent child, and suffered severe bullying by other children. After he was suspended from New Town Primary School in 1977, psychological assessments of Bryant note his torturing of animals. He returned to school the following year with improved behaviour; however, he persisted in teasing younger children. He was transferred to a special education unit at New Town High School in 1980 where he deteriorated both academically and in behaviour throughout his remaining school years.
Descriptions of Bryant's behaviour as an adolescent show that he continued to be disturbed and outline the possibility of mental retardation. He was revealed to have extremely low intelligence, with an I.Q. of 66, equivalent to an 11-year-old and in the bottom 1.17 percent of the Australian population, and was possibly autistic. Further testing following his arrest indicated a verbal I.Q. of 64 and non-verbal reasoning and cognitive functioning of 68, giving a full scale I.Q. of 66, an age equivalent of 11 years in the 10th percentile (90% of 11 year olds would score higher). On leaving school he was assessed for a disability pension by a psychiatrist who wrote: "Cannot read or write. Does a bit of gardening and watches TV ... Only his parents' efforts prevent further deterioration. Could be schizophrenic and parents face a bleak future with him." Bryant received a disability pension, though he also worked as a handyman and gardener.
In early 1987 when Bryant was 19, he met then 54-year-old eccentric recluse Helen Mary Elizabeth Harvey, heiress to a share in the Tattersall's lottery fortune, while looking for new customers for his lawn-mowing service. Harvey, who lived with her mother Hilva, befriended Bryant who became a regular visitor to her neglected New Town mansion, and assisted with tasks such as feeding the fourteen dogs living inside the house, and the forty cats living inside her garage. In June 1990, someone reported Harvey to the health authorities, and medics found both Harvey and her mother in need of urgent hospital treatment. Seventy-nine-year-old Hilva Harvey died several weeks later.
A clean-up order was placed on the mansion and Bryant's father took long service leave to assist in cleaning the interior. Harvey now invited Bryant to live with her in the mansion and they began spending large amounts of money, which included the purchase of more than thirty new cars in less than three years. The couple began to spend most days shopping, usually after having lunch in a local restaurant. Around this time, Bryant was reassessed for his pension and a note was attached to the paperwork "Father protects him from any occasion which might upset him as he continually threatens violence ... Martin tells me he would like to go around shooting people. It would be unsafe to allow Martin out of his parents' control".
In 1991, as a result of no longer being allowed to have animals at the house, Harvey and Bryant moved together onto a 29 hectares (72 acres) farm called Taurusville that she had purchased in Copping, Tasmania. Neighbours recalled he always carried an air gun and often fired it at tourists as they stopped to buy apples at a stall on the highway, and that late at night he would roam through the surrounding properties firing the gun at dogs when they barked at him. They avoided him "at all costs" despite his attempts to befriend them.
On 20 October 1992 Harvey was killed when her car veered to the wrong side of the road and hit an oncoming car directly. Bryant was inside the vehicle at the time of the accident, and was hospitalised for seven months with severe neck and back injuries. He was briefly investigated by police for the role he played in the accident, as Bryant had a habit of lunging for the steering wheel and Harvey already had three accidents as a result. She often told people that this was the reason she never drove faster than 60 kilometres an hour (37 mph). Bryant was named the sole beneficiary of Harvey's will and came into possession of assets totalling more than $550,000. As Bryant had only the "vaguest notions" of financial matters, his mother subsequently applied for and was granted a guardianship order, placing Bryant's assets under the management of Public Trustees. The order was based on evidence of Bryant's diminished intellectual capacity.
After Harvey's death, Bryant's father Maurice moved into the Copping farm to look after it. Bryant returned to the farm after leaving hospital the following year. He had been prescribed antidepressants, and had secretly transferred his joint bank account and utilities into his wife's name.
