Listen: Walter Mikac chats to Laura and Duncan. Above: Walter Mikac. Source: Hop for Hope
For Walter Mikac, finding a reason to get up every morning was very difficult, for a long, long time.
He’s one of the many Australians whose lives changed forever on April 28, 1996, the day of the horrifying Port Arthur Massacre. No less than 35 people were killed that day; three of them were Walter’s family – wife Nanette, six-year-old Alannah, and three-year-old Madeline.
In a chat with Laura and Duncan, Walter talked about what helped him to keep going after his life was virtually destroyed.
“There didn’t seem to be much reason to get up or do anything for quite a long time, but I suppose the one thing was my family, really,” he said. “They all flew down to Tasmania at the time, and we spent a week before flying back to Melbourne for the funeral. It wasn’t just mum and dad, but my brothers, my cousins, my uncle, it was a pretty incredible show of support.
“I suppose it was just a case of trying to get through each day and make the best of it with the hope that tomorrow’s going to maybe be a bit better, and it may be a month or years down the track that you can get down to some semblance of life that’s meaningful.”
The Alannah and Madeline Foundation
Walter has found new meaning in many ventures since that tragic day. He has since remarried, and had another child; and he has also set up the The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, in memory of his daughters, to help children who have suffered from violence or loss of family.
“After Port Arthur that feeling was really strong of wanting to do something to remember Alannah and Madeline and their spirit,” he said. “The idea of setting up a foundation that would help kids really appealed and I think was a good healing factor for me.”
Programs run by the foundation include the ‘Better Buddies’ bullying prevention program run in most schools around Australia, where an older student looks after a younger student. Nearly all principals who have taken the program on report that it has created a happier and safer school environment. Their E-Safe cyber safety program gives Year 6 kids a chance to gain their ‘digital licence’.
Other initiatives of the foundation include the National Centre Against Bullying, the Children Ahead therapy program for children recovering from trauma, and the Buddy Bags program helping kids in emergency accommodation to feel safe and secure.
Walter also works as a motivational speaker and has written books including To Have And To Hold, and The Circle of Life: Replacing Hardship with Love about dealing with grief and tragedy.
And he’s a strong voice in the gun control debate—a discussion he believes should continue.
“We can be incredibly proud that we acted in that way as a country in response to Port Arthur.”
“It’s definitely a conversation that needs to be reignited and for people to be made aware,” he said. “As Australians we should be incredibly proud of our legislation. We have moved from a place where we’d had 9 mass killings in 10 years, to the same time since, we’ve had zero. So we can be incredibly proud that we acted in that way as a country in response to Port Arthur.
“But a side effect is that people do become complacent. And because we don’t have those killings people are feeling safe. There isn’t that dire need to want to visit the debate. It’s not comfortable, talking about that sort of event.
“The result last year with the Adler shotgun, where it’s licenced only for specific reasons, is the correct decision. That saw common sense prevail.”
To learn more, listen to the interview with Walter in the audio player above.