By REBECCA SPARROW
I was eight years old in August 1980 when I saw the enormous newspaper front page. A nine-week-old baby, Azaria Chamberlain, disappeared from her family’s tent at what we then called Ayer’s Rock, now known as Uluru.
Lindy Chamberlain – Azaria’s mother – blamed her baby daughter’s disappearance on a dingo. The entire nation blamed her.
I remember the schoolyard whispering, the dinner table debates. Did she do it? Did Lindy Chamberlain murder her daughter? Or was one of her sons involved and a cover-up was in place? She just doesn’t look like a grieving mother we hissed under our breaths.
I remember it all – as though it unfolded yesterday.
Lindy and Michael became the victims of one of the greatest mistrials in Australian history – Lindy being jailed for three years only to be exonerated in 1988.
And through it all Australia’s suspicion and fear of dingoes deepened.
So on the weekend I’ll be honest and say I was initially surprised to read that Azaria’s sister Zahra Chamberlain is now working with dingoes.
Surprised until I read what she had to say via the SMH:
“Zahra Chamberlain, 18 – whose nine-week-old sister Azaria Chamberlain was stolen by dingoes at Ayers Rock on August 17, 1980 – told News Corp Australia that she was training to become a dingo handler after spending time with the dogs and hearing of farmers’ animosity towards them.
“Given my family’s past, I still love dingoes as I do any other Australia wildlife – I view them as a beautiful wild animal,” she said.
Ms Chamberlain said the deeply polarised views about dingoes – “there’s those who want to kill all the dingoes, and the ones that think they’re just the cutest, most cuddly, furry pet you could ever have” – have led her to realise there was an “in-between, and that I’m that in-between that says they can be deadly and they can be friendly”.
She said her pro-dingo activism has helped her father “heal to a degree” after seeing the dingo as a source of grief for more than three decades.