“The fire of the day can change swiftly
To the night of startlingly cold,
Many legends are told of the people
Who live in this land so old.”
- Stella P. Bell from ‘The Legend of Bimi’
Legends being told of people ‘who live in this land so old’ could be directly referring to The Lindy Chamberlain case, which has taken its place among famous Australian legends. Firstly, the tragedy occurred in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which embodies the spiritualism and mysticism of the Aborigine people, who are indigenous to Australia. Secondly, the Chamberlains are members of the little-known Seventh Day Adventist Church who supposedly sacrifice children to their Gods. And next the Aborigine trackers have an amazing ability to follow animal and human tracks. These three facts all combine to make this a tale that will be told to generation after generation for many years. Oh, and let’s not forget the dingo………. without whom, the Chamberlains lives would never have been so rudely invaded and interrupted. And the leading roles go to the clowns in the Northern Territory government and the spineless Park Rangers for being the instigators of this dreadful foul up of justice.
Is Lindy Chamberlain an ‘evil lady’? Well, that is up to the individual after they have read this article. One of the biggest cases in Australian history when the dingo killed Lindy Chamberlain’s baby tore the country apart back in 1980 – and to this day, the Australian Herald Sun website still has people who either love or hate Lindy Chamberlain! (http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/azaria-chamberlains-ghost-may-finally-rest-in-peace-after-mums-plea/comments-e6frf7l6-1225906637789). It remains one of the most controversial tragedies in Australian history.
But despite the legendary value of this story, it remains very real to the Chamberlain family. From beginning to end, it was an absolute miscarriage of justice. The behavior of the Northern Territory law enforcement officers and Park Rangers involved in the case leave much to be desired. Far from blaming anyone directly, this article will seek to show the truth of what happened on the night of August 17 1980 in a fair, unbiased manner. “Our family will always remember today as the day truth was dragged in the dirt and trampled upon,” said Lindy on the 30th Anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance. After spending 3 years in jail, Lindy harbors no animosity towards the government and the people who sent her to jail for murder. She only wants justice for Azaria and for the correct Cause of Death to be written on her Death Certificate – ie killed by a dingo.
Say the name Azaria or Lindy anywhere in the world and everyone will remember the case of ‘the dingo who took my baby’. Dingoes, Australia’s wild dog, have had thousands of reports written about them since the late 1970 / early 1980 when they hit the headlines for either attacking or killing children. Most Australians will say that Dingoes are “harmless, mate, they just kill sheep”. But it is also known that “Their instinct to kill cannot be subdued” (http://dingo.livingin-australia.com/dingoes-look-back.html). Dingoes do not have an easy time finding food in the dry, crackly climate of the Northern Territory in Australia. A common saying in the Northern Territory is “a dingo’s breakfast” which means no breakfast at all!
At the time Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were camping in the Ayers Rock National Park, unbeknown to them and many other people, there had been an official clampdown on dingo activity around the park as children were being attacked by dingoes at the rate of one a week! Imagine that ………. Imagine running a National Park while knowing the danger to your patrons camping there – it is almost, but not quite, a kind of pre-meditated accident waiting to happen! However, Ayers Rock National Park was the top tourist venue in the Northern Territory and school holidays were starting soon – draw your own conclusion to what this means for the tourist industry!?
The dingoes, or one dingo in particular, predictably named, “Ding” was the local Ayers Rock staff pet. In fact, staff and tourists alike fed him and welcomed him into their camp sites and back yards and houses. The government of Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory acted swiftly and issued an order that no more feeding of dingoes should be allowed, and in their infinite wisdom, they naively assumed that the dingo would go and look for food elsewhere. Why would the dingo do that when he was used to being fed right where he was by the staff?! A couple of non-descript signs were put up in the park warning visitors not to feed the dingoes, but the signs made no mention about the potential danger of the dingoes! Ironically, the Chamberlain’s eventually received AUD$1.3 million after Lindy was exonerated in 1986, although without a doubt, no amount of money can make up for the loss of a child, when it appears that a deliberate and blatant disregard for the rules of justice occurred.
To get back to the precious, favored Ding – before the ban on feeding dingoes, he was fed and encouraged to come into the house of Ian Cawood, an Ayers Rock Ranger every night. Ding was a dingo with specific markings and hair the same colour as the red Australian soil. He also had a distinctive white band around his neck. Because no one was allowed to feed him, and it was winter, he was decidedly hungry. And being the pampered pet that he was, he began attacking children as he roamed freely around Ayers Rock. Eight weeks before Azaria was attacked, he savaged another child – the daughter of one of the staff members, Amanda Cranwell, but this was kept quiet until April 1984. To hush it up, the Park Ranger, Ian Cawood told the father that the dingo “had been dealt with”. The staff thought he had been shot and Ian did nothing to dispel these thoughts about their “family pet”.
