Julian Knight shot dead seven people in a forty-five minute shooting spree at the Clifton Hill end of Hoddle Street, Melbourne, Victoria, on Sunday, the 9th of August, 1987, between 9.30pm and 10.15pm. This was not a disaster that just happened to occur because it was isolated from any other contributing factor. As is portrayed in the TV documentary series Seconds from Disaster, disasters do not just happen; a chain of critical events that lead up to that fatal moment triggers them.
Knight spent over three hours from around 5.30pm to nearly 9.00pm drinking in a local hotel before going to his mother’s house and loading up his weaponry: a .22 calibre Ruger semi-automatic rifle, a twelve-gauge Mossberg pump-action shotgun, and an M14 rifle. He then headed to nearby Hoddle Street, where he shot dead seven people and wounded some twenty people, including a police officer in the helicopter that was searching for him.
Official investigations into what may have caused Knight to snap that day have pieced together critical events leading up to his actions. Julian Knight was an adopted child. His father was a military man. Knight attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He had performed poorly academically and had been failing his courses at military school, from which he had been dishonorably discharged for assaulting an army officer. He was estranged from his father. His stepmother had rented out his bedroom and he was now camping out on the balcony of her Victorian two-storey terrace house. He had not heard from his birth mother, whom he had recently sent a letter. He had a busted relationship with his girlfriend. He was out of work. He was behind on the repayments of his Defence Force loan for his car and credit card. His car broke down on the very day he killed his victims. He had been drinking heavily. That Sunday night he went to the hotel bar where he often drank, but not one of his friends was there. Isolated, he drank alone for three and a half hours before having visions of killing people and getting some justice for the bastardization[i] [i]and bullying he had experienced when at military school.
When people make decisions to do something that causes them to rise out of their normal behavioral mode and take actions that will change their lives, there is usually more involved than a spur of the moment decision. For instance, it is rare for people suddenly to become a hero in a situation without them having the inner fortitude to produce the courage required for the circumstances at hand.
For instance, Bill was walking down the street and he saw two large men over six foot beat up a man much smaller than themselves. He ran towards them with his arms flying about, yelling and screaming as if he was a madman who had just escaped from the lockup. The two men ran away.
Bill is six-foot himself and has arms on him that are huge. He reminds one of the cartoon character Popeye, who has massive forearms. He also has a voice that booms like a jet engine preparing for takeoff. Furthermore, he is a person who has a strong belief in upholding justice and gets incensed at wrongdoing. If you were to ask him why he did decide to rescue the victim, he would claim that it was just a decision made on the spur of the moment. Whereas, a five-foot man, slightly built, who possesses a squeaky voice, probably would be laughed at by the men who bashed up the victim, and he would be threatened himself, if not bashed and bruised for sticking his nose into other people’s affairs. By the same token, even taller men, would have not had second thoughts about keeping their noses clean by saying nothing. If they had no sense of justice, they would walk on by.
The statement, “As a man thinketh, so he is,” is a quotation taken out of the book of Proverbs from the King James Bible. We are what we think. What we think leads us towards holding a particular view, which transforms into how we start to see the world around us. This is our worldview, which becomes the basis upon which our interpretation of events sculpture our attitude towards what happens in life and people in general. Attitudes create behavioral responses to situations that, when reinforced, start to mold our personality. Character is formed in us from enduring circumstances that require us to hold fast to our determination to survive, in order for us to outlast any suffering inflicted upon us against our will. However, there are varying degrees of character, as well as that which is referred to as weak or strong, or good or evil. Some people develop strong character in some areas of life, but crumble in others. For instance, a man or woman can show integrity when it comes to being an excellent employee or employer, but fall down when it comes to alcohol.
A person of weak character is somebody who is not prepared to suffer any pain or loss, and someone who is not willing to assume responsibility. Instead of being disciplined by events, the person will cave in and look for easier ways out, or simply rebel against the force that is causing the pain. In other words, if a person is being bullied in the armed forces: usually, he will resign. On the other hand, if a recruit’s underlying desire to succeed in accomplishing his goal is truly a wholehearted determination, he will persevere and survive, and develop strong character.
However, sometimes a person is subjected to regulations and requirements that he does not like, because it is contrary to his upbringing. It is very difficult for a person to comply with orders when they are used to doing their own thing and not used to meeting other people’s expectations, or being told what to do. If a person grows up without parental discipline, then that child will react negatively to restrictions being imposed on him, or being ordered around.
