Monday, January 11, 2021

The Dingo's Got My Baby

The Dingo’s Got My Baby, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton

Probably every Australian over thirty will have heard of the Chamberlains. (I have established my children had not). Michael and Lindy became household names when in 1980 their nine-week old daughter Azaria was taken by a dingo from a tent in a camping ground near Ayers Rock. While the initial inquest upheld the finding of death by dingo, the Northern Territory government later accused Lindy Chamberlain of murder, and she was sentenced to life in prison. After numerous appeals, she was finally remitted and released after about three years of imprisonment. Later followed a Royal Commission and finally an official acknowledgement of baby Azaria’s cause of death.

It was a case that caused strong emotion and opinions, with many believing the media coverage that Lindy had killed Azaria, while others campaigned for justice to a hostile audience. She notes later:
"Many people were not game to stand up and say what they believed. There was no sitting on the fence in our case, and people who had the guts to stand up and make a public stand for the Chamberlains’ innocence certainly needed the guts to live with the flak that came afterwards." 
I never knew much beyond the basic facts, being a child myself at the time. However, the phrase “a dingo’s got my baby” became part of the Australian lexicon and was often used to get a laugh, much to our shame. I remember it being a joke on a Seinfeld episode.

She is clear from the beginning this is her story, not Michael’s and his story is for him to tell. It’s very detailed, the ebook I read was 900+ pages. There are detailed sections on the camping trip itself and the first inquest, the second investigation and trial, the prison years, and then once she was released and the ongoing fight for justice. So it’s very long, and probably would have benefited from a stronger edit. However, I can see why it was kept as is - this is her opportunity to say everything she wants to say. She was denied justice, falsely accused, treated dreadfully by the Northern Territory government and police, and was talked about in virtually every household in Australia (and many overseas). This is one opportunity to put everything in one place and make it her record. She has no hesitation with fully naming and including photographs of everyone on both sides - lawyers, police, forensic scientists. She wasn’t nasty, but didn’t hesitate to name incompetence, unkindness and mismanagement. She is open about prison, both the kindness of some guards and the sheer unpleasantness of others, as well as the variety of prisoners she lived with.

Even with the length, it is an engrossing read. I read it solidly for a week on holidays and struggled to put it down.

Lindy is a Christian, a seventh-day Adventist, and that shines through clearly. There are numerous times she refers to her faith, or her reliance on God. She has confidence that God has been with her through this time, and how crucial that has been.
“It is only when your faith is tested that you know whether you have any or not. It is only when your temper is teased and provoked to the limit and you manage to control it, that you know you have succeeded. It is no use saying, ‘I have got self control’ when there is nothing to provoke it."
“I thought of Job, who suffered horribly without knowing why, only remaining faithful to God, his Lord and Master. God rewarded him in the end, but still he did not know why. Maybe we will never find out in this world either. I'm sure Job has many questions to ask God when he sees him. I have a few to ask Him, too. Maybe we can queue up together. But suffering is not God's will. He will help us to bear what we must, and to hang on until the end, but it's not something he delights in."
Reflecting on prison:
“When the doors clang shut behind you, locking you in, and you have nothing to rely on except your own strength of body and mind, it can be terrifying if you let it. At a time like this, if you thought God was a figment of your imagination, He now either becomes a very real and personal friend, or is totally disregarded as a mirage only relevant to a distant Biblical past. Like others before me, I came to that knowledge while in prison. There is no way that one can put this into words, it is simply something that slowly but surely happens. Time and time when there was no one else to turn to, nowhere else to go, I could turn to God and say, ‘Lord you've got to help me here. I can't manage on my own’.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that if it hadn't been for God's help and strength, plus grit and determination, I would have landed up in a mental asylum. At times I felt myself so low I knew I was losing my grip, not only on life but on reality. I knew I had to find it again in a hurry; only God could give me the strength and courage I needed for that and calm me down." 
There are strong words throughout about the problems with the justice system, and the pointlessness of much incarceration: “I believe the only thing ever taught in prisons is the perfecting of old and the learning of new criminal skills."

Throughout is woven the story of the family and how they were affected: the two older boys, baby Kahlia born while she was in custody, her and Michael’s divorce and then her marriage to Rick, about whom she fondly says:
“To have a supportive man who is both gentle and strong behind you who loves you for who you are without a desire to change you is the most empowering thing I know. To know you are loved and supported even when you make mistakes and are no longer young or glamorous lets you become a whole person."
The book was first published in 1990, but it’s had later additions and the version I read was published in 2015, as more things have happened in the case and to this family. Azaria would have been 40 this year, and this case is still fresh in many people’s minds and part of public life. Yet, as Lindy says:
“People forget that my family has a private life. We have gone through a private hell as well as a private happiness in our battle to survive the last twenty-four years and most of our biggest battles have been fought in private."
No matter what you think of the Chamberlains or the case, this is a book well worth reading. This is part of our nation’s history, and not a proud one, and these are real people who have gone through immense suffering, yet have come out of it stronger and completely reliant on God.

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