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Eternity series: Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton
A conversation with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Sophie Jensen, Senior Curator, National Museum of Australia
Recorded at the National Museum of Australia, 14 October 2007
DAINA HARVEY: Good morning everybody. I would like to welcome you all to the National Museum of Australia. This is the third in a series of talks that look at the stories that are here in the Eternity gallery at the National Museum. My name is Daina Harvey and I am the Assistant Director of Audience Development and Public Programs here at the Museum. I would like to welcome Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton to the National Museum today. Lindy is going to be sharing her story with us and also with Sophie Jensen, who is our Senior Curator of the Eternity gallery at the National Museum.
I would like to hand over to Sophie Jensen. Sophie has worked very closely with Lindy and with Lindy's collection here at the Museum since 1998.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Thanks very much Daina. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to this lovely event here today. We are very privileged to have Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton here with us. I don't want to take up too much of your time because I realise it is not me you have come to talk to today. However I wanted to start by giving you some background as to how and why we stand here today in this place having this type of conversation.
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton has had a long association with the National Museum. Her collection is one of the National Historical Collection's true treasures. The collection began to take form in 1992 when Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton began working with the National Library of Australia across the lake to catalogue and donate her archival collection. In the process of coming together with that particular collection it became obvious that there was also a whole range of material culture items for which the National Library of Australia wasn't the most appropriate home. That is when we began our association with Lindy, to start to document the rest of her massive collection.
The material related to the Chamberlain story is one of the most fascinating collections that have been entrusted to the Museum. It contains over 250 items in total, which document every aspect of events surrounding the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain on 17 August 1980, and the subsequent experiences of her family. Formed through working closely with the Chamberlain-Creighton family, the collection will continue to be an invaluable resource for researchers, historians, curators and the public.
Putting together the collection has not been without controversy. Both the Museum and the Chamberlain-Creighton family have faced criticism on a range of fronts for our work together. During the early years of collecting many saw the collection as being somehow in bad taste. The collecting project was seen as a way in which the Chamberlains were profiting somehow from their experiences. A number of people expressed the opinion that the case was too recent and the wounds too raw for the Museum to have anything to do with it.
When news of the National Library of Australia and National Museum of Australia collections made it into the press there was initial outrage, and the Museum was forced to defend its collecting activities. Collecting work, however, proceeded, and the first display using the material was a small exhibition called Lindy's Story in 1994.
The publicity surrounding this exhibition was an interesting test of public opinion and mood 14 years after Azaria was taken, seven years after the royal commission headed by Justice Trevor Morling cleared the Chamberlains of any guilt or responsibility in Azaria's disappearance, and six years after the Supreme Court of Darwin quashed all convictions and declared the Chamberlains totally innocent.
Liz Noonan from one of the Chamberlain support groups contributed some of the joke T-shirts sold during the trial and stated in an interview that she felt that the exhibition was important as it kept the case in the public mind. Perhaps it was this very thing that made so many others uncomfortable with the display. There was a high level of discomfort and a feeling that this was too recent an event to be regarded as history. The case had gone from flavour of the month to something that left a bad taste in the mouths of many Australians, who would have preferred to forget. Most particularly, people were keen to forget their own fascination and participation in the frenzy of speculation that surrounded the case.
In 2001 we accessed the collection again as we used Azaria's small black dress within the Eternity exhibition when the Museum opened our permanent building here at Acton Peninsula. The Eternity exhibition features the stories of 50 individuals. The individuals are grouped together under emotive themes such as joy, hope, chance and passion. Azaria's story was placed under the theme of mystery, not to examine the disappearance of Azaria herself but focusing on the mystery of the public's fascination with the case. Why did this one event cause such upheaval, disruption and attention? The black dress was, and is, such a powerful symbol of the ability of the public to judge - not judgements based on fact but judgements of people, of behaviour and of their own perceptions of what is right and wrong and therefore who is guilty and who is innocent. The real power of the Chamberlain collection and the display of the material is the ability of material culture, of real objects, to remind us all that we are not dealing with fiction, we are dealing with real people and real events.
In an article in 2000 written in the Australian Magazine, Paul Toohey wrote: ‘Lindy and Michael Chamberlain became totally fictitious human beings, characters, unrecognisable even to themselves.’ Lindy herself reminds us of the reality of the case in her autobiography Through My Eyes when she states: ‘This is the story of a little girl who lived, and breathed, and loved and was loved.
This statement is really at the heart of the collection at the National Museum. More than anything else what these objects do is to connect us with immediacy and an intimacy to real people and to actual events. They often do this with a greater power than any words can manage. As a visitor stands before a case that contains possessions of a family that could have belonged to them, that could still belong to them, they are reminded that these events are not fiction, that these people are real, living, breathing individuals - people who felt, suffered and survived.
When viewed as a whole, the collection documents every stage of the events surrounding the Chamberlain case. A brief look at some of the items in the collection demonstrates this. We hold material that helps to document Azaria's own short life: dresses and jumpsuits belonging to and worn by that little, breathing, very real child. The camping trip itself is represented in a range of objects, including torches used to light the tent while Azaria was being fed and tent pegs that took on a special significance following the discovery by police of a bible in which they claimed that the story of the sacrifice of Jael using a tent bag was found supposedly marked in the Chamberlains’ house. This parka is one of the items of clothing worn on the evening of 17 August, and it bears the marks of forensic investigation, as do the mattresses from the tent from which Azaria was taken. Other aspects of the case are represented in a number of the scene of incident maps, and other objects such as a souvenir tea towel from the trial - a tasteful memento to take home from your visit to Darwin.
Some of the objects like the black dress have become iconic. Some take on significance as you read the transcripts of the trials and inquests, or Lindy's autobiography. Important markers in the trial such as the space blanket on which the dingo prints were discovered, only to disappear once the blanket was taken by police, or the miniature coffin used by Michael Chamberlain in his anti-smoking campaigns were seen by police as further evidence of the Chamberlain's guilt.
There are a large number of objects within the collection that document Lindy's prison experience. These range from official symbols and uniforms, such as her cell door number and her smock worn during craft activities. But they also include more intimate items that help to document some of the sorrow that can be brought about through separation from loved ones, such as a small lock of hair sent to Lindy from her daughter Kahlia's first hair cut.
This collection also includes material related to the Chamberlains' experiences after Lindy's release, including the dress Lindy wore on her way home from prison and a range of props from the making of the film Evil Angels. A cushion used during Azaria's memorial service seen beside the prop used in the film demonstrate both the accuracy of many small details in production as well as the need for film to create objects slightly larger than life. A biscuit tin gnawed at by dingoes on the Evil Angels set was given to Lindy by the dingo trainer.
When seen together these objects demonstrate their ability to illustrate some of the key aspects of the events surrounding the Chamberlains' ordeal. They speak to issues of public opinion, media, ethics, life behind bars, family relationships, religious intolerance, as well as attitudes towards the Australian environment, women and justice. As a donor and collector, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton has been a remarkable resource for the Museum. Her own experiences of public scrutiny and analysis have made her a remarkably perceptive collector and archivist. Before you is a woman who is used to having her belongings being handled in the most public of ways. Many of these objects have been analysed, criticised and used by the police, the media and the public to make assessments of her. This brings about a remarkable and rather unique perceptiveness of the power of material culture. Lindy has used personal sentiment as well as her understanding of these issues to help put together this collection with us.
