Shared bond after Port Arthur massacre

Walter Mikac felt alone after the Port Arthur massacre.


His wife Nanette and daughters Alannah, six, and Madeline, three, all died that day in 1996.

“I remember thinking there’s no one that can understand how I feel,” Mr Mikac recalled, 20 years later.

It was not until he read the stories of Scotland’s Dunblane fathers that he felt a kinship.

The man who lost his family in Australia’s worst mass shooting and the fathers of the young children killed six weeks earlier at a Scottish primary school share a bond in a club Mr Mikac hopes no one ever joins.

“It’s not a club I’d recommend to anyone, having lost a child.”

Three of the Dunblane fathers came to Australia to campaign for gun law reform on the first Port Arthur anniversary.

Mr Mikac and his brother have since visited the Scottish town, listening to their stories and drinking in its pubs.

“That was a really positive and good healing thing to do,” said Mr Mikac, who also remains in contact with some Port Arthur survivors.

“There’s sometimes things that you can’t really share with your family, that’s maybe just too gruesome or the thoughts are too dark to really want to share with people who are close to you.”

Mr Mikac usually spends the anniversary alone, taking a long hike somewhere in the wilderness.

He decided against returning to the former convict settlement for Thursday’s 20th anniversary memorial service.

Instead the Alannah & Madeline Foundation he founded will hold a candlelight vigil in Melbourne.

“The memories are pretty strong,” he said.

Mr Mikac, who now lives in Byron Bay with his second wife and daughter, and the foundation avoid using the name of the man who killed 35 people and injured 23 at Port Arthur.

They feel Martin Bryant doesn’t deserve a place in history alongside the victims.

“Look at the courage of Nanette, pleading for her children, facing what she could see, what was about to happen,” Mr Mikac told the Seven Network.

“And the name of the perpetrator, there was no courage involved in that act at all.”

Mr Mikac regards the national charity he set up to protect children from violence, along with the tough gun laws brought in after the massacre, as a shining beacon and monument to his daughters and first wife.

Amid widespread disbelief that a mass shooting could happen in Australia, he received thousands of letters of support.

He was astounded that one made it to his pharmacy at Nubeena, a village near Port Arthur, simply addressed “to the man that lost his family”.

Another letter, from Melbourne man Phil West who had two daughters around the same age as Alannah and Madeline, sparked the idea for the charity that has now helped 1.5 million children.

That Australia has not had a mass shooting since 1996 shows the value of the gun law reform after Port Arthur, Mr Mikac said.

He hopes it stays that way, and no one else gets a letter addressed to the man who lost his family.