Strathfield massacre 1991

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Strathfield massacre 1991

The Strathfield massacre was a violent rampage undertaken by Wade Frankum in 1991. Prior to the Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania in 1996 and the resulting national legislation on gun control, automatic and semi-automatic weapons were able to be legally obtained in New South Wales. An estimated 3.5 million firearms were owned throughout the country, and mass shootings had occurred previously in Surry Hills and Melbourne.[1]

On 17 August at the Coffee Pot Café in Strathfield Plaza, Frankum, a part-time taxi driver, stood up from his table and stabbed a young woman with a bowie knife. During the next ten minutes, Frankum used a semi-automatic rifle to kill seven other people throughout the plaza, hitting the ticket office at Strathfield Railway Station, multiple shops and the window of a passing taxi.[2] A total of fifty expended shells were found throughout the area.[3] Frankum escaped through the carpark, holding a local driver at gunpoint and demanding she drive him to Enfield. At the sound of approaching sirens, Frankum exited the car, apologised briefly to the driver and turned the rifle on himself.[4]

A coronial inquiry into the deaths of the eight victims was held at Glebe Coroner’s Court in November 1991 under State Coroner Kevin Waller. Catherine Noyes, the driver of the car threatened by Frankum, was called as a witness, alongside others injured and shot at during the massacre.[5] The inquiry sought to establish the mental state of Frankum at the time, with coronial investigator Senior Constable Phil Baldwin describing the ‘sense of power, strength, control’ that the shooting may have given Frankum.[6] Psychiatrists and mental health specialists, including Dr Rod Milton, interviewed Frankum’s relatives, friends and colleagues to create a psychological profile of as a ‘lonely, guilty, repressed – but fairly normal individual’.[7] The profile was leaked to the media during the inquiry, which Waller described as ‘very disappointing’.[8] This would be one of Waller’s last cases; the coroner stepped down in 1992.

Following the inquiry, Liberal Premier John Fahey announced the formation of a Joint Select Committee to review changes for gun laws.[00.09] A gun amnesty was held in NSW following the inquiry, where residents were encouraged to hand over any illegally obtained firearms. The gun legislation in NSW was tightened the following year. Another indirect outcome of the massacre was establishment of the Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) List in 1994, which recorded the name and address of every licensed shooter in the state and noted any with a history of violence or criminal record.[00.10]

Notes

[1] Jennifer Norberry, Derek Woolner, Kirsty Maragey, 1996. ‘After Port Arthur – issues of gun control in Australia’. NSW Parliamentary Papers 1995–1996.
[2] ‘Strathfield massacre: how Wade Frankum killed seven and injured six before turning gun on himself on August 17, 1991’, The Daily Telegraph website2 March 2015 https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/strathfield-massacre-how-wade-frankum-killed-seven-and-injured-six-before-turning-gun-on-himself-on-august-17-1991/news-story/0b2dc758349ba16431a2ded805746c3a, viewed 19 November 2020
[3] ‘Strathfield massacre: how Wade Frankum killed seven and injured six before turning gun on himself on August 17, 1991’, The Daily Telegraph website 2 March 2015 https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/strathfield-massacre-how-wade-frankum-killed-seven-and-injured-six-before-turning-gun-on-himself-on-august-17-1991/news-story/0b2dc758349ba16431a2ded805746c3a, viewed 19 November 2020
[4] ‘Strathfield massacre: how Wade Frankum killed seven and injured six before turning gun on himself on August 17, 1991’, The Daily Telegraph website 2 March 2015 https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/strathfield-massacre-how-wade-frankum-killed-seven-and-injured-six-before-turning-gun-on-himself-on-august-17-1991/news-story/0b2dc758349ba16431a2ded805746c3a, viewed 19 November 2020
[5] ‘Courts and the law: gunman said sorry, then shot himself’, The Canberra Times 21 November 1991, 14 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122392127 viewed 19 November 2020
[6] ‘Strathfield killer “would have got shooter’s licence under proposed scheme”’ The Canberra Times 12 September 1991, 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122383559 viewed 19 November 2020
[7] ‘Courts and the law: gunman said sorry, then shot himself’, The Canberra Times 21 November 1991, 14 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122392127 viewed 19 November 2020
[8] ‘Coroner: no more on killer’s profile’, The Canberra Times 17 September 1991, 12 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122384696 viewed 19 November 2020
[00.09]‘Strathfield killer “would have got shooter’s licence under proposed scheme”’ The Canberra Times 12 September 1991, 3 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122383559 viewed 19 November 2020
[00.09] ‘Firearms amnesty follows tragedy’, The Canberra Times 14 July 1995, 6 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128287332 viewed 19 November 2020