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Martin Bryant and the Broad Arrow Cafe

Updated on June 4, 2013
Port Arthur Penitentiary
Port Arthur Penitentiary

A Place of Misery

Port Arthur, in South-Eastern Tasmania (formerly Van Dieman's Land), is a gloomily beautiful place embued with a long history of pain and suffering - so much so, you can almost smell it in the air. It is a strange, mysterious place. Once a brutal penal colony, it eventually morphed into a mecca for tourists, who were eager to soak up the historical ambiance.

On the 26th of April, 1996 an event happened there that was so shocking, it rattled Australia's slumbering complacency and led to a nationwide tightening of gun laws; a move that was supported by the majority of Australians. The Port Arthur Massacre, as it became known, was the mainfestation of one young man's descent into evil - the playing out of a murderous rampage that blotted out the lives of 35 people in one fell swoop. The event united a nation in horror and deepened the reputation of Port Arthur as a place of near inconceivable human suffering and despair.

Until the 2011 shootings in Norway, the Port Arthur massacre had the sad distinction of being the worst mass killing by a lone gun man in the world.

Martin Bryant...the "Angel " of Death
Martin Bryant...the "Angel " of Death

The Angel of Death

The youg man who had wreaked such savage havoc that day was Martin Bryant, a 28 year old Tasmanian. Those who lived to tell the tale, said he arrived at the Broad Arrow Cafe, a busy tourist hub in Port Arthur, in a yellow volvo with a surfbord on the top, looking like a laid-back, windswept surfie. After loading up his tray with food, he went onto the deck to eat, even casually chatting to some of the patrons. No-one in that cafe had the slightest clue of the horror that was to follow just minutes later. Bryant had a pale, angelic beauty that gave him an ethereal look and one survivor recalled that he "looked like an angel".

However, the angelic-faced surfie carried a bag that contained two lethal automatic weapons and a knife and when he zipped it open back at the food queue, all hell broke loose. Bryant was as cold and calculated a killer as is possible. Even before he arrived at the cafe he had already killed two people at the Seascape Guesthouse -evidently as the result of some sort of personal vendetta. Some time earlier Bryant's father had wanted to purchase the Guesthouse but was undercut by a married couple, the Martins, whom his son had just murdered. Martin Bryant had described them as 'double dealers'.

Survivors Stories

Survivors told how Bryant fired a shot, then looked around coolly to pinpoint another victim. 56 of them. 35 died and 21 were injured. An article in the Star newspaper includes a quote from survivor Phillip Milburn:

He wasn't going, 'bang! bang! bang!' It was 'bang!' and then he'd pick someone else out and line them up and shoot them.

When he'd had his fill in the cafe and adjacent gift shop he strolled outside where there were tourist buses and lines of people. Some of them, hearing the shots, scattered, trying to hide under shrubs or behind cars. Others were confused and assumed an historical re-enactment was happening. As Bryant moved around he fired shots at the scattering people, stopping only once, to go to his vehicle and change weapons. After firing at a few more victims he returned to his car and according to witnesses, he was waving, tooting his horn and still firing shots at the same time.

One of the most gut-wrenchingly sad stories was that told by Walter Mikac, whose wife and two young children were mercilessly killed by Bryant. Nanette Mikac was desperately trying to run away with her children and had already run 600 metres from the car park.Spotting the young mother and children as he drove off, he slowed down and unfortunately Nanette Mikac moved toward him, mistaking him for someone offering a chance of escape. As someone yelled "it's him!" Bryant stopped the car and forced Nanette Mikac to her knees. She pleaded with him - "please don't hurt my babies" but Bryant shot her, then three year old Madeline and six year old Alannah as she ran behind a tree. He had no compassion.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Mikac set up a foundation, a national charity protecting children from violence and its devastating effects.

The Alannah and Madeline Foundation:

"Lots of Fun"

Although poilice had been despatched earlier, It wasn't until 9 pm that a Tasmanian special operations group arrived at the Seascape Guesthouse where Bryant was holed up with hostages, although the Martins (whom the police assumed were hostages) were already dead and a third woman was soon to be killed. An eighteen hour stand-off followed, during which time Bryant, who was calling himself Jamie demanded a helicopter. He was captured in the morning, after he set fire to the guesthouse and had taunted police with the words "come and get me!" but ti was the fire that eventually drove him out of the house with his clothes burning.

