It was a case that divided Australia from the start, with a plot line so bizarre it was made for movies. In 1980, while the Chamberlain family camped at the foot of Ayers Rock, baby Azaria cried from the tent. When her mother, Lindy, went to check on her she claimed she saw a dingo emerge from the tent, at which point she ran through the campground screaming “the dingo’s got my baby”—a line that went on to become immortalized in film, entered the cultural lexicon and even morphed into a comedy staple. The case inspired a television series, several books and a feature film starring Meryl Streep; the dingo-baby line made it into episodes of Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Family Guy.
But the case never left the Australian psyche. “I don’t think there’s anybody who would think about dingoes now and not think about that case,” says Rob Kaczan, a doctoral student from Melbourne. The baby’s body was never found. “Everyone had an opinion about it,” says Michelle Arrow, a historian at Macquarie University in Sydney and co-editor of The Chamberlain Case: Nation, Law, Memory. Now, after three decades of speculation, legal drama, investigations and inquests, a coroner has opened what is expected to be a conclusive examination of the case.
It comes at the request of Azaria’s parents, Lindy and Michael, who split in the ’90s, but who have gathered evidence of a number of recent dingo attacks, including at least one that was fatal.
Azaria’s body was never found, and her official cause of death remains “unknown.” At the time, incredible theories swirled that the couple, Seventh Day Adventists, sacrificed their daughter in a bizarre ritual. Two years after Azaria’s disappearance, Lindy, pregnant with her fourth child, was sentenced to life for murder and Michael was convicted of being an accessory. Three years later, Lindy was released when Azaria’s jacket was found at a dingo’s den. A royal commission found holes in the evidence.
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, since remarried, testified before this latest inquest to push her cause: that Australians will finally realize the danger of dingoes.