Lindy's story is still featured in the Eternity gallery. The object on display is a piece of metal from the Chamberlains' Torana that was said to have been splattered with Azaria's blood. This object speaks strongly to two issues: first the fallibility of science. The inability of a scientist to distinguish between sound-deadening fluid and blood demonstrates that scientists are still human and that scientific evidence is still a matter of interpretation and extrapolation. It is in the face of this type of evidence that it is still relevant to wonder: what if it were me sitting in the dock? How much trust do we place in forensic science and what role does it play in our justice system? Importantly, the object still speaks to the issue of public fascination. As the majority of content within the Eternity gallery is delivered electronically, we can see on any given day how often people are accessing stories. Without fail Lindy's story is the second-most accessed story on any given day. She's beaten only by the Wiggles and there are four of them, so it is really not a competition.
This continuing fascination is testament to the power of the collection and the importance that this story has for the public's understanding and imagining of Australian history. I would like now to introduce you to Lindy as we speak about her collection, her life and her experiences. Then we will have some time for questions from the floor. I hope that you enjoy today and that you enjoy a conversation with Lindy.
Lindy, welcome back to the National Museum of Australia. It really is lovely to have you here today.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Thank you. It is interesting that, in all our time working together, we hardly ever use last names. Consequently, I have never heard you say mine before, but you said it wrong. Creighton is spelt the English way and pronounced the American way (ph. Cray-ton, not Cry-ton).
SOPHIE JENSEN: One of the interesting things that often occurs is that thing about first names and last names; because to Australia you are Lindy and people feel they are on a first-name basis with you. You are Kylie, you are Diana, you are Lindy - you are up there with them. Does that familiarity still occur to you? Do people still think ‘Lindy’ and that they know you?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Yes. Sometimes after 10 or 15 minutes into a conversation with people who have told you all about their kids, who got married, who has had the new baby and they have asked you about your children, finally you get a chance to say to them, ‘Can you tell me who you are?’ They are like, ‘I am terribly sorry, Lindy. We have your photograph along with the rest of the family on the mantelpiece and we forget that you don't know us,’ which is lovely.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It is an interesting thing because it can work both ways. People feel they know the whole story; they feel they know you; they feel they can make these kinds of comments and criticisms; but then it also works in a positive way because you have affected and influenced a lot of people without knowing it. It's a funny kind of mixture of positive and negative.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: It is, because they do think they know everything about you yet they only know the public side of you.
SOPHIE JENSEN: One thing in particular I wanted to talk about today, Lindy, which is partly because of my own bent in coming from the Museum, is that I try to imagine myself sitting there, as you would have at some point in your house, at the moment when you must have realised, ‘I am sitting in the middle of a collection, a valuable collection.’ Did you have a moment of realisation when you thought, ‘This is of national significance’?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I probably did somewhere, that is in the past gathering dust. People started sending things in to me saying, ‘This might be of use in your case’ or ‘I thought you might like this.’ You look at them and start thinking, ‘Yes, they are important, but they start taking over the house. I shouldn't throw them out but what do I do with them?’ When some people from the National Library said: ‘This is important’, they came around the corner of the house, not long after I got out of prison, where I had a big 44-gallon drum and I was burning letters. So some people that wrote to me are not in that collection, because we were just absolutely overrun. I could show you some photographs we took at times where there was less room in our lounge to do homework, sort the ironing or whatever, because the rest was taken over with files from the case.
I finally thought: ‘They seem too important not to keep but I have to live in the house too.’ I started going through and keeping what I called significant letters, which were not necessarily the run of the mill. I had only been doing it for about 20 minutes when the National Library of Australia people walked around the corner and told me where they were from. I could see the startled looks on their faces when I said, ‘I am just burning stuff,’ and they pleaded, ‘Please don't’. I said, ‘What else am I going to do with it?’
I thought they were police to start off with. You get two suits walking around the corner and the first thing you think is: ‘Here we go, what do they want?’ They said, ‘We are from the National Library and this is really significant. We thought we would ask you, if you had anything that you don't want later, can we have it?’ I said, ‘You can't have it now because I need to go through it first.’ I don't know why I said that because I had already read all the letters and years later it is still taking over the house. In fact I have files that go from Sophie to the lectern that are ready to come down now. That is only 12 months worth but I haven't finished going through them. There is half a room full sitting all over the floor, and they need to go to Canberra.
I sent some things to the National Library that people sent me which I thought should stay with their letter, and they said, ‘We are really not set up for this. They should go down to the Museum.’ I replied, ‘Why would they want it?’ They said, ‘Can we ask them?’ That was the start. I think curator Richard Baker was first, or there may have been one before him, and then we found Sophie and away it went. People have sent me all sorts of things. Somebody did a scene in matchsticks and sent it in and that is there somewhere. Little things that were made for me have gone to the Museum as well.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It is a remarkable kind of thing when you look at our collection and the National Library's together. What makes it a fascinating collection, not only from a curatorial point of view but also from the public's point of view, is that while it covers such a huge range of things, the public are also represented in the collection. It is not just about you and your story; it is about people's responses to you, responses to the inquest, and responses to the trial.
Looking at the letters in the National Library – it has been a joy to work with you, Lindy, because you are a classifier, which appeals to us all here. You had actually marked the letters into particular categories, which were wonderful categories in themselves. The work that you have done in order to classify that material makes it a fantastic resource for researchers and people who will look at the material later. It also means that we have this glimpse into not just your experience of your own case but a whole range of Australians' experience of your case, which is fascinating.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: The Library tells me that the 1980s is documented more in Australian history than any other decade because of everyone’s letters to me. You told me what you paid for things, what your kids thought, which schools they were going to, what you thought of all the politicians, where the sales were, what you thought of housing prices - everything is in there. One lady used to tell me what she cooked for her husband every meal and I would get it itemised in two or three letters a week. It would be breakfast, lunch and dinner, and ‘I said this to him and he said that to me’ - it is all there.
At the 25th anniversary when the University of Sydney held a symposium for the day I thought ‘this will be interesting’ because I knew a number of the papers. But I went upstairs to the other room partway through and tried to get copies of them all. It is mind-boggling: there are papers on the cartoons and films of the day and how the progress of this case affected other areas. There are papers on the gay rights movement, on women's liberation and all sorts of things that I would think had nothing to do with the case, but they obviously saw things in it.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Your case has become a prism through which the whole of the 1980s can be explored and exposed. When I start to think about the letters I write to people now. It is a fascinating way into it all. The habit of accumulation must have been partly a self-preservation thing. Going through the number of inquests and trials that you did, thinking, ‘I might need this one day.’
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Well, as sure as you threw it away, the lawyers would say, ‘Have you got anything that says …’ and you would go, ‘Where did I put the letter that came the other day?’ The letters were important because we discovered, for instance, that within the first couple of weeks that Greg and Sally Lowe had written to us.
SOPHIE JENSEN: They were eyewitnesses, weren't they?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: They had introduced themselves but with everything that happened at the barbecue that night … I am not good with people's names anyway, faces yes but not names. So here we have this letter from Greg and Sally Lowe saying, ‘If there's anything we can do to help, or if there is any people we can talk to, or if you would like us to talk to the police for you or anything like that, feel free to let us know.’ I can clearly remember saying, ‘That's really nice of them but who were they and what would they know?’ So in it went in the drawer with everything else.