Parental discipline is evidenced when a parent or parents place expectations upon a child and ensure that those expectations are met. There are three ways that people do this, with a combination of the three methods often utilized; the third method being adopted the least.
The classical conditioning method occurs when punishment or fear is used as a means of controlling children so they will do as they are told. This is often done by telling children that if they do not do as shown or asked, they will be punished by being hit with a stick or locked in a room or, when very young, the parent will buy a wolf to eat them up, after reading the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. Often loud noises and other abusive means are used to terrify the child if they do not comply with their parents’ dictates. The children learn to comply and, except in abusive cases, discover that enduring a little suffering is a part of life.
The operant conditioning method is more along the lines of reward and punishment for achievements gained or expectations met. The child is told that upon doing the required task they shall get a reward. If they do not do the task they shall not be rewarded, instead they will miss out on some treat. This is evidenced when a child is told they will get sweets if they are quiet at the table and eat all their greens. The child does not eat greens but has to endure watching other siblings or visitors or mom and dad eating what they would like to eat. Eventually, the child eats the greens, since it is sweeter to comply than suffer when denied.
The ethical conditioning method is where children are taught to reason out the benefits of making decisions. This requires more effort than the previous two behavioral compliance strategies. Here the child is informed about the value of making right decisions and the disappointments and harmful consequences that occur from making wrong choices. Initially, elements of classical and operant conditioning may be used but they are not necessary, as by using information to instruct the child to make right choices develops a higher sense of self-esteem. Once the child is free to exercise their own volition and make right choices, the parents involve themselves with the child to encourage him to achieve whichever option chosen. This way, the child learns that perseverance brings results when the desired goal has been achieved.
The evidence appears to be Julian Knight grew up being undisciplined and was not subject to having been bullied at school, or if he was, he had not learnt how to deal with it and overcome the problem. When he went to military school, discipline and bullying (especially in the form of bastardization) were features of life that he could not endure. His failing academic marks were also another cause of disappointment and possible ridicule. Feeling hard done by, Julian Knight felt that the world owed him, but injustices were not being addressed. He had been served with a summons to appear in court for assaulting army personnel, and he was thinking how he would like to make amends himself. Only what tipped him over the edge?
In 1994, I was driving a Melbourne taxi. When driving taxis, I would often find people engaging in deep and meaningful conversations with me. I picked up a passenger one day in his mid-fifties in Punt Street Melbourne and dropped him off in a suburb a little out from Clifton Hill, where the shootings took place. The trip took about twenty minutes. Punt Street becomes Hoddle St and the traffic was heavy. This passenger told me that he had been drinking at the same bar that Julian Knight was drinking. He was there when Knight left. Actually, he had been talking to Julian Knight for about thirty minutes prior to Knight’s departure. He confessed that he felt guilty for what happened that night because he could have prevented Knight from doing what he did. I suggested that there was no need to feel guilty about another man’s actions. My passenger said that Julian Knight told him what he was going to do when they were drinking together at the bar. He said that Knight was drunk but he thought what he was saying was mere pub talk, that is, the bull and bravado of a drunken man. Anyhow, I dropped the passenger off and reassured him that there was no need to feel guilty. He was not the one who killed the people.
The year 2014 is now upon me, and about twenty years have transpired since that conversation in the taxicab. I was talking to a person about how people make decisions, and for some reason I brought up the conversation I had had with the man in the front passenger’s seat when driving my taxi back in 1994. Afterwards I was talking to another person about the reasons people do things. During that conversation, we discussed what people do when they are drinking beer sitting on a stool at a bar. It dawned on me that the reason why the passenger I had in the taxi might have been feeling guilty was he could well have reinforced Julian Knight’s thinking that he ought to kill some people and show them what it is like to be bastardized. The young man I was talking to confirmed my thinking as we further discussed various scenarios of typical bar behavior.
Later on, when I was on the computer, I did a search on the internet to see what I could find out about Julian Knight. I was interested to find out whether Julian Knight had been in the hotel prior to the shootings taking place, to see if there was any merit to the story I was told by the man in 1994. The truth is what my taxi passenger told me could very well be true. He may have been in the hotel talking to Julian Knight and, as he claimed, probably could have prevented a young man from killing seven people by discouraging him rather than encouraging him. Now this could be the reason the man in my taxi had a guilty conscience: in talking beer bravado, he probably said that he would shoot the bastards, too.
[i] Bastardization is the practice of physical assault and sexual abuse with varying levels of severity including rape by older members of the Australian Defence Force on new recruits.