Back around 1993, or 94 when I was 20 I was backpacking around Eastern Australia.
I had been traveling for around 5 months by myself, just snagging any free lift I could get and staying in budget accommodation and backpackers or hostels. I was limited with money and stayed wherever I could usually ending up in strange and beaten up little towns. This didn’t bother me, ending up in those kinds of places, it let me really experience the country, not just visiting major attractions.
One afternoon I was walking on the side of a highway in NSW (New South Wales) hoping to get a lift to Sydney. I was somewhere between Sydney and Canberra, I had just stayed in a town called Tallong the night before. I was just walking along the road with my arm out trying to attract a car but nobody seemed interested in giving me a lift. It was maybe 20 minutes before someone finally pulled over.
I could instantly tell something was not right when the car pulled over.
It was a banged up, blue, old-fashioned Ute. It was rusted in some places and the blue paint was peeling off. Aside from the less than appealing ride, which I was used to, the man who poked his head out gave a strong aura of… something… amiss.
He had black dead looking eyes, a thick handlebar moustache and an unnerving smile. He leaned out the window and asked where I was heading. I told him I was heading for Sydney eventually. He said me he lives in a town called Berrima, which was only half an hour away. Since it was nearing sunset and no one else had stopped, I decided I would go with him and find somewhere to spend the night in Berrima.
I jumped in his car and threw my luggage in the back of his Ute. As it landed amongst the array of items in the back my eyes caught something. Laying under some rope, was a bag half unzipped, full of knifes, an axe and an assortment of what looked like rusty surgical gear like scalpels, scissors and syringes. I stood there staring for a few seconds when from the driving seat he asked me whether I was hopping in. Thinking back I should of just declined the ride and waited a little longer. But in my naïve young years I pushed it to the back of my mind and slid into the car.
I asked him what his name was. He was silent for a few seconds and answered gruffly, Ivan. He asked me mine and for some reason I made one up. I don’t know why but I didn’t feel comfortable telling him. I told him it was Jack. We sat in silence for a while when he fixed me with an eerie smile and asked me if I liked hunting. I told him I’ve never been, and he said we could go now. I shifted uncomfortably and said no. He frowned and drove in a cold silence. He talked in an icy tone and kept insisting I go hunting with him in the Belanglo State Forrest. I kept as polite as I could and kept turning him down. He seemed to get very frustrated with me.
We pulled into a service station in Berrima 30 minutes later. He told me to wait in the car. He hopped out and walked into the station. Instinct hit me and I jumped out too, grabbing my bag and jogging into the dark unlit town. I didn’t see him again and I got out of Berrima as fast as I could the next day.
A year or two later I was in my apartment in Perth. I was making dinner when breaking news segment flicked on. A man was arrested for murdering 7 backpackers in the Belanglo State Forrest. A picture of the man flashed on the screen. I froze. I knew that face. The name below was Ivan Milat. I squirm to think how close I was to becoming victim 8.