Tasmania’s Attorney General, Vanessa Goodwin
by Mary W Maxwell
For the last year I have been incorrectly saying that a Port Arthur inquest should have been held. I have been saying that none was held – which is not true. Ian Matterson, the coroner, did spend months working on one. It was “called off” after Martin Bryant pleaded guilty in November 1996.
I was also wrong in saying that the applicable law was Tasmania’s Coroners Act (1995). That act makes mandatory an inquest where there are suspicious deaths. But a letter from Vanessa Goodwin to Cherri Bonney has explained that although the legislation was enacted in 1995, it had a later date of proclamation, namely: December 31, 1996.
I am not going to say wink, wink, nudge, nudge over that. Let’s just be grateful that the Honorable Ms Goodwin cheerfully and promptly gave us the information we needed. At the request of Cherri Bonney, the Attorney General sent a paper written by Matterson, in the context of a 1997 seminar that was held to discuss “the lessons learned from the massacre.”
Cherry Bonney, who is collecting signatures at Change.org – as many as 1480 now –wrote to Vanessa Goodwin on December 19, 2015. Cherri didn’t not ask for a copy of Ian Matterson’s report – as none of us knew it existed. Rather she was just writing, as she tends to do, to urge Ms Goodwin to get an inquest going today.
Below I publish this unexpected treasure at Gumshoe. I have reduced it to about a third of its size, choosing only the bits that are of interest to those of us trying to make clear that the person who committed the massacre was not Martin Bryant.
This document has never appeared on the Internet before. The underlining by me is intended to highlight things that come as a surprise. And I have bolded names.
I will also, at the very end, quote an alleged letter from the coroner to the bereaved families.
Thank you, Ms Bonney. Thank you, Ms Goodwin. We’re off to a good start. Note: although most of what follows is a direct quote I shan’t indent it, as we usually do, or use quote marks.
Background to the Conduct of Port Arthur Seminar
by Joe Paul, Executive Officer, State Disaster Committee.
After the 28 April 1996 mass shooting at Port Arthur, a number of operational debriefs were held by the emergency services and by other involved organisations.
The Director of the State Emergency Service in Tasmania invited the Director General of Emergency Management Australia, Mr Alan Hodges to attend [a memorial] event and speak. [They] discussed the possibility of conducting a seminar on the mainland of Australia to pass on all of the lessons learnt…. Subsequently the Director General offered to host a seminar in Melbourne. The concept was agreed by the State Disaster Committee in Tasmania. As a general principle it was agreed that only those persons who had a direct involvement in the event either at the scene or in Hobart in a co-ordinating capacity should attend and speak.
A date for the seminar was then set for 10 – 11 December 1996. This date was set as it was felt that the legal aspects of the case would be wound up by that time. As the date for the seminar drew near, the gunman appeared before court and unexpectedly pleaded not guilty…. The new dates of 11 – 12 March 1997 were then set…. In due course the offender appeared again before court and changed his plea to guilty thus allowing the seminar to proceed …
Most speakers arrived in Melbourne and were transported by bus to the Australian Emergency Management Institute for accommodation and meals. This Institute is 60 kilometres north of Melbourne. The 20 or so speakers were the only persons present at the Institute and a great sense of comradeship built up over dinner and during that evening.
Next morning the bus left AEMI at an early hour [for] Melbourne. The first day proceeded smoothly with some speakers slightly over time. Very few questions were asked by the audience of some 180 persons.
PORT ARTHUR SEMINAR PAPERS 11-12 March 1997
(Published May, 1997, © Government of Tasmania)
Sunday 28 April 1996 began like any other quiet Sunday at Port Arthur. At 1300 hours, the peaceful serenity was shattered when a gunman used a military-style weapon to kill 20 people …. Richard McCreadie Commissioner of Police, Tasmania, Chairman Tasmania State Disaster Committee.
Coroner’s Responsibilities at Port Arthur, by Ian Matterson, Chief Coroner’s Delegate Southern Tasmania
- ADVICE OF AN INCIDENT
Around 1535 on Sunday 28 April 1996 I received a call from my coroner’s clerk advising of a shooting at Port Arthur with a possible 22 dead. In retrospect I was like many who, upon receiving a similar call, queried whether it was either a hoax call or an exercise about which we had previously been failed to be advised. …
At 1605 Deputy Commissioner Prins briefed the Police Commissioner (Mr Johnston). The Attorney-General Ray Groom [Member of the House of Assembly], Police Minister (John Beswick MHA) and myself. At that time there were 25 confirmed deaths… injured were being taken to … Hospital….
