We’re sorry for your 30 year fight for justice and truth
If things had been different Azaria Chamberlain would have turned 32 yesterday. But instead of celebrating the achievements of the defining years of her adult life, her parents will mark the end of a long and personal road to justice.
After 32 years of scrutiny and four inquests, the landmark case was finally given closure today by NT coroner, Elizabeth Morris who found that after all, it was the dingo that took nine-week old Azaria from the Northern Territory campsite on 17 August 1980.
You’d like to think the relief will be palpable for Lindy and Michael, who have both re-married, with Lindy living a new life in the United States. Their lives have been inextricably shaped by the tragic events of that day and shared a journey you would not wish on anyone.
Lindy was charged with murder in October 1982 and served five years in a Darwin prison, with Michael given a suspended sentence as an accessory. They’ve faced three additional national inquests, a 1987 movie Evil Angels, starring Meryl Streep, countless interviews and 32 years of waiting and hoping for the truth to be revealed.
The worst of all these things however must have been the unprecedented scrutiny of the Australian public. Few stories have captured the national attention in the way of the Chamberlains, with some people describing it as the great Australian myth.
Certainly the setting, dingos, a young religious family and a campsite in the red dirt of the Northern Territory, was evocative. Then came the relentless media campaign throughout the trial, where a heavily pregnant Lindy was stalked by the media who exaggerated difficult aspects of her appearance, like a sternly cut fringe and hardened and stony facial expressions, as evidence of her guilt.
But the real horror in the Chamberlain story was the experience as parents of a newborn baby and the heedy mix of sleep deprivation, uncertainty, vulnerability and anxiety that comes with the responsibility of a tiny child. Emotions shared by all parents, let alone in an outback campsite. Which makes the public scrutiny to which they were subjected - that would have worsened the internal questioning, endless turmoil and terrifying guilt - impossible to justify.
Fact is, what happened that night in the Northern Territory is the stuff of nightmares for any parent and what the Morris decision makes intractably clear is that it could have happened to anyone. And in fact it has, with the evidence within the latest inquest revealing that three other children have been killed by dingoes since 1980, with many others facing non-fatal attacks.
The only question left now is what to offer Lindy and Michael in the wake of this verdict, two people who have faced one of the worst possible experiences as human beings, in such long and drawn out circumstances.
Back in 1992, following the second inquest and new evidence that quashed their convictions, Lindy and Michael were paid a compensation $1.3m – ostensibly to cover the cost of lengthy court proceedings. But how would you even begin to put a price on this result?
Quiet dignity strikes me as the highest importance in the light of today’s verdict. Privacy and space to mourn their child, in the knowledge that finally the truth is out there. And also, humility, by way of an apology from those of us who were so quick to judge them – silent or otherwise.
They deserve to hear that we are sorry for the way they were treated as the young parents they were in 1980, grief stricken and under enormous pressure to defend themselves against a wrongful charge. And also for the people they are now after a thirty year fight, finally free to mourn the horrific death of their daughter.
Follow me on Twitter: @lucyjk
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