Having suffered one of the worst injustices in Australian history, when she was wrongly convicted and jailed for murdering her baby daughter, Lindy Chamberlain should be full of bitterness yet this inspirational mum could teach a masterclass in forgiveness.
Even today, four decades after the horror of that terrible night when a dingo savagely snatched her tiny dark-haired girl from a tent at Uluru – and the shocking aftermath to her tragedy – she’s haunted by the loss of Azaria.
“You can’t turn it off,” she shared with Woman’s Day in a previous interview during an emotional pilgrimage back to the Red Centre.
“You dwell on different memories over time, and there are aspects of it that soften – little insignificant parts of it. But others, I can just close my eyes and re-roll the film. I can see her in my arms. I can still clearly see expressions on her face when I was feeding her and talking to her, and the way she’d respond.”
Lindy, 72, made that pilgrimage to Uluru nine years ago and the heartache she feels as a “broken” mum who lost her precious daughter remains, yet she has found happiness, even forgiving all those who helped convict her.
Freedom & forgiveness
She recently revealed she had to forgive, focus on positives and let the past go to find happiness after the devastating loss of Azaria and the shocking miscarriage of justice that saw her wrongly convicted of killing her little girl and jailed for three years in 1982.
“It’s not what happens that counts, it’s how you choose to deal with what happens,” she said at a National Christian Family Conference in Sydney.
“You can choose if you’re going to live with anger, regret and revenge and miserably think yourself a victim. Or you can choose to be a hero in your own life and forgive the past and move on. It doesn’t happen immediately. Sometimes I go back and have to remind myself to start all over again. It isn’t easy.”
But then little has been easy in Lindy’s life since that awful night on August 17, 1980 when she clambered desperately from a dishevelled tent, screaming into the night, “The dingo’s got my baby.”
WATCH: Lindy Chamberlain talks to Ita Buttrose and Jessica Rowe about forgiveness on Studio 10. Story continues below…
Last year she broke down as she revealed what it was like to give birth to her second daughter Kahlia in Darwin Hospital just weeks after she was jailed for life for a crime she didn’t commit – and just two years after losing Azaria.
“I knew the minute she was born they were going to take her off me,” she told TV host Anh Do, fighting back tears during an emotional interview in April. “So every moment of birth I fought it. It was like, “You keep her inside and she’s yours, the minute she’s out she’s not.”
Lindy was eight months pregnant with Kahlia when she was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Azaria with police alleging she cut her baby’s throat, rather than believing a host of witnesses and experts who thought she was innocent.
Carrying the pain
Labelled everything from a devil worshipper to a heartless b-tch, Lindy remained true to herself, never wavering from her statement that a dingo took and killed Azaria. And despite the injustice of spending three years in jail and being so cruelly separated from Kahlia, Lindy says she tries not to “get stuck” on bitterness and resentment, admitting it’s still not always an easy task.
“You can’t get away from it,” she said, addressing the audience at the conference.
“It sleeps with you at night. It goes to the bathroom with you. It showers with you. It has parties with friends with you. It’s always there. You need to choose your battles wisely. You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. A fight without a foe – where’s the battle?”
Lindy now finds some solace in knowing that the pain is not all hers, because she feels the Australian public had a responsibility to “carry the pain” after millions of ordinary people labelled her a baby killer in a sensational case that not only gripped Australia, but also the world.
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“I never felt I had to carry that pain,” she says. “That’s their [those who judged her so harshly and so wrongly] responsibility. God and I knew the truth and that was enough for me.
Because all the way through I felt absolutely positive that at some stage He would make sure that it came out right.”
The journey has taken its toll. In 1986, the discovery of Azaria’s matinee jacket – which Lindy always claimed Azaria was wearing when a dingo snatched her – led to Lindy’s immediate release and then the overturning of her conviction in 1988 – but it took until 2012 for an inquest to officially conclude a dingo killed Azaria.
The pain of losing her baby may have diminished with time, but it never leaves any parent, let alone one so tortured as Lindy has been over the loss of Azaria. The fact that Azaria’s body was never found only caused Lindy more anguish.
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Finding love again
She also divorced her husband, pastor Michael Chamberlain in 1991, just five years after being freed from jail. Her family was torn apart. She broke down during the same interview with Anh, revealing how her mum broke the news of her imprisonment to Azaria’s brothers Aidan and Reagan, who were in primary school at the time.
“Mum had to tell them that they’d sent me to prison, which haunted her until the day she died,” Lindy revealed, openly weeping. “She said it was the worst thing she ever had to do… she’d never heard a noise come out of a kid like that in her life before and never wanted to hear it again.”
Lindy only learned about this sorrowful moment after she was released from jail, and there are so many more. The missed birthdays, the milestones that can’t be recreated and the incredible cruelty of separating a grieving mum from her two other young children. It’s these personal wounds that remained for what seemed like an eternity and only now Lindy says they’ve healed, although the scars will always remain.
She found love again after meeting second husband Rick Creighton on a speaking tour of the US in 1992. They were married 10 months later after he won the approval of Aidan, Reagan and Khalia. “I call him God’s bonus at the end of all this,” she says.
Lindy says Rick helped her to leave the hurt behind, and that she became a better person by forgiving the detectives and forensic scientists who led the witch hunt to wrongly convict her, let alone the millions of Australians who were so fast to judge her.
“Would I have chosen to learn the things I’ve learnt through other ways? You bet I would have. Did I want my daughter to die so I could learn to forgive? No, I did not. But am I sorry I learnt to forgive? No, I am not. You can let your mind be occupied by regrets or by vengeance or by anger or you can move on.
“It’s part of your history but it doesn’t have to be part of your future or your present. It’s part of the foundation of who you are, but it doesn’t have to be all you are. You don’t forget, but your coping methods and your ability to deal with things gets better, and time helps that.”
Now, exactly 40 years on from the horrific ordeal, or at least the start of it, Lindy is telling her side of the story.
In partnership with Channel 10 Lindy is reliving the harrowing tale in an exclusive documentary.
“I saw Aidan standing behind the tent,” a tearful Lindy recalls in the trailer, “He turned and looked at me and said ‘The dingoes got our baby in its tummy.”
You can see the full teaser for the television event, which airs Sunday, 27 September At 7.30pm On 10, below.