The police kept saying to us, ‘Do you know any of the people there? Have you had any contact?’ And of course we said no. Several weeks later we got a letter from one of the others - a similar thing happened. We had no idea we were getting letters from witnesses. But then later on we learned they had written to us and we went, ‘Was that you?’ Now we had mountains of letters that would fill the average bathroom, jammed tight to the top and they were all scrambled. We are talking about only to the trial. We had to go through those mountains looking for these letters, looking for letters from people that had been in hospital with me when I had Azaria. It turned out that the lady I was talking to all the time was a policewoman married to a policeman. She had written to me. Of course I hadn't had any need for that letter until the royal commission, and then I had to go back and find it. You didn't dare throw anything out.
Then once it got all over I said, ‘I want my life back. What am I going to do with it all?’ With letters that come in now, I basically précis the whole thing on a little tag. With the first ones I picked out certain things that I thought would probably be significant if you were going through so that, rather than somebody having to read them to find out what they wanted as I did, they could look at the tags. So you can see the progression as I learned what was what and what needed to be done.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It is the making of the curator.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I think somebody should give me some little letters after my name for this. In the long run people went, ‘She's getting paid for it,’ but I paid people to help me with it and that sort of thing. Two years ago I worked out it was 11 cents an hour. I have done two more years work on it since then so I think we are in the negative an hour.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It is not good. I was saying before about the power of material culture, the letters are one thing and then you come to your possessions, many of which were taken by police and only returned to you many years after they had been taken in pieces, damaged, cut, with their tags still on.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Just because they say they will give it back, they do. But they don't say how they will give it back.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Yes, for instance, the Torana. These items are very evocative items. When I look at Azaria's dresses, it is a reminder for me this is a case about a real child, a baby, your daughter. I would hope that when we show them here in the Museum it reminds people about the same thing. This isn't fiction; it is real. This is a child that lived. What is interesting for me, thinking about you as a collector with those items is: were you ever tempted to think ‘I can't look at them. I want to throw them away.’ Letters are easy to burn, but that material culture and those objects that belong to you are personal to you more than the letters. Were you ever tempted to throw them away and think, ‘I don't want to look at those objects any more’?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: No. You may not necessarily want to see them but you don't want to get rid of them either. By the time it came down to some of the forensic exhibits, we were well aware of the significance to Australia. They were more the things that I didn't want to keep around. But there are some items that the Museum has that one or two of the family is not all that happy with, such as the black dress which was Reagan's. He's like, ‘Mum, what if I have kids one day, and they’ve got it now?’ There's the little white dress that Kahlia and I had one each of - mine fits her now and she's like, ‘Mum it's down there. I wanted that for my wedding week and they've got it. You know I didn't want you to give it away. What happens when I have a daughter? We won't be able to wear it.’ I said, ‘Well, at least it's safe.’ It’s good enough.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Often children are the ones that have the hardest time with their parents giving away their inheritance. I think that's probably true with your children.
This goes with that territory of being on first name basis, but for a lot of people it is though as you were born in 1980. But you are a person with a history, with a past. Looking back at the first couple of interviews you did with the Museum in the early 1990s, what I found really interesting was the way in which you spoke about the fact that you had always loved camping. You had loved being out in the bush and that in a lot of ways it represented real freedom for you. Do you still have that feeling about being out there or has freedom become the last thing you would associate with being out there camping and in the bush?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: It's kind of odd. Rick and I went camping some three weeks ago. We had our tent with us. You could hear these noises in the dark and I said to Rick, ‘There's something coming up to us.’ We turned the light on and there were about 60 cows. It was like, ‘I don't know that I want to be in the tent.’ Looking around Rick said, ‘I don't think we will pitch the tent tonight,’ because he is not over-enamoured with some of Australia's creepy crawlies, while I on the other hand don't like the cougars and bears in America.
SOPHIE JENSEN: There is give and take in every relationship.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Yes. I still like camping. But camping on my own … I have discovered that I am not happy just to put my sleeping bag down on the ground and go to sleep like I used to be. I feel like I want a shell around me. It has ruined it a bit for me. Daytime is fine and I still love sleeping out, but there is a slight edge there.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Especially if you were doing it with little children as well?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: They are not little any more now.
SOPHIE JENSEN: No, they are all growing up and marrying. One of the things you were criticised for very early on was having a baby out in the bush – that she was so young to be out or that she wasn't wearing a sun bonnet. The criticism started very early that you shouldn't have had a baby there in the first place. Did you find that remarkable?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I thought it was a bit stupid. We had come from a hot area to a cold area and we were wearing jackets, but people from Sydney and Melbourne were telling us that we should have sun bonnets and protection. We are thinking, ‘Why? It's cold.’ That was one of the problems: people all looked at it from their own perspective. It didn't matter what you did.
For instance, I got a lot of criticism for what I wore. The people in Darwin and Alice Springs thought I was overdressed and would say, ‘Fancy wearing all those fancy clothes’. From the southern states it was, ‘Well this is a bit disrespectful. She is wearing sundresses to court.’ It didn't matter what you did, you were wrong. I had a lady in Sydney send me material on how to dress for court and I was supposed to have light wool suits. I thought, ‘You try it’. You are sitting in 36 degrees and she wants you to wear light wool. People who criticised what I was wearing on the television would see me in the same dress in real life and say, ‘That's nice. Why didn't you wear that?’ I was with my Mum one day when that happened and I said to Mum afterwards, ‘She was one of the people who was really criticising and that dress in particular.’ It shows you have to be there to look at it.
SOPHIE JENSEN: And that people are prepared to say something about anything. When you look at the summing up of coroner Denis Barritt who was the coroner in the first inquest which found that a dingo had taken Azaria and which cleared you of any responsibility, he said, ‘You have not only suffered the loss of your beloved child in the most tragic of circumstances but you have also been subjected to months of innuendo, suspicion and probably the most malicious gossip ever witnessed in this country.’ That was in February 1981 only six months after Azaria was taken.
Do you think he could possibly have imagined that right up today people are still gossiping and commenting? As recently as 2005 in a radio interview, Marshall Perron was speaking about the case in 2005, still saying on radio he was unsure of what happened and whether you were really innocent. From 1981 to 2005 I don't imagine anyone could have anticipated the level of gossip?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Just as well we can't see the future, isn't it? You would not go through it if you had to take more than a few minutes at a time.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Coroner Dennis Barritt was highly critical of the Northern Territory police and their forensic investigation in his summing up. At that moment one of the readings of your case was that it is not so much the Crown versus Lindy Chamberlain as the Northern Territory versus Lindy Chamberlain. Do you think that at that point the Northern Territory became a part?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: How about if we just say ‘certain people in the Northern Territory’? I know this is being recorded so I will try to hold my tongue here. Let me just say this: at the time this happened we were totally unaware that the runway for Yulara was finished. We didn't even know that the development was going ahead - I think most Australians didn't. I know a certain bank had $20 million already in the project. There was lots of private money from people in the Northern Territory in that resort. It is so well buried in corporations, trusts or whatever that we couldn't find out who those people were. I do know there were not much more than a dozen families with money in the Northern Territory at the time, so those people were terrified that it was going to ruin that whole project.
