Real Life

Michael Chamberlain’s forgotten sorrow

Decades on, the pain hasn’t healed for Azaria’s family.
Michael Chamberlain, Lindy Chamberlain, baby azaria

Her name meant “blessed of God”, not “sacrifice” as was later claimed. Azaria Chamberlain was a much-wanted third child, a delicate-featured infant who was adored by her mum, dad and two older brothers. Then on August 17, 1980 – 32 years ago – Azaria was snatched from her tent at Ayers Rock and her distraught mother Lindy screamed out the now infamous words, “That dingo’s got my baby.”

Thirty-two years later, the pain is still raw for Azaria’s New Zealand-born father Michael, his ex wife Lindy and their three other children, Aidan (38), Reagan (36) and Kahlia (29). “My children have known all along that their parents did the right thing but it has been very hard for them. They lost their sister in terrible circumstances and their parents were blamed because we didn’t seem upset enough. They are still wounded souls today,” says Michael. “We can’t talk about what happened, not even all these years later. We will look at pictures of Azaria together, but we do it in silence.”

Michael says one thing that has been particularly distressing in the traumatic three decades since is that, in the frenzy of accusations, harrowing court cases, worldwide headlines and sick jokes, many people seem to have forgotten that at the centre of the case was a child who died an awful death. “The poor little thing,” says Michael (68), his voice thick with emotion.

“She was a beautiful little girl and she had a wonderful nature. She was awake quite a lot of the time by the time we went to Ayers Rock and we were just getting to know her. She was our adorable baby girl but throughout everything that’s happened since, she’s been dehumanised, along with us.”

Michael admits there are still moments when he thinks, “Has this really happened to us? Even now I still think, ‘Has it all been a dream?’ Unfortunately it hasn’t.” The former church minister, who later became a teacher and writer, relived the trauma of the last three decades when he wrote his recently released book Heart of Stone: Justice for Azaria. “The hardest part to write was the beginning, about what happened at Ayers Rock,” he reveals. Michael also researched cases of dingo attacks on people, to show that they are capable of killing.

Michael started the book in 2008 in the hope that publicity would get the case reopened. And just as it was being published, the findings of a fourth inquest into Azaria’s death were released this year. The coroner’s verdict that Azaria had been killed by a dingo was vindication for Michael and his former wife, now Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton.

Lindy had spent three years in jail for killing Azaria, while Michael received a suspended sentence for being an accessory after the fact. They were both exonerated in 1987 but a third inquest into Azaria’s death in 1995 returned an open verdict, which meant the court did not acknowledge that a dingo was responsible.

That still cast a shadow over the Chamberlains, until June this year when, on what would have been Azaria’s 32nd birthday, coroner Elizabeth Morris said she was satisfied the evidence that a dingo took their daughter was clear. She also gave them an unexpected apology. Michael describes the apology as “a very emotional moment. It wasn’t something we asked for but it was incredible, not just for us but for everyone over the years who gave evidence to support us.”

He says his children have dealt with everything remarkably well. “It brings tears of joy to my eyes, thinking of my children and the people they have become,” says Michael, who is also proud of his youngest daughter Zahra (16) with his second wife Ingrid. The family is hopeful there can be a memorial to Azaria, whose body was never found, erected where the Ayers Rock (now known as Uluru) campground she was taken from once was.

“I would like a memorial to Azaria. I suppose she has become an icon for justice in Australia in one sense but she will always be our beautiful girl.”

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