32 years after Azaria Chamberlain disappeared in the most famous baby snatching since the Lindbergh baby, an Australian coroner has finally ruled that, yes, a dingo did it.
The nine-week-old was snatched in 1980 as her family camped at the foot of Australia’s landmark rock Uluru, then known as Ayer’s Rock. Aboriginal trackers saw dingo tracks and the first coroner blamed Australia’s wild dog — but the newly independent of Commonwealth control Northern Territory government was upset at the coroner’s criticism of police, as well as of ‘Southerners,’ and pursued Azaria’s mother, Lindy. She was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1986, following mounting criticism and the chance discovery of the baby’s matinee jacket, the forensic and other evidence was dismissed as flawed at a Royal Commission and Lindy freed, but a further coronal inquiry gave an open verdict, so it is only now that Lindy and her ex-husband Michael have finally had all trace of guilt removed.
In the three decades since the events, a large swathe of Australia has continued to believe the parents guilty. Australia’s media, newspapers, tabloid TV and talk radio indulged in what amounted to religious persecution — the parents are Seventh Day Adventists — indulging wild rumors of ritual sacrifice. Australia also didn’t want to believe that dingos are dangerous; think of the implications for the tourism industry.
Lindy’s seemingly cold demeanor and refusal to speak to the media, failing to fit the cultural expectations of a grieving mother, also fed into how the couple were cast.
In 1980, dingoes were widely believed never to pose a threat to humans, but since then, fatal attacks have received wide coverage, particularly the killing of a nine-year-old boy on Fraser Island off Queensland in 2001. That led to 31 dingoes being controversially culled.
The new verdict may lead many Australians to reassess why they indulged in what amounted to a frenzy — well documented in the movie “A Cry In The Dark,” which starred Meryl Streep as Lindy. One comedian, Wendy Harmer, has already apologized for her antics in the 1980s. The coroner fought back tears as she told Lindy and Michael “I am so sorry for your loss” yesterday.
Writes author Jo Hilder, a teenager back then:
Most of Australia decided Lindy was “weird”, and her behaviour in public was “unnatural” and “emotionally detached”, we also made up our minds that even though we didn’t know her from Eve, we were sure she was absolutely capable of cold-blooded infanticide.
Apart from the outright vitriol directed towards Lindy Chamberlain, there were also the jokes. Dozens of dingo/baby jokes circulated around our school, but we didn’t make them up. We didn’t have to. We heard them from our parents. Then there were the T-shirts, the cartoons in the paper and the comedy sketches on TV. The Chamberlains, and their most horrible defining moment, had become a part of Australian parochial culture.
How is it easier to believe a human mother could behave like a wild dog towards her own child than it is to believe a wild dog could behave that way?
… while she very may have very well been an hysterical mess in private, she chose not to behave that way in front of us. And we hated her for it.
Speaking outside the Darwin court, Lindy said:
No longer will Australia be able to say that dingoes are not dangerous and will only attack if provoked.
We live in a beautiful country but it is dangerous and we’d ask all Australians to be aware of this and take appropriate precautions.
This has been a terrifying battle. Bitter at times, but now some healing and a chance to put our daughter’s spirit to rest.
I’m here to tell you, you can get justice even when you think all is lost. If you know you are right, never give up on getting it right when a serious issue could affect the life and livelihood of others.
Picture by lostandcold