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Chamberlain, Azaria Chantel (1980–1980)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain (1980-1980), missing infant, was born on 11 June 1980 at Mount Isa, Queensland, third of four children of New Zealand-born parents Michael Leigh Chamberlain, Seventh Day Adventist pastor, and his wife Alice Lynne (Lindy), née Murchison. Lindy stated that the name Azaria (pronounced As-ah-ria) is from the Hebrew and means 'blessed of God'. She weighed 6 lb. 5 oz. (2.9 kg) at birth and had 'dark, violet eyes', black hair and olive skin. At nine weeks she was fit and healthy.

On 13 August 1980 the family left home in their yellow, hatchback, Torana motorcar for a holiday in Central Australia. Arriving at Ayers Rock (Uluru), Northern Territory, on Saturday 16 August, they pitched a tent next to their car at a camp-site. On Sunday 17 August at about 8 p.m. Azaria was heard to cry out. Her mother went to the tent, found the baby missing and reported seeing a dingo. Despite extensive searches by Aboriginal trackers and others, on that dark night and later, the baby was never found. Items of her bloodstained clothing were located on 24 August among boulders near the base of the Rock. It was not until 2 February 1986 that her matinee-jacket was discovered nearby. Following an inquest at Alice Springs, on 20 February 1981 the coroner Denis Barritt concluded that Azaria had met her death when attacked by a wild dingo as she slept in her family's tent, and that an unknown person or persons had helped to dispose of the body.

The case was far from closed. In November 1981 the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory quashed the findings of the inquest. In Darwin a second inquest heard new forensic evidence, particularly about bloodstains, that led the coroner Gerard Galvin on 2 February 1982 to commit the parents for trial. Lindy was charged with Azaria's murder and Michael with having assisted his wife after the crime. Sensational reporting by the media aroused intense public attention. In countless workplaces, at dinner-parties and at barbecues Australians speculated on the possibilities. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion. Dingo jokes proliferated, as did cruel rumours, sometimes centring on the supposed meaning of the name Azaria. Found guilty by the jury on 29 October, Lindy was sentenced to imprisonment for life and was confined in Darwin Prison; Michael's eighteen-month sentence was suspended. Appeals to the Federal and High courts of Australia failed.

Interest in the matter continued almost unabated, with growing support for a further inquiry. In particular, the scientific evidence about bloodstains was challenged. On 7 February 1986, after the discovery of the matinee-jacket, Lindy's sentence was remitted and she was released from gaol. A feature film, Evil Angels (A Cry in the Dark), was made next year. The royal commission conducted by Justice Trevor Morling reported on 2 June 1987 that there were 'serious doubts and questions as to the Chamberlains' guilt', and considered new evidence to be such that a trial judge would have been obliged to direct a jury to acquit them. On 15 September 1988 both convictions were quashed. In May 1992 the Northern Territory government announced that an ex gratia payment of $1.3 million would be made as compensation to the parents. Long before then Azaria Chamberlain's mysterious disappearance had become a modern Australian myth.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Bryson, Evil Angels (Melb, 1985)
  • K. Crispin, The Crown versus Chamberlain (Syd, 1987)
  • Royal Commission into Chamberlain Convictions, Report of the Commissioner the Hon. Mr Justice T. R. Morling (Darwin, 1987)
  • L. Chamberlain, Through My Eyes (Melb, 1990)
  • Azaria Newsletter, no 1, Apr 1984, no 15, Oct 1989.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Chamberlain, Azaria Chantel (1980–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chamberlain-azaria-chantel-9719/text17161, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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