Michael Chamberlain, Who Lost Daughter to a Dingo, Dies at 72

Michael Chamberlain, a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor who with his then wife Lindy waged a decades-long battle to prove their baby daughter Azaria was killed by a dingo, died from acute leukaemia January 9. He was 72.

In 1980, Lindy was charged with the murder of the couple’s daughter when the 9-week-old baby disappeared from a campsite at Uluru in the Australian Outback. Michael Chamberlain was charged with accessory to murder. The child’s body was never found. Prosecutors argued that Lindy cut the child’s throat and buried the baby in the desert. The Chamberlains maintained that their daughter was likely taken by dingos. Both Chamberlains were convicted, but were eventually many long years of intense public debate and scrutiny.

In 1988, Meryl Streep starred as Lindy Chamberlain in a cinematic adaptation of the family’s story in the film “A Cry in the Dark.” Michael Chamberlain was depicted by actor Sam Neill.

Michael Chamberlain received a PhD from the University of Newcastle, Australia in 2002. His doctoral thesis focused on the changing role of Ellen White in the Adventist Church.

At the news of Chamberlain's passing, Pastor Justin Lawman, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in northern New South Wales, expressed shock and sadness at the loss of a very active member. “I had the pleasure of working with [Michael] in connection with a number of projects and appreciated his insight and passion,” Pastor Lawman said. “Michael was a real advocate for the rights of the local people. He will be deeply missed.”

For more on this story, see from The Washington Post, “Michael Chamberlain, who claimed dingo killed his baby in Australia, dies at 72.” And from News.com.au, “Michael Chamberlain dies after battle with leukaemia, aged 72.”

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7836

This too is worth a read: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/smh-editorial/lest-we-forget-michael-chamberlain-a-decent-man-cruelly-wronged-20170110-gtorbe.html

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In this part of the world, Michael Chamberlain, along with Lindy, would have to be the most recognisable Adventists in the public arena. Others may have high recognition, but not as Adventists. It is unfortunate that the recognition arose out of such tragic circumstances.

I was at Avondale College church when Lindy and Michael first arrived for church and were “honoured” after Lindy’s release from prison. The pain that I saw is all to easy to recall. The vitriolic tagging in public places was also unpleasant.

Through it all, Michael displayed a character that was dignified.

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Although my grandmother was Australian born, I am not an Australian,
(but would move to Sydney in a heartbeat, if younger).

I am not familiar with Australian law, but in the USA, people are innocent
until proved guilty, and their supposed crimes are referred to as "alleged"
until they are actually convicted.

My understanding is that the Australian Adventist leaders and the church community as a whole, were extremely lacking in emotional, financial and psychological support at the time of this family’s greatest need. They had lost their beautiful daughter and were distraught and grieving, more particularly when they were accused of murder.

Adventism was mistakenly construed as Satan worship, and that Lindy had committed human sacrifice. The "yellow press " had a field day feasting on this sensationalism.

During this terrible ordeal, "the brethren " were largely silent. Even if they had truly thought she was guilty, should they not have lent every Christian outreach, every shoulders for her to lean on?

BINGO, that the president of SDA northern New South Wales Conference, belatedly expressed “shock and sadness”. More “shock and sadness” should have been expressed at the time of the original trial and conviction.

The movie CRY IN THE DARK, splendidly done by Meryl Streep and Sam Neil,
highlighted this Adventist scenario, decades before the current HACKSAW RIDGE, another Adventist story. ( and splendidly directed by AUSTRALIAN, Mel Gibson).

Regrettably, CRY IN THE DARK, did not paint a rosy picture of love and outreach by the church family, as I remember the movie.

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You must download ebook, The Dingo’s Got My Baby/Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, INTERSTING indeed. I could hardly put it down. I lost interest in Australia after that incident. What sorrow.

All my many questioned were answered, and more… met them when they visited Edmonton, AB. I always knew she was innocent.

One Day that saga will be forgotten… when Azaria will be restored. They were helped by our people there, financially and otherwise.
Until then, my heart aches re the whole injustice. I thank God for the folks who supported her and worked tirelessly for her freedom.

Oddest thing was, enroute to Riyadh, my seatmate knew LINDY as a child. …lived same street! Then my daughter visited Australia only to discover her neighbour was NT Crown Prosecutor…I believe, who was quite sure Lindy 'had done it." Wouldn’t have liked to behold his face when that specific jacket in which she went missing, was discovered!. His theory was ‘perfect.’ Now comes the ‘rest of the story’…my RN friend admitted to the Nursery Baby Khalia…God’s replacement of Azaria, born to the imprisoned Mom, Darwin, NT. CONDOLENCES to all. LINDY did admit that the divorce had Nil to do with the trial. Until then!

ROBIN! ROBIN!!

I’m certain that you will find that the Australian Adventist leaders (the South Pacific Division leadership to be exact) and the church community as a whole, were extremely supportive to them in every sense - emotionally, financially and psychologically at the time of the family’s greatest need.

At the time baby Azaria was taken in 1980 I was a dormitory student at Avondale College. I still remember the sense of loss I felt on behalf of the whole Chamberlain family. This sense just rippled through the whole Australian Adventist family! In 1982, I was a married student at Avondale and remember well the collective grief and painful injustice that burdened Australian Adventists as Lindy was wrongfully imprisoned and Michael was wrongly convicted as being an accessory after the fact of murder. By that stage the Australian Adventist leadership and Avondale College had provided a warm and supportive environment for the family who were invited to live on campus. Michael was given the opportunity to do an MA (Religion) [only a select few Australian Adventist ministers had any advanced degree at this time]. He was provided with employment at Avondale as an archivist. As I remember it, a Division wide offering was taken to help with some of the family’s legal and other expenses. For a long while, the Division provided ongoing and massive financial assistance to help with legal and other expenses. The whole saga just represented just how much Adventists were misunderstood in the wider Australian community and media, although several widely respected people from the media and the wider Australian community including politicians and high flying legal people came out in support of the Chamberlains.

