UPDATED: A heart-breaking, important interview with Caroline Overington

Imran Zilic

This post is a difficult one but an incredibly important one. I urge you to watch this interview with one of my favourite authors and journalists, Caroline Overington. I approached Caroline after she wrote a cover story for The Weekend Australian magazine a few months ago about a little boy called Imran Zilic. You can read some of that story below. What a gorgeous little guy…..

The genesis of this story and my interview with Caroline is the premise that parents who murder their children are insane. But are they? Or are they just evil?

Insane or Evil?

By Caroline Overington, published in The Weekend Australian Magazine, May 22-23, 2010.

Parents who kill their children are surely guilty of an act of madness. But should that mean they’re not guilty of murder?

Imran’s mother and inset: Imran

EARLY in March 2008, a real estate agent in the South Australian mining town of Coober Pedy took a call from a man looking for a cheap place to rent. She offered him a dug-out: a small home, built like an underground cave to protect against the desert heat. Aliya Zilic, a 33-year-old father of one, an Australian of Bosnian heritage, took the place. It had slurry walls and a cool, stone floor. There was no power connected and he did not bother to have it put on. There were no windows; with the door sealed into clay, it would have been like sleeping in a tomb.Zilic stayed in his dark and muggy hole for about six weeks. He did not work, and it seems he ventured outside only to menace local women, stopping his car outside their homes to wink and leer at them. Then, on April 19, Zilic climbed into an old four-wheel-drive and set off at manic speed over the Nullarbor Plain, driving 2512km to Perth. Upon arrival in the suburb of Koondoola, he collected his three-year-old son, Imran, from the boy’s mother, Mirsada, saying he was taking him to his brother’s house nearby. She was anxious about letting him go, but on the other hand believed that Zilic loved his son and would never hurt him.

The outback hotel where Zilic stopped with Imran

Zilic betrayed that trust. He turned the car around and headed back across the Nullarbor, a difficult journey across the desert that cannot be completed in less than 33 hours, this time with the child, exhausted and afraid, in the front seat. Arriving in Coober Pedy, he says, he gave Imran a shower and lay him down on the bed so they both could sleep. When he woke, he looked down, but did not see his sweet-natured, olive-skinned son. Rather, he told police, he saw a boy possessed by the devil.

“Shetan means the devil … You’ve got shetan and you’ve got shetin, the devil’s helpers … he was doing this most weird stuff on the bed [that] a three-year-old child doesn’t do … he was making some marks with his hands and … flipping his legs up and down on the bed … ”

Zilic decided the boy had to be killed. “I drove about 40km out of town,” he said. “I placed him to the spot where I was going to kill him. I didn’t want to think about it much at all. I just wanted to relieve his suffering.” He slapped Imran once across the head, “to put him unconscious … for him not to feel the knife … I placed him on the ground, I cut his throat and I put him down the shaft.”

Zilic’s journey

Detective Sergeant Stephen Foley, who conducted one of the interviews with Zilic before he was formally charged, asked whether the child was dead when he went into the shaft. Zilic said he thought so, and sketched a map of the location. Police immediately set out with lights and mirrors on poles and, a day or so later, they told reporters that Imran’s body had been found in a “remote location” outside Coober Pedy.

In truth, it’s not that remote: drive 47km south of the town on the Stuart Highway. There is a rest stop on the right-hand side of the road, with a white picnic table. To the left, you’ll find tyre tracks in the gravel. Follow these for 500m until you come across two knee-high chalk mounds next to two perfectly round holes in the ground. When police first came looking for Imran they weren’t sure which of these shafts held his remains, but someone has now paved the entrance with stones and hammered a cross into the soil.

Like Zilic, photographer Adam Knott and I have come to this spot after driving 2512km across the same desert, tracking down people that Zilic met, gathering with us some of the same doubts that plagued the judge in the case when she had to pass sentence upon him in March. Click here to continue reading Caroline’s article from The Australian.

This article has been republished here with full permission.


Caroline is a mother of twins; a reporter for The Australian newspaper; an award-winning journalist and the has written two non-fiction books, Only in New York, and Kickback, which is about the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq. Last year she wrote her first novel, a book called Ghost Child. Her second novel, I Came to Say Goodbye, will be released on October 1, and we are reviewing it for the Mamamia Bookclub. You can also follow Caroline on twitter here.

About the law: Child Protection Act 1999

Each state in Australia has variations to the Child Protection Act, however in all states except for NT and TAS (with exceptions) no child victim of abuse, sexual offence or murder either living or dead can be identified. A child who has witnessed such a crime can also not be identified. The restrictions to identification means their name, siblings names, relatives, address, school or any other identifying feature can also not be published.

The restrictions of naming the child are state-based, this is why you will hear more details of a crime involving a child in VIC if you are in NSW. However the internet is challenging the laws, as people can access information from National newspapers online. If a case has had widespread interest like the Indian toddler Gurshan Singh who was murdered in Melbourne in March this year the court or the family may give permission to publish the child’s name.


The names of police officers and authorised officers, such as Docs case workers, involved can also not be mentioned. It’s worthwhile to note that in the United States, courts have moved to make cases involving child abuse or neglect open, in the view that closed court cases and restrictions on identification do not allow the democratic public scrutiny of child welfare agencies.

By Nicky Champ. Source: Pearson, M. Journalist’s Guide to Media Law

Childhood Horror

THINK of the classic Australian childhood, and what comes to mind? Vegemite sandwiches, probably, and rope swings and Sunnyboys and tadpoles in jam jars.

Thursday 9:30 on ABC

But it’s not like that for all children—and if you don’t believe that, tune into ABC1 at 9.30pm on Thursday for Polly and Me, a 25-minute drama by Ian Darling, featuring a little girl in a filthy apartment, her cot mattress shoved into one corner, playing with syringes and cigarettes, eating food with her fingers while her junkie mother fellates her dealer in the bathroom. You’ll tell yourself it cannot be real, but it’s real, all right. The program will be followed by a discussion, hosted by Geraldine Doogue, with child protection workers and others at the child neglect frontline. The easiest thing in the world would be to turn away. Don’t.

From Caroline Overington’s Media Diary Blog for The Australian.


NAPCAN recently conducted a survey, the largest ever of its kind, surveying 22,000 Australians on their attitudes towards preventing child abuse and child protection. The findings were alarming:

  • More than half of the respondents would not take formal action (call police or DOCS) if confronted with a child abuse scenario.
  • Even if a child disclosed sexual abuse only a third of respondents would take action
  • Many respondents (42%) said they wouldn’t do anything as it wasn’t their business
  • Many others said they just didn’t know what to do

Off the back of these results, NAPCAN have created a list of tips on how to respond if faced with a suspicious situation, and also on how to make Australia’s communities more supportive of parents and their children. Prevention really is better than cure.

Please click on the links to find out more

If you think a child has been abused or neglected, you must ring your local child protection authority or the police.

But in order to help prevent getting to such a tragic situation in the first place, there are lots of things you can do to help protect children.

The following tips are not definitive or exhaustive, but are a good start:

Parents and relatives: look out for children!

1. Teach all the children in your family how to be safe with people. Learn about child abuse and neglect and the warning signs.

2. Listen to, reassure and believe children.  Children who have experienced abuse may try to tell an adult several times before somebody hears them. If you’re worried about a child in your family, there are lots of things you can do.

3. Reach out to help parents of young children in your extended family – parents need all the support they can get. Let them know that it is okay to ask for help. Parenting is hard and all parents will benefit from help at times.

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