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Port Arthur massacre

The Port Arthur Massacre is the name given to a tragedy that occurred on the afternoon of April 29, 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 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.

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 fired 50 rounds in under 30 seconds, 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 (gas) 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).

Bryant was captured the following afternoon when he set fire to the guesthouse (apparently believing he could escape in the confusion of the fire).

At trial, Bryant pleaded guilty to the 35 murders and is currently serving life imprisonment without possibility of parole[?].

The subsequent outcry around Australia saw the virtual banning of all self-loading rifles and shotguns, and considerable tightening of other gun laws around the country. Some 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 suffers from a sub-normal IQ (estimated at 20-30 points below normal) and he was previously the recipient of an invalid 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 a driver's licence, and he was assessed to be fit to stand trial as a mentally competent adult.

After his imprisonment, several prisoners boasted of their intentions 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 but is bound not to reveal those discussions without his client's consent.

The Port Arthur tourist site reopened a year 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.

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