File:Port Arthur Massacre-A Critical Study.pdf
What’s Going On?
A Critical Study of the Port Arthur Massacre
By Carl Wernerhoff Email: email@example.com
What’s Going On? is to be regarded as a draft version of a book project which is being made available privately by the author for the purpose of encouraging a wider knowledge of the case.
In no sense is the text to be regarded as ‘published’ simply because a draft has been made available by means of a link placed on the Internet. There is no way that I would formally publish a work that contains as much speculation as this one and which remains incompletely documented. It may be downloaded and shared freely, so long as any original ideas contained in it are not attributed to any other author.
This work-in-progress is dedicated to:
and the handful of other Australians interested in knowing the truth about what happened at Port Arthur
Like most Australians, this author was deeply affected– and to some extent, emotionally scarred – by the tragedy at Port Arthur in 1996. Like most Australians, moreover, I accepted the word of the government, the police and the mass media that Martin Bryant of New Town, Hobart, Tasmania, had perpetrated the massacre.
My willingness to accept what I now know to have been a bundle of lies was bound up with my ability to effortlessly incorporate the incident into my mental framework. It seemed to me then that what had happened was really very simple: a generation of young people which had grown up in the shadow of that machine-gun toting icon of the 1980s, Rambo, had produced a couple of young men who craved nothing less than using high-powered weapons to inflict as much carnage as possible. Since there was no Vietnam war and therefore no Vietnamese peasants for them to destroy, the best alternative for these suburban Rambos was to go beserk in their own backyards. This they did at locations like Hoddle Street, Melbourne, where Julian Knight killed seven people in 1987, Queen Street, Melbourne, where Frank Vitkovic killed eight people four months later, Aramoana, New Zealand, where David Gray killed thirteen in 1990, and Strathfield Shopping Centre, Sydney, where Wade Frankum killed seven in 1991. Now, to prolong this series of young Antipodean Rambos, was the Broad Arrow Café, Port Arthur, Tasmania, with Martin Bryant playing the lead role.
My understanding of the massacre was naïve, to be sure, but it was consistent with a popular view according to which episodes of mass violence are triggered by images diffused throughout the mainstream culture. Whenever a figure like Rambo emerges as a culture hero, I reasoned, there would inexorably follow Julian Knights, Wade Frankums and Martin Bryants. The meaning for the massacre for me was simply that society is biting off far more than it can chew when it sets up lethal characters like Rambo as its heroes and role models. In another fit of naïvete that I now regret, I was also favourably impressed when John Howard of the Liberal party, Australia’s newly-elected prime minister, acted decisively after the massacre to ram through stringent new gun laws of the sort I had long supported. To me, strict gun laws was a Labor party policy – and it was almost unthinkable to me that a Liberal leader would move on the issue. I was pleasantly surprised to see a Liberal party stalwart like Howard champion one of my pet causes. I really didn’t think a conservative had it in him to do something that, in my opinion, was manifestly in the country’s best interests.
Yet, for all my naïvete, I cannot say that I was entirely satisfied by what I read in the newspapers and saw on television about the massacre. At the subconscious level, I felt uneasy about the fact that it had taken place only seven short weeks after Howard had become prime minister. I sensed that there had to be a connection somewhere. I was also disturbed by the fact that no satisfactory explanation was ever offered for the fact that the locking mechanism for a rear exit from the Broad Arrow Café had been damaged so as to render it unusable, thus preventing escape by that route. It seemed to me then, as it still seems to me now, that anyone who thinks that this defect was not connected to the massacre – as if it was a minor problem that had occurred but simply not been noticed before April 28 – has to be a complete fool.
It is perhaps because a vein of suspicion lingered inside me that, as the years went by and the massacre wholly vanished from public discourse, I only found myself asking more questions about what had happened, not less.
What made me suspicious about the case was principally the fact that no sooner had Bryant been installed in Risdon prison than it vanished – and vanished completely - from public discourse. I could not understand why there never were interviews with key witnesses and participants. With the exception of Nubeena pharmacist Walter Mikacs, who was not himself a victim but rather the husband and father of three victims (his wife and two young daughters), no one associated with the events of April 28-29, 1996, maintained any sort of a public profile in the years that followed. Carleen Bryant – Martin’s mother – was the only other individual in any way connected to the massacre who impinged on my consciousness. (I read in The Sydney Morning Herald that the grief-stricken woman spent her days travelling around Australia in campervan.) Where were people like Bryant’s girlfriend, Petra Wilmott, who should have been able to shed light on Bryant’s mental processes in the lead up to the massacre? Why did no one ever interview actual eyewitnesses of the shooting? It was almost as though all these people had fallen down a rabbit hole. Their absence from my newspapers, magazines and televisions violated my sense of decorum. As one of the most traumatic events in Australian history, the sudden shutdown of discourse about Port Arthur presented an obscene challenge to my concept of closure, a fashionable term which, however glibly it is often used, implies a full and objective reckoning with the past. The Port Arthur massacre disappeared from the Australian media at precisely the time when the public should have found itself plumbing the darkest depths of Martin Bryant’s mind, the world which had created him, and the precise circumstances that had enabled him to acquire his lethal weapons. Port Arthur, it seemed to me, had slipped into a memory hole well before its time, and Bryant himself had become a non-person in the Orwellian sense. In a society devoted to smug self-adulation, I seemed to be the only person to preserve a live curiosity about the distressing events of 1996 – events which, presumably, had no place in Howard’s new, ‘relaxed and comfortable’ Australia.
