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!