true crime

In 1982, Colin Powis hitched a ride with Ivan Milat. He was almost his first victim.

Update: Ivan Milat, widely known as one of Australia’s worst serial killers, has died in prison, aged 74. Milat was diagnosed with terminal oesophageal cancer in May 2019, and was briefly treated at Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, before being returned to Long Bay Correctional Centre. He died in the medical wing of the prison on October 27.

Colin Powis came to Australia in 1982, as a wide-eyed 21-year-old Brit, eager to spend a year working and travelling around the country.

After arriving at Sydney airport, he’d headed up to the Blue Mountains for two nights before making his way towards the highway to hitch a ride inland towards Cobar. He’d heard there was work in the mines there.

Around 9:30am on a Tuesday morning in Blackheath, Colin hopped into a pickup truck which pulled over to give him a lift.

Colin appeared on Sunday Night. Post continues after video.

Video by Seven

“He didn’t say hello, he just said ‘put your seatbelt on’. So I put my seatbelt on,” Powis told Sunday Night who flew him over to Australia for his first ever interview about his brush with Ivan Milat 37 years ago.

Milat then asked a young Colin to “put that down mate”. He was referring to the car lock. Colin looked at him quizzically thinking to himself, “You don’t say that to anyone over about 10 years old”.

“Don’t want you to fall out mate,” Ivan remarked.

As the pair settled in for the drive Milat asked, “How long have you been in Australia? Who knows you’re here?”

Colin returned to Australia 37 years after he caught a ride with Ivan Milat, and nearly died. Image: Sunday Night.

When Colin told him that he didn't know anyone in the country, he described to Sunday Night that Milat went into a "kind of trance".

"Like deep in thought... he wasn't speaking. He wasn't smiling, he didn't smile the whole time. He was in predatory mode."

They drove in silence for sometime before Milat took a sudden left turn for no reason.

"I'm just going to turn off here," he said.

"Well, I am going to Cobar... so you can just pull over and let me out," said Colin.

Milat wasn't listening.

About 500 metres down the road he stopped and within seconds was around the other side of the truck outside Colin's window.

ivan milat marilyn milat
Ivan Milat was wearing a baseball cap when he picked up Colin. But his moustache was unmistakable. Image: Getty.

"He had his hand behind his back holding a hammer. I knew there was going to be trouble because he had no reason to get out," said Colin.

But to Milat's detriment, he'd picked a seemingly busy side road, and a fairly steady stream of cars were trundling past.

"He was looking at them and looking at me, because he was just about to strike. But because he was acting suspiciously they were looking at both of us. It gave me the opportunity to get out and pull the seat forward to get my backpack out," said Colin.

With the cars as his cover, Colin took his opportunity to shoulder past Milat who was still standing in his way.

As he walked away Milat yelled out, "Hey mate".

"I looked back and he was lounging on his truck and said something like 'have a safe trip look after yourself mate,' and that was the last time I saw Ivan Milat," Colin explained.

Seven years after Colin's close shave, Ivan Milat killed his first backpacker.

He killed seven innocent young backpackers between 1989 and 1993, dumping their bodies in the Belanglo State Forest.

The now 58-year-old Colin has had a lot of time to think about how that day in 1982 could have unfolded for him.

It was only after he saw a documentary about the killings years later, and noticed the man who'd picked him up, that he realised how lucky he was that day.

"I think he saw backpackers in his kind of primitive hillbilly world, and saw them as a kind of exotic wildlife that migrated through his territory and he could just go out and kill them for fun," Colin told Sunday Night.

"He saw backpackers as stray dogs that could be picked up off the street, taken into the bush and used for target practice.

The seven victims of Ivan Milat. Image: Reuters.

"You know, kill for sport so to speak," he added.

Returning to the scene of the crime three decades later, Colin could remember the exact pick up spot, and the exact left turn.

It's etched into his brain.

He described his return to Australia as, "Like a soldier coming back to a battlefield where he almost lost his life".

Ivan Milat is now 74 and is currently dying of stomach and oesophagus cancer.

He has been in prison for his crimes since 1994, but has never admitted to the crimes he was convicted of.

He is likely to die without ever admitting guilt to the families of Caroline Clarke, 21, Joanne Walters, 22, James Gibson, 19, Deborah Everest, 19, Simone Schmidl, 21, Gabor Neugebauer, 21, and Anja Habschield, 20.

Read More:

"A story of unfathomable cruelty." The incriminating photograph found in Ivan Milat's home.

At 20, Ivan Milat had an affair with his brother's wife. They had a daughter together.

Ivan Milat could die within weeks. Here are 14 unsolved cases he's been linked to.

17 years after Ivan Milat's last murder, his nephew killed someone in Belanglo State Forest.