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Azaria Chamberlain's dress

At a glance

  • Baby's disappearance at Ayers Rock or Uluru
  • Chamberlain family
  • Intense media and public speculation

Azaria taken from family tent

Small black dress with black lace trim at the neck, arms and bottom. Also has two thin red ribbon bows at the bottom and on the arms. Includes matching black bans and a pair of knitted red booties with red ribbon ties at the front.
Azaria Chamberlain's black dress, panties and booties, 1980. Photo: Dragi Markovic.
The night baby Azaria Chamberlain was taken from a tent at Uluru resulted in one of the biggest legal and media events in Australia in the 1980s.

Azaria's mother, Lindy, was cleared of any connection with her disappearance, but not before she served three years in prison for murder.

This small black dress prompted speculation that Lindy always dressed her baby in black, an 'unnatural' colour for a child.

The Chamberlain case

Lindy Chamberlain was camping at Ayers Rock, now Uluru, with her husband Michael and three children, when the youngest, Azaria, was taken from the family tent on 17 August 1980.

An initial inquest supported the Chamberlains' statement that a dingo had entered the family tent and taken the baby.

A subsequent trial found Lindy guilty of the murder of her child and she was imprisoned for three years.

Further investigations and legal proceedings eventually cleared the Chamberlains of any connection with the disappearance of their daughter.

A fourth coronial inquest, in 2012, found Azaria's death was the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo. 

Intense speculation

During the 1980s discussion about Azaria's disappearance rarely focused on the facts of the case. Speculation about Lindy's innocence or guilt was intense.

The fact that the Chamberlains were Seventh-Day Adventists led to bizarre rumours and theories.

For instance, it was said that Adventists believed in sacrificing a child to atone for sin and that Azaria's name meant 'sacrifice in the wilderness'.

The rumour that Lindy dressed Azaria in black prompted further debate and outrage.

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Sophie Jensen in conversation.
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Sophie Jensen. Photo: Lannon Harley.

'People either loved or hated it'

Azaria's black dress was a one-off creation that Lindy originally made for one of her sons.

The public comment that it generated on its first outing was nothing compared to what followed when Azaria disappeared.

For Azaria's six week check-up, both of us were dressed in our matching black and red outfits. It was the first time I had ever taken her out publicly in a little black cotton dress I had made for Reagan and it caused quite a bit of comment. People either loved or hated it.

Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton,Through My Eyes, 1990, p. 16

Controversy continues

Small pink baby's top with matching pants
The National Museum's Chamberlain collection includes this pink sundress and matching pants, worn by Azaria Chamberlain on the family holiday to Uluru in 1980. Photo: Dragi Markovic.

Controversy and interest in the Chamberlain case continues today.

The National Museum has worked with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton to compile a collection of more than 350 objects related to the Chamberlain's ordeal.

View more objects from the Chamberlain collection

The Museum and the Chamberlain-Creighton family have faced criticism for putting the collection together.

The collection was seen by some to be in bad taste, as Lindy exploiting her experience and others expressed the view that the case was too recent for the Museum to become involved.

Lindy's experience of intense judgement and scrutiny made her a perceptive collector and archivist. This black dress is a significant, evocative and moving part of a fascinating collection.

This page includes edited extracts of an essay by Sophie Jensen from the Captivating and Curious publication.