Candlelight vigil unites Australians


By Nadia Dimattina

A heart-warming vigil at Federation Square has reminded Australians about the impact of the Port Arthur tragedy 20 years ago.

The candlelight vigil hosted by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation was held in memory of the 35 people who were killed in an open gun fire attack at the Port Arthur historic site in 1996.

The event was presented by current Foundation Ambassador Melissa Doyle and included an inspiring speech by founding patron, Walter Mikac.

WalterMikac Port Arthur Photo by Nadia Dimattina

Walter Mikac showed courage in paying tribute to his daughters and wife he lost 20 years ago. Photo: Nadia Dimattina 

Mikac launched the foundation with the support of friends and survivors after he lost his two daughters and wife in Australia’s worst ever massacre.

Head of Communications at the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Ella Mitchell said the vigil was held in Melbourne as a tribute to Mikac’s daughters and other survivors of the Port Arthur tragedy.

“A man like Walter whose courage and love in the face of tragedy and adversity he has experienced is very inspiring,” she said.

Many people attended the event to show their support and continue to spread the foundation’s message of protecting children from violence.

“It is taking a moment to reflect and remember a tragedy that shocked a nation and the work that is being done in the names of those people who lost their lives that day,” Ms Mitchell said.

Walter and family Photo by Nadia Dimattina

Founding patron, Walter Mikac and family reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of Port Arthur tragedy. Photo: Nadia Dimattina

AFL footballer Jack Riewoldt said the vigil held resonance with him being a Tasmanian.

“It affected a lot of people close to me because of the vicinity and because Tasmania is such a small place you never expect anything like this to happen,” he said.

Jack Riewoldt Photo by Nadia Dimattina

AFL football player, Jack Riewoldt showing support on behalf of Richmond, as a community partner of the Alannah and Madeline foundation. Photo: Nadia Dimattina  

Riewoldt also believed that the vigil had a strong message for younger Australians who were unaware of the Port Arthur tragedy.

“It [teaches us] how an Australian leader, John Howard took a stance against gun laws and made a really big change [which] has obviously led the way by changing the laws in Australia,” he said.

Volunteer for the Alannah and Madeline foundation, Paris Marie explained the significance of such a tragedy for younger children.

“I think that it shows all of us younger people what happened and what many people around us had to go through,” Marie said.

ParisMarie Photo by Nadia Dimattina

12-year old Paris Marie representing Young Australians at candlelight vigil. Photo: Nadia Dimattina 

Head of communications, Ella Mitchell also thought that the foundation’s vigil had an important teaching for the younger Australians.

“The younger generation who perhaps haven’t really ever considered that the gun culture in Australia isn’t like that of other countries, like the US, can stop and ask themselves what kind of culture they want to live in,” she said.

The Alannah and Madeline foundation have launched a petition as Australia’s gun laws are quietly being weakened.

Firearm deaths remain at less than half of what they were before Port Arthur, and the Alannah and Madeline foundation are calling for urgent action to keep strong firearm laws.

“If [you] would prefer to live in a culture that is free from gun violence [you] can take the time to voice that opinion on the Foundation’s petition – via our website,” Ms Mitchell said.

The candlelight vigil was a poignant reminder of how far Australia has come in 20 years by continually reminding all Australians about the importance of strict gun control.