City feels killer's legacy of bitterness

Tasmania massacre: Nurses receive death threats as gunman charged in court hearing at his bedside
"An eye for an eye" reads the chilling, spray-painted slogan along the front wall of the Royal Hobart Hospital. Meanwhile, staff have received death threats for continuing to treat Martin Bryant for the burns he suffered when the Port Arthur holiday lodge, where he took three hostages and held police at bay in an 18-hour siege, burned down. There is enormous bitterness and anger in Hobart.

As Tasmanians tried to come to grips with the horror of the Port Arthur massacre, 28-year-old Bryant, the man accused of slaughtering 35 people in Sunday's horrific shooting spree, was formally charged yesterday in a bizarre court hearing at his bedside. The charge related to the murder of Kate Scott, a 21-year-old who was among the victims. Further charges will follow.

Bryant lay silently in bed as he was charged. He entered no plea. Elsewhere in the same hospital, 16 of the 19 people injured in the shooting spree were also receiving treatment, some in serious conditions.

Helen Gray, of the Tasmanian nurses' association, said her colleagues were having a tough time reconciling their professional duties with their feelings of rage. Meanwhile, police stepped upsecurity, as thousands of Hobart people prepared to stop work today to join an ecumenical church service attended by John Howard, the Prime Minister, and other political leaders.

Newspapers around Australia splashed Bryant's photograph yesterday, staring wistfully from beneath shoulder-length blonde hair. "This is the Man", announced the front page of the Mercury, of Hobart. "He Killed 35", declared the Herald Sun, in Melbourne. "Face of a Killer", proclaimed the Australian.

Former friends and neighbours continued to paint a disturbing portrait of Bryant as a complex young man, a loner who was alienated from his family. He had inherited a fortune from a spinster twice his age and had lately developed a morbid fascination with guns.

Bryant was born in Tasmania in May 1967, the son of a dock worker. While he was still at school, he became friendly with Helen Harvey, heiress to the Tattersalls gambling fortune.

She became his benefactor and took him in to her mansion in the Hobart suburb of New Town, which Bryant later inherited from her, along with a farm at Copping, a hamlet near Port Arthur.

Neighbours remember them as an odd pair. They kept up to 40 cats, dogs and birds on their farm as well as a pig which, locals claim, Bryant would sometimes sleep with. They would occasionally go for drives in one of Miss Harvey's expensive cars with a miniature pony in the back seat, which they would then take for walks in the countryside around Port Arthur.

When Miss Harvey died in a car crash near Copping about four years ago, she left Bryant property and other assets valued at about pounds 300,000. His father moved to the farm after her death, but their relationship was strained.

About a year after Miss Harvey died, Bryant's father went missing. Neighbours alerted police who found his body floating in a farm dam with lead diving weights around his neck. Some people were suspicious about both deaths, but no charges have ever been laid.

John and Sue Featherstone, farmers who live next door to the farm, which Bryant has since sold, have unhappy memories of their former neighbour.

Mr Featherstone said yesterday that Bryant had once invited his wife and daughter in for tea.

"Then he herded them outside and told them not to come back ever or he'd shoot them," he said. "He would go from being a 25-year-old to a 12-year- old delinquent kid, just like that. Miss Harvey once told us that he'd threatened to shoot his own father."

The Featherstones reported their encounters and fears about Bryant to police, but their complaints were not followed up.

On Monday, when police raided the deserted mansion in New Town where Bryant lives, they took away boxes of ammunition and a firearm. Phil Wilkinson, an inspector with the Hobart criminal investigation bureau, said yesterday: "He had developed a growing interest in firearms quite recently. It's my understanding that none of his family knew he had firearms."

Bryant is believed to have purchased his guns, including two semi-automatic military-style weapons used in the Port Arthur shootings, by mail order. He was able to do so because Tasmania's gun laws up to this week had been the least restrictive in Australia.

Given the degree of public outrage over the killings, the Tasmanian state government yesterday announced that it would impose an immediate ban on the future sale of self- loading military weapons. Meanwhile, Australia's federal and state governments are to hold talks next week in a bid to introduce tough, uniform gun laws.

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