Yesterday, Dr Michael Chamberlain died, aged 72 years. A respected academic, husband, father and pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, however, most of the news concentrated on the infamous 1980 Chamberlain Case, when Azaria, the baby of Michael and his first wife, Lindy was stolen and killed by a dingo while the family on a camping trip to Uluru. (Then referred to as Ayers Rock)
Search any newspaper archives from that time and you’ll see that it was covered in local, state, national, and international newspapers. There was even a Hollywood film starring Meryl Streep, Evil Angels.
Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were convicted, pardoned and later exonerated over the death of their baby daughter, Azaria, at Uluru in 1980.
The trial by media, rumours, innuendo, deliberate misinformation, the hounding of the couple and their family and friends, plus the sickening glee of crowds cheering when Lindy went to gaol is a sad and sorry stain on modern-day Australia’s history.
I hope, Michael’s religious faith, which sustained him in life, will reunite him with Azaria and he’ll find the peace and joy that from all accounts he was denied because of the tragedy at Uluru.
The Chamberlains paid a heavy price: not just losing their daughter but the public vilification led to the disintegration of their relationship and family unit although both remarried. They both lost careers and neither fully recovered from the emotional toll of the sensationalist reporting of the tragedy.
Sydney Morning Herald Summary
The Chamberlains’ daughter, Azaria, was snatched from their tent on a camping trip to Uluru in 1980. Both her parents were ultimately charged for their daughter’s disappearance; Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was given a life sentence in 1982 and Michael Chamberlain convicted as an accessory after the fact.
Ms Chamberlain-Creighton was imprisoned for three years before new evidence was found to overturn the verdict and both were exonerated in 1988. The pair separated in 1990.
It was not until 2012, 32 years after Azaria’s death, that a Northern Territory coroner issued the final report in the case, confirming that Azaria was taken by a dingo.
I was working in the office of The Federated Miscellaneous Workers’ Union (Victoria) in 1980. Of the eight girls in the office, only three of us had sympathy for Lindy and believed her story.
Tea room conversations were heated and as often happens in Melbourne, a big divide between Herald Sun readers and those who read The Age. Both newspapers owned by rich families or consortiums, but one less tabloid than the other.
(Well, that was then. Today, in the 24-hour news cycle, the proliferation of social media and the post or fake-truth era, few media outlets have credit. And people are still hounded, suicidal James Hird a recent victim.)
In 1980, the division between those who consulted with and believed Aboriginal Australians and those who dismissed local indigenous knowledge became obvious quickly. People who lived around Uluru were ridiculed for seeing the dingo as the predator it is. Serious shortcomings in police forensics and the Northern Territory legal system were exposed.
Many people ignore or refuse to believe the reports of dingo aggression, preferring to see the dingo as having more of the qualities of a dog than a wolf.
Sadly, ignorance makes people easy to manipulate and misinformation easier to spread. The court of public opinion almost unstoppable once it gathers momentum and in 1980 the ‘public’ making the most noise wanted Lindy Chamberlain punished.
The important ‘evidence’ that had the public baying for Lindy’s blood was what some perceived as her lack of anguish. She didn’t break down enough, appear inconsolably distressed or sob. She didn’t fit the idealised picture of a ‘good mother’.
Keeping her grief private, she was labelled ‘cold’, appeared too self-controlled therefore must be guilty.
The public’s need to have a saintly, sacrificing mother shattered by Lindy’s persona in interviews. Her grieving portrayed as inadequate.
In 1992, when another media flare-up occurred after Lindy and Michael divorced, I wrote a poem. I wanted to send Lindy a letter to let her know people cared about her. To my shame, like many good intentions, it never happened.
I can’t begin to imagine the hurt, anger and despair Lindy suffered several times – from the first trial to the last. Nor can I imagine the pain of Michael being charged as an accomplice and having to watch his pregnant wife sent to gaol with ‘hard labour’.
But I remember the sadness, anger and disappointment I felt when work colleagues, friends, and acquaintances believed every sensationalist tidbit the media fed them. (Including the assertion Azaria meant ‘sacrifice in the desert’!)
Many of those feelings returned yesterday as details of the Chamberlain Case resurfaced and I thought of the grave miscarriage of justice.
The past may be gone but a trigger fires the memories.
how I wept for you
and in my heart, I still do
those lost years will not return,
the anger you feel
must really burn –
make you want to scream
‘Wake me up, please God,
from this bad, bad dream.’
I watched a film
about your pain
relived those years
all over again
your biggest critics
instead of support
you were spurned
their judgment stern
their hatred voiced
with a zealous passion.
refusal to accept a tragic event
can cause emotion to be spent
you’ll always be guilty
in some people’s eyes
because you could still smile–
what a surprise!
private grief unheeded
to break down publicly
all that’s needed…
I saw a woman
who carried a child for
laboured in childbirth
yet hounded as if a freak.
guilt or innocence
doesn’t lessen the loss
more than Azaria taken
in that desert summer –
a broken family a cruel cost
did you feel like Moses
by a Red Sea refusing to part
as authorities tore another babe
from your grieving heart
dingoes come in different shapes
your family found
demands for your blood
irrational, hateful, an awful sound
lost years can never be regained
justice may never be
many determined to imprison you
others determined you be free.
it may be cold comfort
to know many hearts bled
unwept tears scalded souls
for your little Azaria dead…
not knowing what to do
but like me, offering
only words to support you!
2 thoughts on “Can The Past be Put To Rest?”
Well, I am pleased to say that I never had an opinion about this, one way or the other. I don’t know why people feel they need to have an opinion about everything. I don’t see how anyone could form an opinion one way or the other when they weren’t there, and had never seen the people in question to form a judgement about whether they were telling the truth or not.
IMO there should have been an enquiry into the role of the media in whipping up the whole story. Maybe if they’d been made to take responsibility, things wouldn’t be as bad as they are now.
When all the rumours began in the press I remember thinking even if she had killed the baby it would be postnatal depression and she needed help not hounding. I used to read The Age cover to cover in those days – I was single then – and it was incredible the amount that was written about the case and the emotions whipped up. I think if the original decision of the local magistrate had stood justice would have been done but certain journalists and their willing audience weren’t prepared to let that happen. I don’t think we have been well-served by the media for many years and the number of journalists I consider to have integrity and the ability to do a decent job could be counted on my hands – and that’s including some who have died or left the profession! I attended a series of lectures at Melbourne Uni run by the School of Journalism and always try and get to the Norm Smith lecture every year. Two years ago Paul Keating spoke and he was eloquent and forthright as usual – he said too many journalists feed the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip when the test for many stories should be does it serve the public’s interest or is it none of the public’s business. He gave examples of people (often celebrities or holders of public office) being vilified and hounded just so some newspaper or magazine can have a juicy headline to sell their copy. And we see it all the time on TV – stories that you wonder ‘why is this news’! However, can’t imagine Rupert Murdoch or any of the other wealthy owners gives a shit – they had an enquiry in the UK and even the pie in the face from the protester didn’t phase him and it hasn’t improved the standard of journalism – look at all the crap printed about Brexit. And when I look what’s happening with the ABC, it’s very scary.