August 1991 – 25 years ago

17 August 1991 – The Strathfield Massacre

Wade Frankum - August 1991
Wade Frankum. Photo by Inner West Courier.

Taxi driver Wade Frankum lived with his younger sister Gaynor and her boyfriend Darin Chalk in his late-parents’ unit in North Strathfield. Frankum’s father died of emphysema five years earlier, and his mother gassed herself in her car inside her garage in 1990.

He indulged in, and was apparently influenced by, violent literature and films including the novel American Psycho by Brett Eatson Ellis. In January 1991 he bought himself a Chinese made SKK automatic rifle and said to Chalk: “it’s to wipe people out” and protect himself. In April he purchased a bowie knife which he later attempted to get professionally edged. He also bought a pair of handcuffs.

On Saturday, 17 August 1991, 33-year-old Wade Frankum packs his rifle and knife in an army surplus duffel bag and went to the North Strathfield train station in western Sydney. He bought a ticket for Strathfield and warned the man at the ticket desk, “You better go home, Clive.”

Frankum loitered at the station for sometime watching the trains come and go without boarding. It seems he intended for something to happen there but instead, he eventually boarded a train for Strathfield.

He made his way to a café, The Coffee Pot, in the Strathfield Plaza shopping centre. He sat there drinking coffee for more than two hours after which, unprovoked, he pulled the bowie knife from the duffel bag and repeatedly stabbed a teenage girl sitting behind him.

Leaving the knife in the body of 15-year-old Roberta Armstrong, Frankum grabbed the semi-automatic rifle from the bag and begin shooting around the café killing several other people including the owner, George Marvris. The other victims were Patricia Rowe, her mother Joyce Nixon, Carole Dickinson and 17-year-old Rachell Milburn. Patricia Rowe’s two sons – Kevin, 15 and Nathan, 9 – survived the incident.

Frankum moved to the main mall and began firing the SKK at shoppers killing one man, Robertson Voon and wounding seven others before retreating to the rooftop car park where he accosted a woman in her car and at gunpoint, demanded she drive him to nearby Enfield.

The first policeman on the scene was Constable Darren Stewart, but he was held back when Frankum shot several times at the door leading to the car park. As more police began arriving, Wade Frankum turned to the woman, Catherine Noyes, and apologised saying, “I am really sorry.”

He then got out of the car, knelt on the ground and shot himself in the head through his mouth.

Also in Wade Frankum’s duffel bag was a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.



August 1991 – Other Events

2 August – Nine men and three women were killed and 28 others injured when a fire broke out at the Palm Grove Hostel in Dungog, NSW. The hostel housed residents with acute psychological problems. It took four hours to control the blaze.

5 August – Former Queensland Police Commissioner Terry Lewis was sentenced to 14 years gaol for corruption and forgery following the Fitzgerald Inquiry. He was stripped of awards and honours including an OBE and a knighthood. Lewis was only the 14th person since the 1300s to have had his knighthood stripped.

Warsaw Radio Mast - August 1991
Warsaw Radio Mast: The Warsaw radio mast after it collapsed.

6 August – Tim Berners-Lee from CERN made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989, and he implemented the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid-November of that same year. On 6 August 1991 the first website, “” was created. Berners-Lee announced the World Wide Web project and software on the alt.hypertext newsgroup. Take a look at what the web used to look like:, in particular the line mode browser –

8 August – Between 1974 and 1991, the world’s tallest structure was the Warsaw Radio Mast. It was 646 metres tall and was used for longwave radio broadcasting. It was twice the height of its nearest rival in Europe and would not be surpassed until the completion of the Burj Khalifa in 2009.

On 8 August 1991, due to an error while replacing guy-wires on the mast, the structure collapsed in a tangled mess. Investigators determined the company that built and maintained the mast was liable and in particular, its construction coordinator and division chief. Both men were sentenced to two years in prison.

Super Nintendo - August 199110 August – Didier Ratsiraka was the president of Madagascar. First elected in 1975, it was widely believed the Ratsirika’s elections were fraudulent. On 10 August 1991, 400,000 people marched on the Presidential Palace. Ratsiraka ordered the Presidential Guard to open fire. 31 people were killed and hundreds injured.

13 August – Super Nintendo was released in the US on 13 August 1991. It became the highest selling console of its generation, selling close to 50 million systems worldwide.

Barbie - August 1991
The first Barbie doll was introduced in both blonde and brunette in March 1959

13 August – Jack Ryan the designer of the Barbie doll dies aged 65. In his previous role, Ryan designed Sparrow and Hawk missiles. Mattel hired him because of his knowledge of varying materials. While there, Ryan re-worked the German Bild Lilli Doll to create Barbie. Apart from a few modifications, Barbie was a Lilli lookalike. Jack Ryan also had a hand in the design of the Hotwheels die-cast toy cars.

15 August – Paul Simon held a free concert in Central Park. The number of people there is debated as the earlier estimate was around 600,000, but New York City officials said the lawn area could only hold 48,500. The album Paul Simon’s Concert in the Park was ultimately released.

19 – 21 August – Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev is placed under house arrest during an attempted coup which collapsed within 72 hours. By 24 August 1991 Communist rule in the Soviet Union was effectively ended and the USSR collapsed. By December ten more republics had declared their independence.

25 August – Serbian aggression begins with the attack on Vukovar, Croatia. The three month battle left more than 2,000 Croats dead, 800 missing and 43,000 made refugees. The losses for Serbia and Yugoslavia are unclear, though reports indicated more than 1,500 killed during the war.



Bryan Adams - August 1991
Bryan Adams. Photo by Marco Maas (CC BY 2.0)

August 1991 – Music, Movies, Books and TV

Oprah Winfrey - August 1991Bryan Adams was still at the top of the Oz Charts in August 1991. (Everything I Do) I Do It For You went to the number one spot on 27 July and remained there until 7 September. The songs that tried to knock it off included Extreme’s More Than Words, Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy, PM Dawn’s Set Adrift on Memory Bliss and Unforgettable, the collaboration between Natalie Cole and her late father.
People queued at the cinema in August 1991 to watch Hotshots!, the Top Gun spoof starring Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson. The movie grossed more the US$180 million worldwide.

Amy Tan’s Kitchen God’s Wife was still the popular read in August 1991 as was Tom Clancy’s Sum of All Fears.

On TV, the big addition to the small screen was the debut of The Oprah Winfrey Show on Channel 10. At the time we welcomed Oprah in Australia, we said goodbye to The New Adventures of Blinky Bill which ended this month.


Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?”