Two months later, on 14 August, a person visiting Maurice Bryant found a note saying "call the police" pinned to the door and found several thousand dollars in his car. Police searched the property for Maurice Bryant, without success. Divers were called to search the four dams on the property. On 16 August his body was found in the dam closest to the farmhouse with one of Martin Bryant's diving weight belts around his neck. Police described the death "unnatural" and the death was ruled suicide. Bryant inherited the proceeds of his father's superannuation fund valued at $250,000.
Bryant sold the Copping farm for $143,000 and kept the Hobart mansion. While living at Copping, the white overalls he habitually wore were replaced with clothing more in line with Harvey's financial status. Now that he was alone his dress became more bizarre. He often wore a grey linen suit, cravat, lizard skin shoes and Panama hat while carrying a briefcase during the day, telling anyone who listened that he had a well-paying career. He often wore an electric blue suit with flared trousers and a ruffled shirt to the restaurant he frequented. The restaurant owner recalled: "It was horrible. Everyone was laughing at him, even the customers. I really felt suddenly quite sorry for him. I realised this guy didn't really have any friends."
With Harvey and his father dead, Bryant became increasingly lonely. From 1993 to late 1995, he visited various overseas countries fourteen times and a summary of his domestic airline travel filled three pages. He hated the destinations he travelled to, as he found that people there avoided him just as they did in Tasmania. However he enjoyed the flights, as he could speak to the people sitting adjacent to him who had no choice but to be polite. Bryant later took great joy in describing some of the more successful conversations he had with fellow passengers. In late 1995, he became suicidal after deciding he had "had enough". He stated, "I just felt more people were against me. When I tried to be friendly toward them, they just walked away". Although he had previously been little more than a social drinker, his alcohol consumption increased and, although he had not had a drink on that day, had especially escalated in the six months prior to the massacre. Bryant's average daily consumption was estimated at half a bottle of Sambuca and a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream supplemented with Port wine and other sweet alcoholic drinks. According to Bryant, he thought the plan for Port Arthur may have first occurred to him four to twelve weeks before the event.
Port Arthur massacre
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 that it could be his desire for attention, as he allegedly told a next door neighbour, "I'll do something that will make everyone remember me," as well as mounting frustration as his social isolation had made him unbearably angry.
His first victims, David and Sally Martin, owned the bed and breakfast guest house "Seascape." The Martins had bought the B & B that Bryant's father had wanted to buy and he complained to his son about this. 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. He shot them in that guest house before traveling to the Port Arthur ruins. Bryant entered The Broad Arrow Café on the historical site's grounds, carrying a large blue duffel bag. Upon sitting down to eat a meal in the front balcony area, he remarked "There's a lot of wasps about today" to no one in particular. Once he finished eating, Bryant moved towards the back of the café and set a video camera on a vacant table. He took out an Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and, firing from the hip, began shooting patrons and staff. Within fifteen seconds, he had fired seventeen shots, killing twelve people and wounding ten. Bryant then walked to the other side of the shop and fired 12 more times, killing another eight people while wounding two. He then changed magazines before fleeing, shooting at people in the car park and from his yellow Volvo sedan as he drove away; four were killed and an additional six were injured. Bryant drove three hundred metres down the road, to where a woman and her two children were walking. He stopped and fired two shots, killing the woman and the child she was carrying. The older child fled, but Bryant followed her and killed her with a single shot. He then stole a gold-coloured BMW by killing all four of its occupants. A short distance down the road he stopped beside a couple in a white Toyota and, drawing his weapon, ordered the male occupant into the boot of the BMW. After shutting the boot, he fired two shots into the windscreen of the Toyota, killing the female driver. He returned to the guest house, set the stolen car alight and took his hostage inside with the Martins' corpses. The police soon arrived and tried to negotiate with Bryant for many hours before the battery in the phone he was using died, ending communication. Bryant's only demand was to be transported in an army helicopter to an airport. Sometime during the negotiations, Bryant killed his hostage.
