IN this exclusive book extract from Sins Of The Brother, we reveal the domestic violence, death and dysfunction that made Ivan Milat a killer.
Rossmore – on the south-western outskirts of Liverpool, itself on the outer south-western fringe of Sydney – was in the sticks.
The region was once the frontier of Sydney, where the early colonials went to establish their pastoral empires.
Rossmore was on the edge of the district’s first great sub-division of three-acre residential lots, the Hoxton Park Estate, during the real estate boom of the 1880s.
It was billed then as a place where a working man could raise his family along with a few pigs and some chooks and, of course, it was a failure and, of course, it turned into Shitkickerville West.
Too small to be viable for agriculture, too far from transport to commute. By the 1940s, it may as well have still been on the frontier as far as basic services like sewerage and electricity went.
But Steven [Milat]’s acreage on Kelly Street was at least viable. The soil was loamy and rich. He had a dam, and nearby Kemps Creek gave him the water needed for the garden.
He set to work getting the place fit to live on.
He purchased a war surplus hut from the nearby Ingleburn army camp and carted it to the property for conversion into a home.
He built a concrete shed for his gear.
He felled the trees which covered half the property, blowing up the stumps.
Margaret’s parents followed them out there and set up house in a garage on the property.
Stanley Piddlesden this time answered to Steven’s orders as they laboured on the new garden beds, growing tomatoes and cabbages for the Sydney market.
Margaret, pregnant again, walked [children] Olga and Alex a mile to Bringelly Road to get them on the school bus safely each morning and repeated the journey in the afternoon.
On 9 July 1947, with their first harvest in, the clan Milat expanded once more with the birth of child number seven, William Allan.
Though only seven, Alex was old enough to help with the gardens and his reward was independence with the air gun.
Dad once again built him a small target range in a corner of the block. He also had guardianship of the crop.
He’d sit there after school shooting any bird that came within cooee of the garden or the chook feed. By the time he was eight, he was using a shotgun.
Steven thought he made sure Alex handled it with respect, but at that age, how good can you be?
One afternoon Alex saw a flock of birds on the roof. They were an easy shot.
He ran inside and got the shotgun, aimed and fired, peppering bird shot through the fibro wall of the living room.
Loud Croatian swear words boomed out of the house followed by the sound of heavy feet on a wooden floor.
Steven had not insisted his children learn his native tongue but Alex knew what the words meant: he was in big strife.
By the time Steven reached the door, Alex had covered the hundred or so yards to the back fence like a champion athlete and disappeared into the bushes. He stayed there for hours until Mum came looking at dusk to give him the all-clear.
That wasn’t the first time Alex was in strife with guns. He and his little brother Boris were running around with their air guns playing cowboys and Indians, popping shots off at each other,
oblivious to the potential danger until, bullseye, a slug hit Boris right between the eyes, leaving a nasty red welt and causing a flood of tears.
They never played like that again. Over the years, Alex would instil his knowledge of weaponry and safety in all his younger brothers.
Life continued. The tomatoes did well. Mum gave birth to child number eight, Michael Gordon, on 29 July 1949.
There was no time for outings like picnics, just the occasional trip into the city when Steven wanted to see a friend on the docks, or on an incoming vessel.
He was still known among the wharfies, who’d call out his name. There was, however, a marked change in Dad’s temperament.
He had taken to drinking heavily too often. It upset Margaret and his explosive outbursts scared the children, especially when he struck her.
Boris might run to his mum’s defence, but was too small to do anything.
Margaret nagged Steven about his drinking, and making ends meet.
He gave her just as much lip back, about dinner not being ready when he wanted it, little things like that.
Then she’d say something like, ‘you drunken bastard’, and he’d snap, get up, grab her by the hair, and give her a whack across the back of the head while the little ones cowered.
She’d threaten to leave him; Steven couldn’t understand why, and would talk her out of it. It happened at least once a week.
Mum could be quite savage, too, with her hidings, though they were far between and few.
She hit Boris once with a knife for an indiscretion which disappeared from his memory, but the wound never did.
‘Nearly cut me bloody arm off.’
Once, he was whacked so hard with a tomato stake it broke his arm.
He never felt frightened because it was over in a flash and, besides, it was normal.
Ivan copped it, too. They all did.
Before leaving Rossmore, Boris and Alex copped one justified flogging.
Playing around the sheds, they had come across Dad’s stash of a couple of a hundred pounds hard-earned, hidden in an old biscuit tin.
Boris found some matches and, having no concept of money, set fire to some of it.
Though only about seven, he never forgot that hiding.
Summer in Sydney was muggy, wet and windy, and Alex Milat was dreaming of snakes again. He and his wife, Joan, had their own family of two kids to contend with, but he kept in regular contact with Mum and Dad.
Mum always took an interest in his dreams.
As children, when he or Olga dreamt of snakes, bad things followed. Never major dramas, just the odd broken bone or cut.
He told his mother about this latest dream over a cuppa during a weekend visit in late January.
There were three snakes: ‘One’s got a lump on the head. The second one has no teeth, and the third one’s eyes are cut right down and crushed.’
A week later, another wet morning dawned. Ivan was still crashed out after coming home from a nightshift, when Wally took off down Campbell Hill Road taking Georgie and Margaret to work in his new car, barely six weeks out of the saleyard.
Despite the rain, he promised to get them there quick.
But they’d gone less than half a mile, over the waterpipes and right into Gurney Road, when disaster struck: bumps on a slippery bend; a pothole; faulty steering; a car coming the wrong way.
The reasons became blurred.
Mrs Milat was in the kitchen when Georgie came in, panting.
She thought it odd. Had he missed Wally’s lift?
He couldn’t talk. Just sat down on the lounge, dazed. Then she saw the bruises and the lump on his head.
‘What’s wrong? What’s happened to ya?’
Minutes passed before she got it out of him . . . an accident down the road . . . Margaret and Wally hurt . . . It’s bad.
With Dad having left for work hours earlier, Mum rushed to Ivan.
‘Get out of bed, Mac. Come quickly.’
‘There’s been an accident. Get up quick.’
A crowd, some still in pyjamas, was milling about the car when they reached it.
No ambulance had arrived, nor police.
Wally’s face was all swollen and one of his legs was clearly busted up, but
Margaret was a frightful sight, her face a bloody mess.
She was unconscious after going headfirst through the windscreen.
‘Don’t move her,’ said one of the crowd.
‘Where’s the ambulance?’ Mum asked.
‘It’s all right. I rang them. One’s on the way,’ a woman said.
No one came forward with a towel or cloth to help stem the bleeding.
Ivan was trying to calm his mother, and look after both kids, but there was little he could do.
He stayed by Margaret’s side, holding her, while Mum ran around, frantic in the morning stillness.
There were no sirens. She ran off, desperate to find out where the ambulance was. Three door-knocks later, she found a phone. The emergency operator knew nothing of the accident.
By the time an ambulance got there, twenty minutes had passed. A second arrived.
Wally and George were taken in one and Margaret in the other to Fairfield District Hospital.
The surgeons did all they could.
Margaret was in a coma, her face a purple quilt of 160 stitches from her eyebrows across and down to her throat.
Mrs Milat stayed there praying at her bedside and Ivan joined her.
A week turned to two and the doctors lost hope.
She was sixteen years and one month old when she died on Tuesday, 9 February
without regaining consciousness.
Wally missed the funeral. He was in hospital sucking soup through a straw between the wires holding his broken jaw together.
Boris and Ivan struck a truce for the funeral.
‘We will hold peace for the day,’ Mum told the pair. She always thought the [family] feud was just a matter of Boris’ jealous streak.
Mrs Milat never gave up grieving for her youngest daughter.
None of Ivan’s ill deeds or betrayals, no matter how bad, would ever compare to this pain.
Ivan lost what little faith he had in God that day. He rarely spoke about his little sister again, and people knew not to raise the subject.
It was an ill decision of Boris’ to move Marilyn and the two girls close to his parents’ home. The rented house in Mona Street, South Granville, was about a mile from 55 Campbell Hill Road.
‘Are you still seeing him?’ he demanded of Marilyn one day.
She denied it, but not convincingly enough. Boris demanded proof.
‘I can’t sustain this relationship unless I know,’ he said. ‘We’ll end this relationship now . . . You can have him but you can’t have the girls.’
She had to break it off with Mac or lose the girls.
Only her telling Ivan to his face – in Boris’ presence – could settle things.
She got on the phone and rang Ivan while Boris watched. Mac wanted to see her one more time. Boris demanded to be present. They arranged to meet in a park that night. Boris drove her.
Ivan was waiting in his Ford. Marilyn got out and walked to his car, leaving Boris alone, watching.
She sat in the front seat with Ivan, just talking. They weren’t there long but, to Boris, watching their silhouettes, their chat just seemed too pally, like they were laughing.
He imagined they were treating it as a big joke.
He got out of his car and barged into the back seat behind them.
‘We’re out of it. Okay, we’re finished,’ he yelled at Marilyn, his temper about to explode.
‘No, it’s all right. He’s not going to have nothin’ more to do with me,’ Marilyn said.
Ivan backed her up: ‘We’re just sitting having a chat.’
Then Ivan said something smart. Boris’ right fist flashed over the bench seat into Ivan’s head, and then again. Jab, jab, jab.
Marilyn was screaming. Ivan couldn’t fight backwards, so he picked up a torch from the seat and banged it into Boris as hard as he could.
The torch shattered, but Boris didn’t feel a thing through his anger. He kept on into Ivan until his rage was spent, then got out of the car.
‘You can have her, but you’re not taking the children. If you want her . . . she’s got to make up her mind what she’s gunna do, but if she goes, she goes by herself. The girls stay.’
Marilyn still loved Ivan, but he didn’t want the girls, he just wanted her all to himself. He didn’t want the commitment of kids.
Or that’s what he told her. She had to choose then and there, and she chose the kids.
And as she drove off with Boris, arguing already, she couldn’t help fearing what he’d do to her when they got home.
Then Boris told her he was going to change; get her and the girls far away. Start a new life. Things were going to be better, he promised.
‘We’ll move to the Central Coast and get married. What do you think about that?’
‘Okay,’ she said.
They removed themselves to the sleepy bayside town of Umina north of Sydney. Marilyn never lost her feelings for Ivan, but she tried to believe she could grow to love Boris.
Ivan took the news of the marriage hard. A few weeks later he saw two girls hitching near Liverpool Station and pulled the Fairmont in to the kerb.