Martin Bryant and the Port Arthur Massacre: The Homicidal Lunatic That Disarmed a Nation

This is the face of a monster. Martin Bryant was the most prolific mass murderer in modern Australian history. His horrific crimes changed the fabric of the country.

Martin John Bryant was born in May of 1967 in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, the oldest son of Maurice and Carleen Bryant. Martin consistently broke his toys and once yanked the snorkel from another child while he was diving. He tortured animals, was obsessed with fire, and had an IQ of 66, about the equivalent of an 11-year-old.

Martin Bryant finally found a friend in the eccentric heiress Helen Harvey.

Bryant was unsuccessful in school and was too socially awkward to maintain normal friendships. However, in early 1987 at age 19 he met a 54-year-old woman named Helen Mary Elizabeth Harvey. Ms. Harvey had inherited a share of the Tattersall’s lottery fortune and was both eccentric and wealthy. Tattersall’s is a conglomerate that has a functional monopoly on the lottery system in Australia.

Martin Bryant encouraged Helen Harvey to spend large quantities of money. Martin was obsessed with bestiality and gory horror movies and frequently slept with his pet pig.

Harvey maintained 14 dogs and 30 cats in a run-down mansion owned by her ailing mother. She invited Bryant to move in with her, and the two of them bought some thirty new cars over a three-year period. They traveled widely together and spent money with wanton abandon. Throughout it all Martin Bryant was persistently both strange and violent.

Martin was nearly killed in a car wreck that took the life of his benefactor.

In 1992 Martin and Helen were driving on a rural road when Helen swerved the car into oncoming traffic and was killed. Martin Bryant suffered a severe back injury and required seven months in hospital to recover. Previously Bryant had been known to lunge for the steering wheel while a passenger in a car and had already precipitated three automobile accidents. Helen Harvey left the entirety of her estate, some $550,000, to Martin.

Maurice Bryant, shown here alongside his nutjob son Martin, was found drowned in a pond. This event precipitated a significant deterioration in Martin’s demeanor and behavior.

Two months later Martin’s father Maurice went missing. Divers eventually found him at the bottom of a pond with one of Martin’s scuba weight belts wrapped around his neck. The police declared the death a suicide. With the death of his father, Martin acquired another quarter-million dollar.

Martin Bryant planned his rampage weeks in advance.

Martin grew ever more despondent and began to drink heavily and daily. Soon after New Year in 1996, he began planning his bloody masterwork. He confided to a neighbor, “I’ll do something that will make everyone remember me.”

The Crime

Noelene and David Martin were Bryant’s first known victims. They were targeted because Martin Bryant’s father had become angry with them over a business deal.

Martin Bryant’s father had complained incessantly that a local couple, David and Noelene Martin, had somehow cheated the Bryant clan by buying a nearby bed and breakfast called Seascape. On April 28, 1996, Martin drove to David and Noelene’s home and killed them both.

The Port Arthur Historic Site is the best-preserved convict settlement in Australia and a popular tourist draw.

Bryant then proceeded to the Port Arthur Historic Site, a popular nearby tourist destination, interacting with several people along the way. Some of these witnesses later described him as rude, while others said he was friendly. Bryant parked his car near a café on the premises. He then entered the restaurant carrying a large black bag, bought lunch, and ate it in a leisurely fashion at an outdoor table.

Bryant enjoyed a pleasant meal before he produced a rifle like this one and opened fire on his fellow diners.

During his meal, Bryant made small talk with the other people in the cafe. He responsibly returned his tray and retrieved a Colt SP-1 AR-15 Carbine equipped with a 3x Colt scope and 30-round magazine from his bag. In the fifteen seconds that followed Martin Bryant fired seventeen rounds and killed twelve people, wounding another ten.

The attached gift shop was both congested and crowded. Bryant’s victims had no place to run.

Bryant then made his way into the gift shop where he fired a dozen rounds, killing another eight people and wounded two more. His victims were hemmed in and helpless. Many of the dead were shot at extremely close range. Bryant reloaded his rifle in the gift shop and left the empty magazine on the checkout counter.

This parking lot was the scene of a great deal of carnage. Martin Bryant targeted his victims randomly.

Bryant then moved to the car park. He fired at Ashley Law, a site employee, at a range of about 75 meters but missed. After sowing mayhem throughout the car lot he returned to his vehicle and exchanged his AR-15 for an L1A1 SLR rifle. By the time he grew weary of the car park, he had killed another six people and wounded the same number.

Bryant had inexplicably strapped a surfboard to the top of his Volvo the day of the massacre.

