Touring Tasmania – Part Two PORT ARTHUR

I have a collection of lists of things I either want to do, or feel unimaginably compelled to do with the time and resources I have available (not literally, you understand, I am NOT the kind of person who actually writes lists).  This does not include the social causes and environmental initiatives we are passionate about, just collection of places and things I want to go and do for a whole bunch of different reasons.

There’s the bucket list of course.  These are things I’d like to see or experience before I shed the mortal coil.  There’s a long list of movies I’d like to watch, and books I’d like to read.  There’s a list of concerts and events I’d like to attend, foods I’d like to try – you know, the usual stuff.

One of the more important lists is aligned with my insatiable fascination with the human condition.  There is a long and ever growing list of the sites of human atrocities I feel overwhelmingly compelled to see.

When I go to these places I feel something that I can’t accurately describe.  Grief, anger, confusion, nausea, urgency, and some strange quantum bend where, when I close my eyes and am very still, I can sort of taste the fear, urgency, and confusion that lingers in these places.  It is almost like some palpable force I can only describe as evil attaches itself to these places.  But this feeling is always, I mean ALWAYS overshadowed by something else quite liberating and powerful indeed.


These places also seem to carry an echo of hope, courage, expectation, self-sacrifice, human-kindness, and an indescribably intense peace.  The stories come out of strangers risking their lives for other human beings, parents saving the lives of their children, Lovers clinging to each other in a final embrace.  There are stories of heroic first response teams saving lives without a great concern for their own safety, brave and effective interventions or emancipations, and selfless and heroic acts by entirely average people thrust into these extraordinary events. Believing, as I do in an afterlife and a never-ending cycle of infiniteness and energy that we have our part to fulfill, I genuinely believe that the victims at places like these are freed to soar and find eternal peace and comfort that surpasses all human understanding.

The original cross containing the names of the 35 victims of the Port Arthur Massacre - April 28th 1996

The original cross containing the names of the 35 victims of the Port Arthur Massacre – April 28th 1996

So this is what brought me to Tasmania, nearly 18 years after the largest mass murder carried out by a single individual in Australian history.

The first time I saw the news report for the day remain a flashbulb memory.  Same as I will always remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw the plane crash into the Twin Towers or a handful of other incidents.

A massacre was unfolding in a picturesque historic site on the southern-most tip of Tasmania that I had never heard of called Port Arthur.

According to an extensive report released on November 19th 1996, the 28-year-old unemployed malevolent sub-human containment unit of evil set his alarm for 6:00am.  He said goodbye to his girlfriend, and left the house that was left to him by some rich benefactor, whose generous gift also allowed him to buy an extensive cash of high-powered weapons.

At some point he began systematically mowing down people who he’d actually engaged in broken and sporadic conversations at picnic tables that same day.

The location of the highest number of fatalities was the Broad Arrow Café.  In 15 seconds there were 12 people killed and 10 seriously wounded.dfsaq

The siege in the café began when the monster “…finished his meal, walked into the cafe and returned his tray, assisted by some people who opened the door for him. He put down his bag on a table and pulled out a Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine with a Colt scope and one 30-round magazine attached.”

He carried on throughout the historic complex.  Back toward the entrance, right next to a ticket booth, a mother, who was around my age; Nanette Mikac, was running away from the scene of the chaos as fast as she could with her two little girls.  A car slowed down, she assumed, to help her.  That car did not contain help, but the evil executioner.  He walked toward her, had her kneel and she begged for mercy for her 3 and 6 year old daughters Alannah and Madeline.  He shot her point blank and then killed her babies while other people looked on in absolute horror.

On the original cross there is a bronze plaque containing the names of all the victims.  I ran my fingers across the three names which were warn shiny from countless others doing the same thing.  I thought about my own children, and all that lay ahead of them – and how all that hope and promise was taken away in a senseless violent act.

The siege went on for two days and ended when he came out of a house in the tiny beachside settlement of Seaspray, just up the road from Port Arthur.  He had just murdered the two elderly residents and set the house on fire.  He was himself on fire when he emerged from the home and was then taken into custody.

Since that day in 1996 – sweeping reforms have been made to Australian gun control legislation.  There has not been a single mass murder in this nation since.

Australians remain huge gun enthusiasts.  In 2007 more than 5% of the population had registered LEGAL firearms.  That is three quarters of a million people.

I don’t need to go into any sort of detail about the situation in the USA.  It is appalling.  It has gotten to the point that even I, as a paper thin-skinned social activist and aspiring humanitarian hardly blink when I see the news reports regarding another shooting in America. I wince and shut my eyes as a wave of nausea comes over me when I hear of another (usually Black of Hispanic) young person has been shot by some emotionally unstable cowboy wielding a high powered weapon.  I shake my head and say a silent prayer when I hear about the most recent mass shooting.  These events frequently occur at schools and community colleges.

Here’s the thing.

If you like guns, and want to use them for whatever reason and can be reasonably be trusted not to go on a senseless shooting spree, I think you should totally be able to engage whole heartedly in your passion for firearms.

The entire world simply needs legislation that will mean that simple and effective measures and procedures are in place so that these weapons do not land in the hands of evil crazy people.  Don’t sell guns to people who have a serious propensity to violence or severe mental illness that may very well go on a killing spree.

The evidence is there that well managed gun control works, and enthusiasts in places with these controls don’t often begrudge this.  Canada and Australia have miniscule gun violence statistics compared to say, the USA or the Philippines, who have similar constitutional legislation on gun ownership and little to no control on the sale and distribution of weapons.

We cannot forget the atrocities of mass shootings the world over.  And the truth is we hardly hear about most of them as they are only interesting to us if the news values of the incidents are high in proximity, significance, and relatibility.  When a village full of people in the Middle East, South East Asia, or Africa gets wiped out of existence by guerilla forces, evil and corrupt dictatorships, or even “friendly fire” we rarely hear about it.  That’s all a much bigger conversation for another day though.

We’re doing a great job as a planet at fighting extreme poverty.  We’ve all but wiped out the incidence of mortality due to preventable diseases.  Can’t we do something about people killing each other?  There seems to be a fairly clear and effective strategy in effecting positive change in this area.

In conclusion, you may or may not have noticed I did not use the name of the perpetrator once in this piece.  It is my firm personal belief that these people deserve no notoriety.  I have gone to great lengths NOT to write his name.  Judgment will come to them.  In the meantime, they do not deserve a name that takes up any space in my, or anyone else’s brain.