‘Work paired me up with Ivan Milat’
I'd heard rumour of the person you're about to learn of several years ago in a country pub. His frightening experiences, relayed to me late at night by one of his mates, beggared belief and sparked my determination in tracking this elusive individual down.
After several years and finally following a solid lead I eventually located him in the central west of NSW.
His story is remarkable and true, and a more terrific Australian bloke you could not hope to meet. Yet his ordeal has left him with considerable trauma, especially the memory of the distraught and heartbroken families of those who perished at the hands of Australia's worst serial killer.
For reasons concerning his - and his family's wellbeing - at the last minute before publication, he reluctantly asked if he could remain anonymous.
His identity is known to us here at The Saturday Telegraph, but we respect his wishes.
Let me describe him simply as being the kind of bloke you'd look forward to having a beer with after work.
Hands-on, hardworking, whip-smart, generous with his time and - on occasion - more than able to handle himself in a stoush, this Sydney-born knockabout fella has had a lifetime of experiences.
But there's one experience even he struggles to come to terms with - his seven months working on country roads with Ivan Milat.
"At the time I was working for Readimix operating what's known as a 'road profiler'," he tells me. "One of those machines that rips the road up."
He explains that in the early 1990s, Readimix merged with what was then the Department of Main Roads and it was thought a good idea to ''pair up'' Readimix employees with DMR personnel.
Since the road-profiling machine required two people to operate it, my then-24-year-old contact was given an offsider - a 48-year-old Ivan Milat.
"It's something to tell the grandkids," he quietly laughs with an awkward mix of both relief and disbelief. They paired me up with a serial killer."
The two would travel together wherever the giant, dinosaur-like road-profiling machine was needed - one at the controls and the other checking the road levels - and although the work was always completed, their relationship was, to say the least, unusual.
While driving the truck carrying the machine down Mt Ousley on the approach to Wollongong the pair were keenly listening to a story breaking on the radio where there was frantic discussion regarding the discovery of backpackers' bodies in Belanglo State Forest.
"We were listening to a psychologist profiling the killer who says, 'it could even be your workmate sitting next to you'," he recalls.
"I was only a kid, you know, and I thought 'oh yeah, maybe' and just for fun I thought I'd give it to Ivan."
In the way workmates often goad and chiack each other, the young road-worker tried to get a rise from Milat.
"It was like a game, so I said to him, 'Now what sort of a sick piece of shit would do that, Ivan?' but he said nothing, just sat there silently and kept driving."
In all the time they spent on the road - they even shared motel rooms - he had no inkling of Milat's secret and depraved life. But in hindsight, there were some small clues.
Readimix once rewarded its workers with tickets to the one-day cricket at the SCG,
"And I had to sit next to Milat, and I thought, 'of all the people, I'm stuck with him'.
"He sat there watching the whole game through a pair of binoculars he'd handpainted camouflage."
But the backpacker killer's unspeakable crimes were never far from Milat's mind, as my contact remembers.
"We were working on the highway down at Pheasants Nest and had closed it down to one lane when a convoy of cop cars came flying through, one after another," he says.
"They'd found another body in Belanglo. You know, all those coppers passing by and Milat was standing there watching them only 3m away."
Yet, as is apparently often the case with serial killers, Milat would display marked obsessive behaviour.
"He was a model employee," my contact recalls. "The machine was always overly maintained, over-lubricated. He was always punctual, his work clothes always ironed, but we all knew he had a screw loose."
Milat was not at all social - never a conversationalist - and he would always eat his lunch alone.
I was intrigued to learn more about his personality, asking the man whether Milat had any hobbies he'd talk about.
"Yes," was his reply. "Hunting."
Another source, ''Frank'', was a career Corrective Services officer now in retirement who knew Milat during his years at Goulburn Supermax and has no illusions about the backpacker killer.
"I'd describe him as nondescript," Frank tells me about the jail's most infamous prisoner. "He was nothing startling, to me he was just another crim who'd vacuum the hallways. In later years he was flat out stringing two words together.''
But Milat's idiosyncratic nature still left something of an impression as Frank remembers. "He did teach me how to recharge flat batteries," he chuckles, still puzzled by Milat's curious behaviour. "Milat had a lot of tricks like that he'd picked up while working on the road gangs."
On arriving at Goulburn, Milat - surprisingly - had initially been placed in general circulation with the other prisoners who were inside for any number of different offences, from drink driving to armed robbery.
But there were concerns Milat could be a target.
"You'll get that crim who's trying to make a name for himself - 'I killed Ivan Milat'," Frank recalls.
"It was a clear risk for staff so he was placed in high-risk management."
I asked Frank about the time Milat had sawn off his little finger with a plastic knife and posted it to the High Court of Australia.
"That's because you blokes (the media) weren't giving him enough attention," he says with a wry smile.
Indeed, attention - in whatever warped fashion Milat craved it - was always a part of his motivation.
Interviewing my road-gang contact, he recounted a late Friday afternoon when he and Milat were at Pheasants Nest about to finish work.
"Milat was obsessed with earning overtime - he'd do it any chance he could and he wanted us to keep working," he says.
"I was just a young bloke and it was Friday night - I wanted to get out of there and go to the pub with my mates or go to a party. I said to him, 'stuff this, Ivan, I'm not working. I'm out of here' and I climbed into the truck and turned the ignition.
"Milat raced over, grabbed the keys and threw them into the grass. I climbed out of the truck and was shaping up to sort him out when he ripped off his shirt and shaped up to me.
"I couldn't believe how well-built he was and I saw the muscles in his arms and I thought 'Jesus Christ - they've been stuffed with soccer balls'.
"Then suddenly, for no reason, he backed right off and said everything was OK and he put his shirt back on."
UNDER THE RADAR
It's believed by my interviewee this inexplicable behaviour was because Milat didn't want to do anything that might bring the unwanted attention of the police.
He further believes the real reason he wanted to stay longer at Pheasants Nest was to watch the countless police cars tearing to and from Belanglo.
Yet in time, Milat's luck would run out.
As you would imagine, the discovery of his work colleague as the Belanglo serial killer absolutely floored my contact.
Having finished work one evening, Milat asked if he could borrow the service truck to take home as he wanted to use the welding gear on-board to fix a gate.
"I said OK, not thinking anymore about it,'' he remembers. "And the next morning my missus says to me, 'your truck's on the TV news' and I said 'nah, it must be somebody else's'.
She said, 'no - your bag and all your gear is laid out on the front lawn of the backpacker murderer's house."
The police had raided Milat's home on Cinnibar St, Eaglevale, bringing to an end Milat's reign of terror.
But are the seven bodies discovered in Belanglo State Forest Milat's only victims, or could there be more?
Former Corrective Services Officer Frank fears that is a real possibility.
"He was charged with rape in 1971," he says. "I don't think he could go clean for another 18 years."
"I hope they're the only ones," says my contact of his former work partner. "But he covered a lot of ground and had a long time to do more.
"There are so many missing persons, so many unsolved mysteries."
My contact's main thoughts today are for the victims and their families.
"Just imagine what those poor, poor people had to go through," he contemplates, reliving his own experiences, sitting in the truck day after day with the serial killer.
"And their poor families … What a piece of shit."