The video presented in this article - A Question of Guilt: The Massacre at Port Arthur – isn’t as swish as the documentary about the Sydney Hilton bombings (Australian Conspiracy) featured previously on this blog.
It has a more amateurish feel and was probably completed on a much lower budget. Critics might well claim it’s not ‘TV quality’ – providing broadcasters a convenient excuse not to screen it on television. The fact that it hasn’t been shown to a mass audience is more than a shame, because the subject matter of A Question of Guilt is every bit as explosive as Australian Conspiracy and it deserves the widest possible attention.
One of NewsCorp's disgraceful front pages that portrayed the face of suspect Martin Bryant to a traumatised public, contaminating subsequent witness statements
For Australians, establishing the truth about what happened – and what did not happen – at Port Arthur in eastern Tasmania, late April 1996, is arguably even more crucial than uncovering the truth about the 1978 Hilton bombings. The Port Arthur massacre is a more recent event, a lot more people were killed at Port Arthur – and a man remains incarcerated because of his alleged role in the atrocity. As the documentary shows, there are compelling reasons for believing Martin Bryant’s conviction and jailing were a cruel miscarriage of justice.
Most articles critical of the Port Arthur ‘official narrative’ present anomalies and unexplained facts about the incident and aim to pursuade readers that something is deeply amiss with the official story. For me, the most persuasive in the genre that’s available online is The Port Arthur Massacre – Was Martin Bryant Framed? Written by the pseudonymous Carl Wernerhoff and published in Nexus Magazine in mid-2006, it sets out the sceptics’ case with reasonable clarity. It’s well-referenced and fairly up-to-date. There’s more material available, but Wernerhoff’s article is the best succinct written demolition job of the official narrative that I’ve encountered. Read it – and at the very least you’re likely to have more questions about the worst massacre in recent Australian history. (Wernerhoff also has a lengthier book about the Port Arthur massacre – in draft form – entitled What’s Going On? A Critical Analysis of the Port Arthur Massacre. It’s available for download here).
The Port Arthur saga is – in part – a story about the media. En bloc, Australia’s mass media quickly embraced the orthodoxy that Martin Bryant was guilty of committing the atrocity, that he acted alone – and that these ‘facts’ are not in serious doubt. The media also promoted the view that anyone who does doubt these ‘established facts’ is likely to be a disgruntled shooting enthusiast, who may themselves be deranged and dangerous. Needless to say, dissenters were branded with the silly label ‘conspiracy theorists’.
Mainstream politicians also fell into line behind the official narrative to a quite remarkable extent. Consequently, doubts and dissenting opinions about the Port Arthur massacre were relegated to an unrespectable ‘fringe’. I suspect it’s no accident that the well-researched and documented article by Wernerhoff was (a) written under a pseudnymn (we’re told the author works as a teacher and I can well believe association with Port Arthur ‘conspiracy theories’ might harm his career) and (b) published in Nexus Magazine. Nexus has been around a long time and over the years it has published interesting material. But it also has a reputation for carrying material that’s not credible at all. It’s a ‘New Age’ publication. Many Australians – certainly most of the mainstream intelligensia – would regard publication in Nexus as indicative in itself that there’s something ‘flakey’ about the material and the theory it promotes.
In any event, articles such as The Port Arthur Massacre – Was Martin Bryant Framed and audio-visual material such as A Question of Guilt: The Massacre at Port Arthur martial a compelling case that at the very least an inquest and/or honest public inquiry is long overdue and needed as a matter of urgency. I think it’s clear to anyone who reviews this material with an open mind that the official story is far from proven. As that case has already been made – and made well – I don’t intend to cover the same ground here. In this article, I aim to review the Port Arthur massacre in a broader historical context – based on the unorthodox premise that the massacre was indeed a conspiracy (not the work of a ‘lone nut’)…
Before returning to that theme, I think it’s important to emphasise what an obvious breach of due process has occured. This massacre was the biggest mass murder in Australia in modern times in terms of the number of victims. Yet to date there has been:
- no coronial inquiry or inquest
- no trial at which the prosecution evidence was put to the test
- no subsequent public inquiry of any kind
In other words, the greatest of crimes has had the least imaginable investigative follow-up. That alone must be considered highly suspicious – although it has since become alarmingly common since then in high profile cases in the post 2001 ‘War on Terror’ era. There are parallels, for instance, with the mysterious death of Dr David Kelly in 2003 (still no inquest) and the 7/7 London bombings (an inquest is taking place only now, after five years following enormous a sustained public campaign).
