Remembering Port Arthur: A Church’s Touching Tribute

May 3, 2021 | News

By: Michael Crooks

At St Peter’s Eastern Hill Anglican Church in Melbourne on April 28, the bell tolled 35 times, marking a tragedy that continues to haunt a nation.

Each bell toll represented a person lost in the Port Arthur massacre.

Twenty-five years ago on the 28th, a local man with an intellectual disability went on an indiscriminate shooting spree at Tasmania’s Port Arthur Historic Site, killing 35 people, and injuring 23.

Among the dead was Melbourne schoolgirl Sarah Loughton, 15, whose mother, Carolyn, was shot in the shoulder and survived (she still suffers from her injury).

Carolyn’s friends, Ian and Judy Fraser, made a candelabra that holds 35 candles for each life lost in the tragedy. It now serves as a memorial in the St Peter’s church in East Melbourne.

Each year at the church on April 28 at 1pm, the 35 victims’ names are read, there is a minute’s silence and then the bells ring across Melbourne.

Survivors, and those who lost loved ones, attend the service each year. Father Hugh Kempster conducts the service and mass.

“We light candles for each of the deceased,” parish administrator Kosta Soteriou said.

“We light candles for each of the deceased,” – St Peter’s church in East Melbourne parish administrator Kosta Soteriou

“They read out the names, as they would for regular Sunday intercessions, and then we conduct our regular afternoon mass afterwards.”

The service has become an important part of the ongoing healing process for many of those who were affected by the tragedy.

“Survivors come to the service,” Mr Soterio said.

“They call well ahead of schedule to make sure it’s going to be on.”

There was also a 25th Anniversary Commemoration Service at the Port Arthur Historic Site. The service took place at the site’s Memorial Garden which was officially opened in 2000.

Gun control

At the time, the Port Arthur massacre was the worst mass shooting in the world. The killer (Hope Media has chosen not to publish his name) pleaded guilty and is serving 35 life terms.

In its wake, Prime Minister John Howard overhauled Australia’s gun laws.

The Howard Government launched a buy-back scheme of thousands of weapons across the country. The government also put in place laws to restrict ownership of high-powered weapons.

Hope for the future

One of the vocal advocates for gun control is Walter Mikac, who lost his wife Nanette, and his daughters Alannah, 6, and Madeline, 3, in the tragedy.

“That was the pivotal thing. Let’s not let an event like this happen…” – Walter Mikac, advocator for gun control

Not long after his unspeakable loss, Mr Mikac launched the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. The charity aims to protect children from violence.

Of his gun control advocacy, Mr Mikac said he wanted to bring a positive out of the tragedy.

“I wanted to make change happen as a result,” Mr Mikac said in a 2019 episode of ABC’s Anh’s Brush With Fame.

“That was the pivotal thing. Let’s not let an event like this happen, and if it does, let’s minimise the possibility that it’s going to be as bad as this.”

Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.