The following interview was published in Who Weekly, August 5, 1996.
At the beginning of their relationship Milat and Hughes often went to the movies, dinner or to visit members of his family. “He liked staying at home quite a bit because he was pretty tired from work. He took me to Darling Harbour and Circular Quay on occasions.“
They didn’t see much of each other during the week, but spent many weekends together. On the weekend of May 22, 1994, Chalinder Hughes was staying with Ivan at the home he and his sister Shirley shared on Eagle Vale when the now-famous Task Force Air police raid was made.
“From what I know now, they even knew what we used to do on Sunday mornings,” Hughes says, “and that was to get up about 8 o’clock and have breakfast on the front veranda. They were quiet Sunday mornings reading the Sunday papers. I loved reading the papers and having coffee.“
At the time of the raid, she says, “We were in bed….you know how you see a James Bond movie and you see all these black figures coming towards you. They had guns, people in black, people in overalls. It happened so quickly. You did as you we’re told. They weren’t yelling or shouting. It was scary. I was bewildered. I didn’t know what was happening. It was such a short moment.” Hughes, who was also taken away for questioning, says she had heard of the backpacker murders before that day and “never really took any notice of it, but I gathered that during questioning that day it was about it.“
Hughes says she wasn’t able to help police “because I didn’t know anything…I was bewildered that day, in shock, in tears, I was alone.“
But she stuck by Milat, visiting him and writing to him in jail. She stresses that it’s impossible to continue “a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship” with him in jail, but maintains she will support him “whatever happens.“
She was remembering the two years they went out together before his arrest. “Ivan wasn’t a very romantic person. He thinks he is but he wasn’t. His idea of romance was different to mine! He thought taking care of you was romantic enough. I wanted to be sent flowers and go out for dinner for special occasions. He never smoked and didn’t like drinking, perhaps a social drink every now and again.
Ivan is a plain eater, steaks and fish, he didn’t like fancy food, although we had been to a Chinese restaurant. He eats everything now, pizzas everything. It’s being at Long Bay I guess, he’s in the company of good cooks and they cook their meals separately because they didn’t like the prison food.“
Hughes didn’t share his interest in westerns — she is more of a Star Trek fan — but they both enjoyed relaxing and watching TV. “He enjoyed watching the car or bike racing on TV, he loved that, and if that, or cricket was on TV, he would sit there and watch it. So it was a good chance for me to catch up on reading books written by people such as Patricia Cornwell; I would often buy books and pass them onto Ivan. Thriller-type books like Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith.“
She sees him as old-fashioned. “He was very conservative, trustworthy and loyal. He would never let you down…We were very comfortable with each other. We had both been through a divorce. We never talked about marriage but we both believed it would be something that would happen. He thought we would just drift into marriage. He wasn’t the sort of person, though, who made plans. I got on well with Ivan’s mother. She was old, though, and frequently sick. She was quite religious and liked going to church — she was Roman Catholic.“
Hughes says that when she would spend weekends with Ivan, Shirley was often there : “I felt a bit awkward at times with her around…. I was going out with her brother so things changed. But she liked that fact I was going out with him.
Most Saturdays we would go for a drive to the coast, to Wollongong or go for a ride on the bike to where his family lived…It was a very normal relationship.
I gave him quite a few things. A really nice book on guns. The bookshop salesman said it was a classic book with lots of pictures in it… The history of western-style weapons.“
She says she didn’t believe Ivan was capable of the murders, which is why she stood by him. “I visited him a few days after he was arrested because I wanted to see if he was OK. He wanted to know whether I wanted to be with him and said he would be quite happy if I wanted to walk away from it all. I am a loyal person but I am only loyal because I believe in his innocence.” But now she concedes, “I need to get on with my life. It would be a lot easier to turn away but I believe in him.“