The Martin Bryant story -- Part 2

Updated October 31 2012 - 3:09am, first published May 2 2009 - 3:47am
Robert Wainwright
Paola Totaro
Martin Bryant


Police scour the area near Seascape Cottage where Martin Bryant was finally apprehended.

THE DEMONS INSIDE: That fateful, final day. The second extract from their new book, Born Or Bred? Martin Bryant: The Making Of A Mass Murderer, ROBERT WAINWRIGHT and PAOLA TOTARO look at how the day of April 28, 2006, unfolded for Australia's most notorious murderer.This terrible day has arrived, the demons inside his mind bubbling and stewing and fermenting, but the details other than the first victims are still undecided THE day of death begins with a lie: "I'll see you tomorrow." With a nonchalant goodbye and no real expectation of seeing her again, Martin Bryant waves off his girlfriend, Petra Wilmott, and walks back inside the big, square white house to begin preparing for mass slaughter. It is just after 8am on Sunday, April 28, 1996. The couple have been up for several hours, showered and had a leisurely breakfast before Petra went home to her parents. It was unusual, she would later say, because Bryant had set the alarm the night before for 6am. It was the first time he had done so in the few weeks they'd been together, and there was no apparent reason to be up so early, particularly after a lateish night around town. Not that she knew of anyway. Carleen Bryant would say later she could sense unease in her son. She'd noticed it in the weeks since his return from his last overseas trip. The relationship with Petra had given him some stability but there were disturbing signs that something was wrong. She was right about his mood, not that she could have dreamed what was on his mind. Bryant does not communicate with Petra either, offering only that he has some things to do. This terrible day has arrived, the demons inside his mind bubbling and stewing and fermenting, but the details other than the first victims are still undecided. How many are to die will depend on how he feels after dealing with the symbols of his quiet fury, Sally and David Martin, the owners of the Seascape guest house. Bryant's car looks innocent enough, that ubiquitous surfboard strapped to the roof- rack of the yellow Volvo bought seven months earlier but still driven without licence. What is stashed in the boot cannot have been imagined: an arsenal including two sets of handcuffs, sash-cord rope, a hunting knife and several canisters of petrol. There is also the sports bag with three semiautomatic weapons and ammunition. The guns - an AR-15 semi-automatic .223 calibre rifle, an SLR military-style semi- automatic .308 calibre rifle and a semi- automatic Daewoo 12-gauge shotgun - have been secreted inside the house in the bodies of two unused pianos. This morning, in the haste, anxiety and excitement at what lies ahead, Bryant forgets another semi-automatic firearm and ammunition, leaving them lying in the hallway, haphazardly discarded among the mismatched furniture inside Clare St. Curious neighbours and marauding media crews would spy inside the house over the following week, noting all sorts of bric-a-brac, from a Christmas tree still decorated with baubles to a cabinet filled with dolls. In one side of a room, a set of dumb-bells were scattered on the floor while an empty bird cage complete with fluffy, stuffed parrots hanging upside down on the perch was in another corner. A reporter would later describe the scene as a lonely place. At 9.47am, the time registered to the minute on the house alarm as he shuts the door, Bryant takes a few swigs of Sambuca and drives through the thin line of Sunday morning traffic down the hill from Clare St towards the Derwent River, swings left on to the Brooker Highway to avoid the city centre and heads across the Tasman Bridge. Obsessed, armed, his plan indelibly rooted in his mind, Bryant nevertheless spends the next hour looking for a reason to abandon his mission. The drive to his destination is punctuated by stop after stop, every one brief but very public. The first is around 10.30am at a roadside newsagency at Midway Point, a small community perched between the two causeways that form a gateway to the spectacular Tasman Peninsula. Here he buys a $1.50 cigarette lighter and quickly departs, leaving his change on the counter. Bryant pauses and parks again, just 10 minutes later, in the slightly larger township of Sorell where he buys a $1.40 bottle of tomato sauce from a supermarket. It isn't the purchase so much as the large sports bag he carries openly into the store that catches the attention of owner Spiros Diamantis, who watches him closely until he pays with small change and leaves. In Forcett, barely 10km south, he stops for a cup of coffee from the Shell service station. Gary King remembers him because of his strange request - to "boil the kettle less time" - because a coffee he'd bought the previous week had been too hot. Bryant again pays with loose change five and 10c coins and leaves but not before announcing publicly that he is heading to Roaring Beach. At the Taranna Convict Bakery, Bryant stands with owner Christopher Hammond while he pumps $15 worth of petrol into the Volvo. Bryant tells him of his surfing plans as both men look out over peaceful Norfolk Bay. Bryant's actions that day suggest that either he wanted to create a surfing alibi - not only naive but almost incredible - or that he wanted to be seen and deep down, wanted a reason to end his journey. The frequent stops made very little sense on the surface. He had walked into three petrol stations, filling up only at the last one. He'd bought small items at three venues, all of which could have been bought at just one. And why did he need tomato sauce or a lighter? He didn't smoke and he wasn't planning on eating a pie or cooking a barbecue. It was, according to his psychiatrists, complex behaviour, suggesting that not only did he want to be remembered for what he was about to do but that he had accepted that he was likely to die in the act. Martin Bryant expected to die with his victims and was putting off his own demise, searching, stopping, procrastinating in the desperate hope that someone, somewhere would give him a reason to turn around and go home. The rising anger noticed by people such as Scott Goldsmith in the weeks before were not only of a man struggling with his obsession, fighting the demon that urged him relentlessly on towards his Armageddon but a damaged psyche that was simply incapable of straying from a set course. Since marking the event on his calendar in the days after Dunblane, Bryant's life had turned around and for the better. He had entered a new relationship, found the human connection he had craved for so long. Suddenly, he had reasons to live, and yet the rigidity of his nature drove him towards the suicide deadline. The closer it got to April 28, the more anxious he became. He had wanted to die but now he was not so sure. Still, the date circled on his calendar drew him like a magnet. There was no reason for the date, April 28. It had no significance when he chose it, merely that it was a Sunday when tourists would be at Port Arthur just in case he wanted to go on a killing spree after disposing of the Martins. When asked why he had settled on that date by his lawyer, John Avery, Bryant answered: "It was a nice day." It seems an unfathomably cruel remark but for him, it signified nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders. The answer meant little except to confirm that he had given himself a deadline. Even then he was still searching for a way out: the cigarette lighter and sauce were bought for no reason other than to give him an excuse to stop and try to engage with others. Like the long-haul flights he took simply to talk to the captive fellow traveller in the seat next to him, he wanted to find someone with whom he could strike up a conversation, perhaps even a person who might make a kind remark, respond to him and make him feel accepted, if only for a moment. When he bought the coffee at Forcett, Bryant walked outside and sat down next to a tourist who had also stopped for petrol. The desperate young man tried to involve the man in conversation: here was a chance for the world to admit it was wrong. If the man had exchanged even a few words with Bryant, it might have been just enough for him to turn around, put his terrible plan on the backburner. But like so many times before, his inane observations and the stupid blank grin got in the way. The man walked away from him, and from the warped perspective of Martin Bryant, he had been slighted yet again. His indignation had been reignited, and the world had been robbed of its last chance. Now it was a case of how many would die with him.This is an edited extract from Born or Bred? Martin Bryant: the making of a mass murderer, by Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro, published by Fairfax Books on April 28, RRP $35.CLICK here to get your copy of Born or Bred? Martin Bryant: the making of a mass murderer: