“Death has taken its toll
Some pain knows no release
But the knowledge of brave compassion
Shines like a pool of peace.
May we who come to this garden
Cherish life for the sake of those who died
Cherish compassion for the sake of those who gave aid
Cherish peace for the sake of those in pain.”
On the morning of Sunday 28 April 1996, a young Hobart man armed himself with three high-powered firearms and a large quantity of ammunition, then drove to Port Arthur.
Just north of the township he entered the home of a local couple he knew. Inside, he shot and killed them both. He drove to the Historic Site and ate a meal on the deck of the Broad Arrow Café. He re-entered the café, which was crowded with lunchtime customers, took a rifle from his bag and began shooting. In the first 90 seconds, 20 people died and 12 were injured.
The man then moved into the adjacent car park, where he shot and killed four more people and wounded a number of others.
After shooting indiscriminately at people in the grounds of the Historic Site, he got into his car and drove up the former main entrance road to the original toll booth. In this area, seven more people were killed in two separate incidents, during which he stole a victim’s car and abandoned his own.
The man then drove north. Outside the General Store he killed one person and took another hostage. He drove back to the house where the first killings had taken place, firing random shots at vehicles along the route and injuring a number of people.
At the house, the man set fire to the stolen car, then took his hostage inside. Through the afternoon and night, shots were fired at police officers on the scene. At some point during this time, the gunman killed the hostage. In the morning, he set fire to the house and was captured by police as he fled from the burning building.
After initially pleading “Not Guilty” to all 72 charges, some days later the man changed his plea to “Guilty” to all charges. He was therefore sentenced to life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole on all 72 charges, including 35 charges of murder.
The devastating events of that day at Port Arthur encouraged Australians to question our laws on the private ownership of automatic and semi-automatic firearms. A vigorous national debate was marked by strongly-held views on both sides.
Eventually, State and Federal Governments passed new gun control laws that are among the strictest in the world.
The events of this terrible day remain forever with our staff, many of whom lost close friends, colleagues and family members.
Understandably, they find it difficult and painful to talk about. Rather than ask a guide, please read the plaque at the Memorial Garden or pick up a brochure at the Visitor Centre.