This section of the report contains material that may be confronting, particularly to those affected by the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack.
Grafton, where the individual was born and brought up, is about 600 kilometres north of Sydney. Approximately 19,000 people live there, just under 10 percent of whom are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australians.
The individual’s parents, Rodney and Sharon Tarrant, separated when he was young.1 After the terrorist attack, Sharon Tarrant told Australian Federal Police that her children were traumatised by the separation and other events, including the loss of their family home in a fire and the death of their grandfather. She also said that the individual’s personality changed after the separation, with him becoming clingy, anxious and not socialising well with others. The individual told us he suffered from social anxiety from childhood.
Following their parents’ separation, the individual and Lauren Tarrant initially lived with their mother and later with their mother and her new partner. That relationship was violent, with the new partner assaulting Sharon Tarrant and the children. An apprehended violence order was taken out against his mother’s partner to protect the individual. Lauren Tarrant, and later the individual, went to live with their father.
Sharon Tarrant told the Australian Federal Police that the individual put on weight between the ages of 12 to 15. This led to bullying by other students at school. The individual had very few friends at school and, after he left school, he seems to have stayed in touch with only two of them, to whom we will refer as “school friend one” and “school friend two”. His contact with them was episodic.
From the age of six or seven, the individual was interested in video games. He became particularly interested in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, other online role-playing games and first-person shooter games. As a child he had unsupervised access to the internet from a computer in his bedroom. He spent much of his free time at school accessing the internet on school computers. In 2017, he told his mother that he had started using the 4chan internet message board when he was 14 years old.
The individual began expressing racist ideas from a young age, including at school and when referring to his mother’s then partner’s Aboriginal ancestry. He was twice dealt with by one of his high school teachers, who was also the Anti-Racism Contact Officer,2 in respect of anti-Semitism. This teacher described the individual as disengaged in class to the point of quiet arrogance, but also well-read and knowledgeable, particularly on certain topics such as the Second World War.
In 2006 or 2007, when the individual was 16 or 17, his father was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. After the diagnosis Rodney Tarrant became increasingly depressed and his children did not cope well. The individual began exercising compulsively at gyms and following a strict diet. He lost around 52 kilograms in weight.
As Rodney Tarrant’s health deteriorated he needed palliative care and in April 2010 he died by suicide at home. Information provided to Australian Federal Police after the terrorist attack indicated that the individual “discovered” his father’s body, having previously agreed with his father that he would do so. The individual was reluctant to engage with us on this issue. Given it was not particularly relevant to our inquiry, we did not push him once he gave an undetailed and not particularly convincing denial of involvement in his father’s suicide. What is relevant for our purposes is that the illness and death of his father caused the individual much stress.
Lauren Tarrant received counselling about her family situation, particularly the anger and abuse from Sharon Tarrant’s partner. As far as we know, the individual received limited counselling. This was through the palliative care system when his father was ill and shortly after he died. The individual told us that he had not sought treatment for his social anxiety.
Prior to his death, Rodney Tarrant gave the individual and his sister around AU$80,000 each. Following his death, both children received more money from his estate, bringing the total to around AU$457,000 each. This was largely from the settlement of a claim for damages arising out of the exposure to asbestos, which had caused his mesothelioma.
The individual continued to play video games regularly after his father’s death. He often played online with a group of people including school friend one and a New Zealander, who he had met on the internet and to whom we refer as the individual's “gaming friend”. During these games, the group would often chat online and the individual would openly express racist and far right views.
Apart from gaming and spending time on the internet, the individual also maintained his interest in keeping fit. He joined the Big River Gym in Grafton at the end of his final high school year. Around mid-2009, he qualified as a personal trainer and worked at the gym, taking group classes and one-on-one personal training sessions. The owner and operator of the Big River Gym described the individual as a good personal trainer. During this time the individual trained by himself for two to three hours every day.
The individual told us that he began to think politically when he was about 12 and that his primary concerns have been about immigration, particularly by Muslim migrants into Western countries. In his manifesto he said that he had no complaints with ethnic people, if they remained in their places of birth. Those on the far right, particularly ethno-nationalists (as described in Part 2, chapter 5), sometimes assert similar views while disingenuously denying being racist. Aspects of the individual’s life are consistent with his description of his views. When he was still working as a personal trainer in Grafton, he carried out community work in an Australian Aboriginal community. He told us that his relationships with members of this community were generally good and that he had admiration for some of its leaders. When travelling he engaged with people from many different ethnicities. When we interviewed him, he denied being racist. On the other hand he accepted in his manifesto that he was racist, a self-assessment that we accept.
As the individual grew older, he told his sister that he thought he was autistic and possibly sociopathic. He also said that he did not care for people, including his own family, but knew that he should. His friendships with those outside his family were limited and we have seen no evidence that the individual was involved in sustained romantic or sexual relationships.
The individual stopped working at the Big River Gym in 2012 after suffering an injury. It was at this point he decided to use the money he had inherited from his father to travel. He did not have any ties, connections or purpose in life that prevented him from travelling.
The individual travelled to New Zealand for a holiday from 28 March 2013 to 29 May 2013.3 School friend one accompanied him for the first part of the trip. When they arrived, they both stayed for around three days in Waikato with gaming friend and their parents. As mentioned above, the individual had come to know gaming friend online, but this was the first time gaming friend and the individual met each other in person.
This was also the first time that gaming friend’s parent met the individual. Gaming friend’s parent said the individual did not talk in a way that was of concern and described him as “polite” and “nice”. Gaming friend and their parent are keen shooters and took the individual and school friend one to a shooting club twice and possum hunting. These were the individual’s first experiences using firearms. The visits of the individual, gaming friend and school friend one were recorded in the register of the shooting club.
The individual spent approximately two weeks travelling around New Zealand in a campervan with school friend one and gaming friend. Gaming friend had not originally intended to go on the trip but decided to join them at the last minute to play peacemaker between the individual and school friend one who had been arguing with each other.
At the end of the two weeks, they spent one more night at gaming friend’s family home before school friend one returned to Australia and the individual visited other parts of New Zealand on his own.
While travelling on his own, the individual visited Dunedin. We also know that he travelled through Whanganui, because he had a minor car accident there on 6 May 2013 when he pulled off the road onto the verge and his vehicle rolled forward down a bank. The individual was the only person in the car when he had the accident and there were no other vehicles involved. New Zealand Police attended the accident, but no enforcement action was taken. At the end of this trip he spent a few more nights with gaming friend and their family before returning to Australia.
On the individual’s return from New Zealand he drove a van around Australia for about nine months between May 2013 and February 2014. During his travels, he visited Port Arthur in Tasmania. We discuss the possible relevance of this in Part 6: What Public sector agencies knew about the terrorist.
1. The year the parents separated, as provided by Sharon and Lauren Tarrant to Australian Federal Police, are not the same. Sharon Tarrant said she separated from Rodney Tarrant in 2000 (when the individual was aged nine or ten) and Lauren Tarrant said they separated when the individual was aged seven.
2. Under the New South Wales, Department of Education Anti-Racism Policy, all schools are required to have a trained Anti-Racism Contact Officer and to implement strategies that lead to timely responses to both direct and indirect racism. The Anti-Racism Contact Officer assists parents, staff and students who have complaints regarding racism and facilitates the complaints handling process.
3. This was the individual’s second time visiting New Zealand. The individual’s first visit to New Zealand was as a child with his father and sister, arriving on 12 July 1999 and departing on 22 July 1999.