The final papers were to be signed that week, although we didn't find that out until a few years ago. They had had trouble before but they had managed to keep it quiet. One thing that never came out was that a Russian diplomat had been bitten by a dingo on the rear end and they thought there was going to be an international incident. That's what stopped the dingoes being fed, and it had been just long enough for them to get hungry. They were telling all the bus tours; they weren't telling the private people and they were the ones that were camping with families like us.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It is true that Derek Roff, who was the senior ranger, had been writing to the government for some years warning them that an incident might occur because the dingoes were becoming a problem?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I don't know whether he had written for some years but I know at least two pieces of correspondence had gone on. He had written to the conservation committee which comprised six people, including Ian Barker and Paul Everingham, asking permission because they said, ‘There will be some definite harm and maybe a child or possibly a baby will be killed if we don't do something.’ That was less than a month before. They wrote back and said no.
We didn't know at the time there was also a case that they knew about that set a precedent, which they were terrified we would find out about. I think the mini-series Through My Eyes - which is not through my eyes, by the way - found out about it accidentally. Everything the police say to one another is straight off police transcripts; it is not written by a script writer. Almost 50 per cent of that is straight off scripts where [the police] have taped themselves. That gives you an idea of the things they were saying and thinking behind the scenes.
The initial policeman that came and interviewed us was told he didn't have the result they wanted. He came in one day and his junior was sitting at his desk going through his papers with his feet up on the desk. His junior said to him, ‘What do you want? You're off the case. It's mine now.’ They got somebody in there who would do what they wanted to do, because they were terrified that they would be held accountable because of this precedent case and because they had refused to do what needed to be done with the troublesome dingoes. Dingoes were literally coming in to motel dining rooms and jumping up and walking down the middle of the dining room tables in front of guests, taking food off the tables and going. But the public were not being told because it was nice tourist attraction – ‘Look there's a wild animal in front of you.’
SOPHIE JENSEN: There is a sense, too, in some of the things you have written that people didn't want the dingo to be guilty; they didn't want to think ill of one of our animals.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: One of our native animals. We have a few natives that are a bit nasty around here - snakes and crocodiles. It's not a matter of blaming the animal; it's a matter of letting people know that they are dangerous and you should take precautions. If you don't know they are dangerous you are lulled into a false sense of security.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Within the Eternity gallery we have a small area where people are able to record a one-minute story about themselves or their own lives. In 2001 when Clinton Gage was a nine-year-old who was mauled by dingoes on Fraser Island and killed, a number of stories were recorded in the gallery at that time, of people essentially apologising to you saying, ‘I just had no idea and never believed that a dingo would do that’ or ‘could kill’ and this kind of thing. It was a time where people reassessed their evaluations of their own judgements that they had made about you. Did you have people writing to you about that particular incident as well?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Yes, that one and subsequent ones. There was the little girl at Geelong at the parents' farm at Christmas a couple of years ago with a dingo cross, which was a farm working dog and tied up, and she got too close. What makes us say that a wild animal won't do something like that, when over and over again we hear stories of family pets attacking. A number of people wrote in to me telling me stories of - one was a grandmother and one was a mother - where they had lost their own child, and one of them was to a terrier they had owned for about seven years and had been fine with the first baby. I guess it got jealous with the next one.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It's a remarkable thing. Just changing tack slightly, when you read about your case one of the things that can horrify you most is about justice and the jury system, because it does make you think. You do try to imagine what if it were me or what if I was sitting there? There was an interview where one of the jury members in your trial said during the media interview, ‘The jury system we currently have has to be the best in the world because everybody has the opportunity to have their innocence proved,’ which horrifies you. Then another member of the jury is also said to have boasted to his neighbours that he was glad he was on the jury so that he could get the bitch. He also was reported to have said that to police quite openly. Do you think there was ever a chance in your case of the jury system working, of finding people that had not been saturated -
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: There was a cartoon out that appealed to me that I saw, which was two big burly Northern Territory policemen and a swaggie in the middle of the desert saying, ‘Lindy who?’ and underneath it had, ‘Eleven more to go’. I felt that, ‘Yes, that is just about it too.’ I have heard from friends that the Northern Territory still do filter their programs up there. If something about the Northern Territory came on 60 Minutes down here it would not appear in the Territory so that the people didn't know. They would either do a rerun or put a different story in; it just didn't appear. So information that the south was getting, the north didn't get. So it went by word of mouth.
When you have one out of every three people in the city of Darwin depending on the government for their pay packet - if you weren't in a government job, you were married to somebody that was in a government job or related to someone in a government job or you were their next-door neighbour. Darwin has grown a bit more since then, but that was the situation. So if you went against the government you were literally out of a job. So you were either working in the government, in the police force or in the prison force. It made things really difficult.
One of the prison officers had a son who was a policeman, and every now and then she would sneak around and say, ‘Don't tell anyone I told you but …’ and ‘I will get into real trouble if I let you know, but this is what is happening behind the scenes and you might want a bit of a heads up.’ I always knew what their answers were going to be months before they gave them. People down here would get all excited that maybe she's coming home. But they'd say, ‘No, the more they would push us to do something, the more we will dig our heels in because we're not going to be told by them down there what we do up here.’ It was pretty much the southerners against us.
So you have the Northern Territory wanting statehood with some 300,000 people in it at the time, and they wanted the same rights as the states of New South Wales or Victoria. I don't think they went about the right way of doing it because what they did proved they weren't grown-up enough to have that statehood.
I know Coroner Barritt was given the cold shoulder after that. He got no more promotions. A lot of his peers would not speak to him. He said what he did about the forensics, not because of our case but because our case was just one more. He was so frustrated about the sloppy forensic work that was done up there in the Territory; he hoped this had enough national pressure to get a proper forensic [scientist] in the Northern Territory and that it would benefit them. But they dug their toes in to go the opposite way around.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It is a frightening thing when you read through your story, because people still have that sense that science will give us the truth in a case; the forensic science will sort this out. When you hear that DNA evidence was found at the scene of a case, immediately you think, ‘Oh well, that is sorted.’ People still have a lot of faith in forensic science to sort it, yet your own experience is one that must make you shudder when you see things like CSI and this kind of thing, because they are all still people?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: It is one of my favourite programs. Interestingly enough I had always been fascinated with forensics and police work. But you do see programs like CSI and think, ‘You do it like that’ and it all fits into place. Maybe that is one of our problems because we tend to see real-life events in a one-hour TV program. You get the problem and then within the hour you get the solution and can sit back and say it is done. Real life is not like that. Sometimes you have to wait a tremendous amount of years, and often people are dead before something comes up again.
When that Erin Horsburgh came forward and said she was Azaria and was going on about DNA tests to prove it I got some very irate letters saying, ‘Why don't you have DNA tests?’ We did DNA tests. In fact, don’t quote me on this but I think it may have been the first case in Australia where DNA was actually used in court. It was in the very early days anyway. Two of the men in our case were ones that were in the forefront of that in Australia. At that particular time everybody wanted me to do an interview and I thought, ‘All right I am getting enough hassle here now to open my mouth again,’ so I rang one of them and said, ‘Look, I know we had DNA tests but just give me a little more information so that I know what I am talking about here because I know it is not open and shut like this.’