Martin Bryant’s ‘trial’ took place some six months after the atrocity. After his arrest, for months on end, he repeatedly insisted on his innocence. Then, following an unexplained change in defense barrister, Bryant was eventually pursuaded to plead guilty to all charges. As a consequence, there was in effect no trial at all – merely sentencing.
The sad story is explained in more detail in Wernerhoff’s written accounts and in A Question of Guilt. But I’ll add a footnote here that may have some significance. Bryant’s second barrister, John Avery, has since been utterly discredited – see Eyes that Shame Australian Journalism.
John Avery remains in jail at the time of writing. He played a key role in the Port Arthur affair. His persuasive skills were deployed to head off the need for a full trial – a trial that could have been extremely embarrassing for the prosecution, to say the least. Avery’s exposure as a fraudster is another red flag suggesting all may not be well with the official tale.
In retrospect, I think the Port Arthur massacre can be regarded as a magician’s trick. The most obvious consquence was more stringent national gun laws. Similar ‘gun atrocities’ were occuring elsewhere around that time such as the Dunblane massacre in Scotland and several shooting-sprees in the USA. There had already been a few gruesome (although considerably less lethal) shooting sprees within Australia in the previous decade). Taken together, the incidents created a clamour within the English-speaking world for much stronger restrictions on private gun ownership. Within Australia, the Port Arthur incident has always been viewed through the prism of a national debate over gun laws.
But I suspect more was at stake for the real planners of the horrific Port Arthur massacre and frame-up.
Port Arthur took the attention of most Australians away from the Hilton bombings and associated concern about State-sponsored terrorism. It got us all to fixate instead on the horror of a massacre supposedly carried out by one psychotic loner. That’s the sort of threat from which only a strong and highly-regulated State might protect us. Port Arthur, in other words, was a psychological ‘game changer’.
Back in the early 1990s, Australia’s left-wing intelligensia showed considerable interest in the Hilton bombings and put some effort and resources into covering that highly confusing saga. I don’t mean to suggest it was only a left-wing cause. The entire NSW Parliament – when put on the spot by Independent MP John Hatton – voted in support of a public inquiry into the Sydney Hilton bombings (an inquiry that’s still not happened to this day). Nevertheless, establishing the truth about the Hilton bombings case was a cause celebre for the left. It was a natural continuation of left-wing concern about Australia’s ‘intelligence agencies’ since their inception.
Probing questions about the Sydney Hilton bombing were asked in the Federal Parliament in 1995. Green Left Weekly covered the issue on several occasions. There was widespead support for a public inquiry (at long last!) – both federally and at state level in New South Wales. Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, screened Australian Conspiracy on one occasion.
John Howard: his tough response to the Port Arthur massacre was a vote winner in the 1998 election
Then, a few weeks after the election of the Howard Government in early 1996, the horrific events at Port Arthur with 35 dead and many injured literally blew that momentum away. The Hilton bombings barely got a mention in mainstream debate from that time on (I can’t, for instance, find a single reference in the Federal Hansard post-1996). Focus switched to lone-nut murderers and gun control.
Prime Minister John Howard used the opportunity to introduce national gun laws. He was widely congratulated for this. The left and centre ground of Australian politics had long been in favour of more stringent gun control laws. Progressives found themselves, often rather grudgingly, applauding the Howard Government for showing ‘courage’ in standing up to right-wingers opposed to more restrictive gun controls.