In actual fact, Ian had taken Ding to a slaughterhouse 60km away where he was well-fed and looked after. However, Ding arrived back in Ayer’s Rock – either he had found his own way back, or an Aborigine tracker named Nipper Winmatti recognised him at the slaughterhouse and took him back to Ayers Rock, and, as they say, unfortunately the rest is history. Apparently nine people at the camp site confirmed having seen him after Ian had taken him away. Two specific witnesses picked him out from photos of Dingoes – remember he was big for his species and very red in colour, so he was easy to recognize.
As this horrific story unfolds, Lindy and Michael are eating dinner outside the tent around the camp fire with other people, while their children sleep inside the tent. Lindy heard Azaria cry, and went back to the tent just in time to see a dingo run off “with something in his mouth”. “Michael, Michael, a dingo took my baby!” she shouts. Immediately everyone rallies around Lindy and Michael, while Park Rangers, Park staff, Frank Morris and his police from the Ayer’s Rock Police Station organize search parties. It is interesting to note here that the search parties were told not to search the Western areas – why? Maybe because the Park rangers’ homes were in that direction – the homes at which Ding felt comfortable and was bound to return to? At this point all the rangers knew about the previous dingo attacks, – and they knew who the culprit was. The only information the campers knew was that they were looking for a dingo which had taken a baby. Not once did any of them suspect the mother had murdered her own child.
During the 2½ hours of the fruitless search, the staff and officials needed to decide how they would handle this disaster, how they could cover-up their “guilt”. The directive not to feed dingoes should have been given with an alternative solution. At this time, not much was known about dingo habits and behaviour, but Ding was clearly a “domesticated” dingo. Another point that is often missed in stories about Azaria is that her brother Reagan who was 4 at the time, and who is now 35 (2010), assumed that his mother knew that he was not asleep and that he had felt the dingo walk over him that fateful night. However, Lindy only found that out by accident when talking to Reagan about another camping trip he had been on when he was 16. “He said he knew something really bad had happened and he was afraid it would get him, so he played dead. When I came into the tent he still wasn’t sure if it was safe, so he kept pretending,” says Lindy.
While the officials were conferring with the Northern Territory government and the campers were searching for a dingo with a human baby, other frantic activities were taking place in the backyard of Ian Cawood’s house. Yes, Ding had arrived there with Azaria in his mouth, presumably already dead from a broken neck after being violently swung from side to side. As soon as Val Cawood, Ian’s wife heard what had happened, she drove home from the club house. The Aborigine tracker had tracked Ding right to this backyard. His name was Nipper Winmatti and he was acting on instructions from the Chief Ranger Derek Roff. Derek had not been fully updated as to the seriousness of the situation. Ding was easy to track being bigger than the average dingo, and Nipper was a born natural to this kind of work. Being an Aborigine he had an affinity with the land and uncanny sixth sense abilities. Neither Val, nor her three friends who she called over to help her do what she was doing have ever told anyone what they did – if they did nothing suspicious, why don’t they tell / or why didn’t they tell – instead they contributed to the injustice of sending an innocent women to jail. And they have to live with that for the rest of their lives.
As mentioned in the beginning, Azaria’s body was still not recovered. There was no weapon and there was no reasonable motive. The government conducted an inquest into Azaria’s disappearance in February 1981 and concluded that Azaria was killed by a dingo. Nevertheless, in November 1981, the Northern Territory Supreme Court ordered a new inquest, which announced that Lindy would be going on trial for 1st Degree Murder, and Michael would be tried as an accessory after the fact.
So many things simply did not add up during the trial. The public and the media immediately dubbed Lindy as a murderer and people wore T-shirts reading “The dingo is innocent”. What a nightmare it must have been, what a circus. Derek Roff was the Chief Ranger at Ayer’s Rock and he was the one who had requested Nipper Winmatti to find the dingo. But when questioned during the trial, he denied that he had asked for Winmatti’s assistance or that he had even seen Winmatti that night. And very significant is that Derek and Constable Morris were the two organisers who sent the searchers in every direction but West, which would have led to the staff houses. The three trackers involved in following Ding’s trail were Murray Haby (a Schoolteacher on holiday), Nipper Winmatti and Nui Menigerie. Each of them independently came to the same conclusion – Ding guilty, Lindy innocent.
