In 1996, an Australian historical attraction called Port Arthur, located on the southeastern coast of Tasmania, was rocked by killings. More than just a mass shooting which claimed the lives of thirty-five and shattered many more, the Port Arthur massacre was a political event which was leveraged by the anti-gun lobby into a complete and total Australia-wide ban on private firearm ownership. Since violent crime in Australia has increased in the years since the ban went into effect, just as it has in the UK following similar legislation which was put into effect around the same time, this matter is of concern to all Australians. Likewise, as arguments continue to rage concerning the possibility of a prohibition on private gun ownership in the United States and other nations where men and women are currently legally able to defend themselves with guns, this matter is of concern to non-Australians as well.
What’s perhaps more disturbing than the rise in crime, however, are allegations made by a team of investigators and attack survivors headed by retired Tasmanian police officer Andrew MacGregor in a 2008 video called “A Question of Guilt: The Massacre at Port Arthur.” Over the presentation’s 61 minute run time, the group makes a case that the true guilt for the massacre lies with parties not yet identified and that the feeble-minded Martin Bryant — one psychiatrist’s estimate put Bryant’s IQ at 66 — who pled guilty under questionable circumstances of having planning and executed the plot single-handedly, was probably a mere patsy in the grander scheme of events surrounding this crime.
The video opens with a quote from former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who lamented the loss of life in the massacre but praised the governments of the Australian states for uniting in their support for, quote, “tougher and more effective gun laws.” It was never explained, however, how the massacre had resulted from a lack of gun control, since Bryant had no history of violence, and even a greater mystery remains as to why a complete and utter national ban on privately owned guns was an appropriate response to the death of thirty-five people at the hands of one lone madman, as the people of the world were told.
As the video explains, Bryant was born in 1967, making him 29 years old at the time of the shooting. From his first years of school, Bryant was recognized as being unusually slow and clumsy and later in life, he received government benefits on the basis of his mental handicap. Later inheritances and accident damage awards left Bryant a fairly wealthy young man, however, with over $500,000 and a house coming to him in his twenties. In all, “Simple Marty,” as he was known, lived a quiet, childlike life, was frequently visited by his mother who helped care for him, had a girlfriend named Petra Wilmott, and enjoyed playing games with the children next door.
Despite this unlikely portrait of a mass murderer, however, it has been alleged that on the 26th of April 1996, the childlike Bryant drove up to the historic site at Port Arthur, shot and killed over thirty strangers and stole a vehicle before holing up in a nearby cottage with hostages for several hours. It is then suggested that after a shootout with police, Bryant set fire to the house and emerged. And ever since, Bryant has sat in jail.
The Australian government stands firm in its allegations but some survivors and witnesses were not satisfied with this description of events. One such witness is Graham Collyer, who described the gunman, whom he saw at close range in Port Arthur’s Broad Arrow Cafe, where a majority of the shooting took place, as having had a “pitted face”, as if he had had a lot of acne. As photographs of the accused show, Bryant did not fit this description.
When requests by skeptical survivors for a post-trial coronial inquiry into the shooting were met with alleged concerns over the emotional wear and tear this might cause them, some grew quite suspicious that the Australian government was mainly interested in putting the issue to bed and reaping certain political gains which had arisen as a result of the massacre and not with uncovering the full truth of the circumstances of it. A television interview with government attorney Ray Groom which catches Groom in a lie is put to excellent use here and calls attention to the duplicity which has made the Port Arthur aftermath what it is.
An Oklahoma City bombing-style “trial by media” was also in full effect in the Port Arthur case and is well-exposed in the video as several Australian newspapers all but declared Bryant guilty in full-page cover stories run just a few days after the shooting which featured altered photographs in which Bryant’s eyes appeared wild and distorted. Some even went as far as to argue that there should be no trial or due process for Bryant.
In the second half of the presentation, the pace changes considerably with presentations by Andrew MacGregor, the author of a Port Arthur e-book titled Deceit and Terrorism, which probe more deeply into the specifics of the evidence and pose questions about the official timeline. Prominent questions here concern the Port Arthur gunman’s expert-level accuracy in the Broad Arrow Cafe and the sudden and unexplained change in council on the part of Martin Bryant which led to a guilty plea and the closing of the case.
“A Question of Guilt” is a worthwhile view for anyone concerned about the details of the Port Arthur shooting and the resulting political fallout. While some might find the revelations within it shocking, those of us who have studied the particulars of other high-profile “lone nut” mass shootings such as the Columbine High School attack may recognize a pattern. A DVD copy can be purchased from Sunrise Audio Visual Productions. [END] Permalink: A Question of Guilt: The Massacre at Port Arthur