Suddenly One Sunday
For the owners of the numerous shops and cafés at the Port Arthur Historical site in Tasmania, fine weather usually meant good crowds and Sunday April 28, 1996 was no exception. Once the site of one of Australia's most brutal penal settlements, Port Arthur had become the premiere tourist attraction in Tasmania. By 1.00 pm, over five hundred visitors were at the site, enjoying the many attractions that the area had to offer.
By 1.30 pm the pace at the 'Broad Arrow' café had slowed after the busy lunchtime period but at least sixty people still remained, finishing meals or browsing through the gift shop. No one seems to recall seeing the young man with long blond hair enter the café and order a meal, but they do remember his comment when he sat down on the front balcony area to eat his lunch. "There's a lot of wasps about today," he said to no one in particular and began to eat his meal. A few minutes later, he made another remark about the lack of Japanese tourists.
He made no further comments as he finished his meal and picked up his bags and went back into the café. Moving towards the back of the room, he lifted a long, blue sports bag onto a vacant table and placed a video camera beside it. For several minutes he stood staring at a group of diners at an adjoining table before turning his attention to an Asian couple that were sitting near him. Before anyone had realized what was happening, he unzipped the larger bag and produced an AR15 semi-automatic rifle and shot the Asian man, Moh Yee Ng, in the neck, killing him instantly. Swinging the rifle from the hip he pointed it towards Soo Leng Chung, the man's companion, and shot her through the head. Turning his attention back to the first group he lifted the rifle to his shoulder and fired a shot at Mick Sargent, grazing his scalp and knocking him to the floor. Before Mick could shout a warning, the gunman fired a fourth shot that hit Mick's girlfriend in the back of the head. In a matter of seconds, the young man had claimed three victims.
The fusillade continued as the gunman selected new targets, the acrid smell of gun smoke hanging in the air as his helpless victims dodged for cover. One man at the front of the room who bravely stood to shout a belated warning, died when a bullet tore through his neck. Husbands were killed as they tried to protect their wives and families, one man receiving massive head injuries when a bullet that had passed through a previous victim hit him. Some were killed instantly but many others lay bleeding from their wounds.
Walking towards the front entrance of the café, the gunman fired methodically, shooting left and right as the terrified crowd scrambled for cover. Fifteen seconds later, a total of twenty people lay dead with fifteen more wounded, many of them seriously. Leaving the Broad Arrow, the gunman walked out into the parking lot where over a hundred people were milling about in confusion. Many, hearing the shots, had started walking in the general direction of the café in the mistaken belief that a re-enactment was in progress. Others, who had been close enough to observe the carnage, ran for cover, screaming warnings to anyone they came in contact with.
Seeing the crowd gathered in the car park, the gunman opened fire. Several tourists fell as the rest, finally aware of what was happening, screamed and ran. Walking towards a tour bus parked nearby, the gunman shot the driver and three passengers. As the latest fusillade echoed across the parking lot, several tourists who were waiting to board the bus crawled under it for safety but the gunman saw them and calmly squatted down and shot them before walking back to his car, a yellow Volvo 244GL sedan with a surfboard strapped to the roof.
The gunman then drove three hundred yards down the road, to where a young woman and her two children were walking beside the road. Pulling to a stop, he fired two quick shots killing the woman and the child she was carrying. When the older child ran away to take refuge behind a tree, the gunman followed her and killed her with one shot. Returning to his vehicle, the gunman then drove a further two hundred yards towards the entrance gate where a gold coloured BMW was parked. Three shots were fired in rapid succession and the car's three male occupants lay dead. After dragging the bodies from the car, the gunman transferred his firearms into the BMW and drove away.
A short distance up the road he saw a couple sitting in a white Toyota and stopped beside them. The female driver froze as the man approached holding a gun and ordered her male companion to get out of the car. The man obeyed, pleading with the gunman not to shoot, but the gunman ignored him and instead, ordered the man to climb into the open trunk of the BMW. The gunman then slammed the lid and returned to the front of the car and fired two shots through the driver's window killing the young woman instantly. With the man still locked in the trunk, the gunman sped away towards a local guesthouse called the Seascape Cottage where the final chapter of the deadly saga would eventually unfold.