My sister, a Lecturer at Avondale in Family Studies and a clinical psychologist was a near neighbour. My parents, living in the wider Adventist community loaned Lindy and Michael a vehicle at the time the police confiscated their car as evidence. My late mother, a community businessperson and regularly attending lay member of the South Pacific Division Executive Committee, at the time, was involved in making many decisions to insure the utmost welfare for the whole family.

The SPD, Avondale College and other Australian Adventist church entities bent over backwards to ensure they provided for many financial, emotional and psychological needs of the Chamberlains for an extended period of many years. While respecting the legal processes that seemed endless, there was never any question in the mind of any Adventist leader about the absolute innocence and propriety of both Lindy and Michael. And very few Adventists ever held any doubt either.

Editors, please remove Robin’s comment because it is totally misleading and contains hurtful and false assertions against people who tried in every way to assist this family.

And yes, Robin, the Australian legal system follows English common law, as does America, where any person is innocent of any alleged crime until proven guilty. Unfortunately, Lindy and Michael underwent “trial by media” long before they were initially convicted by the Northern Territory Court system! The gossip in the Australian community was fierce. In 1986 I was the pastor of the local Adventist congregation in small town outback Australia. Around the time of the birth of my own daughter there, one of the maternity ward nurses actually asked my wife whether she would kill her baby too!!

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Trial by media, not trial by evidence. Trial by imagination, not character of those accused. Very sad and very sick. May he now rest in peace.

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Peter Marks has rightly corrected some of ROBIN VANDERMOLEN’s misinformation and provided an accurate picture of the situation in 1980 and afterwards. In the end prejudice infected even the prosecution’s forensic scientists, who presented a seeming compelling case against the Chamberlains that under the independent scrutiny of a Royal Commission proved to be a careless tissue of errors. For example, evidence was given at the trial that a splat of a bituminous compound in the Chamberlain car was an arterial spay of human blood containing fetal hemoglobin–but it indeed was deposited beneath the dash during manufacture, as the yellow-paint over-spray proved. How could a forensic scientist make such an appalling error? Obviously incompetence, prejudice, and too close an alliance with the police.

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When I met Lindy, her burden was that Adventist Communities would be more community minded not closed off to themselves. If the Australian public had been more acquainted with Adventists in their hometowns, she said, misinformation about Adventists wouldn’t have been so rampant.

Her examples? When your Pathfinders or church schools have events, invite a member of the local press to be there. Let them see your events and become acquainted with the real people. Honor community heroes, law enforcement, firefighters at your church so they appreciate that Adventists appreciate them.

Find ways to pitch stories to local press to show that your church has interesting events, normal schools, good children, and are not a “cult.”

Good advice.

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i’m wondering how the coroner, elizabeth morris, was able to conclude, 32 yrs after azaria’s disappearance, that she was attacked and killed by dingos, given the fact that her body has never been found…how can the chamberlains themselves - who i believe are totally innocent - be certain of this…for all we know, this no doubt beautiful baby was kidnapped by a passerby, and raised under an alias far, far away…perhaps azaria is still alive and doesn’t know who she really is…

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Baby Azaria’s little jacket was found in a dingo’s den corroborating Michael’s story.

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and this would be a convenient ploy for a kidnapper to use to end all suspicion and any search…why was the child’s bones, at least, never recovered, or were they…were there traces of blood that could be tested for DNA…

if this case really had such clear indications of a dingo demise, how could it possibly have taken 32 yrs to resolve…and how could resolution be achieved without more evidence than a little jacket in a dingo den…surely the child wasn’t swallowed whole…

Thank you Peter Marks. Thank you very much for setting the record straight. I agree, the editors should remove much of that comment by Robin.

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Because dingoes consume the smaller bones of their prey [Robertshaw, J. D., & Harden, R. H. (1985) The Ecology of the Dingo in North-Eastern New South Wales. 3. Analysis of Macropod Bone Fragments Found in Dingo Scats. Wildlife Research, 12(2), 163-171] and may leave the larger bones within the dens that they use [Harden, R. H. (1985) The ecology of the dingo in north-eastern New South Wales I. Movements and home range. Wildlife Research, 12(1), 25-37]. Forensic scientists do not make it a habitat to crawl into the burrows of wild creatures, though we have since learned that collecting fecal material and analyzing the DNA content could have yielded a positive finding. The molecular revolution knows few boundaries for creative scientists.

The following article probably gives the most information available regarding the evidence that eventually exonerated Lindy:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/discovery-of-jacket-vindicated-lindy/news-story/7ddecc2792ee7da942c0de57fd7042a9

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Thank you Peter Marks. You have stated the matter beautifully. I add my voice, as Senior Pastor of the Chamberlain’s home church for the whole period of their painful ordeal, and final exoneration. To cast any doubt on the levels of support from friends, fellow church members, and church leadership at any level in the South Pacific Division, is to grossly misunderstand the realities on the ground during those challenging times.

The support of Michael’s home church continued clear through to his very high profile and hugely well attended funeral which I and his longstanding and supportive lawyer Mr Stuart Tipple coordinated and choreographed in the Avondale College Church. We stood by Michael Chamberlain and his family right to the very end of his life, and are proud to go on record to Spectrum Readers as his lifelong friends and supporters.

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