From the outset and almost without exception, the Australian Left showed little interest in the possibility that the official narrative about the Port Arthur massacre was false. Queries in the media about the official account were few – and they were typically associated with the shooters lobby in Australia, portrayed as the equivalent of ultra-nationalist militias in the USA. Most Australians ‘knew’ at the time (or thought they did) that it was ‘people like Bryant’ who’d been responsible for the horrific slaughter of innocents in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Disarming crazed extremists that seemed a good idea to the left and centre-ground of Australia’s populace, the majority of whom live in cities or suburbia and have little interest in guns (except for the understandable preference not to be shot).
Australian ‘progressives’ found it easy to ignore complaints about Port Arthur in the years following the atrocity. We tended to assume dissent was just self-serving bleating by ‘red-necks’ overly fond of their guns. At last, we thought, John Howard and his Government had stood up to the gun lobby and achieved what previous left-leaning State Governments failed to accomplish. After all, the New South Wales Unsworth Labor Government had lost an election in 1988 largely over the issue of gun laws. So yes… with a certain amount of reluctant admiration, the left and centre of politics backed the Howard Government’s push to bring in tougher gun laws – and ignored murmerings that all was not well with the story of the massacre itself. We dismissed Port Arthur ‘conspiracy theories’ as the fantasies of angry gun owners. We shut our ears to dissenting views. I know. I was one of them at the time.
The trashing of due process alone should have raised enough red flags to cause widespread concern. It did (for me) – when I eventually discovered how little due process had occured. But I’m ashamed to say it took me nearly 10 years to get there. Only after I’d absorbed the painful shock of concluding that 9-11 was a bogus trigger-event was I ready to look again at other events of modern times, such as the Port Arthur massacre, which continued to attract a kind of muffled controversy. When I took the time to review the Port Arthur story again with an open mind, I was horrified.
In restrospect, Port Arthur was not only a way for this nation’s cryptocracy to regain the agenda and brush aside lingering embarrassments such as the Sydney Hilton bombings. Perhaps more importantly, it was a way to test and train Australia’s mass media in the dismal art of uninquisitive conformity – even when covering the most ghastly of mass murders. ‘Road testing’ the western media, I now believe, must have been extremely important for the planners of 9-11. Thery had to be confident that when the Twin Towers imploded and the ‘War on Terror’ began, there would be few quizzical murmerings – not only within the US media but in other western countries such as Britain and Australia. Just one courageous and truly independent newspaper or unruly broadcaster – anywhere in the English-speaking world – might have been enough to destory the legitimacy of the official 9-11 legend and the ‘War on Terror’ for which it provided the rationale. Leaving media reaction to chance was not an option, given the stakes. If I’m correct about this (I accept, of course, it’s highly speculative), Port Arthur should also be understood as a ‘test’ for the mass media – a test that, from the perspective of those conducting the experiment, the media passed with flying colours.
After the Port Arthur massacre, Australia’s mainstream media responded with quite extraordinary lack of curiosity. There was almost no ‘breakout’ from the official narrative. A few questions were raised around the time of the massacre – as snippets of the ABC’s 1996 coverage documented in the video indicate. But although ABC MediaWatch made probing inquiries on one occasion, the ABC did no systematic follow up. Quite soon, it became normal for all the mass media to ridicule Port Arthur sceptics as extremist kooks. I recall Phillip Adams, presenter of Radio National’s Late Night Live, frequently reassuring his listeners in the late 1990s that such views were ‘toxic’ and best ignored entirely. At the time I believed him.
The bottom line is that – in all likelihood – an innocent man remains incarcerated in a Tasmanian jail. Reports of Martin Bryant’s condition since 1996 suggest he’s desperately unhappy – but what else could be expected? How would you feel if you’d been living a quiet, peaceful life until 1996 – at which time you were suddenly whisked away into incarceration, with apparently no prospect of release, for a crime you didn’t commit and can barely comprehend. Depressed? I imagine so!