Bryant then mounted his car and headed down the drive away from the Historic Site.

Bryant shot this woman and her two young children randomly as he fled the scene of his crimes.

On the way, he encountered a young mother with two children aged 3 and 6. This stupid monster exited his car and shot the three of them at contact range.

When Bryant carjacked a new vehicle he abandoned his USAS-12 shotgun in his Volvo.

Once at the toll booth leading into the facility Bryant stopped a BMW, killing its four occupants. He loaded his weapons, a pair of handcuffs, and an extra fuel can from his own vehicle into the BMW before speeding off. He left behind a Daewoo USAS-12 shotgun. By now he had killed 33 and wounded 19.

This guy’s head is a bucket of snakes. It is impossible to establish any reason or order to his actions that fateful day. He claimed later not to remember any of it clearly.

Bryant stopped at a nearby gas station and confronted a couple there. For reasons unknown, he forced the male half of the pair into the boot of his stolen BMW and killed the man’s girlfriend. The service station attendant had a rifle, but Bryant was gone by the time he could retrieve ammunition and get it loaded.

Seascape was a beautiful place before Martin Bryant murdered the owners and burned it to the ground.

Bryant then returned to Seascape, shooting and injuring several bystanders along the way. Once back at the bed and breakfast he handcuffed his prisoner to a stair railing and incinerated the BMW. The following morning, having murdered his hostage and now surrounded by police, Martin Bryant set fire to the building. He taunted the cops to “come and get him.”

Never one to fully consider the ramifications of his actions, Bryant set fire to the building he was cowering within. He incurred some fairly significant burns as a result.

The police let the building burn around him. Bryant eventually fled the conflagration with his clothes alight. The cops found the remains of his two rifles in the burned out building.

The Weapons

The Colt AR-15 was produced in a semiautomatic civilian version alongside the Army-issue M16.

ArmaLite designed the original 5.56mm AR-15 in the mid-1950s. “AR” stands for “ArmaLite Rifle,” a designation that persists to the present. ArmaLite sold the manufacturing rights to the AR-15 to Colt’s Manufacturing Company in 1959. Colt sold the first semiautomatic AR-15 rifles to the public in 1964.

The Carbine version of the AR-15 rifle was shorter and handier.

Original AR-15 rifles featured a fixed polymer stock and a 20-inch barrel. Colt eventually offered a carbine version of the weapon with a collapsible aluminum buttstock and 16-inch thin-profile barrel. The stubby little 3X Colt scope featured a fixed magnification and built-in mechanical bullet drop compensator.

The SLR is a full-sized .30-caliber battle rifle. Martin Bryant had passed extensive background checks to purchase his weapons. Australian authorities never did quite determine how he pulled that off.

The SLR or “Self-Loading Rifle” was the British version of the Belgian-designed FN-FAL that saw military use from 1954 to the present. The SLR was also known at the C1A1 in Canadian parlance or the “Inch Pattern” FAL in the US. The FAL saw service with seventy different militaries to include the Australian Army.

The FN FAL saw extensive service around the globe during the Cold War. Here we see a US Marine undergoing familiarization training during the first Gulf War.

The SLR is a 7.62x51mm semiautomatic gas-operated autoloader that features a tilting breechblock and feeds from a twenty-round box magazine. The SLR is a large rifle at 45 inches long and 9.56 pounds empty. The SLR served in the British Army until it was replaced by the L85A1 in 1984. In 1989 the Australian military replaced the SLR with the F88 Austeyr, an Australian-produced version of the Steyr AUG.

Fallout

The shockingly brutal nature of Bryant’s crimes shook the Australian psyche on a visceral level.

The Port Arthur Massacre precipitated a nationwide transformation in the Australian public’s perceptions of firearms. Tasmania, where the massacre occurred, had previously been a predominantly rural bastion of gun ownership. Australian State governments passed laws to give effect to the sweeping National Firearms Agreement a mere twelve days after the massacre.

The Australian NFA placed tight restrictions on the ownership of semi and fully automatic weapons. As a result of the act, the Australian government bought back and destroyed 643,000 firearms for a total cost of $350 million. The money for this program came from a temporary increase in the Australian Medicare levy.

The Australian government bought back and destroyed hundreds of thousands of previously legally owned firearms. There are 4,500 guns in this bin awaiting the smelter.

As a result of the NFA, there is currently a nationwide firearms registry as well as a 28-day waiting period on the purchase of firearms. The law stipulates storage requirements and demands a “genuine reason” for ownership. Self-defense is not an acceptable justification. As of 2014, there were at least 260,000 unregistered illegal firearms in circulation in Australia. Scholarly works undertaken since then have been inconclusive regarding the law’s effect on crime.

