After 32 years it’s official: a dingo or dingoes took baby Azaria Chamberlain from her family’s tent at Ayers Rock on August 17, 1980, and the cause of her death was “the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo.”
This was the finding of Territory Coroner Elizabeth Morris this morning, with mother Lindy Chamberlain Creighton and father Michael Chamberlain – now separated – in the Darwin courtroom for the fourth inquest into the sensational case.
It was flawed by faulty forensic work, and had seen Lindy convicted and jailed for murder of her daughter.
She was exonerated, but officially the cause of Azaria’s death remained open until today.
Coroner Morris, after handing down the finding, her voice shaking, gave her “sincere sympathy” to the family, for the loss of their “special and loved daughter and sister, Azaria. I am so sorry for your loss.”
Recent evidence, especially dingo attacks elsewhere in Australia, moved Coroner Morris, on the balance of probability, to come to the “adequate, clear, cogent and exact” finding that “a dingo or dingoes took Azaria,” a conclusion further supported by finding dog or dingo hairs in the tent at the base of Ayers Rock.
The full text of the coronial finding is here.
The photos are from an ABC Four Corners documentary produced and filmed by Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA. This included a re-enactment, at Ayers Rock, by the Chamberlains from which these photos are taken. Chlanda was the first reporter on the scene, and then covered the case for television and print in Australia and around the world for several years.
NT Attorney General Rob Knight did not apologize to the Chamberlains.
All he could say this morning, as an affair came to an end that had put the Territory’s legal and police processes in disrepute the world over, was to thank Coroner Morris for “bringing this matter to what should be the end of the legal process.
“My thoughts go out to Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Michael Chamberlain and their families and hope that today’s decision helps deal with the tragic loss of their child.”
Inquest into the death of Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain
Ms ELIZABETH MORRIS SM:
Mr and Mrs Chamberlain and their three children, Aidan, Reagan and Azaria, arrived at Uluru, generally known then as Ayers Rock on Saturday 16 August 1980, setting up their tent in the top camping area on the east side of the rock. They were not alone, with six families in the camping area on the night of 17 August; the West’s, the Dawson’s, the Haby’s, the Lowe’s and the Whittaker’s. A common barbecue area was about 20-25 metres from the Chamberlain’s tent.
Mr and Mrs Chamberlain were in this area shortly prior to 8.00pm, preparing their evening meal. Aidan and Azaria were with them, but Reagan was already in the tent asleep in his sleeping bag. Mrs Chamberlain was nursing Azaria, speaking to Mr and Mrs Lowe. Mrs Chamberlain then took Azaria and Aidan back to their tent area. She placed a sleeping Azaria in a bassinet in the rear of the tent and then went to get a tin of baked beans from their car for Aidan.
Mrs Chamberlain then went back to the tent, and then returned to the barbecue area with Aidan. Shortly after Mrs Chamberlain returned to the barbecue, Mrs Lowe heard a baby cry from the tent. Mrs Chamberlain went immediately to check on Azaria, and moments later cried out either “That dog’s got my baby” or “My God, My God, a dingo has got my baby”. Both Mr and Mrs West heard the growl of a dingo or dog from the direction of the Chamberlain’s tent fairly soon before they heard Mrs Chamberlain cry out.
Mrs Chamberlain initially ran in the direction she thought the dingo had gone, but then went back to check the tent. Others, including Mr Chamberlain and Mr Lowe then began an immediate search of the area and the surrounding sand dunes. At around 8.25pm Mr Derek Roff, the ranger in charge of the area arrived. He, along with Constable Morris, who arrived shortly thereafter, organised a search party consisting of some 250-300 people, who search the areas east, north and south of the tent until about 3.00am.
Mr Haby found tracks on the sand dunes east of the camp, along with a mark or imprint on the sand as though an object had been put down. Mr Roff also saw this imprint or drag mark, which he likened to a crepe bandage or resembling a knitted garment. Constable Morris also saw drag marks in that area, as well as tracks close to the rear of the tent.
Mr Roff and Mr Nui Minyintiri tracked a drag mark on the crest of a sand dune to the east of the tent. In Mr Minyintiri’s expert opinion the tracks of a dingo that he saw showed that “it walked as though it had some load on it … when I was tracking the dingo I knew, or I thought that it was carrying the baby for sure.”
Mrs Barbara Winmati also assisted in attempting the next day to follow the tracks leading south from the tent, but after a considerable distance, lost the animal’s trail. Blood was found inside the tent on various articles. This blood was Azaria’s.
A Royal Commission of Inquiry into the conviction of Mr and Mrs Chamberlain was held between 8 May 1986 and 19 March 1987. His Honour, Justice Morling, delivered his findings on 22 May 1987. His Honour heard and received evidence, including evidence that had been heard at the criminal trial, as well as new evidence, including expert evidence, independent of that which was presented at the criminal trial proceedings. Given the thorough nature of the investigation of forensic and scientific evidence, there is little point or weight in further analysis. Many aspects of the scientific evidence in this case have been either misreported or misrepresented.
Despite their thorough examination at the Commission myths still remain in the public domain in relation to clothing, blood, handprints, dingo hair and other aspects of the evidence. I have attached to these findings as an appendix, the report of the Commission, which formed part of the evidence before me, and which thoroughly and painstakingly addresses each of the forensic and scientific issues, and draws its conclusions from the best evidence available to it at the time.