Perhaps the most alarming thing of all, for someone of my political persuasion, is the role played by the Tasmanian Greens. The Greens Party has been stronger in Tasmania than elsewhere in Australia since its birth over 20 years ago. The Greens, characteristically, are less beholden to corporate interests and I’ve always regarded the party leadership as relatively free from institutional influence compared with Australia’s two major political parties. The Tasmanian Greens were well-placed to ask hard questions about Port Arthur and demand real answers. At the time of the massacre, not only did the Tasmanian Greens have members in State Parliament; they were part of a coalition government led by Liberal Premier Tony Rundle. Yet as far as I can tell from a distance, they completely squibbed the issue.
Christine Milne: Tasmanian Greens leader in 1996, now Deputy Leader of the Federal Greens. Was this courageous conservationist badly advised about Port Arthur?
I hope the Greens don’t let that sorry history prevent them now from looking again at the Port Arthur massacre. Along with some of the House of Representatives Independents in our current Federal Parliament, I think Greens in Federal Parliament have a responsibility to raise the issue of Port Arthur and demand a belated inquest and/or new, honest inquiry. A Senate Inquiry might be a good start – because it would provide an opportunity for public airing of the issues via submissions from the public and public hearings. Confidence in closed judicial processes is now at such a low ebb that a Parliamentary Inquiry might, in the first instance at least, be preferable to the more obvious approach of establishing a Royal Commission.
Australian justice itself is on trial in this case. As things stand, it fails – and fails badly. For Martin Bryant, that’s a profound personal tragedy. For relatives and friends of the victims, it means there’s a lack of real justice or closure. For the rest of us, it means we live in a society with a deep stain on its integrity. How can Australian governments pronounce in international forums about the ‘rule of law’ when we show ourselves capable of making a travesty of our own long-established legal processes?
There’s another important reason why we must re-open the unresolved crime of the Port Arthur massacre.
If the official story is bogus, the killers are still out there…
I began this short article by saying this video – A Question of Guilt: The Massacre at Port Arthur by Sunrise AV Productions – isn’t ‘swish’.
By modern TV productions standards that’s true.
Yet the makers of the movie should be complimented. This is real journalism, driven by grass roots concern! It’s not the only video about Port Arthur on the web that’s critical of the official story. It is, I think, by far the most comprehensive, informative and persuasive.
A Question of Guilt draws on fascinating TV footage from the mid-1990s. Several journalists who are featured – such as Kerry O’Brien of the ABC and News Corp’s Paul Kelly – are still prominent in the media. ‘Media Watch’, at the time presented by Stuart Littlemore, remains a central fixture of Australian TV.
So kudos to the brave Australians struggling for justice and for the truth to come out about the Port Arthur massacre! You deserve our respect and thanks. Congratulations to the courageous folk who refused to roll over and accept a big lie, such as the battling survivor Wendy Scurr and Victorian ex-policeman/independent investigator Andrew MacGregor! Speaking personally, I’m sorry I ignored you for so long.
Learning to listen respectfully to everyone’s story, for me, has been a real education.
Now here’s the video…
A Question of Guilt can also be viewed on YouTube in seven short segments:
Part 1 + Part 2 + Part 3 + Part 4 + Part 5 + Part 6 + Part 7
I also recommend a two-part video of a presentation given by Wendy Scurr and Andrew MacGregor to the 2001 Inverell forum.
A final note about disinformation.
I’ve claimed the Port Arthur saga is about:
- due process (or the lack thereof)
- manipulation of public opinion
- conformist, ‘whatever-it-takes’ politicians
- dishonest mass media
- complicity of agencies of the state charged with protecting the public
- ‘testing’ a system of public manipulation that would become even more crucial in the new century
Now I want to make another extraordinary claim. The saga of Port Arthur may also, in part, be about deliberate disinformation. I don;t believe all ‘independent investigators’ and ‘sceptics’ played a straight game. In particular, I suspect that Joe Vialls, who produced an early book ‘Deadly Deception at Port Arthur’ and whose work can still be found online via the web archive, was most likely a disinformationalist.
In the late 1990s and first few years of the 21st century, Joe wrote about a number of ‘conspiracies’. Until his reported death in mid-2005 he ran some busy websites promoting his ideas. They were always an interesting read – but I’d already come to the conclusion, based on reading Joe Vialls’ material about other topics such as 9-11, that he was not an honest commentator. It’s interesting that also seems to be the view of invesigator Andrew MacGregor with specific reference to the Port Arthur case.
Disinformation professionals can have various roles. In a case such as this, they often set out to discredit sceptics entirely in the eyes of the general public. Sometimes their task is more subtle. In this instance, I think, Joe deliberately mixed nonsense with accurate criticisms of the official Port Arthur narrative, partly to discredit sceptics – but also aware he’d fairly soon fall under suspicion within the small community of bona fide Port Arthur sceptics. As a consequence, serious researchers might be put off some of his most sensational conclusions, imagining them to be yet more inaccuracies on Vialls’ part.
One of the most sensational claims made by Joe Vialls is that it wasn’t only Australian personel involved and that the real killers at Port Arthur were from overseas. I suspect he may actually have been right about that and Joe’s role, in part, was to help discredit such a fanciful-sounding idea.
International involvement would help explain the extraordinary media lock-down around the official story. It’s consistent with the hypothesis the atrocity was a ‘road test’ for 9-11, which I believe was a Zionist-directed black-op.
My gut feeling is that the Port Arthur massacre was something similar. The actual slaughter was probably left to external professionals (one expert shooter in particular) who could be whisked far away soon afterwards. The role of Australian ‘intelligence agencies’ and key individuals in institutions such as the police, the Tasmanian and Federal Governments and the mass media, was primarily to organise the subsequent cover-up. This entailed pinning all blame for the slaughter on one hapless patsy. It was no easy task, because rather like 9-11, the official story of the Port Arthur massacre could withstand only minimal scrutiny. Lack of investigative scrutiny was accomplished in the case of Port Arthur by keeping the patsy alive (had Bryant been killed, I understand an inquest would have been unavoidable), persuading him to plead guilty at trial and competent to plead (avoiding the need to test the prosecution case in open court) and ridiculing sceptics (heading off pressure for a subsequent public inquiry or Royal Commission).
If I’m right about this – and I admit it’s highly speculative – it explains why it’s been so hard to get justice in this case… as hard as the struggle for 9-11 Truth.
It also emphasises the importance of establishing the truth about Port Arthur, if we’re ever to be free from the threat of seemingly inexplicable terror and from blatant and cynical subversion of our system of justice.
FOOTNOTE: If you’re anything like me, you appreciate hearing both sides of a controversy (often there are many sides to consider). In the case of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, I was interested to find the strongest material available suggesting the atrocity was the result of a conspiracy as well as the strongest material available that rebuts scepticism about the official story.
As the principal tactic employed by the mainstream media has been to ignore and/or ridicule Port Arthur ‘conspiracy theorists’, there’s remarkably little material available in which one finds reasoned debate between sceptics and non-sceptics. The best I’ve been able to locate is the audio-file from an interview conducted earlier this year on 2WAYFM in Port Macquarie NSW. Entitled Port Arthur Massacre – The Conspiracies. It’s in two parts on Youtube: one & two.
The interview has some problems. First, it’s not a real ‘debate’. A 2WAYFM interviewer engages in dialogue with a spoksesperson in favour of the official story, but no well-informed sceptic is on air to challenge him. Additionally, the debunker is anonymous. It’s hard to understand why. Reiterating the official story is unlikely damage anyone’s career in contemporary Australia.
In any event, a 20-minute opportunity to rebut Port Arthur sceptics without a sceptic on hand to reply is, one might imagine, the most favourable possible terrain for a rebuttal. Even so, I for one find it extremely unconvincing. Rather like the infamous Popular Mechanics rebuttal of 9-11 sceptics, this man misrepresents the best arguments of sceptics. If the facts supported his case, he surely wouldn’t need to do that.
Perhaps the mysterious ‘man who wants the conspiracy theories to stop’ could emerge from the shadows and engage on open debate with the rest of us?