They were going to do DNA tests on Azaria's clothes and find out if there was dingo DNA on there and they had said, ‘No, it is not worth it.’ At the time I had said ‘Why not? That proves it.’ They said, ‘No, it doesn't.’ Well, why doesn't it? They told me, ‘Just because DNA is on there doesn’t mean it takes you any further, because anyone or any thing that has come into contact with those clothes will have DNA on it.’ For instance, if you prove there is DNA and then the Crown turns around and says, ‘Yes that is because they are outside and a dingo walked past a week later. That is how it is on there.’ So it doesn't advance you anywhere.
By the way, when you talked about jurors saying you can prove your innocence, you are not supposed to have to in Australia - but we did. That is the French system. We forget that as Australians a person is innocent until they are proven guilty.
So I thought I will get some more information about DNA. He said to me, ‘I will give you an illustration. It is very simple. At one stage we wanted to see if we could get Tasmanian tiger DNA to study them a little bit further. There is a pelt in one of the museums in Tasmania which they were given access to. They did 100 DNA tests and not one came back as tiger DNA. They were all human DNA out of 100 tests. You could get lucky and it could be your second test or it could have been the 101st test.’ That gives you an illustration of just what it was like. This was people brushing it, walking past or whatever. Just because you have the item doesn't mean you are going to get the answer that is the right one. So it is very tricky.
Even when you take a test, there is no give or take in a test - I am talking generally here not just about a DNA test - there is still error of the operator and there is still personal interpretation. When you get tests like Joy Kuhl did, which were done without proper controls, without the proper mixture and without experience enough to know what she was actually doing, she sat in front of the jury and talked to them like children. The juror that has come out and spoken has said, ‘She just talked to us and explained it right the way through and we understood it. She drew pictures and we knew what she was talking about. The other men used all these long words and we didn't have a clue.’ What did she do? She cut out what the local paper had put in it, which was police dictated, and that became her ‘what happened that day’ It was literally newspapers stuck into her scrapbook.
So when you say you have a jury of your peers, no, you don't because those people would have had to be experts. This was the first case in Australia that relied heavily on forensics and it had more experts that usual anyway. You would have had to have doctorates in 15 or more fields to begin to understand the forensics without going into the eyewitnesses or anything else.
A trick was used which is perfectly legal. We look at our system and say, ‘This is great. We are going to get a fair trial.’ But no, you are not because there are so many loopholes and twists within the system. The trick was they put all the eyewitnesses on during the first day and a half and then spent six weeks on forensic evidence. By the time you are confused with that, you have forgotten what the eyewitnesses have said. It gets buried.
They did things like saying, ‘We won't bring the Aboriginals up here because you have to get permission for the women to talk away from their tribal grounds and you have to have the right interpreter because they should talk through a man. Unless the tribal council gives them permission to talk, they will sit there and tell you whatever and they will be very hostile, because they are not supposed to be doing it culturally.’ So they said, ‘We are not going to call them in.’ You get all those sorts of things. They said, ‘If you call them, we’re going to point out the fact that they will turn up, and he'd been drinking the night before with his mates so we will say, “He's too drunk to know what he's talking about. We will belittle them.”’ So we said, ‘All right, we are not going to call them because that is not fair to call someone who you know is deliberately going to be belittled.’ One interesting thing about tribal Aboriginals is that they don't lie. It's the mixing in with whites that make them like that. So if they say a certain thing happened, they don't expect to be questioned on that. That's what happened and that's all there is to it.
So they tendered all the Aboriginal evidence of following the tracks, seeing where she was put down, knowing which dingo it was, where it went and everything else and said to the jury, ‘Here's this’. I talked to them afterwards and they said, ‘Oh yes, but we didn't think we were allowed to read that.’ It was very clear in court that they said, ‘There's that. You can read it at your leisure.’ But when you are in court and you are given a 15-minute break, your mind is whizzing and you are glad for the break. When were these people going to have time to read all this paper? That is a whole swathe of evidence that you don't get, because that's the legal way to do it in court.
Of course, if you don't hear the evidence in open court the reporters don't report on it and you as public never hear it. You hear weeks and weeks of all this terrible forensic material but you don't know the way the system works, so you are looking at a case saying, ‘There must be something terribly thing with this. There is some huge mystery here,’ when there is no mystery at all, other than the fact as to why people wanted to twist it around.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It dominated the case in the end, didn't it? There are people who are still unaware there were people at the camp site who from day one supported your version of events and who never questioned that a dingo had taken Azaria, and that was the whole camp site. Everyone at the camp site agreed with you and supported you right throughout this entire process. I think people sometimes don't even realise that such people existed, because what they remember is the arterial spray, the supposed bloody handprint on the back of the jumpsuit that turned out to be sand, and that a dingo can’t slice a jumpsuit this way. They were the elements that people took up and remembered. They forget the people, which is really interesting about the way that people remember the case now.
It is also that thing about interpretation. I think it was Errol Simper who covered the case for the Australian and he was initially convinced of your guilt largely on the basis of the forensic evidence. But then he said, ‘The forensic evidence was so strong it made me realise later that experts are very equivocal people. They can have all the letters after their names but, at the end of the day, the expert who is guaranteed not to be wrong has yet to be born.’ It is lovely to read these things again in hindsight.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: It is nice, especially seeing he had a habit of turning the chair in front of him around, putting his feet up on it and going to sleep. One of the judges did a similar thing and the inquest just went on in front of him while he slept. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?
SOPHIE JENSEN: It is horrific. One of the things that you wonder about is how on earth you survived it all. I look at the ‘bad taste’ T-shirts in the collection now and I know they were on sale in the laneway right next to the site of the royal commission.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Right next to the door. People were wearing them at the door that you walked in and out of.
SOPHIE JENSEN: Every day you walked past those being sold or worn. I wonder how on earth you didn't just scream in anger and attack them.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I think I wore my teeth down a bit grinding them.
SOPHIE JENSEN: A question that people are interested in is: how do you think you managed to survive it? You became an incredibly tough person; you gave this incredible persona of being someone that would be able to cope with it all. Looking at it now, do you think ‘how did I do it’ or do you know how you made it through?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I guess I know how I made it through, it was God's help basically. I always thought to myself - minister's wife or not - if anything happened to my children that would be it, God is out the door, forget him, because he should have looked after my kids. I just knew within seconds, ‘I have to rely on God here. He's got to help me through this because I can't do it on my own.’ It was just overwhelming that it was that or suicide basically on the spot. Many is the time when I have said …
SOPHIE JENSEN: It's a good thing to be able to talk about the faith thing but it's a really hard one because it is the most personal element in terms of talking about losing your child and how you did it. Everyone here thinks that you have been very brave talking about that to this point.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I have literally had to say, ‘Help me get through this 30 seconds’ and then pray again for the next 30 seconds. There were some days when that was the only way I could get through it, particularly one patch in prison after the failure of the High Court. You know the evidence is there; you know they are refusing to look at it; you know you have kids that need you; yet your hands are tied - you can't do anything. A lot of people were praying for me. You could feel those prayers too, and that helped me get through it. But you can't just rely on other people; you have to rely on your own prayers and your own walk with God.