The Australian NFA was a culture-shifting piece of legislation. The Australian soldiers with whom I served were sickened by it.

I was a soldier in 1997 and undertook a joint operation with the Australian Army soon after the NFA took effect. I recall passing Aussie gun shops that were boarded up and shuttered as a result of the legislation. The Australian soldiers with whom I worked, most of whom were politically conservative, deeply lamented the demise of their liberty. Today, some twenty-three years later, 85% of Australians feel that the NFA is either appropriate or too lenient. After two decades of acclimation, only 6% of citizens believe that the statutes are excessively restrictive.

Observations

Martin Bryant was defective from the outset. His childhood and adolescence demonstrate textbook antisocial personality disorder. The Australian press was castigated for doctoring this photo to make Bryant look crazier than he was. Given the egregious nature of his real-life performance that seems superfluous to me.

Studying the dispassionate slaughter wrought by Martin Bryant was a tough read. His victims ranged in age from 72 down to 3. The most compelling aspect of the carnage to me, however, was the sheer helplessness of the victims. His targets fought back with foul language, profound bravery, and dinner trays, but they were all utterly helpless.

Gun ownership in America is on a whole different scale from that in Australia. If all firearms were outlawed in the US tomorrow criminals would still remain heavily armed a century from now.

There are nearly 400 million firearms in America. The Australian government bought back 643,000 guns after their NFA. At the apogee of the Obama Presidency, there were that many NICS checks in the US in nine days. An Australia-style gun buyback is a physical impossibility in the United States.

Martin Bryant will spend the rest of his natural life in solitary confinement inside this building.

Martin Bryant pled guilty and received 35 life sentences and 1,035 years in prison. He remains in solitary confinement in Hobart’s Risdon Prison today. The profound effects this one psychopath had on Australian culture will never be undone.

Today Martin Bryant is 52 years old and weighs 352 pounds. He has attempted suicide eight times and once broke a nurse’s jaw in prison. With more than a millennium on his sentence, he will never again breathe free air.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Eric August 13, 2021, 5:06 pm

    If you disagree with the author, he’ll shoot you with one of the machine guns he owns.

  • John Boston June 30, 2020, 4:49 am

    You really believe all that? An idiot with an IQ off 66 plans and carries out that entire massacre.
    For starters he only owned a gun for 2 months prior to the attack and told the police in the interview he’d used it only twice before the day of the massacre.

    In the café and gift shop combined, he fired twenty-nine shots, killed twenty people, and wounded twelve more. After only owning a gun for 2 months he must’ve been a fast learner!

    Sounds more like outstanding military precision than 66 IQ imbecile

  • Ron Bishop March 30, 2020, 7:58 am

    My wife and I went to Port Arthur on holidays 12 years ago. This tragic event was momentous so it deserved scrutiny.

    At the site where the Broad Arrow cafe used to be was a plaque commemorating the deaths of the 35 who died. It read. “Martin Bryant was tried, convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison”. Except that there was no trial, no jury – no due process. He plead guilty and sentenced by a judge.

    I believe the plaque has been changed since but why lie?

  • Michael J March 24, 2020, 9:23 am

    So in response, the government’s solution is to totally disarm the citizenry? Who really has the low IQ?

  • Shan March 23, 2020, 5:06 pm

    And if just a few or even one of those people had the means to protect themselves. Now they never will. Similar to what happened in California after the two Islamist extremists killed people in San Bernardino. Right after that they basically tore up what was left of the 2nd Amendment here. At least we can still buy Mini 14s, M1As, 30 carbines and some handguns. For now.

  • JCitizen March 23, 2020, 5:01 pm

    I used to guard a business that had a helicopter school, and we had students from all over the world. I usually became friends with the students. This was in 1990, and my buddies from Australia told me, they had no idea how to get a semi-automatic military style weapon, and even stated that they were already totally restricted – so you can imagine how shocked I was to see this happen. Many in that country, already thought they were restricted, so they were already willing to make them totally illegal.

    The really stupid thing about it, is if one is truly crazy, there are much better ways to create mayhem; that is why you always see bombings in the middle east, they want maximum terror that way. It will only be a matter of time, where we are so careless with mental instability, that the crazy among us figures out a new way to make much more mayhem that any puny firearm can cause.

    Notice how the public is always ready to blame the tool or instrument of death, and not the perpetrator! With that nonsensical attitude they will never fix the problem!!!