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 as 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 1035 years for other crimes, and ordered that he should remain in prison for the "rest of his life".
He has attempted suicide six 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 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.
Newspaper coverage immediately after the massacre raised serious questions about journalistic practices. Photographs of Martin Bryant had the eyes digitally manipulated with the effect of making Bryant appear deranged and "glaring". Despite criticism, the manipulated photographs continue to be used in media reporting a decade later. There were also questions as to how the photographs had been obtained. The Tasmanian Director of Public Prosecutions 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 chairman of the Australian Press Council at the time, 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.
||This section of a biography of a living person does not include any references or sources. (December 2010)|
As a response to the spree killing, Australian State and Territory governments placed tight restrictions on semi-automatic centre-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, opposition to the new laws was overcome by media reporting of the massacre and mounting public opinion in the wake of the shootings (see Gun politics in Australia for more information on the 1996 legislation).
In popular culture
In October 2012, Tasmanian Attorney-General Brian Wightman lodged an urgent complaint towards Facebook to remove an offensive page, purporting to be the account of Port Arthur mass murderer Martin Bryant. The page included photos of Bryant with distasteful comments attributed to the gunman.
Bryant has been mentioned, or been the topic of several Australian music acts' recordings, including:
- Witch Hats – "Hear Martin", from their 2011 album Pleasure Syndrome
- Funkoars – "Boxbeaters", from their 2003 album Who's Your Step Daddy
- Young, Kane (24 March 2007). "Bryant in suicide bid". The Courier-Mail.
- Robert Wainwright & Paola Totaro, Born or Bred?, Chapter 33 – Behind Bars, p. 267
- Robert Wainwright & Paola Totaro, Born or Bred?, Chapter 5 – Maurice, p. 46
- "Martin Bryant's mum says 'there is no evidence'". ninemsn. 27 February 2011.
- Mullen, Paul E (4 May 1996). "Psychiatric Report Martin Bryant". Victorian Forensic Psychiatry Services. Retrieved 15 August 2009.
- "Shedding light on Port Arthur killer". The Age (Melbourne). 29 March 2006. Retrieved 8 December 2008.
- Wainwright, Robert; Totaro, Paola (27 April 2009). "A dangerous mind: what turned Martin Bryant into a mass murderer?". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 16 August 2009.
- Greenwood, Kerry (2000). On murder: true crime writing in Australia. Pg 12: Black Inc. ISBN 9781863951388.
- Bellamy, Patrick. "Martin Bryant: Suddenly One Sunday". trutv.com. p. 1.
- "Managing Martin: The Jailing of Martin Bryant". ABC. 16 March 1997. Retrieved 8 December 2008.
- Smith, Linda (12 June 2007). "Martin Bryant's death option". Herald Sun. Retrieved 8 December 2008.
- Duncan, Philippa (18 November 2006). "Bryant can come and go". Herald Sun.
- Razor blade used in second Bryant suicide attempt ABC News 27 March 2007
- Australian Studies in Journalism (Department of Journalism, University of Queensland) (5): 296. 1996.
- Smith, Anna; Wevers, Lydia, ed. (2004). On Display: New Essays in Cultural Studies. Victoria University Press. p. 139. ISBN 0-864-73454-9.
- "The University of Queensland, Australia" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-01-16.
- "Facebook Removes Fake Martin Bryant Page". SBS Television. 21 October 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- "Facebook asked to remove fake Martin Bryant page". ABC News (Australia). 19 October 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- "Bryant painting prize outrage". The Mercury (Hobart). 10 March 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- "Mass murderer Martin Bryant features in Tasmanian Glover Prize winning portrait". The Courier-Mail. 10 March 2012. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
- News Story:Port Arthur Massacre 1996 – Part 1 of 2 on YouTube
- News Story:Port Arthur Massacre 1996 – Part 2 of 2 on YouTube
- "Managing Martin: the Jailing of Martin Bryant". Radio National. 16 March 1997.