Lindy was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. What a devastating result. All because the government did not want to lose tourist money in the Northern Territory, as Ayer’s Rock, the spiritual home of the Aborigine’s, was the main attraction. After 3 terrible years in jail, finally in 1987 when Azaria’s matinee jacket had finally been found and subsequently hushed up, Senator Bob Collins presented the Northern Territory government with an ultimatum – free Lindy or else I print this story about the matinee jacket being hidden – the government finally did both. Fourteen months later after a Royal Commission of enquiry, the Chamberlains were cleared of any involvement in Azaria’s disappearance and death.
And still the saga continues …………….. in the Summer of 2004, an old man from Melbourne came forward to tell his story of how he and three friends, one of whom was an ex-convict, had found the dead baby Azaria seven days after she was taken from the tent by Ding. They were all too scared to come forward and tell the truth as they had shot the dingo as he sat down next to Azaria and this was illegal. The dingo was obviously not Ding. Another conspiracy of silence – like Val Cawood and her friends.
After more veils of secrecy and attempts to disguise the truth, it appears as if the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” is belatedly coming to the fore. What possesses people to lie under oath, how can they live with themselves after that? Of course there will always be conflicting versions and some people probably still think Lindy was guilty.
The governments’ case was very clever – it shows the influence that those in power have and it calls into question whether they should be entrusted with that power in the first place? Ian Cawood has now admitted that before he helped with the search, he drove to known dingo lairs looking for Azaria.
And finally, one other person deserves to be mentioned in this travesty of justice, and that is Lee Harris, President of the Dingo Foundation of Australia. He later told an investigator that a dingo would take its prey to the home where he was most looked after, the home where he was treated as a pet. In addition, he said that a half-domesticated dingo would not permit anyone to take prey out of his mouth except his master. Surely this kind of information points straight away to the “murderer” – it is astounding how a family’s’ lives were manipulated because a few government officials were trying to themselves.
At the conclusion of the final inquest, Mr Barritt said to Lindy: “You have not only suffered the loss of your beloved child in the most tragic circumstances; but you have all been subjected to months of innuendos, suspicion, and probably the most malicious gossip ever witnessed in this country.” He also spoke very harshly about the Northern Territory police forensic unit on live television and greatly embarrassed them – that is the least they deserved!
So is Lindy Chamberlain an ‘evillady’? What do you think? Maybe Val Cawood and her friends are the “‘evilladies’?! Lindy does not fit the profile of an ‘evillady’, and there is no evidence linking her to the committing of the crime. Look at the facts: Firstly, during her trial, the Crown (in the Australian justice system the prosecutor is the Crown) only had circumstantial evidence – they had no confession, no body, no murder weapon, and no witnesses. It is possible that if this had occurred In America, the jury would have found her not guilty – no body equals no murder. Secondly, research shows that women who kill usually show ‘evil’ tendencies before the age of 13 years old. As Lindy had a normal happy childhood, and already had two other children Aidan, 6 and Reagan, 3 who were perfectly healthy and well adjusted, it is impossible to imagine her ‘turning into a monster’ simply to kill her own daughter. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Lindy could be categorized as an ‘evillady’. Thirdly, the Aborigine trackers found the footprints of the dingo that took Azaria, but it was hushed up by Frank Morris, the Constable at the Ayers Rock Police Station, with the help of the Northern Territory government. And later on, an old man found Azaria’s body seven days after she was taken from the tent. Case closed – almost!
Further anomalies include all the police’s non-existent investigative work – collecting forensic evidence. They took no photos at the crime scene, they moved the clothes when they were found, they turned them inside out, they touched everything and so on and so on – they totally bungled the whole investigation. (http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/not_guilty/chamberlain1/4.html)
Quote from Lindy after being completely exonerated: “If I had not been found guilty, I would never have convinced so many people that I was innocent,”
Now that’s worth debating in the pub one day, isn’t it mate? To end on a very appropriate extract from another poem by Stella Bell, called “The Dingo” – pay attention to the last line!
“Moving so constantly, piercing the dark,
Patience her virtue,
She knows that she will,
Keep searching till morning for something to kill,”
- Stella P. Bell from ‘The Dingo’
A coronal inquest in early 2012 will review new evidence in death of infant Azaria Chamberlain!
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