This essay began after I was asked to comment on the biblical passage Lamentations 4:10:
“With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children;
their children became their food when the daughter of my people was destroyed.”
As I considered the above passage I remembered having recurring nightmares on this very theme. I suspect that as a child I had heard a discussion of this passage. On trying to discuss this passage with other people I was met with “Oh I never noticed it.” And “why do you want to bring up a topic like that?” And even “Well you just have to accept that this happened 2500 years ago because the Bible says so. There is little point in trying to relate that incident to modern times.” My mathematical brain suggests that the above scenario of Lamentations happens about 50 times a day in these modern times. Perhaps this should be of some concern to us, especially if we are religious?
I want to take you through the equally horrible story of what happened to Lindy and Michael Chamberlain. I have had some brief encounters with Michael as he was at school with me. While I have read a number of accounts of this drama, I will draw most of my details from Lindy’s autobiography Through My Eyes. I am also using Michael’s more recent account found in Heart of Stone.
Michael, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, and his wife Lindy were camping at Ayers Rock (Uluru) with their two preschool boys and their 9 week old daughter. On the 16th of August 1980, they had set up a family tent in the approved camping area with their car beside it. This was about 20 m from the cooking and eating area. They finished feeding the boys and then put them to bed; there were a number of other campers also cooking and eating in the same area. Lindy had finished (breast) feeding the baby and was trying to comfort the baby so that it would settle down and get to sleep. She was carrying and rocking the baby about in the sight of the other campers. The baby was slowly settling so about 8:30 pm Lindy took her back to the car to prepare a supplementary feed and put her in the carry cot to sleep. When the baby was asleep she put her in the cot and then put the cot in the family tent. The baby was wearing nappies, a singlet, a matinee jacket and a jumpsuit and was well wrapped against the desert cold with a number of blankets. Lindy’s oldest son was with her but he complained that he was still hungry; so Lindy took him back to the eating area, where she started to prepare some extra food. The other youngest boy and the baby remained asleep in the tent. The campers heard a baby cry out and informed Lindy, who immediately went back to check her baby. As she approached the tent she saw a dingo emerge carrying something in its jaws, as it was getting dark Lindy could not clearly see what the dingo was carrying but she had no doubts. She called out “The dingo’s got my baby.” She rushed to the tent, where her worst fears were confirmed, the carry cot was empty and the dingo had trotted off into the bush. The men present grabbed torches and ran off to look for the dingo and the baby. The others called the ranger and police. When the tent was checked, a large pool of blood was found, enough to suggest that the baby had been killed in the tent. The searchers knew from the outset that the best they would find would be the baby’s body. By the next morning the local aboriginal trackers had followed the dingo tracks and recovered the jumpsuit, nothing else was found. The earlier frantic searching and motor vehicle tracks made tracking difficult.
Well, that is Lindy’s story of a horrible almost unimaginable experience. Of course if they had have been more alert to the dingo menace and let the baby sleep in the car (with the windows slightly opened), then none of this would have happened. But it did happen!
The incident caught the attention of the whole nation. How horrible; a dingo chewing up a tiny baby! The press couldn’t leave this spectacular topic alone. So they started to look for other background clues. A careless lie was published stating that the babies unusual name, Azaria, was Hebrew for ‘sacrifice in the wilderness’; FALSE, but still suspicious? Seventh Day Adventists are a cult aren’t they? NO! Perhaps the baby was secretly deformed or handicapped and the parents wanted to get rid of it? NO EVIDENCE! These speculations were published in the less reliable newspapers and went into common circulation.
In due course there was a coronial inquiry. The coroner found:
So a second inquiry was held. This time the police had more evidence, new blood stains were found, even though all the original blood had been cleared away and even dry cleaned. The result of the second inquiry led to the immediate apprehension of Lindy Chamberlain on the charge of murder. Her husband Michael was also on trial for being an accessory to murder. Michael was not held on remand because he had to look after the two little boys; besides Lindy was pregnant again. The new evidence was based around the discovery of foetal blood in the Chamberlain’s car, something that I will comment on later.
Here is the newer police version of the story:
Michael and Lindy were camping at Ayers Rock (Uluru) with their two preschool boys and their 9 week old daughter. On the 16th of August 1980, they had set up a family tent in the approved camping area with their car beside it. This was about 20 m from the cooking and eating area. They finished feeding the boys and then put them to bed; there were a number of other campers also cooking and eating in the same area. Lindy had just cut her baby’s throat and had carefully cleaned up the blood in the car and on the clothing. She went out carrying and rocking the corpse in the sight of the other campers. Lindy cleverly manipulated the baby’s limbs to make it appear to be still alive. The baby seemed to be settling about 8:30 pm so Lindy took the corpse back to the car and hid it in her husband’s camera bag. Lindy pretended that the baby had fallen asleep and put the empty cot in the family tent, the corpse had been wearing nappies, a singlet and a jumpsuit. Lindy’s oldest son was nearby and complained that he was still hungry; so Lindy took him back to the eating area, where she started to prepare some extra food. Lindy pretended to hear her baby cry out and pretended to go back to check her baby. As she approached the tent she called out “The dingo’s got my baby.” She rushed to the tent where there was an empty carry cot. The men present grabbed torches and ran off to look for the dingo and the baby. The others called the ranger and police. When the tent was checked, only one sleeping child was found in tent. The searchers knew from the outset that the best they would find would be the baby’s body. During the commotion, Michael and Lindy ran off for few kilometers and left the damaged jumpsuit where it would look like a dingo had left it, next they disposed of the baby’s body where it would never be found. Then they jogged back and no one else had noticed that they had gone missing. The next morning the local aboriginal trackers followed some dingo tracks and recovered the jumpsuit, nothing else was found. The earlier frantic searching and motor vehicle tracks made tracking difficult.