The evidence before the Commission in relation to dingoes, led the Commissioner to conclude: “Before August 1980 dingoes in the Ayers Rock area frequented the camping area. At that time there were many dingoes in the area, some 18-25 of which were known to visit the camping area. A number of attacks were made by dingoes on children in the months preceding Azaria’s disappearance. In none of these did any child suffer serious injury.
“About twenty minutes before Azaria disappeared Mr Haby saw and photographed a dingo which walked towards the Chamberlains’ tent. A few minutes before the alarm was raised the West’s heard a dog growl.
“On the night of 17 August dog tracks were observed on the southern side of and very close to the Chamberlains’ tent.
“The same night Mr Roff and Mr Minyintiri, both experienced trackers and familiar with dingo behaviour, saw tracks of a dog carrying a load which they believed to be Azaria. It was within the bounds of reasonable possibility that a dingo might have attacked a baby and carried it away for consumption as food. A dingo would have been capable of carrying Azaria’s body to the place where the clothing was found.
“If a dingo had taken Azaria it is likely that, on occasions, it would have put the load down and dragged it. Hairs, which were either dog or dingo hairs, were found in the tent and on Azaria’s jumpsuit. The Chamberlains had not owned a dog for some years prior to August 1980. The quantity and distribution of the sand found on Azaria’s clothing might have been the result of it being dragged through sand. The sand would have come from many places in the Ayers Rock region. The sand and plant fragments on the clothing are consistent with Azaria’s body being carried and dragged by a dingo from the tent to the place where it was found.
“It is unlikely that, if the clothing had been taken from the Chamberlains’ car, buried, disinterred, and later placed where it was found it would have collected the quantity and variety of plant material found upon it. It would have been very difficult for a dingo to have removed Azaria from her clothing without causing more damage than was observed on it. However, it would have been possible for it to have done so.
“Mr Roff, the chief ranger at Ayers Rock and a man of great experience, thought that the arrangement of the clothing when discovered was consistent with dingo activity. Other dingo expert disagreed. I think it is likely that a dingo would have left the clothing more scattered, but it might not have done so.
“The blood found in the tent was at least as consistent with dingo involvement in Azaria’s disappearance as it was with her murder in the car. The pattern of blood staining on the clothing does not establish that the child’s throat was cut with a blade. The absence of saliva on Azaria’s jumpsuit which was conclusively proved at the trial is made more explicable by the finding of the matinee jacket which would have partially covered it. The fact that no debris from the baby’s body was found on the jumpsuit is also made more explicable by the finding of the jacket.
“There is great conflict of expert opinion was to whether the damage to the clothing could have been caused by a dingo. It has not been shown beyond reasonable doubt that it could not have been. There were marks on plastic fragments of the nappy similar to marks made by a dingo on another nappy used for testing purposes. However, there was no blood on the nappy.
“There was a dingo’s den about thirty metres from the place where the clothing was found. There is no evidence that the existence of the den was known to the Chamberlains, or for that matter, to anybody else and in fact it was unknown to the chief ranger and his deputy.” Available to this inquest was further evidence in relation to attacks on people by dingoes. Coroner Lowndes in the third inquest indicated his approach in these terms: “Applying once again the ‘belief’ approach to the civil standard of proof to the evidence, I am unable to be reasonably satisfied that Azaria Chamberlain died accidentally as a result of being taken by a dingo from her tent at the camp site at Ayers Rock.”
At page 310 of his report, Commission Morling stated: “The defence asserted that Azaria had been taken by a dingo, an event for which there was no known precedent. It was therefore a novel case”. Of course, one does not expect that human beings, in particular young babies, will ordinarily be taken and killed by a dingo. First, that circumstance is a factor which may itself be relevant to the question of probabilities.
In Queensland a 9 year old boy died as a result of an attack by dingoes on Fraser Island in April 2001. In New South Wales a 2 year old girl died in December 2005 from blood loss and shock from cranio-cervical injury from dog attack, being a part dingo crossbreed. In Victoria in February 2006 a 22 month old girl died of chronic respiratory failure with contributing factors of blood loss from dog bites (the dog being described as a dingo/Labrador cross). Apart from these deaths, there were reports of various attacks and injuries, including records obtained from the Department of Environment and Resource Management in Queensland, regarding reported dingo incidents on Fraser Island.
The further investigation of this Inquest has not found any disappearance exactly like that of Azaria. However it is clear that there is evidence that in particular circumstances a dingo is capable of attacking, taking and causing the death of young children. Some of these attacks occurred prior to the disappearance of Azaria in Central Australia and were considered by the Commission. Others have occurred since and form part of the evidence before me. In considering now all of the evidence, I am satisfied that the evidence is sufficiently adequate, clear, cogent and exact, and that the evidence excludes all other reasonable possibilities, to find that what occurred on 17 August 1980 was that shortly after Mrs Chamberlain placed Azaria in the tent, a dingo or dingoes entered the tent, took Azaria and carried and dragged her from the immediate area.
Mrs Chamberlain, upon being alerted to Azaria’s cry, returned to the tent area to see a dingo near the tent. Raising a cry which alerted others, Mrs Chamberlain then ran for a short distance after the dingo and then back to the tent, confirming that Azaria was missing.
The findings are: The name of the deceased was Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain, born in Mount Isa, Queensland on 11 June 1980.
She was the daughter of Michael Leigh Chamberlain and Alice Lynne Chamberlain. Azaria Chamberlain died at Uluru, then known as Ayers Rock, on 17 August 1980. The cause of her death was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo.