At around 1.15 pm on 28th April 1996 tourists were seated at several tables at the Broad Arrow Café – a small restaurant located at the major tourist destination of Port Arthur in Tasmania. A young man with blond hair was seen to enter, carrying a large bag that he set down at one of the tables. It was Martin Bryant, a 28-year-old who lived at New Town a suburb of Hobart, located some 100 away.
Bryant removed a Colt AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle from his bag, and without warning opened fire on those around him, shooting at anyone who caught his eye. Firing the semi automatic weapon rapidly, he murdered men, women and children, killing 12 people in the first 30 seconds of his attack.
He then walked back out through the adjacent gift shop and across the car park, shooting at anyone else who crossed his path. Getting back into his car he then drove towards the nearby toll-booth, shooting several others and kidnapping the driver of a passing vehicle.
He was captured by a Special Operations Police Team next morning after he had hidden in a nearby guesthouse called “Seascape”. The owners, David and Noelene Martin had also been killed by Bryant the day before. He had succeeded in murdering 35 people, the deadliest shooting in Australia’s history.
What triggered Bryant’s rampage is unknown but may have been associated with the Dunblane School Massacre in Scotland that had occurred just six weeks before. After his arrest he repeatedly asked how many people he had killed and seemed impressed with the result. Although suspected by many as being criminally insane Bryant was deemed fit to stand trial and was found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 35 life sentences, one for each of his victims, and has no possibility of parole.
As well as generating shocked disbelief around the Australia, and indeed the world, the event also produced a major change in Australian gun laws. The Prime Minister, John Howard, introduced strict firearm controls across the country that included uniform licensing and also heavily restricted the private ownership of semi-automatic weapons of the type Bryant had used.