Over thirty years ago, Lindy Chamberlain uttered those words heard round the world: "That dingo's got my baby!" Now, Michael Chamberlain is telling his side of things in an upcoming memoir, "Heart of Stone: Justice for Azaria," that details the events leading up to and after his daughter's untimely death in the Australian outback. Read an excerpt. On Sunday morning I was the first of our family to rise. It was just 30 minutes before sunrise and the light was still gloomy. As I peered out of the tent I was taken by surprise by two things. The water in a saucepan, heated the night before, was frozen. The temperature was cold enough to freeze a rat! There was also something quite odd about the barbecue fire grate where Lindy had stuffed one of Azaria’s nappies. Some animal had clawed the cotton wool stuffing out of it; I imagined it to be a dingo and it had made a bit of a mess. I placed the nappy in a bin close by. It was my first omen but I thought nothing more about it. I rushed up to the top of the sand hill behind the tent and decided to get some photos of the rising sun on the Rock.
Satisfied that I had got the pick of the morning photos, I went back to the tent where the kids were all still slumbering. Azaria was being her usual good self. She hardly cried or fussed. She was still so tiny and delicate, but very strong and able to keep her head up quite well to look about.Video: Dingo ruled responsible for death of baby in 1980 (on this page)
The day soon warmed up, there was no wind to speak of and we all dressed as if it was a summer’s day. Our walk on our first day to the Rock would be about two kilometres. Eerily, one of the canine inhabitants of the Rock already seemed to focus on us. Lindy remarked on the curious dingo silently watching the many walkers passing below as it looked down at us from 20 metres above, at a vantage point known as the Fertility Cave. Before I could photograph it, the creature had gone.
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[Chamberlain decided to climb Uluru, then he descended to see how far his boys wanted to climb].
I was worried to see Aidan and Reagan were already adventuring on the Rock, following in Dad’s footsteps, as it was dangerous up there and I was concerned they might fall. Aidan was perhaps 100 metres up. Lindy, with Azaria firmly bound in her arms, had also climbed up about 50 metres and it was here I photographed our little girl a few times in the bright sunlight later in the afternoon; first Lindy and then me holding her. They were proud moments for us both, milestone photos...
[After getting some rest, the family went out to take photos of Uluru at sunset, before returning to camp for a dinner of baked beans, mushrooms and toast at a barbecue with some fellow tourists].
There was an atmosphere of conviviality and goodwill around the barbecue. They were carefree moments, marred only by a strange occurrence. A mangy-looking dingo came within several metres of me and, feeling sorry for its sad state, I threw it a crust of bread. What came next from this silent night prowler caused a little shock. Ignoring my pathetic offering, the dingo suddenly pounced on a field mouse in the rush beside me. It did so in absolute silence. The stealth of the animal caused me to exclaim, ‘Did you see that?’ I had grown up with dogs all my life, I had a rapport with all of them, and they would linger around me for affection or scraps, but not this dog. The happened so quickly that I doubted anyone else witnessed it. It was my second omen and I had missed it, leaving me totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
That evening, at about 7:45pm, Lindy put Reagan, Aidan and Azaria to bed in the green and gold tent which was just 20 metres away, and partially lit by the barbecue floodlight. Azaria had been fast asleep in her mother’s arms. We had just had one of the most enthralling days in the bush of our lives. All was well. I continued my meal and was beginning to clean up. It was about 8pm and now getting quite icy again. Lindy returned to the barbecue area, which afforded a little warmth for her.
There was a lull in the conversation when, coming from the tent, I heard a faint cry almost cut short in the middle of a breath. The sound unnerved me somewhat, and I asked Lindy if she’d heard anything. She hesitated for a second and said she’d heard nothing. I thought Lindy ought to check the tent and told her to do so. [Tourist] Sally Lowe also heard the cry. It was then that all hell broke loose.
Approaching the tent Lindy saw a dingo move through the open tent flap and leave, its head down and obscured by the shadows. It gave an impression that it had a load in its mouth, but nothing sinister had registered for her. She raced inside. Reagan had his sleeping bag hood up and his face buried in a pillow. ‘He never sleeps like that, not ever’, Lindy thought, concern growing for her son.
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Instinctively, she placed one hand on Reagan to feel for his heartbeat and check that he was alive. With her other hand she lifted the blankets that should have been covering Azaria, which were uncharacteristically scattered. Then she screamed. Springing out of the tent and running towards me, she yelled those now immortal words:
‘THAT DINGO’S GOT MY BABY!’
‘WHAT?’ I yelled back in disbelief.
My feet felt like lead as I cleared the low fence and dived into the tent headlong. ‘Azaria, oh Azaria, what has happened to you? What is happening to you? Your bed is still warm and you’re out there, somewhere! Oh God, Oh God, help me,’ I cried in my heart. Lindy turned and dived into the tent again, still in disbelief, then rushed out in the direction in which she had seen the dingo go. Chaos and pandemonium ruled. To chase that dingo, to get help. Lindy ran to the right where the dingo had probably headed, but there was nothing. Nothing! I rushed out into the scrub. I ran into a bush at full speed and into the sharp razor-like spinifex grass.Video: Author digs into Obama’s personal history
With no light and no torch, things were as black as pitch. Where is that dingo? Where is Azaria? I ran back to the car to get my torch. I found it, hidden under the children’s clothes. I flicked the switch. Nothing.
The battery was dead.
I cursed under my breath. My main line of attack was dashed. No light in the bush means no hope, I thought. Suddenly someone was with me and put a torch in my hand. It was weak but it was a light. I ran again.
Everywhere I went I told startled campers that my daughter had been taken by a dingo. Where did the animal go, some asked. ‘I have no idea, but probably over there,’ I yelled, pointing to the direction where there was only a dark void.
Stark panic, helplessness and horror crushed me as I prayed for a miracle, a miracle that wasn’t happening. I thought of turning my car around and shining the high-powered spotlights into the bush. No good. I couldn’t find my keys.
My little girl, who charmed all who looked upon her petal face, was now alone in the harsh desert night. She had shone as briefly as a Sturt Sweet Pea flower. Suddenly, it seemed that as quickly as Azaria had come, she was gone.
Adapted from "Heart of Stone: Justice for Azaria" by Michael Chamberlain (New Holland Publishers).Copyright © 2012 by Michael Chamberlain. Excerpted by permission of New Holland Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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