Ed.--I'd like to introduce you to my first submission from a nice lady in Australia who cares about threatened minorities. Like the West Memphis 3, the case of Lindy Chamberlain and the disappearance of her baby into the outback of Australia is troubling. Lindy and her husband were members of the Seventh Day Adventist church down under, a group that is somewhat reviled by many Australians. Simply by being "different", they came under intense-scrutiny and suspicion based on these fears and bigotries. As a result, in both cases, a fair trial was an afterthought.
Here then, is an observation on the case of the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, and the harassment her family endured in-the-aftermath. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin were likely arrested because they looked "weird" and stood-out. This can be a liability when social hysteria has hit a community...
If anyone had thought to ask the traditional owners of the Uluru-Kata Tjita National Park, the Pitjinjara Yankajara people, known locally as the Anangu, what happened to the small baby girl that disappeared from her family’s tent on a freezing night in August 1980, the Anangu would have been able to tell them. But no one asked them. The Anangu would have told them of the dingoes that lived in the area, outnumbering the human mammals by three to one. They would have told them of these wild dogs that would approach even at the camp fire and look for small human mammals unattended and smelling of warm mother’s milk.
But no one bothered to ask them.
On the night that Azaria Chamberlian was taken by a dingo they did however ask a well known black-tracker to track the dingo that had the baby in its mouth. Nipper, the black-tracker, found the tracks of a big dingo carrying a bundle and followed the tracks to where the bundle was laid in the sand leaving the imprint of woven cloth and followed them again to where the animal picked up the bundle to carry it off across a bitumen road, only to lose them at that spot.
Some short time earlier the baby’s mother Lindy had gone to the family’s tent upon being told by her husband Pastor Michael Chamberlain of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and others at the camp site that they had heard a baby cry. The baby had just been fed and put down to sleep in a small crib in the tent. As Lindy approached the tent opening she saw a large glossy well-fed dingo with a bundle in its mouth coming from the tent. The dingo was totally unafraid of her and pushed past her in the darkness. Not daring to imagine that the bundle the dingo carried was her baby she rushed into the tent where she had a few moments before lain her 10 weeks old baby Azaria and settled her small sons, Reagan and Aidan and found the baby’s small crib empty. By the pale light that shone in to the tent she could see a spray of blood on Reagan’s sleeping bag. She screamed to the others at the camp site that a dingo had taken her baby and she rushed out into the darkness where she saw the animal again, but still could not see clearly what it held in its mouth.
The hunt was on, but according to later advice from the traditional owners and rangers of the area, the baby would have been dead before it left the tent, from shock and loss of arterial blood. Michael Chamberlain soon realised the impossibility of finding their child in the blackness of a desert night and appealed to his wife to accept God’s will, that He had taken their child. We who have no gods do not know how people can be so trusting of the gods in which they believe. But trusting they were ,on that night and for all the dreadful nights that lay ahead, and by all accounts Lindy is still. As the family stopped by a roadside petrol stand on the drive home to Alice Springs a few days later, they were approached by a group of aborigines coming from a hunt. They immediately sympathised with Lindy and told her they knew a dingo had taken her baby. How they could have known this hundreds of miles from the site of the attack and without communication with other aborigines no one has been able to determine, but in the way of the aboriginal people who have lived there for millennia, they knew.
Uluru, formerly known by Europeans as Ayer’s Rock is a monolith that sits majestically in the Uluru-KataTjita National Park in the dead red centre of Australia. Over 500 millions years ago it was thrust up from the bottom of the sea, bringing with it Tjukurpa the Dreamtime. The Dreamtime is the force that brought life to the structure that was Australia and still is today. Tjukurpa is the force of the Dreamtime and native Australians still live by its precepts and laws. It is not a concept that Europeans understand or believe in. But the native people talk to the spirits of their land and the spirits of the great rock Uluru and know things we could not possibly know.
A coroner’s inquest on the disappearance of the baby a few months later found that it had indeed been taken by a dingo but that there had been human intervention. This was decided because of a photograph taken by the police of the baby’s jumpsuit found concertinaed in the sand and rubbish near a dingo lair. The policeman laid the jumpsuit out neatly for the picture and thus the legend was born…. ‘there’s no way a dingo could perfectly separate the jumpsuit from the baby and place it down so neatly’. When Northern Territory authorities realised the panic in the community about the loss of a tourist’s baby to a dingo, they prepared themselves for a fight. Serious loss of revenue to the Territory would result from a drop in the number of tourists.
Police were ordered to investigate further. In pubs around the country and at backyard barbeques people began to question how a dingo could have lifted a 10 week old baby in its jaws and carried it off. They had not seen dingoes lift small mammals like hares and wallabies and trot with them for miles. Aided by slanderous gossip about the Chamberlains, and somehow annoyed by the stoic behaviour of Lindy which they determined to be ‘brazenness,’ public feeling turned firmly against the couple. There was talk of the tiny black dress Lindy had made for Azaria with red ribbons and bows and tiny red bootees. Surely only someone who delved into the occult would dress their very young baby in this way.
There was a false claim that the baby’s name Azaria from the Old Testament meant ‘Sacrifice in the Wilderness’ when in reality it meant ‘Aided by God’. The sleeping bag which had the blood spray of the sleeping baby on it was lost after police raided the Chamberlain house so there was a denial by authorities that there had been blood spray in the tent. The Chamberlains were said to be Satan worshippers and the church to which they belonged was called a Satanic cult. Someone I knew told me Lindy was the sister of a woman who was convicted of murder in Queensland a few years before.