As he drove towards the entrance to Seascape Cottage, the gunman saw another vehicle approaching and opened fire, but his bullets missed their target. Turning his attention to the next vehicle, a four-wheel-drive jeep driven by a holidaying couple from Melbourne, the young man fired two shots, one of which tore into the bonnet, the other smashing the windscreen. A second volley of shots ripped through the side windows showering the occupants with glass and hitting the female driver in the forearm. Realizing the driver was hit; the male passenger leaned over and attempted to drive the vehicle to safety but was unable to do so as the throttle cable had been severed by one of the bullets.
Seconds later, a Ford sedan with two married couples on board, drove towards the cottage and were hit by a hail of bullets that penetrated the windshield, wounding the driver. Bleeding profusely from his wounds, the driver of the Ford continued on to where the jeep was parked and managed to rescue the occupants before speeding away to the Fox and Hounds, another guesthouse further down the road. Another vehicle, approaching along the Arthur Highway, saw the man standing on the road with a gun and rapidly changed direction.
After the Ford drove away, the gunman walked back to the BMW and drove down the entrance road and parked in front of the cottage. He then removed his guns from the car before releasing the man from the trunk. After taking him inside the house and handcuffing him to a stair rail, the gunman returned to the BMW, poured petrol over it and set it alight.
Only minutes after the shooting began at Port Arthur, the first police were summoned to the scene. Hearing the emergency radio call, two young constables, Paul Hyland and Garry Whittle, drove rapidly towards the area. As Constable Hyland approached Seascape Cottage, he saw the damaged vehicles on the side of the road and stopped to investigate. Seeing smoke billowing from the car parked in front of the cottage, he drove back down the highway to set up a roadblock. By this time Constable Whittle had arrived and he also parked his vehicle across the highway on the other side of the entrance to seal off the area.
Soon after two other police arrived, the BMW exploded sending them diving for cover. As they maneuvered their vehicles into safer positions, shots were fired in their direction from the cottage. The police held their positions until members of the Special Operations Group relieved them shortly after dark. As they took up flanking positions around the guesthouse, more shots were fired from within the cottage. The operation was further hampered by poor radio reception making it almost impossible for the police to confirm each other's positions.
As the hours ticked away, information about the gunman began to seep through. The lone gunman was believed to be Martin Bryant, a twenty-eight-year-old resident of New Town, a suburb of Hobart. Bryant was described as being tall with long blond hair and pale skin, almost albino in appearance and "a little slow." Another piece of information that filtered through caused greater concern. In addition to the AR15 and FN semi-automatic rifles that Bryant was known to be carrying, he had access to several more firearms that belonged to David and Sally Martin, the owners of Seascape Cottage. Given the additional weapons, at least three hostages and the lack of suitable cover around the cottage, a direct assault was ruled out and a specialist negotiation team was summoned.
Off and on for the next six hours, the senior police negotiator, Sergeant Terry McCarthy spoke to Bryant over the phone. During the course of the negotiations, Bryant's only demand was that he be given a "ride" in an army helicopter. Eventually, contact with the cottage was lost when the batteries went flat on the cordless phone that Bryant was using. As the vigil continued, police reinforcements from as far away as Victoria and New South Wales arrived at the scene creating the largest single police action in Australia's history.
The next morning, Monday, April 29, senior police met to decide the next course of action. Shortly after, smoke was seen billowing from the cottage and at 8.25 am, Martin Bryant ran from the building, his clothing ablaze. As police rushed forward to make the arrest, Bryant tore his clothes from his body and gave himself up. Later, as ambulance officers smothered his skin with ointment, Bryant asked them if it was petrol they were using. He was later conveyed to the same hospital where many of his victims were fighting for their lives. After the fire was put out, more bodies were found inside the cottage. Included in the dead were the Seascape's owners, David and Sally Martin and Glenn Pears, the man that had been locked in the car. Police would later establish that Pears had been murdered sometime during the negotiations and Bryant killed the Martins prior to his arrival at Port Arthur. In a period of just over nineteen hours, Martin Bryant, a man described by locals as being "a quiet lad and a bit of a loner," had killed thirty-five men, women and children and wounded another eighteen making him the most notorious spree killer of all time.