It's a day-to-day thing. You don't just develop it when something awful happens. You can say, ‘I haven't got a bad temper. I know how to hold my temper.’ If you can still hold your temper when somebody is jumping up and down on your foot and laughing at you and you can still hold your temper, then you can say, ‘I can hold my temper.’ It comes with practice in the little things. I think faith and trust in God is the same thing: it starts with the little things and it works up.
This case to me has been a bit like eating an elephant. If somebody said to me, ‘You have to eat an elephant,’ and served a whole elephant on the table on my plate - apart from the fact that I am a vegetarian - I'd say ‘forget it’. But one meal at the time, one bite at a time, you can eventually eat an elephant - and that's how this case was. I am glad that we are unable to see into the future to see what happens and what is coming, because I don't think you would get through it. But if you can do it one step at a time, then you can go through it.
SOPHIE JENSEN: I am aware there will be some people that would like to ask you some questions, Lindy. One of the questions that fascinates me is the fact that it is 27 years ago this year that Azaria was taken, yet one advertisement was all it took in a paper to sell out two sessions of a talk with you, which is lovely because it must make you feel still popular. It's something for people to think about: why does this case still have this hold, this fascination, over people; why are they still interested?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: How about they tell me?
SOPHIE JENSEN: That’s what I was going to say. To start off the questions from the floor I would be really interested to hear if anyone in the audience has an idea as to why they think it still is a fascinating thing today, and what this case has for Australians and Australia that makes it something that is still discussed and analysed to the extent that it is.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: If someone has an answer to this, I am interested.
SOPHIE JENSEN: If anyone has an answer for that one, I would love to hear it.
QUESTION: Hello Lindy, my name is Jane Barnett. I am the mother of three boys and I do a lot of work with young children. I am also a maternal and child health nurse who talks to parents about children's safety, which is one of the things that I spend a lot of time doing. I even talk to parents about magpies swooping their children. As parents we are constantly interested in how wild animals, the animals around us, impact on our children. I think it's very relevant because of the animals we have in Australia coming face to face with us, who are used to living in a urban, safe environment. I think it will always hold fascination for parents who take their children out to the national parks. I think that will always be interesting.
SOPHIE JENSEN: I believe you still receive letters from parents who - their baby turns nine and a half weeks - and all of a sudden it hits them that could be my baby?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Yes, there is that. I think it happened to you.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It did.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I have a lot of letters like that. It is interesting in saying that about looking after your children. The night before we had been in an area out by ourselves where we had camped out. We had slept the children in the car so that they were away from ants and snakes - never even thought of dingoes. But when you get to a camping area and you are supposed to be safe - we thought a tent was safe. You can't be too careful; you simply don't know.
QUESTION: We went on a family holiday through Central Australia and we just had the normal tent in a camping area and often we would sleep on the ground in a tent. We woke up at Kings Canyon one morning and there were dingo tracks all around where we as children were sleeping. So we never doubted that there were dingoes out there impacting on families and coming up quite close to people, because it could have been us. There was a sense of that could have been us.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Certainly I have had letters from people on stations from the early days - men and women aged 80 and over - about experiences from when they were small and they were not happy stories. Why they have been buried in Australian history, I don't know.
QUESTION: Lindy, my name is Shirley Sutton. The reason I am here today is it is very different when you live so far away from something so tragic that happened for you and your family, and I wanted to come today because it brings it home in a very real way just what the difficulties were for you. Unless you hear that story, it's fine reading things in the paper and listening to the news, but you don't know what you are hearing is the truth. I believed from the very moment that accident happened that it was a dingo who took Azaria. So in my small way I believed in God that he would give you the help that would get you through. One thing I want to ask: were you ever given the opportunity to grieve for your baby? Because with all that going on, it must have been enormous.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I find it interesting when people say, ‘Are you ever given the opportunity to grieve,’ because it makes me think that people say, ‘All right now it is time to grieve. Go and sit over there and grieve.’ Grief is not like that. Whether you are given the opportunity or not or whether that process is skewed by other events, you still grieve. You might go through it quicker or you might go through it over a longer period because of it, but you still grieve. You can't do a person out of that grieving process. It is very different for every person. We often hear about the steps of grief - you go through, this and then this. Even though that has gained a lot of popularity, the experts realise that is not really true. Some people may only go two or three of those steps. Others might go through those and half a dozen others, and they are in no particular order. Sometimes it takes years and sometimes it takes a very short time.
Grief is not just related to loss of a loved one. It can happen from the loss of a job. It can happen moving from one town to another. It can happen from loss of a pet. A simple definition of ‘grief’ is a change in expectations which causes us some form of trauma. We often tend to think that one person feels grief because you can see them sitting crying in a corner, whereas the person standing with a straight back and dry eyes staring out the window doesn't care. That is not true. The person that is standing staring out the window could have a much deeper grief than the one who is crying and it may be more long-lasting. Most people, even those who appear to have a stiff upper lip, at some stages have their times of crying or whatever it is that they do for their own grief. Because we are all different personalities and we all face grief a different way, you don't know how you are going to face grief. Even though you think you know yourself, you do not know how you are going to react until it happens to you. You are not necessarily going to react the same way if it happens to you twice. Both experiences could be different.
One of the worst things is when we look at a person and we say, ‘I wouldn't react that way, therefore they are wrong and they are not acting normal.’ That is something that the press likes to tell you and you like to jump into those situations. But what is normal? Who knows what normal is. What is normal for you is not normal to somebody else, because we all live life so very differently. Even though you may have been married to somebody for 30 years, it doesn't matter. More than likely you are going to go through grief very differently and not necessarily be able to help the other person go through it. It is no good getting cross and saying, ‘You just do it this way.’ It doesn't happen that way.
As the public we have to be extremely careful. It is very nice for people to say, ‘Such and such happened and I knew by looking at you that you couldn't do it,’ or ‘Look at the bitch, she's really hard faced. Everybody knows she did it.’ It doesn't work that way either. You can't go on looks. As much as one way seems nasty and the other nice, both are equally naive positions. You need to keep an open mind unless you have been there and have seen what happened and have looked at all the evidence. There were people reading the evidence in our case very accurately, because they didn't look at the screaming headlines and jump to a conclusion. I think in modern society most of us get our exercise jumping to conclusion rather than in the gym.
If you look at all news - different magazines, online, television, and radio - you will find there are a lot of facts in the same story that will change. He was 26, he was 21, he was 32, he was 17 - who knows how old he was. The only thing is the reference to ‘he’, so it's a male and that much you know. Then you go on to have a look at the next sentence. In all those stories there will be one or two facts that are the same. That is the fact that you can believe; the rest is just filling.
We tend to forget that the news is a business like anything else, and you have sell your product. If you don't like what you are getting, it's your fault because you are subscribing to the product. If a sitcom comes on, it's not funny and you don't watch it, it disappears in a hurry. If there is a type of news that comes on and you feel it is not accurate and you're not getting the right thing, if you don’t go on to that channel it will change and it will become what the public wants, or it will disappear.
So it is no good grumbling, ‘Look what we are getting now. We are getting all this terrible stuff and we are hearing nothing but crime and murder,’ that is what you are asking for so that is what is being produced. As hard as that fact might sound, that is what happens. I know when Rupert Murdoch took over in Australia he would walk through the newsroom and say, ‘Change that headline to this,’ and in our case it was still in the days of where they used the online news service. So you could send a photo through the wire, and the more times you sent it through, the more it accentuated shadows and lightened the light patches. So it didn't matter who it was, you could make them look like a murderer with the number of times you were sending it through. I have seen photographs of myself that I haven't even recognised but it says underneath that it is me so presumably at some stage it was.
