While he rebuilt his life after his nine-week-old daughter Azaria was taken from the family tent at Uluru by a dingo in August 1980—and he and his wife Lindy’s wrongful convictions over the death saw her spend three years in jail before the pair were exonerated in 1988—Michael Chamberlain was haunted by the tragedy until his death on January 9, aged 72.
32 years later, the night Azaria died during a family camping trip was “still quite devastatingly real to me,” the academic told WHO in 2012. Last year, he summed up the toll events had taken: “My life—I don’t wish it on anyone.”
The baby’s death set in place a chain of events which saw Chamberlain lose his marriage to Lindy in 1991, his career—he resigned as a Seventh Day Adventist pastor in 1984, and became a teacher—and his reputation. As former journalist and longtime Chamberlain friend Malcolm Brown tells WHO, “It was a terrible life simply because of the death of his daughter.”
Chamberlain, who died from complications of acute leukaemia, reportedly with two of his four surviving children by his side, faced “harassment”, says Brown, was bashed a couple of times during his teaching career and dealt with one of his sons being blinded in one eye in a backyard accident.
In 2011, his second wife Ingrid—mother of his third daughter, Zahra, 20—was paralysed after a stroke, and Chamberlain became her primary carer. “I’m looking after my profoundly disabled wife,” he said last year. “This is a hell of a thing to happen.”
Says Brown, “You could say that just about everything that could happen to him did happen to him.”
Lindy, 68, who married American publisher Rick Creighton in 1992, called her former husband’s death “unexpected.” On Jan. 10 she said she was on her way to “support and be with” her deeply grieving” children, Aidan, 43, Reagan, 40, and Kahlia, 34.
Last July Lindy said she struggled to forgive Michael over what happened to their lives when Azaria died, but wouldn’t elaborate: “It’s private.”
The baby’s death was a wedge “driven into the marriage,” says Brown. “Lindy was in jail for more than three years. Mike was stuck with the two boys and Kahlia with foster parents, so there were difficulties that arose between them then.”
He adds, “When Lindy got out of jail she published a book in 1990 and you could see then she was critical of Michael, accusing him amongst other things of saying that she was too fat. In fact she was pregnant with Kahlia during the trial and he was accusing her of being overweight.”
That accusation, says Brown, “really was very unfair to Lindy, so there were differences between them that were exacerbated by the trauma they went through.”
For more on this story, pick up a copy of WHO on sale now.
Access your account
Personalise the newsletters you receive and gain access to competitions and offers