The Port Arthur massacre was on April 28, 1996 and is undoubtedly one of Australia’s worst days. The violence that occurred on that day at the historic site in Tasmania remains the worst killing spree by a lone gunman – Martin Bryant – who shot 35 people dead and wounded 21 more.
The book Born or Bred? Martin Bryant: the making of a mass murderer is an in-depth look into the life and influences of Bryant. The authors Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro had unique insight into Bryant’s life from his mother Carleen. The project began with Mrs Bryant working with the authors to write a book based on her own manuscript. However, she pulled out of the project and the authors forged on with this book that is a mixture of biography, analysis and history.
Bryant is a pathetic figure. From an early age his parents knew there was something wrong with their son and his life became a series of rejections, disappointments and attempts by his parents, in particular his father to manage him. Left with money by his father, who killed himself in 1993 and an eccentric (and very wealthy) companion Helen Harvey, Bryant craved friendship and attention, which he could not achieve normally because of his odd and intense behaviour. The book details the frequent overseas trips Bryant made and that the travel was not influences by a desire to see the world rather a want for companionship. Bryant knew that an air ticket overseas bought “chat and company”.
He was also socially awkward, clueless really, as illustrated by the strange outfits he wore to dine at top restaurants in Hobart.
“There was also an unforgettable electric blue suit with flared trousers and ruffled shirt he wore to the upmarket North Hobart restaurant where he was a regular. The owner, Chris Jackman, recalled the response: “It was horrible. Everyone was laughing at him, even the customers…I realised this guy didn’t really have any friends…”
The authors leave the details of the terrible day in Port Arthur to the very end. The account, based on the prosecution case, is quarantined with a warning for readers who may find it ”too harrowing”. And it is harrowing. I had never read a detailed account of what happened on April 28, 1996. I keep thinking of all the victims who were innocently enjoying a day out, caught up in conversation, having a cup of tea or a meal, when Bryant entered the Broad Arrow Cafe. Or Nanette Mikac, who was enjoying a picnic with her daughters Alannah, six and Madeline, 3. Bryant killed Mrs Mikac first and then her daughters. The terror of Mrs Mikac and her girls is unimaginable for me.
Australia’s darkest day indeed.