These dates of key events in the Azaria Chamberlain saga, subject of a major documentary on the 40th anniversary, were compiled by Alice Springs historian ALEX NELSON (pictured).
He writes: I consider the Azaria Chamberlain case is misrepresented as a “miscarriage of justice”. I think it’s more apt to describe it as a perversion of justice.
A crucial point always missing from contemporary reports about this case is that the first coroner, Dennis Barritt, didn’t just find a dingo took the baby, he was also scathing of the police investigation, especially the NT Police Forensic Science Section.
This criticism was broadcast on national TV when he handed down his findings, it was a front page story in the local newspaper in Alice Springs and prompted Chief Minister Paul Everingham to initiate an investigation into the police.
That seems to have been a trigger for the way events subsequently unfolded.
24 AUGUST 1980 – One week after Azaria Chamberlain’s disappearance, her bloodied jumpsuit is found by a tourist at the base of Uluru.
15 DECEMBER 1980 – The first coronial inquest into the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain opens before Magistrate Denis Barritt.
20 FEBRUARY 1981 – Denis Barritt finds that Azaria Chamberlain was taken by a dingo, but that there was human interference in her disappearance.
19 SEPTEMBER 1981 – Chief Minister Paul Everingham (at right Wikipedia) announces a new enquiry into the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain after forensic examination by James Cameron, Professor of Forensic Medicine of the London Hospital Medical College. Everingham is quoted: “Additional information has come to light which was not available at the time of the [first] inquest, and so was not available to the coroner. I conferred with the Territory’s Solicitor-General [Brian Martin] and the Police Commissioner [Peter McAuley], and reviewed the whole matter” (“New leads on Azaria”, Centralian Advocate, September 23, 1981).
19 SEPTEMBER 1981 – Northern Territory Police search the Chamberlain’s home in New South Wales and interview them and other witnesses “in a nationwide operation shrouded in secrecy” (Advocate, September 23, 1981).
21 OCTOBER 1981 – “NT Solicitor-General Brian Martin is confronted by newsmen at the Alice Springs airport seeking information about the new police enquiries into the death of Azaria Chamberlain. Mr Martin … is the third high-ranking law official in town, heightening speculation … that an announcement about the case is imminent. The others are Chief Judge of the NT Supreme Court, Mr. Justice John Forster, and Chief Magistrate Gerry Galvin” (Advocate, October 23, 1981).
18 NOVEMBER 1981 – The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory quashes the findings of the first inquest, and orders a new inquest into the death of Azaria Chamberlain.
25 NOVEMBER 1981 – “Police from Alice Springs and Darwin have converged on Ayers Rock in an effort to gather new evidence in the Azaria Chamberlain mystery. The large team is led by Det. Sgt. Graeme Charlwood. … A new inquest into the death of the baby Chamberlain will begin in Alice Springs on the 14th of next month. The coroner will be Chief Magistrate of the NT Gerry Galvin” (“COPS FLOCK TO ROCK”, Centralian Advocate, November 25, 1981).
27 NOVEMBER 1981 – “Police digging for clues in the Azaria Chamberlain case at Ayers Rock have uncovered what could be a major breakthrough in the mystery. They have discovered eight small pieces of hard bone like material. Police spokesman at the site, Sgt. Daryl Manzie, declined yesterday to say whether the material was human remains” (“AZARIA – POLICE SEARCH HUGE AREA IN DRAMATIC NEW MOVES”, Advocate, November 27, 1981).
27 NOVEMBER 1981 – “Police, led by Chief Inspector Charlie Taylor of Darwin, were digging several feet into the red earth pouring it into sieves in search of anything which may be connected with the case” (Advocate, November 27, 1981).
