Editorial: Nightmare with cruel awakening

from page 10 of The Daily Telegraph, May 1, 1996

[no by-line]

  In Tasmania, the detail of Sunday's slaughter at Port Arthur is unfolding slowly and as it does so, the incomprehensible cruelty of the event is driven deeper and deeper into the fibre of our nation.
  In the first day after the tragedy, the sense of unreality was overpowering. It was difficult to believe the reports of 33 people murdered were anything but macabre fiction, a nightmare from which we could wake up to a world in which such horrors were not possible.
  But yesterday, the truth could be doubted no longer. The body of the last victim -- the 35th -- was found in the burned wreckage of the Seascape Cottage. The stories of children cut down as they ran for cover were written in every newspaper. The agony of each victim was revealed. And the slow wheels of the law began to turn. In the Royal Hobart Hospital, Martin Bryant was charged with murder. So, we begin to understand the terrible damage that has been done.
  Walter Mikac, whose wife Nannette and daughters, Madeline, 3, and Alanah, 6, were murdered, spoke yesterday of his pain. He said his life had been erased. He described the experience of seeing his wife and his children lying dead on the ground, struggling to get out words which could convey his grief. With great courage, he showed us the depth of his suffering, and begged us to do whatever was necessary to ensure the removal of high-powered weapons from our midst. Mr Mikac said he wondered how his life could ever be the same again, wondered how he could go on living without his family. It was a portrait of a man in torment, a man beyond all human consolation.
  Other heartrending stories also emerged. Sydney lawyer Zoe Anne Hall, decided only late last week to visit Tasmania at the weekend with her friend and colleague Glen Pears. Mr Pears, the 35th victim, was taken hostage by the gunman and died in the Seascape Cottage. Ms Hall was murdered in front of the Port Arthur General Store. For their moment of impulse, they paid with their lives.
  In the Broad Arrow Cafe, a harrowing tableau was revealed. In the ordinary, mundane act of sitting down to tea, 20 people saw death approaching. Twenty lives wasted, 20 families shattered for ever. Yesterday, police investigators worked their way through that gastly scene, piecing together the fragments of evidence.
  How on earth can those who have lost friends and relatives in such senseless slaughter come to terms with this thing? How can the survivors? How cany any of us understand the blind fate which could allow the reign of such chaos? There are no answers to any of those questions; only bleakness and sorrow.
  In Hobart yesterday, the bitterness and frustration felt by so many was expressed in large letters on the hospital wall. Someone had written "An eye for an eye".
  Understanding the feelings coursing through so many, Tasmanian Premier Tony Rundle sought a way for the nation to express its sense of loss and to mark a period of mourning. Mr Rundle suggested a minute's silence should be observed by all Australians at 10:30am today.
  Such a gesture would be a small enough tribute to Walter Mikac's family, small enough reminder of the suffering of all who perished, all who were touched by this tragedy.
  We should do that much, and more in remembrance of an event which has pierced the soul of our country.

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