Chalinder Hughes was born near Delhi but left with her Hindu family when a year old to settle in the Midlands of England. In 1978, at age 17, she migrated to Australia with her English fiance, married him in 1985 but parted away a few years later. “The marriage broke up after my husband had returned from an American holiday. He told me he had met someone else. The experience left me cautious about forming permanent relationships in the future. I settled for living a quiet life.”
She met Ivan Milat in 1992 after working at a Sydney accountancy firm with his sister, Shirley. “I got on well with Shirley and occasionally we would go out together. I’d just been divorced and so she had, so the subject of divorces gave us a common interest. I learned Ivan had also been divorced. Shirley invited me to the movies and Ivan came along. The movie was Basic Instinct. He took me home and came in for coffee. And he said : ‘If I had known what the movie was like I’d never have taken you. I didn’t choose it.’ So I started going out with him.”
They settled into an agreeable relationship. Ms Hughes was paying off the mortgage on her home in Kearns, near Campbelltown. Ivan was then staying with his mother, awaiting completion of the Eagle Vale house he was building with Shirley.
Sometimes he would stay with Ms Hughes. When the Eagle Vale house was built, she would usually spend weekends with him. “It was a relationship that could have developed into marriage,” she said.
Above all she felt comfortable with Ivan. There was a nice solidness about him she liked. They lived a quiet, perfectly suburban life, she said, enjoying one another’s company. He worked long hours driving a truck carrying asphalt for roadworks.
Mostly they stayed home. He liked books by Grisham, a specialist in court room drama, Cornwell, whose heroine is a consulting forensic pathologist, and Wilbur Smith, rich in the lore of Africa. They watched TV together. His choice was motor ricing and movies, preferably westerns and comedies.
She never saw guns lying around Milat’s home, “I can never remember him carrying a gun. The one gun I saw was at his mother’s place. I knew among the family there were a lot of guns. His brothers had them. Of course he was interested in guns. He read a lot of gun magazines but then again he read a lot of car magazines.“
When bodies were found in Belanglo State Forest, Ms Hughes is certain it was never talked about, except once. This was when Milat’s brother, Alex, mentioned he had seen a four-wheel drive vehicle near Belanglo State Forest in which two women appeared to be tied up.
“Ivan expressed his astonishment that Alex hadn’t gone to the police earlier about the matter. Ivan thought Alex had raised the matter only because a reward has been posted. As far as hithchhikers went, he said he didn’t like to picking them up. He told me never to hitchhike.”
The reporter from The Sydney Morning Herald asked Ms Hughes whether, in the face of damning court evidence, he still felt optimistic about his future. “On the outside he does, but beneath the surface I know he’s frightened,” she said.
When Ivan was arrested on May 22, 1994, Ms Hughes was with him, “I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was like something out of a movie, not what you would expect on your own doorstep. I remember Ivan being told to lie flat down on the ground and someone flashing a warrant. I was led away.“
During and after the trial, Ms Hughes kept supporting Ivan, “Why wouldn’t I? He has never given me any reason to doubt him. His main concern has always been that I should be happy. Not long after he was in jail he said, ‘If you want to turn away from the situation, I understand. I just want you to be happy. But I’ll always love you.’ It’s not just loyalty. All I want to come out of this is the truth. I think the police are covering something up. I have no idea what. Police originally were looking for someone about six foot who drank and smoked. Ivan did not smoke. He drank only occasionally. The description of the person didn’t fit Ivan. He’s not into provoking people. A very calm person. Not violent and he doesn’t lose his temper. The only time I ever saw him cranky was with other drivers on the road, you know, those couldn’t drive very well. He was too lazy and too buggered after working all day to go out at night. And he’s not a fool. I mean, if he were the person, he wouldn’t leave incriminating stuff lying around. He comes from a large family that borrows things, leaves them around each other’s houses. He would never strike a woman, let alone rape and murder. He has a great respect for women. This I know. Ivan is more likely to walk away than have an argument. Then there are those things that are hard to explain. The things you just know about a person.”
Source : The Sydney Morning Herald, July 28, 1996.