2 DECEMBER 1981 – “The new Azaria Chamberlain inquest will go ahead on December 14. Counsel for the baby’s parents, Adelaide Queen’s Counsel, Mr Phil Rice, yesterday failed in a bid to have the inquest delayed by up to three months. … He also told the Coroner neither he nor his clients had been given any details of what the new police evidence was. He said little regard had been given to the Chamberlain’s position in the new inquiry or in the arranging of the new inquest. “We are completely in the dark as to what this evidence is,” he said. … Counsel assisting the Coroner, NT Solicitor-General, Mr Brian Martin, argued that if the inquest proper was delayed it would be difficult to arrange another suitable time when all the Crown’s expert witnesses could be together. … Mr Martin told the Coroner yesterday 10-12 witnesses would be called to give evidence for the Crown at the main hearing in Alice Springs. He did not name them or give any details of what their evidence might be. Mr Martin was standing in yesterday for leading Queensland criminal barrister, Mr Des Sturgess QC, who will be the counsel assisting the Coroner at the main hearing” (“INQUEST DATE FIXED”, Advocate, December 2, 1981).
14 DECEMBER 1981 – The second coroner’s inquest opens before Chief Magistrate Gerry Galvin.
2 FEBRUARY 1982 – Coroner Galvin commits Lindy Chamberlain for trial for the murder of her daughter Azaria, and Michael Chamberlain on a charge of being an accessory after the fact.
13 SEPTEMBER 1982 – The Chamberlain trial commences in the NT Supreme Court in Darwin. The counsel for the prosecution is Sydney barrister, Ian M. Barker, QC (at left, NSW Bar Assn).
29 OCTOBER 1982 – The jury finds Lindy Chamberlain guilty of murder and her husband Michael guilty of being an accessory after the fact. Lindy Chamberlain is sentenced to life in jail with hard labour.
1982 to NOVEMBER 1985 – Various appeals and petitions to the Federal Court of Australia, the High Court of Australia, the Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen, and to the Northern Territory Government, all fail to overturn the convictions of the Chamberlains.
EARLY 1983 – The North Darwin Branch of the CLP sponsors the formation of a new party branch in anticipation of redistribution of electoral boundaries, and the proposed increase from 19 to 25 seats in the NT Legislative Assembly. Charlie Taylor is a foundation member of the new Sanderson Branch. (Charlie Taylor ultimately becomes an NT Police Superintendent; and General Secretary of the NT CLP).
14 NOVEMBER 1983 – Chief Minister Paul Everingham announces an early election campaign for the NT Legislative Assembly in response to the Federal Labor Government’s decision to hand over ownership of the Uluru-Katatjuta National Park to Aboriginal traditional owners, to be leased back to the Commonwealth. The CLP’s campaign slogan is “Let’s Rock Canberra”.
NOVEMBER 1983 – Dr Goff Letts, Chairman of the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory (and former CLP Majority Leader until the NT election campaign of 1977), runs as an independent candidate in the new but safe CLP seat of Araluen in Alice Springs, against CLP Attorney-General Jim Robertson. Letts is critical of the CLP’s campaign focussing on Ayers Rock, which is managed by the CCNT on behalf of the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service.
3 DECEMBER 1983 – The CLP wins the election campaign in a landslide, winning 19 out of 25 seats. Former NT Police Community Liaison Unit coordinator Daryl Manzie wins the seat of Sanderson as a new CLP politician. He is destined to become the longest-serving minister of the NT Legislative Assembly.
26 JANUARY 1986 – Englishman David Brett falls to his death off Uluru.
2 FEBRUARY 1986 – A tourist from Geelong reports David Brett’s body lying in scrub next to Uluru. The matinee jacket worn by Azaria Chamberlain at the time of her disappearance is found by searchers looking for Brett’s body.
7 FEBRUARY 1986 – Lindy Chamberlain is released from jail and the NT Government announces a new inquiry into the death of Azaria Chamberlain.
8 MAY 1986 – Justice Trevor Moorling commences the judicial inquiry into the Chamberlain case.
22 MAY 1987 – Justice Moorling issues the report analysing the evidence in the Chamberlain case and finds that the evidence against them is insubstantial.
15 SEPTEMBER 1988 – The Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously quashes all convictions against Lindy and Michael Chamberlain.
1992 – Lindy Chamberlain receives $1.3m in compensation from the NT Government for wrongful imprisonment. The NT Attorney-General is the Member for Sanderson, Daryl Manzie.
IMAGES from the documentary (clockwise from top left): Kahlia and Aidan Chamberlain, Rick Creighton, Reagan Chamberlain. Centre: Lindy Chamberlain with Azaria.