The question posed to me was: What are you going to do about it? … I would …travel by helicopter at 1500 hours.
All Tasmanian magistrates are coroners … At 1655 we were advised that air travel in the vicinity of Port Arthur was being jeopardized by continued shooting….
On arrival at the Police Forward Command Post set up at the Tasmanian Devil Park at Taranna we were advised the Port Arthur historic site had still not been rendered safe for entry by our team and we waited until 1930 before… the ‘all clear.’ The time spent at Taranna was not wasted as we received an up-to-date briefing from Superintendent Barry Bennett and other senior police officers. We were made aware that there was a person inside a holiday home at ‘Seascape…’
- THE CORONIAL TEAM
Prior to leaving Taranna, the State Forensic Pathologist (Dr Tim Lyons) and the mortuary ambulance contractor arrived.
Pursuant to his contract, Ray Charlton must provide his own vehicles, he organized two vehicles to travel from Hobart. His usual mortuary ambulance is an ex-Tasmanian Ambulance Service Ford F-100 capable of carrying four bodies.
Also present was a Chevrolet truck to the chassis of which M Charlton had attached a refrigerated covered compartment capable of storing 16 bodies. One can not overlook that the road between Hobart and Port Arthur is narrow, undulating, and about 100 km long. In just two return trips the Chevrolet carried the majority of the disaster victims to the mortuary, a task that would have required 8 return trips by conventional ambulance…Charlton’s foresight became a lesson in efficiency.
At 1925 I was advised the site was regarded as safe for the coronial team to enter. Because the problem with the person at ‘Seascape’ was still continuing and police officers were being subjected to gun fire, the direct route from Taranna to the northern edge of Port Arthur, which was a journey of some ten minutes only, was impossible and accordingly cars conveying my team and police detectives travelled by a longer route that enabled entry to Port Arthur from the east.
- PORT ARTHUR – SUNDAY NIGHT
On site at 2005 …A ‘walk through’ of the site with Inspector Warren, several other senior police officers, my two coroner’s clerks and the State Forensic Pathologist then commenced. We first inspected the area in the bus turning circle near the jetty below the Broad Arrow Cafe where a ‘TransOtway’ Scania bus was parked … Two bodies were at …west end of the bus, one more to the rear east side and a fourth in a seat several rows from the door in the passenger’s side…
Our party then moved to the Broad Arrow Café. This was the scene of utter devastation with bodies, personal possessions, food (some part eaten), chairs and tables in complete disarray. … twenty deceased were found within the building.
Leaving the café we made our way along the road beside the Port Arthur common that leads back to the toll gate. In an area some several hundred metres from the cafe and about fifty to sixty metres before the historic site entrance we came across the body of an adult clutching one small child with the body of another young child nearby behind the trunk of a tree. On a road hump near the toll gate and beside a yellow Volvo lay an adult male.
Inside the open boot of the Volvo could be seen ﬁrearms and a small white gun shooting target that appeared to have been used. … A short distance from the Volvo, and towards the Main Road were three further bodies. About one hundred (100) metres away and in a position outside the boundary to the historic site was a body seated behind the steering wheel of a Ford Laser. This brought the total count of bodies to 32.
…The need to carefully number all bodies and to document all
evidence and exhibits according to that number was to be the coronial office’s ﬁrst practical experience of Disaster Victim Identification procedures. Attempts by police photographers, ballistic experts, investigators and pathologist to commence their investigation were hampered by a lack of suitable light.
Because of a fear of Tasmanian devils mutilating bodies in the open, a police presence was posted to ensure neither humans nor animals could disrupt the scene. In the course of the evening the Chief Coroner of Victoria (Graeme Johnstone) [offered] additional pathologists and the Chief Coroner of NSW (Derrick Hand) [offered] police forensic investigators. This was the Australian spirit of co-operation at its best!
A ‘no fly zone’ was organised for the Port Arthur region. This
overcame the potential photographing of victims from the air.
