A guided tour of the forest where serial killer Ivan Milat buried his victims in southern New South Wales has been criticised as disrespectful to the families of those who died there.
NSW Premier Mike Baird said the “extreme terror tours” through the Belanglo State Forest were horrendous and appeared to be operating without the necessary permit.
In 1996, Milat was found guilty of murdering seven people, who were each found buried in the forest.
Since late June a company called Goulburn Ghost Tours has been running the tours through the forest.
“Come with us to Belanglo where Ivan Milat buried the bodies of his victims,” the company’s website said.
“Once you enter Belanglo State Forest you may never come out.”
The website said the tour included “paranormal equipment and training”, snacks and billy tea.
The tour starts at 6:00pm in Goulburn and returns from the forest about 3:00am, according to the site.
Mr Baird said he was shocked when he saw reports of the tours.
“It’s completely and utterly outrageous. I saw those reports and I couldn’t quite believe it,” he said.
“For them to operate in the state forest they would require a permit.
“I have been advised they haven’t yet sought a permit but if they do, they won’t be getting one, and if they operate illegally they will face the full force of the law.
“It’s not only in bad taste, it’s just terrible. Horrendous.”
NSW Victims of Crime Assistance League chief executive officer Robyn Cotterell-Jones told 666 ABC Canberra the tour was insensitive to the families of people whose bodies were found in forest.
“It’s the complexity of human behaviour isn’t it? We’ve all been basically fascinated by the macabre,” she said.
“But from where I sit, caring for the families of people who have been harmed in all sorts of vicious and violent crimes including murder, every time something like this arises it rips the scars open again.”
Tours ‘very concerning to the families’
Ms Cotterell-Jones said it created an unnecessary reminder for people still suffering as a result of Milat’s crimes.
“The idea so soon after his crimes in the Belangalo, and more recent crimes as well, of having people tramping over the sites that are still very special is very concerning to the families,” she said.
Ms Cotterell-Jones said the trek did not sound like a tour that honoured the dead.
“It sounds like a commercial enterprise scaring people,” she said.
“They were going to invoke the paranormal and you were warned that you couldn’t get out, if you became too frightened … from the victim’s perspective, have respect.
“Understand, because I can assure you that if one of those people had been one of your loved ones you wouldn’t be doing this.”
Former NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Clive Small lead the Milat investigation, and said the company needs to consider how the tours are conducted.
“What I’ve seen on the website, the wording, suggests it is a bad-taste tour,” he told 666 ABC Canberra.
“It doesn’t have respect for the victims or their families or friends and the wider victims of murders.
“It’s more about sensationalism.”
Assistant Commissioner Small acknowledged there were similar tours being conducted overseas.
“The difference is that most of those locations are of historical significance and did happen quite some time ago,” he said.
In 2010, David Auchterlonie was struck over the head with an axe in the forest, the same place where Milat buried seven victims in the 1990s.
He was lured there on his 17th birthday.
Cohen Klein and Matthew Milat — who is Ivan Milat’s great nephew — pleaded guilty to his murder. Milat, 19, hit the victim with the axe while Klein, 19, made a mobile phone recording.
Controversy took tour company by surprise: volunteer
Goulburn Ghost Tours volunteer Louise Edwards said the company began doing ghost tours “because nobody was interested in plain-old historical tours”.
“We started getting in contact with historical locations and asking them how they felt about doing ghost tours,” she said.
“They were really supportive and helpful … and the money goes back to the historical sites.”
Ms Edwards said the tour of Belanglo had received a good response overall.
“Some people were against it and some voiced that to us,” she said.
“There’s a culture within the paranormal industry of people who are really interested in crime scenes.
“It comes down to a moral predicament, it’s an argument that nobody can win because it comes down to opinion.”
Ms Edwards said the tour was strictly for paranormal purposes, to see if visitors could make contact with ghosts.
“We go to the memorial site and we pay our respects to Ivan Milat’s victims,” she said.
“There is absolutely no-one jumping out of the bushes, we don’t have recordings of people screaming. It’s absolutely not that kind of tour.
“We don’t say any of the victims’ names and say ‘are you here?’.
“We run the tours with great respect.”
Ms Edwards said the controversy had taken the company by surprise.
“It’s been 20 years and there’s been so much publicity and there’s so much information on the internet,” she said.
“I stand by the decision to do the tours, but I am very sorry that people have been hurt, that was never our intention.
“I’d like to apologise to the victims’ families, I had no idea this was going to end up the way that it did and we are definitely taking into consideration what has been said.”
Ms Edwards said the group had now applied for a permit to operate tours within Belanglo.
“We didn’t realise we needed it,” she said.
“They said we have to go through the right protocols and we’re doing that.”
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