Another thing was swinging reporters. They were paid to serialise the news: to make me look guilty one day and innocent the next so that you would buy the next issue, the next magazine. That has become so much a part of the news these days that I think we are barely aware that it happens. But you can get anyone to look like anything. Every time I cried it got edited out because they said the public would be irate at them if they put it on. When it came to the royal commission, it was all right to show me as human so all of a sudden you started seeing that back footage. You started seeing smiling photographs or whatever. Before that if I smiled, I was uncaring; if I cried I was acting.
Just one little story that might interest you: when the inquest went to Ayers Rock and they were going to have a view, there are some news crews who were very good and they would say, ‘Okay, between this point and this point you are ours. Out of that we won't hassle you. As long as you walk from there to there and we get our daily picture, you are okay. The rest of the time you are off limits.’ There were others who would be waiting at your door to go ‘click’ the minute you walked out. I know there were four-inch headlines at one stage: ‘Lindy answers the door in bare feet’. Where is the news in that? Who cares! Right down at the bottom after a full front page it said, ‘Lindy refused to be interviewed.’ But they had a full story and they had an exclusive because I said, ‘No, I wouldn't talk to them.’ That is all you have to do for an exclusive interview.
When it got to Ayers Rock, we had all driven four hours, we were having lunch and were starting at 1 o'clock. There are picnic tables at Ayers Rock in one particular area and we were all sitting around having lunch. A number of reporters said, ‘Look if the guys from so and so come, get ready to go because they just don't play by the rules.’ We had almost finished lunch and one of them said, ‘Here comes so and so, get out of here.’ We were with our lawyers and driver and we just threw everything together. We literally grabbed the corners of the tablecloth and threw it all in the car. We were pulling out as they arrived. The headlines were, ‘Lindy picnics at her daughter's death site’ or something or other because these guys had seen us. So people think, ‘How could you do that, fancy having a picnic there? I wouldn't do that.’ But you don't know the story behind it. All you see is the headlines.
They wanted something that night at what they called the re-enactment, which was no re-enactment. Everybody was sitting around to see whether or not you could read by the light, because we had said you could read by the light. Then they said, ‘We went back and you couldn't see.’ If I went there now after having that light shining in my eyes and giving me spots for the last half hour, I would walk into that light and wouldn't be able to see a thing, which is what some of the police did. They came from lighted hotels straight in to the darkness. We, on the other hand, had been there for three hours. Our eyes had adjusted and we could see quite well.
First of all they stood in a circle around poor Coroner Barritt. The minute he went to open his mouth - they have big aircraft landing lights on the top of their cameras to make it light enough to view at night and they all turned them on. They were all in a circle so they were facing one another and nobody got any pictures. Coroner Barritt couldn't see and said, ‘Now I can't see a thing.’ Then we had to wait another half hour and it was quite obvious reporters were wandering around taking notes. We said, ‘Look, ask the guys to read their notes back, that will tell you whether they can see or not.’ They said ‘Oh yes’, and they were reading them back. After the first inquest they refused to do that so there was great debate as to whether it was dark enough or light enough or whatever.
But during that time what they called the barbecue were just gas bottles where you could cook your food. It was not a barbecue party like a lot of people concluded. There was also a low, flat, long open fire with concrete across the top that was about six feet long. They were all milling around waiting for a chance to get this big expose photo. There were four photographers in a row. One of them went to step back and stepped into the guy behind him who lost his balance, and he knocked the next one who knocked the next one who almost fell full-length along the barbecue.
Our local pastor was there, he’s an ex-New Guinea missionary. It is all very solemn and everybody is a bit tense, and when you are tense you have a tendency to get the giggles or something like that. He just said very drolly, ‘Nearly had long pig’, which is what the New Guinea headhunters called white men when they eat them. I knew that and I immediately burst out laughing. I saw the cameras go up but I was quicker and put my hand up like that. I knew I couldn't have a picture in the paper of me laughing. When I got home there was a full front-page picture with the title: ‘Lindy's agony’. They had got this shot and it looked like I was crying, except my mother had realised and said she's laughing. I came home and told them the story, and they were right. That is how you can skew anything to go with what you want. They wanted the sad picture, it made me laugh and did the same thing.
QUESTION: I recently read Joanne Lees’ book about her experiences in the Northern Territory. In reading that it struck me that the way she was blamed for her boyfriend Peter Falconio's death had so many parallels with the way the Northern Territory justice system didn't work and should have worked -
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Same people working on it.
QUESTION: That was going to be my question: did you follow that case and did that bring back all the awful things that happened to you over that time?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: You probably tend not to follow some of those cases as much as you should. But with some of the evidence - and I get told of behind the scenes stuff too because of who I am and people think I will be interested in it, which I am, so I hear some things that you don't even hear - it was fairly clear early on when you were watching the news that Joanne Lees was not involved. That was even looking at her reactions but, more than that, looking at the reactions of those who found her that night, the truck driver and the hotel people. If you looked at the evidence and know how people look, you could tell that she was in shock. It's not so easy to fake that type of shock.
You can look at something like that and say, ‘Anything that comes from here on is going to be blown up’. Then when I looked and saw some of the people involved opening their mouths I went, ‘Here we go again’. And then you switch off because it makes you angry to see people who should be out testing boot polish or something still playing with people's lives.
We have no system in place in Australia for people who consistently do things the wrong way. I am not talking about a genuine mistake or somebody that is willing to say, ‘Yes, I made a mistake here’, but someone who consistently does things wrong and maintains, come hell or high water that they are right, even when they have been proved wrong - then I think those people should lose their credentials. There is some move in Australia to have a governing body in this type of scientific work.
I would like to see a panel of experts who go over forensic evidence first so that instead of the Crown and the defence having both their experts and the person who is not an expert trying to work out who is telling the truth, have that evidence go before a panel who listens to it all and says, ‘Scientifically this is the only view that can be accepted here,’ and that is the one thing that goes in front of the jury. If that happened then we would begin to get some form of fairness within our courts.
I can certainly see there is a case for having the three to five judges without a jury like they have in Europe. When you sit there day after day, you get to know what's a scam and what's just put across. You get people like [barrister assisting the coroner] Des Sturgess in our case who said to his witnesses, ‘When I signal like this, you stop not mid-paragraph, not mid-sentence but mid-word, shut up.’ That's how you stop them from saying the other half of the sentence that would have helped the defence. That sort of thing is legal. But it is not moral and it's not right. That is how our system works.
You get up and take the oath, ‘I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,’ but it's a load of rubbish. You are only allowed to say what they let you say. You try and get anything in at the end, unless you have the knowledge that you can turn around and say to the judge, ‘Your Honour, I have something I would like to add and make a statement,’ you are not going to get the chance. And even then often they will say, ‘Hang on, the other lawyer is to come and I am sure he will lead you through.’ But he may not have had access to you and he may not know what you know - as was the case with Murray Haby, the school headmaster and Queen's Scout who tracked the dingo. He had seen the spots of blood and he had seen where Azaria had been put down -[ and he had told them that. But they didn't hand anything on to us. We didn't know of his existence.
