NITRAM was always going to be controversial. Since the announcement that a film was being made about the horrific events of the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996, critics, including Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein, have objected to the project. Indeed, director Justin Kurzel refused to film the biopic of one of Australia’s most notorious mass-killers in Tasmania due to fear of retribution and hostility from locals.
Now that the film is streaming online on Stan, reviews suggest it delivers exactly what critics had feared: an unnecessary expose of someone we’d all rather forget. The ABC describes it as “an exploitative burlesque of the marginalised subjects it supposes itself to depict with disquieting authenticity.”
However, memory and the need to reckon with what happened is part of Kurzel’s angle. While he has said that he’s tried to tread gently, he believes that this is a story that needs to be told.
If so, exactly how far does it stick to its source material? What exactly was his relationship with Helen Harvey, and his father Maurice Bryant like? Here’s what actually happened 25 years ago in Tasmania:
Martin Bryant’s Girlfriend
Throughout the film, Martin Bryant is depicted as a loner, unable to connect with people with a childish mentality for showing off and disobedience. All of this is true, however, although the film doesn’t disclose this, Martin Bryant had at least three girlfriends before committing the atrocity in Port Arthur.
In the film, it’s wealthy lottery winner Helen Harvey who is portrayed as his love interest, and, while there is little information to suggest a sexual relationship between the two, it’s clear that they were very close.
In reality, Bryant appears to have had a fascination with violent and disturbing pornographic material and would befriend young local children before showing them explicit content.
A year before the shootings, when Bryant was 27, he dated a 16 year-old girl who has remained anonymous to this day, appearing disguised in Channel Seven’s Sunday Night investigation into the attack.
Under the pseudonym Mary, the woman describes her eight month relationship with Bryant as strange but “very, very nice.” He collected teddy bears and dolls, apparently having over 200 in his Clare Street home. Bryant was also obsessed with the 90s slasher film Child’s Play and its antagonist Chucky, a toy doll that comes to life and kills people.
She also describes him as being of below average intelligence, something that Nitram plays on, and the subject of much debate in analysis of Bryant.
“I remember we were at a restaurant in Sydney and he was looking at The Age or something and I could tell he wasn’t really reading it,” she told Channel 7.
“I don’t think he was that smart. I could tell he was just pretending to try and impress me.”
A year prior to this relationship, Bryant had briefly dated Jenetta Hoani, a woman he had met through church circles. Although his affluent dress sense and financial security made him an attractive partner, Hoani later said that he was simply too “weird” to continue dating.
When told about the incident, she reportedly “wasn’t surprised he had done something.”
Soon after his relationship with Mary, Bryant begun seeing 20-year-old Petra Willmott, a horticulture student he met after advertising for a part-time gardener. Willmott was in a relationship with him when he committed the Port Arthur attacks, apparently shopping with him to buy the bag he used to carry his weapons, unaware of what he had planned.
Relationship with Helen Harvey
Helen Harvey is the real-life heiress of the Tattersall’s lotteries fortune who befriended the isolated Bryant after he was employed to do odd jobs around her home around eight years before the killings.
She was a local eccentric who lived with over 20 dogs and 20 cats and would walk around with her purse overflowing with cash. Harvey kept miniature horses and pigs on her farm at Copping and Bryant reportedly slept with his favourite pig in his bed.
Harvey died in a car crash four years prior to the massacre in 1992 in what was believed at the time to be an accident. When she passed, Bryant was left all of her money and property, valued at the time at $500,000.
Bryant was in the passenger seat at the time of the crash and witnesses claim the car was swerving across the road before it crashed. Friends of Harvey told Channel 7 that she had complained to them of Bryant’s erratic behaviour when driving with him in the car. According to them, he had a habit of grabbing the steering wheel and swerving the car while she was driving, which was depicted in Nitram.
Barry Featherstone, one of Ms Harvey’s neighbours, said he had previously helped free her car from a ditch after Bryant pulled a similar stunt.
“I think very strongly he did it,” Mr Featherstone told Spotlight. “She was telling us how he used to grab the steering wheel and put her off the road.
“Well her exact words (were) one of these days, that little bastard is going to kill me.”
Mr Featherstone told police about three separate incidents where Bryant had grabbed Ms Harvey’s steering wheel.
Bryant’s father Maurice became the trustee of the assets Martin had inherited and helped him to run the Copping farm. He also died less than a year after Harvey’s death.
He was pulled from a dam on the farm with Martin’s driving belt around his neck attached to lead weights. His death was ruled a suicide by the coroner but Channel 7’s own investigations suggest Bryant had a strong motivation for killing his trustee father.
In the final will and testament of Maurice Bryant, Martin was to receive $250,000 from him along with the farm and the Clare Street house from Helen Harvey. The death of his father meant that Bryant now had two properties and $750,000.
Police were alerted to the scene of the apparent suicide after a neighbour found a note, written in Maurice’s handwriting, attached to the front door that simply read “call the police.”
Maurice’s death by suicide was thought to be linked to the fact that the Martins had refused to sell their hotel to him, but this new evidence puts the situation in a whole new light.
Martin Bryant Now
Martin Bryant was given 35 life sentences for the death and destruction that he caused. He is currently 54 and will die in Risdon Prison’s Maximum security wing outside of Hobart where he is serving his sentence.
His life has been described as “miserable” and Bryant himself a “pathetic, obese, dull-witted middle-aged man.”
Tony Burley, a former Risdon prison guard, said Bryant has lived an uneventful life in prison, spending most of his time alone, eating two-minute noodles and chocolate.
“He wakes up, he goes to sleep basically,” Mr Burley said.
Recent photos of Bryant showed the mass murderer’s appearance has changed behind bars.
“He has… increased his calorie intake due to sexual favours from the prison canteen. His long blonde hair was gone and he began to put on weight – (he’s) virtually unrecognisable,” he said.