The Ironies of a Massacre in a Land with a Convict Past

As a former convict settlement made less grave by its being converted to a heritage area and open air museum—a site that has become Tasmania’s top tourist attraction—the institutional building designed after Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon  was once prison to European convicts deported to Australia in the 1830s where many cases of harsh and brutal corporal and psychological punishments took place. Though a destination for Europeans who had committed petty crimes, such conditions made several of its prisoners go to the extent of committing murder just so that they could be punished by the death sentence. Other means of escape included the bizarre attempt of George “Billy” Hunt who disguised himself as a kangaroo only to surrender and reveal himself when the guards, hungry and starving, started shooting at him, falling for his trick too much.

The passage of time after its close could distance the Tasmanians from its dark past only so much. No amount of man-initiated deconstructions and nature-instigated destructions could drown out the association and connotation of the convicts’ crime and punishment with Port Arthur. On April 28, 1996, years after the closing of Port Arthur, this historic heritage site of violence was the location of a massacre, in which Martin Bryant shot and killed thirty-five people and injured twenty-three others. Apparently intellectually disabled, he had motives that had their roots in the Dunblane massacre that occurred in Scotland a few weeks prior to the incident and which the media directed too much of its attention to, resulting in Bryant’s copycat effect of killing all those people in Port Arthur in order to gain reputation. Observed to be impressed by the number of people he had killed when he found out, Bryant was then denied access to any news reports of his crime and its reception. The Governor then brought in photographers who had taken his pictures for the media and ordered them to destroy it in front of Bryant as a means of reversing the pleasure he anticipated in being publicized.

A less insane motive to explore, however, is the revenge he could have planned on David and Sally Martin—victims of the Port Arthur Massacre—whom he blamed for his father’s depression and suicide, thinking they had bought the property called “Seascape” for the purpose of hurting the Bryants only upon finding out that his father wanted to purchase it.

Bryant was captured by the Special Operations Group of the Tasmania Police and received a life sentence in the psychiatric wing of the Risdon Prison in Hobart. Because of this event, the use of firearms was reviewed, resulting in a new gun ownership law adopted nationwide, with Tasmania’s law being the strictest in Australia in banning semi-automatic shotguns and rifles.

The recurrence of a crime in a place that was built to punish crimes is far too ironic and coincidental. For a place that tries to put its convict past behind it, Port Arthur sure has its ironies in having its history haunt it and repeat itself to a certain extent. It’s as if it wanted to be remembered as a place of crimes and punishments, and no matter how much the Tasmanians want to detach such a dark image from Port Arthur’s connotation, it will always be known for a past full of violence. Either way, it is coupled with the resilience of its people in the present times, having always rebounded from such events, and continuing to go against what it has no control over, refusing to allow its past to determine its present.

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One thought on “The Ironies of a Massacre in a Land with a Convict Past


    NICOLE, Your article will be used within my forthcoming (June 2013) book MASS MURDER. Official Killing in Tasmania, Australia. How you wrote such blatant rubbish is beyond me. Clearly, you have not conducted any independent research, but have merely referred to the inaccurate, incomplete, and insulting official narrative. Martin Bryant had an IQ 0f 66. (It is probably less now.) It was simply impossible for him to have planned and executed the entire incident which included significant arrangements over which he had no control whatsoever: e.g., making of 22-body refrigerated mortuary vehilce; manufacture of embalming equipment in Victoria (Nelson Brothers; Footscray; funeral directors – this is from an official document). There was NO official inquiry; NO coronial inquest; NO trial. There is not a shred of evidence proving Martin Bryant fired one shot. And as for Mrs. Sally Martin, she was observed running naked (sic) at the Seascape premises late during the afternoon of the 28th. (See debrief notes and Witness Statements of police attendees: Allen, Hyland, Whittle – they reported it.) Poor Mrs. Martin died later, it seems from a blow to the head. Bigg and Cox lied when they stated, which they have done in writing, that Mrs. Martin was shot around midday by Martin Bryant. Before you write another false word about the Port Arthur incident, and repeat more of the demonizing drivel about Martin Bryant, please do some research and some thinking. (Have you read the Witness Statements?) If you or anyone else reading this, would like a draft of a part of my fothcoming book, email me. (pdf copies of the entire book will be available for free) Sincerely, Keith Allan Noble

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