On 17th August, 1980, Lindy Chamberlain woke up early and started packing for a camping trip to Ulluru. It was a pleasantly warm morning and the temperature was nearing 22 degrees. Her husband Michael, who was a pastor, had been planning for the trip for a long time. “Carry some woollen clothes, the temperature might drop at night,” he told his wife.
This was their first trip following the birth of their third baby Azaria who was just nine weeks old. She had entered their life like a beacon of light, a gift from the heavens. Her presence lightened the mood of the house and her two sons – Aidan and Reagan – loved spending time with their little sister instead of fighting among themselves.
After everyone was dressed for the trip, Lindy put some marinated chicken in her rucksack and asked everyone to say their prayers. The drive to Ulluru was largely uneventful with seven-year-old Aidan being the one steering the conversations. “How much more time is it going to take?” he would ask his father irritably after every 15 minutes.
After reaching the destination, Michael parked the car and began setting up the tent as the kids watched. “What a wonderful view we have from here!” he told his wife Lindy who was smiling from ear-to-ear. It wasn’t long before the smile turned into a scream. They had put baby Azaria to sleep in the tent and were preparing dinner using a barbecue. A short while later, they heard the baby cry. Lindy walked into the tent and saw a dingo (a dog-like animal) carrying her with his mouth. As soon as she began to chase it, the dingo increased his speed and disappeared into oblivion.
Shocked and shaken, Lindy alerted Michael and they reported the incident to the local police station. A search operation was launched but it was unsuccessful in locating either the baby or the dingo. “We shouldn’t have left her alone,” she told Michael in between sobs as they drove back to their home in Queensland. The mood in the house was pensive for several days before Michael suggested that it was all part of god’s plan and they had to move on from the tragedy.
Meanwhile, the news of a dingo taking away a child spread like wildfire in Australia and some people said that the story was fabricated. They believed that the Chamberlains had sacrificed the child as part of some bizarre sacrificial ritual. A lot of people found Lindy to be too cold-hearted about the tragedy. Someone pointed out that the name Azaria meant ‘sacrifice in the wilderness’ and that flimsy piece of detail convinced on-lookers about Lindy’s guilt.
When pressed with charges, Lindy appeared stoic and courageous. At the hearing, she said, “I’d like to know more than anyone else – what happened to my daughter?” She rejected the judge’s decision to give her a ten-minute break and asked everyone to carry on with the proceedings. The jury did not like her confidence and two years after Azaria’s death, Lindy was sentenced to a life in prison.
It was as if time had stood still. On one hand, she was infuriated with the injustice meted out to her. On the other, she was worried about her children. She was eight months pregnant with her fourth child and had no clue about what they would do with her. What would happen to Aidan – the nine-year-old boy who still blamed himself for not zipping up the tent? What would happen to Reagan – the six-year-old boy who was too small to grasp the magnitude of the verdict? Even Michael had been handed an 18-month sentence.
After the verdict, she kissed them goodbye and surrendered herself. Life in prison didn’t treat her kindly and the popularity of her trial made her an easy scapegoat. Her lawyer challenged the verdict a few times but was unsuccessful on every occasion. The trial had shaken Lindy’s belief in God. She didn’t understand why she was chosen to undergo so much pain when she had been such a devout Christian. On a cold winter’s night in prison though, she found her faith returning to her. She prayed hard for hours and hoped for a miracle to rescue her. She hoped for justice to be served against all odds and she hoped for a chance to see her children again.
In 1986, four years after Lindy was convicted, a piece of Azaria’s clothing was found near a dingo lair. The case was reopened and soon, Lindy was released from prison and given a $1.3 million compensation. When Lindy saw her three children again, she felt the wounds of her past dissipating. Her story of resilience in the face of injustice found an audience not just in Australia, but across the world. She decided to write an autobiography called Through My Eyes (published in 1990) revealing the truth about the whole incident. “This is the story of a little girl who lived, and breathed, and loved, and was loved. She was part of me. She grew within my body and when she died, part of me died, and nothing will ever alter that fact. This is her story, and mine,” she wrote.
Years later, while having dinner with her family, Lindy’s elder son Aidan asked her, “Do you still feel bitter about the whole thing Mom?”
“I don’t, Aidan. I have learnt forgiveness. I have forgiven everyone not because what they did was right, but because holding on to anger was not good for me and not good for you. We live our lives only once and even though no one can replace Azaria, I am trying to look ahead and not look back,” she said.
Disclaimer: The above piece is a work of fiction based on true events. For dramatic purposes, certain incidents may have been changed.