  • Patrick McWilliams March 23, 2020, 4:29 pm

    Eight suicide attempts in prison and he’s still alive. Broke a nurse’s jaw. Why is anyone still feeding this guy or giving him medical attention? In some cases it may be better to just let these chronic weirdos off themselves before they hurt someone else.

    • ro March 27, 2020, 11:22 am

      problem is….he doesn’t have access to a scuba weight belt…..

  • Ej harbet March 23, 2020, 3:43 pm

    A lightly armed retard slaughtered unarmed docile sheep by the dozen! And now the whole nation is mostly unarmed docile sheep waiting for the next retard.
    Very sad but the only thing we can do is learn the lesson and arm,train,survive.

  • Chris March 23, 2020, 12:05 pm

    Why on Earth are they keeping this deranged maniac alive? Sure, lots of life sentences and lots of time in jail ordered but what if he escapes? How many more will he kill because he’s crazy?

    In my humble opinion, it is wrong to sentence anyone to a life sentence. If they are so bad that you have to lock them up forever then you might as well execute them. Prison is supposed to be punishment. Punishment is supposed to teach you right from wrong and not to do wrong. A life sentence says you cannot ever learn right from wrong or not to do wrong. Since it wouldn’t be a revenge killing it should be done in as painless a manner as possible. I suggest sodium pentathol. Puts you right to sleep then drain the blood, harvest any usable organs and dispose of the rest in a crematorium. Another absolutely painless method would be to replace the air in whatever room he’s in with pure nitrogen. In less than 30 seconds his brain turns off and in two minutes he’s dead. Same follow up as before. Harvest and cremate.

  • michael March 23, 2020, 9:48 am

    Doesn’t remember ? Is that his defense or could there be more to it ? It only took one low IQ to disarm a nation. Who benefited from this ? They still don’t understand how he passed the background checks ? I got a theory. I would imagine the low IQ makes it so much easier to hypnotize ( mind control) someone. I would have thought this was BS if I had not seen straight A & B students be hypnotized. Acting like chickens, assimilating the best meal they ever ate all the while they ate nothing. Afterward I asked MY classmates if they remember anything they did. They all said no with a embarrassed look on their faces. I went to a private catholic school. This was a senior class trip to Bermuda in 1986. I wonder what they are able to do these days ? https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/09/15/cia-fort-detrick-stephen-kinzer-228109

  • Complete Rubbish March 23, 2020, 9:27 am

    You omitted some important facts. They same kind of article one might find on Wikipedia or snoops.

    • rlverrat March 23, 2020, 12:07 pm

      Hey rubbish, maybe you can enlighten us with all the facts that were omitted. What a knuckle head.

      • Complete Rubbish March 23, 2020, 9:48 pm

        Hello riverrat, you went to name calling in your first reply. So do your own research. This would be a fruitless effort to carry any kind of dialog with you.

        • River rat March 24, 2020, 8:07 pm

          Really? You just attacked the writer of this article and compared it to some trash you might get from “snoops”. Really? You offer no info, no facts, no nothing. Nada. Zero. Dialog with you? Nope. Don’t think so. If you don’t like these articles don’t read them. And keep your useless opinions to yourself. And the term “knuckle head” is not a name. It’s a state of being. Knuckle head!

  • Scooter Lippy March 23, 2020, 7:28 am

    Another great read Will. I appreciate your background research as much as the firearm info you provide. It seems as though there are always behavioral signs with these psychopaths that people either miss or ignore. I know how hard it must be for family to admit a person has psychological issues but there must be a way for families to get free mental health evaluations for loved ones before they develop into stone cold killers like this guy. As a nation, if as much energy were put into mental health evaluation as Amendment shredding gun control-we would be better off in the long run.

  • Dr. Strangelove March 23, 2020, 4:55 am

    The government cannot “buy back” guns that they never owned not sold. If Australia had such a “gun culture” at the time, why was no one able to fight back?

    • Michael J March 23, 2020, 10:48 am

      I agree, there cannot be a buy back without an initial sale. In those states where only one firearm can be bought in a month, what does our say about “buy backs”? Just walk into your LGS and don’t buy a firearm, but rather, buy back the firearm.

      Something like this:
      “I didn’t buy two guns. I bought one, but bought back the other”.

    • Chris March 23, 2020, 12:09 pm

      Because they killed the few who tried. One of many was the guy the based the Australian character famous for his “This is a knife!” statement in one of the movies.

  • john March 23, 2020, 4:00 am

    Good article, from one doc to another, keep it up!

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