…The Tasman Peninsula is only lightly populated with limited telephone services Mobile phones do not operate on the peninsula. With hilly terrain, police radios had to be adjusted…
- PORT ARTHUR – MONDAY MORNING
A ‘line search’ of bushland was also conducted by the police which confirmed there were no other bodies. The forensic examination of the scene commenced with the driver of the Ford Laser just outside the historic site and systematically worked through the bodies…. This ensured those bodies at outside scenes were addressed first leaving those who were secure in the Broad Arrow Cafe to the end….Once completed, that body was placed in the ambulance…
- THE MEDIA – MONDAY MORNING
Prior to 0800 I received a telephone call indicating there was a desire by a government Minister to allow a bus load of press personnel on site around 0900. I indicated this was neither possible nor desirable because of the stage of investigations and that they ought not be allowed. …Provided we could complete our investigation of the bodies on the toll-gate road, once they were removed the press could be brought on site … allowed to walk along a set route across to the historic church and up the road to the toll gate. It was agreed this would not occur before 1300 and no press member was to stray from the designated route
- CONTROL OF SCENE – MONDAY MORNING
Around 1045 the team were working just below the toll gate examining a woman and her two small children. l was advised a local doctor, who had been present at the scene on the Sunday and had been of great assistance to the injured, had sought permission to enter the site. She arrived around 1105. With her was a male, aged about 40 years. He turned out to be the husband of the woman and the father of the two children.
His initial move towards the bodies caught all present by surprise. When the doctor indicated who the man was and that it was important for his grieving process that he be allowed to see his family and farewell them on site, he was allowed some 12 to 15 minutes before being escorted back to the doctor’s vehicle to be taken from the scene.
- ’SEASCAPE’ – MONDAY MORNING
Around 1135, I received a message that the investigators at ‘Seascape’ sought the attendance of myself, my coroner’s clerks and the forensic pathologist at the burnt-out villa. I viewed vehicles (both private and police) nearby that had been shot at both in the lead-up to, and during, the siege of the house prior to Martin Bryant’s surrender. … I there spoke with Inspector Kemp, the officer assigned to investigate the site. [At] a grassy area near the green building where the wreckage of a burnt-out BMW stood. We were aware a person had been taken from the Port Arthur site the previous evening in the boot of this car but there was no body inside the wreckage.
At this stage no bodies had been recovered at this site. The house was still too hot for any investigators to search through the rubble. We were aware Martin Bryant knew the layout of ‘Seascape’ very well having previously befriended the owners. At 1435 l returned to ‘Seascape’ following a message that a body had been found. I viewed a badly burnt head, torso and legs of one body in the south-west corner of the building and a smaller, but similarly burnt body … along the western side.
At Broad Arrow…around 1700 hours with the coronial team having done all they could by way of identification of victims, it was resolved we could do nothing further on site.
[I have deleted sections 8 and 9 — MM]
- PORT ARTHUR LESSONS LEARNT
Fortunately in the months and years prior to this incident various exercises (some physical, some desktop) had been undertaken by police, state emergency workers, ambulance officers, coroner’s office and the state forensic pathologist to ascertain readiness for, and the ability to cope with, a disaster. Because of the difficulties of terrain and communications the Tasman Peninsula had been chosen as the site for some of those exercises. [end 1600-word quote from Ian Matterson]
We Want More Information
I don’t wish to give the impression that the Seminar paper by Ian Matterson conveys anything about his coronial inquest during the period after April 30 and up to November 1996, at which point he was instructed to abandon it. We still need to obtain all that.
Daniel Baxter runs the website blog.aractus.com. He published the following interesting item there. Apparently Ian Matterson allegedly wrote to at least one family, perhaps all the families with whom he had been in contact. This one may have been addressed to Stephen Howard, an employee of the Port Arthur Historic Site whose wife died at the Broad Arrow Café.
31 January 1997 PORT ARTHUR
As a result of the outcome of the charges preferred against Martin Bryant in the Supreme Court of Tasmania, I write to advise I do not intend to resume the inquest that I opened on the 29th April 1996. I believe it is not in the interests of family, friends or witnesses to again traverse the factual situation to a public hearing, particularly when any finding I make must not be inconsistent with the decision of the Supreme Court.
I have today written to the Attorney General advising of my decision.
May I take this opportunity on behalf of the staff of my office to extend our condolences for your sad loss.
Yours sincerely, Ian R. Matterson, Chief Coroners Delegate, Southern Tasmania.
Note: At his aractus website, Baxter says that Stephen Howard was interviewed by A Current Affair.
— Mary Maxwell lives in Adelaide. Cherri Bonney lives in Perth. Cherri is the one who gets visited by helicopters. You may also recall that she is the great-great niece of pioneer aviatrix Lores Bonney. Cherri is a licenced herbologist and the composer of the song “Wish I Knew How To Be Free.”