When he was in court my lawyers said to me, ‘Lindy, who is this guy?’ I said, ‘I don't know. I have never heard of him.’ They said, ‘Are you sure you have never heard of him?’ and I replied, ‘No, no one I have met. I am sure.’ Well, he turned out to be the people we were looking for that had come from the next caravan along and that I shouted out to. I had no idea what he had done after that. I just knew that he was probably the third or fourth person to go and search that night. He sat there in the court like this and, if anybody ever looked guilty of lying, he did. I just sat there and watched him and thought: ‘I hope he feels my eyes on him and he feels uncomfortable.’
Then right near the end he turned around and looked up at me and just stared at me. I thought: ‘You look at me because you are lying, and I hope you feel uncomfortable.’ Then the Crown made one mistake when he said, ‘Anything else?’ And up came his head and he said, ‘Yes, I found the dingo tracks with blood beside them and where the baby had been put down.’ You could have heard a pin drop. It was phenomenal. I stared at him. I looked at my lawyers. Our lawyers looked at me and I signalled that I didn't know anything about it. They immediately asked to adjourn for a moment. Our lawyers came out and said, ‘I can't believe that they have sat on this and not told us.’
We would never have known except the Crown’s guy had said, ‘Anything else?’ In the corridor outside you hear Ian Barker saying to his junior, ‘What the dot dot dot. Who needs the defence when you are working for them on our side.’ I think God made that slip-up so that he could get it in. From talking to Murray later, and we have got to know him since that time, he said he was so uncomfortable because he was trying to work out where he could get that in, even though they had specifically told him: ‘Do not say that. We are not interested in the dingo, we don't want to hear about it, keep your mouth shut.’ But we had seen this signal going on. It wasn't until one of the people came and told us what it meant, and then we knew to mark down in the question where he did that so that we knew to ask, ‘Was there anything else on that subject?’ to get the other half of it. I think it's a game.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It's a pretty horrible game. We are running a bit over. I think there is time for one last question.
QUESTION: Lindy, on the morning after Azaria was taken I was staying with a sister of mine who is one of your mob actually - she's Seventh Day Adventist. Let me say from the outset that I have the utmost respect for the Seventh Day Adventists. I had had experience with dingoes. I worked in the Channel country in Queensland. A lady up the back said about seeing tracks around the tent. I have certainly had the experience of waking up and seeing dingo tracks around my swag.
But I was skeptical of your claim. I was also involved with the Queensland police. I had worked on the periphery of a number of homicide investigations. When my sister told me that a child had been taken by a dingo at Ayers Rock I said, ‘I would be having a pretty close look at that if I were the investigating officers.’ However, on the news that night I learnt that the dingoes there were semi-domesticated and later on I was to read Derek Roff's comments when he asked for permission to shoot some of the dingoes because he did say he feared for the life of a small child or baby. I looked more closely into it and followed the newspapers. I found that [journalist] Malcolm Brown seemed to be the only person who recorded it accurately from my understanding.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: There was him and also Kim Tilbrook from Adelaide.
QUESTION: I became quite convinced of your innocence. People were saying, ‘Look it is only circumstantial evidence,’ but it wasn't even circumstantial evidence. All the evidence indicated your innocence.
On one Saturday some time after your incarceration I went to the first public meeting in Queensland in relation to the finding of your guilt. I didn't go there intending to talk. Most of the people who did speak were speaking about the history of dingoes having attacked children, so I thought there was enough of that. I got up and spoke about the lack of continuity of possession of exhibits that Joy Kuhl was responsible for. Joy Kuhl was a professional witness, but I seemed to recall she destroyed some of the slides on which her tests were made.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: How about she destroyed the lot.
QUESTION: Did she destroy the lot? I think she used the o-toluidine method.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Yes.
QUESTION: Lindy, thank you very much for the privilege of listening to you here today and for the honour of being able to actually speak to you. It is so marvellous. I am one of the many mothers who had … at the same time. I identified with you. I felt the injustices with you, the powerlessness and the joys when you were released.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: You are an incredibly strong woman. I am impressed with your lack of bitterness and your ability to laugh at the tremendous injustice. I am so ashamed to have been Australian at that period of time. I think if anyone deserves an apology from the government, it is you.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: I would like to hear one from the government. They tell me if I want an apology I have to ask for one, and I maintain it's never an apology if you have to ask for it. A true apology is voluntary.
QUESTION: What's happening in your life now? We have read your autobiography; we have lived your life through identifying with you. Can you give us some positive feedback for the future now and that everything has worked out? We need a happily ever after.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: Who knows about the happily ever after - life changes from day to day and let's hope it doesn't have too many more kicks. Last year Rick and I finally got to the position where we had a full-time income for the first time since 1980. We have been through some really rough times. People look at you and say, ‘You are on the television so you have to be rich and you have to be famous.’ You don't have to be either. I have seen some very famous actresses wait until everybody has left some important event that they like me have borrowed the clothes for - they wait until right at the end so nobody sees they are travelling in a little beat-up Morris or something like that. You don't necessarily have to be rich, although some of them are lucky that they are.
It's been really difficult getting work. When I married Rick he was working at the time and we didn't think there would be any problem. But within a few months of our engagement he lost his job because his boss couldn't handle the media attention on his workplace because Rick was there. From then on it was like ‘nobody wants to employ you’. Rick has had jobs that he has applied for and they have said, ‘Yes we would like to have you. You have all the qualifications, but we know you don't have to work so we will give you $10 an hour so you can say you are working. It's nice of you to volunteer.’ You can guess what he said to them. They think you live on thin air or something or other. So we have had to create our own job.
I was sitting on the bed last night trying to get the paint out from underneath my toenails so it wouldn't show today because we renovate for a living. Rick does anything with saws, hammers and plumbing tools. We usually manage to twist Aidan's arm, because he's an electrician, to get him to do the electrical work. Rick can, and you are allowed to in America, but you are not allowed to here so if Rick does anything we have to get Aidan to come and look over it later. I do the painting, the interior decorating and the landscaping. Rick was hoping to be here today, but the carport got sent up too late. He is spending today finishing that off before he flies down and starts work on his other job on Tuesday.
QUESTION: You are living in Australia now. I thought you were living in America?
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: We have been back for about eight years. We live in the Hunter Valley but we have been living in South Hedland which has been about 39 degrees so it's been fairly cool for up there yet. It's a good place to renovate in the mining towns at the moment and that's helped set us up. It has been very good but it's been a lot of hard work. I am nearly 60 and sometimes think I am getting too old for this, but there were no workmen so we did it ourselves. Normally we would contract it out and just do the fun parts.
SOPHIE JENSEN: It's a nice way to leave it in terms of life goes on. Lindy, I am sure that everyone would wish me to say thank you so much for sharing all of your stories with us today; not only being so open but also being so generous by having such a wonderful sense of humour about it all, which is startling and amazing to anyone that has read anything about your story. It's a real privilege to have you here. Everyone is thrilled to have had this opportunity to finally meet the ‘Lindy’ that they have read so much about. Thank you very much for coming.
LINDY CHAMBERLAIN-CREIGHTON: The other one that is not in the news.
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Date published: 7 December 2007