After another inquest which found that the baby had been murdered, Lindy was charged with murdering Azaria. Her husband was charged with being an accessory after the murder. At her trial in 1981-1982 the prosecution claimed that she had cut the baby’s throat with scissors in the front seat of the car. The baby’s arterial blood had sprayed underneath the dashboard, and this was supposedly proven by laboratory tests. It was suggested that the tiny body was stuffed in a camera bag and later disposed of. Lindy claimed that the cut marks in and around the neck of the jumpsuit were made by sharp incisors of a dingo.
But an expert from London who had never seen a dingo claimed they were scissor marks. Lindy always maintained that the baby was wearing a matinee jacket the night she disappeared but the prosecution said she was lying about the jacket because of the claimed scissor marks.
In 1982 Alice Lynn Chamberlain was found guilty in a Darwin court of murdering her baby Azaria and putting the body in a camera bag and somehow disposing of it in the desert. She was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Her husband Michael was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact. Lindy was sent to Darwin’s Berrimah prison for women where the authorities were under strict instructions to make life as hard as possible for her. But they did not count on Lindy’s strength, and the assistance of the many aboriginal women imprisoned with her.
As a vegetarian in a prison without consideration of her diet she almost suffered malnutrition. In November 1982 Lindy gave birth to her 4th child, another girl she and Michael called Kahlia who was immediately taken from her for fear of its life. An appeal made on Lindy’s behalf by her lawyers failed as did another appeal to the High Court. In November 1985 a book was published by Australian author John Bryson about the plight of the Chamberlains which asserted that there had been a miscarriage of justice. However the Northern Territory Government was not convinced and later that month they turned down an appeal for Lindy’s early release. The Chamberlains continued to deny their guilt and fortunately there were many people in Australia, mostly in the Labor Party who believed her.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church did what they could to help and public opinion began to swing in favour of Lindy. When certain facts of the trial became public, people began to ask how could she have been convicted when there was no evidence, no motive, and no opportunity to have carried out the crime she was convicted for.
Certain evidence at the trial was so wrong that lawyers demanded a retrial. A technician working for the Northern Territory Forensic Department who had said that foetal arterial blood had been spattered under the dashboard of the Chamberlain’s car was proven wrong when a letter from the company that manufactured the car claimed that the spatter of drops was actually sound deadener. He gave the specific details of the reaction it would have had to the specific tests which were carried out inadequately and thus deemed to be the baby’s blood. The letter was not read in court at Lindy’s trial.
The doctor in England who said the cuts in the jumpsuit were from scissors was found to have given evidence for the prosecution in another case that was decidedly inaccurate and incorrect. The judge should have thrown the case out of court but preferred to go with public opinion.
In 1986 a tourist from England was found dead at an area near the rocks where the baby’s jumpsuit, singlet and nappy had been found. As police searched the area for any evidence as to whether it was suicide or murder, they found Azaria’s matinee jacket…..the one that the prosecution had claimed did not exist and the one that Lindy claimed to have put on her baby after she fed her on that terrible night. The Northern Territory Government had no other option but to release Lindy immediately.
But there was to be no rest for the Chamberlains...
The Northern Territory Government in May 1986 held a Judicial Enquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Azaria Chamberlain and the convictions of her mother and father. They found insubstantial evidence for them to have gone to trial, but a further inquest in 1995 decided that the cause of the baby’s death could not be determined. This was a blow to the Chamberlains and they fought the government of the Territory for the right to have their baby declared taken by a dingo. Until this is done the family members do not feel that the case is over. There were a few things about this whole event that made me sit up and take notice apart from the flagrant miscarriage of justice...
Lindy told the police during her first interview after the loss of her baby that she had seen a large glossy dingo atop the Fertility Cave earlier in the day and that she had the feeling that it was ‘casing’ her baby. The dingo that Lindy saw leaving her tent with a bundle in its mouth was identical to the large and glossy dingo she had earlier seen at the Fertility Cave. One of the rangers at the campsite owned a half-tame dingo which was well-fed and glossy with the same red streaks which Lindy described seeing on the first dingo and it was shot by the ranger when the baby was taken.
The wild dingoes of Uluru-Kata Tjita National Park were scrawny creatures, with rough and unkempt fur. When the jumpsuit was found near the Fertility Cave where Lindy had seen that first dingo, the Northern Territory made the decision to blow up and obliterate all the dingo lairs in the vicinity of the park, probably hundreds of square miles. The blacktracker Nipper who had tracked the dingo from the Chamberlain tent that fateful night in August, was not allowed to testify at the couple’s trial as Northern Territory authorities claimed he was a drunk. He was however asked by the same authorities to testify on behalf of the prosecution in another trial a short time later. The tourist whose body was found in the same area, thus enabling the finding of the matinee jacket, had indeed committed suicide.
Have we Australians learned anything from this grave miscarriage of justice against a woman who was stoic and calm and devoted to her religion? I don’t think so. I still talk to people in important academic jobs who assert that Lindy killed and ate her baby because she was starved by her religion for meat. People are becoming aware though that dingoes kill people and particularly small helpless people as there have been deaths caused by dingoes in the last few years and attempted abduction by dingoes of some small children.
I have always known about animals and the scent of mother’s milk. When my first baby was about 2 weeks old I found the cat from next door had somehow come in an open window 20 feet from the ground and was sitting on my baby’s tiny chest, inhaling the sweet and evocative odour of breast milk emanating from her sleeping body. Had I not arrived in time my baby girl would have been suffocated by the weight of the cat on her chest. Would I have been convicted of killing my baby? It happens.