April 2016 marks the month of the 20th anniversary of Australia’s worst massacre by a single gunman (at Port Arthur, Tasmania) – and the 20th anniversary when the son of Croatian immigrants in Australia, Walter Mikac, became widely known, a household name and the national symbol of the Port Arthur Massacre. Walter Mikac lost his wife and two daughters on that 28th day of April 1996 at Port Arthur when a deranged gunman (whose name I will not mention here out of respect for the victims and their loved ones) went on a killing spree armed with semi-automatic assault rifles and killed 35 people and wounded 18. Out of that tragedy, out of Walter Mikac’s profound grief arose giant and brilliant legacies of tight gun ownership control laws, of love and remembering through a charitable foundation he set up that has so far helped more than 1.5 million children who are victims to violence worldwide.
Walter Mikac , born in 1962 Melbourne, the son of Croatian immigrants, married nursing sister, Nanette ‘Netty’ Patricia Mikac (nee Moulton, born 1960 Shepparton, Victoria) in 1985 in Melbourne. After Alannah ‘Lani’ and Madeline ‘Maddie’ were born, the family moved in 1994 to the town of Koonya, near Nubeena in Tasmania, where Walter became the local pharmacist and Nanette occasionally helped behind the counter. On Sunday morning 28 April1996, Nanette and her two daughters went to picnic at the picturesque Port Arthur Historical Site, only ten minutes by car from their home, while Walter went to play golf nearby. In the early afternoon, Walter and his golf friend heard gunshots from the Port Arthur site but continued playing their game, thinking that the gunfire was due to a re-enactment of some historical event.
“Not long after, our family friend and local GP, Dr Pam Ireland, came and told me what had happened. She took me to the site, insisted the police let us through, and took me to see my family. For acceptance, that was very important. It meant there was no need for someone to describe or hide the details. I was able to hold each of them. The police didn’t cope with that very well, but Pam’s insistence made that happen, “ Walter said during a recent interview.
“I truly believe the power of love and creation will always triumph over the power of destruction and revenge,” he said.
Mikac struggled hard and no matter how hard he tried he could not understand what allowed someone to kill that many people at the same time without being stopped! This terrifying puzzle led him to write a letter to the then-Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard focusing on the need to prevent such carnage in the future, highlighting the need for tough gun controls. If people didn’t have such powerful guns in their possession or easy access then such massacres would not have a chance of occurring. Prime Minister Howard phoned Mikac the next day after receiving the letter and subsequently read it to a police ministers’ meeting to get some resolution about changing Australia’s gun laws.
The resulting gun reforms were a big thing. The laws were changed across Australia and many different types of guns were banned from civilian ownership and over 640,000 weapons were bought back by the Australian Federal Government and destroyed. It became harder to apply for a licence to own a firearm and difficult to own more than one. Prior to this legislative change, prior to prior to Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass killings/shootings in Australia in 10 years – since then not a single one.
Around this 20th anniversary of Port Arthur massacre there have been some moves to relax Australia’s gun ownership laws somewhat. At times of terror attacks and “ingrown IS terrorist cells” and increased violence in the streets why would anyone want to change the laws that have been keeping Australians safe for the past twenty years. But, regretfully, like it or not, lunatics and those who want to make money in gun sales – do exist. Hence, Mikac is currently very active and has started a petition for Australia to keep its tight gun laws. The legacy of tight gun laws that arose form Mikac soon after the Port Arthur mass killings two decades ago – lives today. Petition link click HERE.
Alannah and Madeline (Mikac) Foundation was set up in 1997, a year after the Port Arthur massacre, and with Crown Princess Mary of Denmark (an Australian, a Tasmanian) as its ambassador the charity has spread to help children victims of violence and bullying beyond the shores of Australia. This too is a legacy, which arose out of the Port Arthur massacre, and the terrible grief it caused.
In 2001 Mikac married again and has a new family but the one so tragically lost at Port Arthur twenty years ago still lives and shines in his legacies and daily existence: in tough gun laws and in the Alannah and Madeline Foundation that helps so many children who suffer violence and works at preventing bullying as well as initiating programs that prevent violence. Furthermore, Mikac has written a book “A Circle of Life: replacing hardship with love” and is a motivational speaker of note. “A Circle of Life” is a collection of reflections on love and loss that focuses on the power of love to overcome obstacles, to heal suffering and to provide hope for the future. He also published “To Have and to Hold”, telling of the loss of his family in the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.
Upon setting up the petition for tough gun laws Mikac recently said there was no reason for Australians to own semi-automatic or automatic guns as legalising these weapons would only raise the risk of danger and death for more Australians. He said it was his own personal goal, as well as the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s, to ensure no one else experienced the trauma that he went through 20 years ago.
“A significant legacy and one of the only good things to come of the 1996 Port Arthur tragedy, the day I lost my wife and children, was the establishment of the National Firearms Agreement 1996,” Mikac said.
Could not agree more and trust this legacy will hold its ground, for the safety of all, for many many decades to come. Respectfully I bow in respectful memory of all those who perished at Port Arthur in April 1996. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)