On the previous afternoon a woman from a tv network had managed to contact Bryant. She hd been ringing around local businesses trying to find out what was going on and had called the Seascape. When asked what had been happening, Martin Bryant's response was "lot's of fun!".

The Broad Arrow Cafe, Port Arthur
The Broad Arrow Cafe, Port Arthur
Bryant as a boy with his father and baby sister
Bryant as a boy with his father and baby sister

A Strange Boy

Martin Bryant was a concern to his parents, who were British immigrants, and his odd behaviour aliented him from other children. As a toddler, he was a smiling, adventurous child who had to be leashed to prevent him from roaming the streets of Hobart and was constantly monitored for erratic behaviour. At school it was revealed he had a below average IQ and attended special classes. Those who knew him from this period recalled that he appeared to be 'unemotional' but happy "in his own world". After leaving school, Bryant 'fell through the cracks' and failed to find direction, although he did find some work as a handyman and gardener.. As an adult, he had an IQ of 66, equivalent to that of an eleven year old (some claim a five year old). At one time he was asessed for a disability pension and a pyschiatric report noted the following:

Cannot read or write. Does a bit of gardening and watches TV ... Only his parents' efforts prevent further deterioration. Could be schizophrenic and parents face a bleak future with him.

According to some psychiatrist's, Bryant's parents could not fully accept his 'differences' and he didn't receive the kind of support and treatment a child with disability such as his might need. They insisted he attend a mainstream school and as a result he suffered severe bullying and his school life was made miserable. The family had problems, which increased with time. Martin's father, Maurice Bryant, suffered from severe depression - a condition that led to his eventual suicide in 1993.

The Lottery Heiress

Helen Harvey was a 54 year old recluse and one of the Tattsersall heirs -Australia's largest lottery business, begun by George Adams. Harvey formed an unusual, though from all accounts, platonic bond with Bryant, eventually leaving the young man a six figure inheritance. It was this money that allowed him to travel overseas several times and purchase his automatic weapons.

The pair met as a result of Bryant's lawn-mowing business. Initially Bryant was a regular visitor at the Harvey Mansion in New Town but when Helen Harvey's mother died, he moved in with her and helped out with odd jobs.. They shared the premises with fourteen dogs and forty cats but as the animals were becoming an issue in town, they later moved to a 29 acre farm in Copping.

In 1992 Bryant and Harvey were involde in a car accident caused by Harvey veering over to the wrong side of the road. Harvey died and Bryant spent seven months in hospital with neck and back injuries. the pair had had three previous accidents, as apparently Bryant had a habit of lunging for the steering wheel.

Maurice Bryant committed suicide in a dam on the Copping property, evidently by weighting himself with his son's diving belt. In addition to being left the farm at Copping and the Newpirt house, Bryant also inherited his fathers superannuation, worth 250, 000 dollars.

It appears that the disturbed young man was something of a fantasist. After the deaths he moved into the Newport house - no longer dressing his white work overalls but rather a pale linen suit, cravat, lizard skin shoes and a panama hat. He also carried a briefcase around, claiming to have a well-paid job. when dining out he would often wear an electric blue dinner suit matched with a frilly yellow shirt - not the garb of a man who wants to blend into the shadows.


Loneliness appeared to have plagued Martin Bryant, particularly after his father and benefactor died. He sought company but found people turned away from him and in the months leading up to the massacre he began drinking heavily. Was the killing spree at he Broad Arrow cafe some extreme, monstrous way of articulating the emotions he did not have the intelligence to express in any other way?

Of course there are hoards of people who suffer alienation and anger and who may have low IQ's but refrain from brutally massacring their fellow humans. What extra element lurked within Martin Bryant's dark mind...? Theories abound but no-one really knows.

Born or Bred...? (sorry about the dodgy lip sync)


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