Those unsatisfied feelings began to find an outlet in about 2001 when, thanks to the Internet, I came across writings about Port Arthur by independent researcher Joe Vialls. Vialls presented, at least in nuce, a more persuasive account of what had happened at Port Arthur than that which I had picked up from the Australian mass media.2 But at this stage, the abundance of materials on bizarre events in recent American history like the political assassinations of the 1960s and the Oklahoma City bombing to which the Internet gave me access gripped my attention more. Then there was 9-11, an event which for several years preoccupied me nearly as much as the assassinations of my heroes the Kennedy brothers.
But finally, in 2004, I discovered on my computer a version of one of Vialls’ writings about Port Arthur. This time, the subject stuck with me. I was in it for the long haul – anxious to discover whether, unsuspected by the mass public, a dark and disturbing event of the American kind had intruded into the history of a remote and hitherto peaceful continent. My ability to research this topic objectively was enhanced by the fact that, by 2004, I no longer held any illusions about John Howard. I had fully come to recognize that he was probably the dirtiest player in Australian political history. Like all thinking Australians, I realized by 2004 that he and lied about the Tampa affair for short-term political advantage, while his decision to commit Australian troops to the neoconservatives’ war in Iraq demonstrated beyond all doubt that his ultimate loyalties were to the American military-industrial complex, not the citizens of the country that had elected him its leader. I realized that there was probably nothing that Howard would not do to stay in power long enough to fasten a conservative straitjacket on the country the way the Republicans had done in the United States. If Howard supported gun control in 1996, I decided, there very probably had to be a sinister reason.
What I learned, as I studied the details of the Port Arthur massacre, was that there was no evidence that Martin Bryant – alone and to the exclusion of all other young men with long blonde hair – had perpetrated the massacre. And, as my knowledge of the case deepened, I realized that Bryant could not have done it. The book you are about to read captures the key moments of my independent investigation, the stages by which I groped my way to a fuller understanding of that disturbing event.
A word about the Seascape siege is in order. Bryant was apprehended by police the day after the massacre while fleeing a burning building, Seascape Cottage, which was located about four kilometres north of Port Arthur. The public was led to believe that Bryant had been the man calling himself ‘Jamie’ who had kept police at bay during an overnight siege that lasted over 18 hours. By various means, the public was led to accept that the Seascape affair was connected with the massacre, and that the protagonist of the siege was the same individual as the Port Arthur shooter.
That Bryant was somehow implicated in the siege is incontrovertible. He admits arriving at Seascape, we know that his girlfriend (Petra Wilmott) was present there with him, while, as is well known to most Australians, he was captured while fleeing from the burning building on the morning of April 29. Recognition of the fact that Bryant was involved does not mean that he was responsible for killing anyone, let alone that he was the main known only as ‘Jamie,’ who seems to have been in charge of the Seascape operation. In fact, Bryant was probably one of Jamie’s hostages.
While I believe that Bryant was the person Jamie referred to as Sgt. Terry McCarthy’s ‘main man’ – the reason why McCarthy could not allow the Seascape siege to get ‘blown’ – we have no means of establishing exactly what happened or why. While Bryant languishes in jail, effectively forbidden from discussing the case, the other inviduals involved are either dead or unlikely to ever to re-emerge to discuss the affair (‘Jamie,’ Petra Wilmott). There are no independent witnesses to events, leaving us wholly dependent upon the mostly uninformative statements of police and Special Operations Group (SOG) personnel attending the siege.
I do not try to ascertain the truth about the bizarre Seascape siege, therefore. Whatever Bryant’s (and Wilmott’s) true role in the Seascape affair or the extent of our sympathy for its other victims (Noelene Martin, David Martin and Glenn Pears), what happened there is a relatively tame matter compared to the nightmarish scenes that transpired in the PAHS on April 28. While it is always possible that Bryant deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison for his role in what happened at Seascape, we have no means of reconstructing a likely narrative of events, incriminating or otherwise. We are much better informed about what happened at Port Arthur – sufficiently well-informed that it is possible to state with absolute certainty that Bryant was not involved.
Although I deal with several aspects of the Seascape siege in this book, therefore, I do so only when doing so sheds light on what happened at Port Arthur and the question of whether Bryant was the Port Arthur gunman. This book is about what happened at Port Arthur in one of the darkest episodes in Australian history. For all its sophistication and its numerous unexplained dimensions, the Seascape siege was at bottom a charade whose purpose was to make it look as though Martin Bryant had been the Port Arthur gunman. It was the Australian analogue of the murder of Officer Tippit in Dallas in 1963, which by a convoluted kind of logic led to the conclusion that a man captured in a cinema with a gun had to be the man who killed Tippit and the man who killed Tippit had to have been the man who had assassinated President Kennedy.
This book therefore labours to exonerate Bryant from the allegation that he was involved in the Port Arthur massacre. It mounts no particular case about the nature of his involvement in the Seascape affair, although I lean towards the view that he was a captive rather than a co-conspirator...
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