Like the opening Lamentations package, that horrible suggestion that a mother had cut her baby’s throat caught the public imagination. This was unthinkable, so stop thinking and reasoning and see to it that the ‘murdering bitch’ gets what she deserves. The jury agreed and she was found guilty as accused. She was sentenced to be imprisoned with hard labour for life. Michael was also found guilty and given a suspended sentence; this meant that he could never again serve as an Adventist pastor.
Now for my professional comments: Throughout my life I have worked in all aspects of the Freeman family poultry business, including the killing of thousands of hens, this was done by stunning and cutting their throats. I have also watched in fascination as the local rabbi koshered poultry, cutting hundreds of throats (without stunning). I have lectured on: fluid dynamics including flow from small apertures and the properties of liquids including blood. I have also sprayed cars for rust proofing in my son’s business. Recently I saw an exhibit in the National museum in Canberra, this purported to be the spray pattern of fetal blood from the dashboard of the Chamberlains car; this could not have been the case as it was a green car, while the Chamberlain’s car was yellow. Nevertheless I could instantly recognize the pattern as the after spray that sometimes emerges from a high pressure nozzle once the pressure to the thixotropic liquid has been stopped. From my early experiences in cutting throats and my scientific knowledge, I can confidently assert that it would be impossible for blood to spray out in that, or any other spray pattern; blood is much more viscous than water (think honey). I could not replicate the pattern I saw unless I used a small paint brush. Blood does not spray from a cut throat, despite what movies depict. Unfortunately movies are the closest that most people get to seeing a decapitation or a throat being cut and they get carried away by these graphic delusions. Yet these horrible delusions stick in ignorant unquestioning minds as reality. It was the false image of a cut throat that initiated and drove the conviction!
There were two appeals regarding this trial but both were rejected. This left no further avenues for appeal.
After the trial, Lindy was incarcerated in the women’s prison in Darwin. She was fortunate to be jailed with a large number of aboriginal women, who knew full well that her story was all too plausible. In most other prisons she would have been in danger from the other women prisoners who will frequently turn violent against ‘baby killers’.
About four years later Azaria’s matinee jacket was found near an old dingo den (the prosecution claimed that this jacket didn’t exist). Fresh evidence can often be grounds for a fresh trial. In this case Lindy’s life sentence was almost immediately remitted and she was released on a good behavior bond.
Rather than a retrial, a final inquiry was held; this reviewed the court proceedings that led to Lindy’s conviction. At the end of the findings Justice Morling said: “It follows from what I have written that there are serious doubts and questions as to the Chamberlains’ guilt and as to the evidence in the trial leading to their convictions. In my opinion, if the evidence before the commission had been given at the trial, the trial judge would have been obliged to direct the jury to acquit the Chamberlains on the grounds that the evidence could not justify their convictions.”
Following the release of Morling’s report, the Northern Territory government (responsible for the murder trial) decided to issue a pardon to the Chamberlains. But to accept a pardon assumes an admission of guilt! Finally, the Northern Territory Attorney-General’s Department issued a statement that concluded: “ The convictions having been wiped away, the law of the land holds the Chamberlains to be innocent.”
Unfortunately many Australians remain unconvinced. I recently caught up with one of my old colleagues, like me he had a PhD and was a senior lecturer, unlike me he was an atheist. When I told him of my interest in the Chamberlain case he immediately tensed, turned red and spluttered “That murdering bitch should have been hung.” Readers will now understand why Lindy finds it safer to live in America. To this day it is probably not a good idea to discuss this case publicly without giving prior warning as opinions remain strong.
If the prophet Jeremiah had written warning us about our modern decadence, he may have written:
Compassionate women have had their babies snatched and eaten by dogs.
Their enemies laugh them to scorn. Bystanders turn their heads away.
And if you try to discuss this passage with other people, they will say “Oh I never noticed it.” and “why do you want to bring up a topic like that?” and even “Well you just have to accept that this happened in the past because the Bible says so. There is little point in trying to relate this incident to current situation.” “But she did do it didn’t she?”
Both Lindy and Michael were, and still are, Christians. Out of ignorance and convenience their orthodox denomination was regarded as a weird cult. Their behavior as practicing and praying Christians counted against them; praying in public will always seem a bizarre form of escapism, while faith and fortitude makes you appear tough and heartless. No matter how you look at what they went through, their prayers didn’t seem to be answered. When false, evil images are painted in the media, the delusional mud sticks in the public mind no matter how pure the subject.
Michael quotes Kath Fisher (an Australian activist) in his book:
I will end with a testimony from Lindy, taken from her book.
“There is no doubt about it, when you look back on your life you can see the places where God has carried you through, where your stumbling footprints have grown so weary He has had to pick you up in His arms and carry you. You can see where you were strong and ran freely by His side. But there is no doubt that the times you were closest to Him are the times when He carried you in His arms.”