Today’s ruling from an inquest into the 1980 disappearance of a baby of Seventh-day Adventist Church members in Australia could mark the final chapter of a legal saga that for years tormented the family, divided that nation and affected the image of the religious denomination there.
A coroner in the Northern Territory city of Darwin ruled that nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain, daughter of Michael Chamberlain and Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, was taken by a dingo from a campsite near Ayers Rock, now known by its Aboriginal name, Uluru.
The disappearance of the infant created a living nightmare for the family, who endured years of public taunts and accusations of taking their own child’s life. Some accused the Seventh-day Adventist denomination for encouraging such heinous acts. Chamberlain-Creighton was convicted of murder, for which she spent three years in prison before new evidence reversed her sentence.
The incident became recognized internationally with the release of the 1988 film “A Cry In the Dark,” starring Meryl Streep.
Today’s ruling, delivered by Coroner Elizabeth Morris at the Darwin Magistrates Court, is the fourth subsequent inquest of the case. According to Australia’s ABC News, she noted that there were reported dingo attacks on other children in the months preceding the incident and that a dingo lair was found in the area. She then delivered an amended death certificate.
Later this morning, Chamberlain-Creighton addressed the media outside the court, saying, “Obviously we’re relieved and delighted to come to the end of this saga…. No longer will Australia be able to say that dingos are not dangerous and only attack if provoked. We live in a beautiful country but it is dangerous and we would ask all Australians to be aware of this and take appropriate precautions and not wait for somebody else to do it for them.”
Azaria would have turned 32 yesterday, her mother said. The Chamberlains divorced in 1991 and have both since remarried.
Michael Chamberlain also addressed the media, saying, “Today, I heard Coroner Morris speak for the dead on behalf of the living. This battle to get to the legal truth about what caused Azaria's death has taken too long. However, I am here to tell you that you can get justice, even when you think that all is lost. But, truth must be on your side. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how sacred human life is and must be protected at all costs. And I cannot express strongly enough how important it is to pursue a just cause even when it seems to be a mission impossible. If you know you are right, never give up on getting it right, when the serious issue could affect the life and livelihood of others.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s South Pacific Division, based in Wahroonga near Sydney, released a statement welcoming the finding, calling the decades-long ordeal “one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice in Australia in the modern era.”
“We hope and pray that the finding today is just one more step in the healing process for the Chamberlains and for our nation,” the statement said. “We hope the experience of the Chamberlains will inspire all of us to act justly and to stand up for those who are mistreated.”
Church officials also thanked attorney Stuart Tipple and other legal professionals who worked on the case for the Chamberlains, as well as the millions of Australians who stood against the public injustice against the family.
“The ability of our legal system to recognize and correct mistakes is one of the features that make Australia a great nation. The inquest’s finding today is a sign of our nation’s strength and integrity,” the statement said.
Chamberlain-Creighton is writing a book for children and a book on grief and forgiveness, according to her website. She continues to conduct seminars and deliver speeches on stress, grief and the media.
Michael Chamberlain, now a retired teacher, earned a Ph.D. in education from the University of Newcastle in 2002. He is writing about his experiences in an upcoming book.