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Pencil sketch showing four people sitting behind a dock, with an olive coloured background. A woman wearing a pink dress with dark spots sits centrally, with a man dressed in a white shirt and black tie to her right. Two other people sit to her left. 'The Verdict - GUILTY!' is written in pencil at the top right, with other writing at the bottom and the artists' signature bottom left.
'The Verdict - GUILTY!', Veronica O'Leary's powerful sketch of the moment Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of life imprisonment in a Darwin court in 1982

Disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain

The disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain from Ayers Rock, now Uluru, on 17 August 1980 is one of the most infamous events in contemporary Australian history.

A complete archive of 182 courtroom drawings from the high-profile 1982 criminal trial of Azaria's parents, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, was acquired by the National Museum of Australia in 2011.

Veronica O'Leary created the drawings for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The ABC used the drawings in its television coverage of the case. O'Leary worked alongside fellow artist Jo Darbyshire, who was also employed as a courtroom artist by the ABC.

The drawings feature the key figures and moments from the trial, which resulted in Lindy Chamberlain being convicted of murder and imprisoned for more than three years. Eventually, mounting evidence forced a royal commission that resulted in the exoneration of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain by the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.

Chamberlain trial drawings slideshow

The Veronica O’Leary collection of courtroom drawings from the 1982 trial of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain feature key figures and moments from one of the most high-profile criminal proceedings in Australian history.

Although she was eventually exonerated Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder and imprisoned for more than three years.

The ink and pencil drawings are the work of artist Veronica O’Leary. Reprography by Jason McCarthy.

Slideshow

This drawing shows Michael Chamberlain giving evidence in court, with his legal team in the foreground. Ian Barker QC was the prosecutor and tried to get Chamberlain to confess that ‘the whole story is nonsense’ but Chamberlain continued to support his wife’s account. National Museum of Australia

'To take advantage of laxity in any prey species ...' Veronica O'Leary's sketch of ranger Derek Roff giving evidence at the 1982 trial of Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. Roff's quotes have been superimposed with Letraset. National Museum of Australia

This drawing depicts Lindy Chamberlain giving evidence in court, with her husband Michael listening in the foreground.

Lindy was questioned over an entire day. Minor discrepancies between her answers and her original account of events were given much attention. For example, in cross-examination Lindy was questioned for 90 minutes on how many centimetres the moving dingo’s nose protruded from the tent when she first saw it, in an attempt to discredit her evidence and disprove her story.

It was claimed that Lindy lied about Azaria wearing a matinee jacket, not originally found with Azaria’s jumpsuit, to explain why there was not more evidence on the jumpsuit of a dingo (such as saliva).

The discovery of the matinee jacket, years after the trial, eventually led to the royal commission being called. National Museum of Australia

'Professor Cameron demonstrates with doll', coloured ink and pencil drawing by Veronica O'Leary, 1982. National Museum of Australia

The anonymity of jury members is the primary reason why photography has not been allowed in courtrooms. It is unlikely that a member of a jury would be recognisable from a drawing.

Drawings such as this were used repeatedly during the news coverage, as they depict the general scene rather than a particular moment in the trial. National Museum of Australia

Pastor Mervyn Kennaway was one of the few people who knew Azaria. He ‘visited the Chamberlains at their home in Mount Isa to perform a little ceremony to celebrate the birth of Azaria.’ He also testified that Michael Chamberlain habitually drove with a camera bag under the driver’s seat.

On the night Azaria died Michael drove the car to a motel in Alice Springs. A passenger noticed the camera bag at his feet and offered to hold it so that it would not be in his way. As he was used to driving with it in the footwell he refused, but this was seen to be evidence of his knowledge that Lindy had concealed Azaria’s body in the bag.

Evidence was presented in court that the camera bag was blood-stained but this was later proven to be copper dust from Mount Isa, where the Chamberlains then lived. The camera bag is now in the National Historical Collection. National Museum of Australia

Joy Kuhl was a forensic scientist at the New South Wales health office, where many of the items taken in evidence were tested. Her testimony was crucial to the prosecution case that Lindy Chamberlain had killed Azaria in the family car and this was the only explanation for there being blood from a baby under three months of age in the car.

Kuhl’s evidence was closely scrutinised in the royal commission. Commissioner Trevor Morling QC concluded that Kuhl was not sufficiently qualified or adequately supervised to test the material associated with the case, especially given the difficulty in dealing with blood that had been exposed to the extremes in temperature of a car that was parked in full sun in Mount Isa for over a year before it was tested.

In particular Morling found that there was no blood on the area underneath the dashboard: The fact that [Kuhl] could come to such a conclusion about something which was, very probably, sound deadener casts doubt upon the efficacy of her testing generally and upon the accuracy of her other results.

This dashboard panel from the Chamberlain’s car is also in the Museum’s National Historical Collection. National Museum of Australia

O’Leary created some drawings, such as this one, for use as alternate footage during voice overs by reporters. After the drawings went to air she added the quotes from witnesses or newspapers about the case. National Museum of Australia

Lindy Chamberlain, wearing green, listens to her lawyer, John Phillips QC, give his final address to the court. Her posture conveys the exhaustion she must have felt, heavily pregnant and at the end of a six-week trial. National Museum of Australia

This drawing depicts the dramatic moment when Lindy Chamberlain was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Lindy’s face is made the focal point as the most detailed part of the drawing, along with the heavy black lines and the pink of her dress.

She would stay in prison until 7 February 1986, when the discovery of the Azaria’s matinee jacket proved that she had been telling the truth about what Azaria had been wearing and why there wasn’t more evidence of a dingo on the jumpsuit. It instigated the royal commission that was held into the case and finally the complete exoneration of the Chamberlains. National Museum of Australia

Chamberlain collection

The Veronica O'Leary collection of drawings complements the National Museum's Chamberlain collections, which include more than 350 objects related to their ordeal, and five of Jo Darbyshire's drawings already in the National Historical Collection.

The drawings present events inside the courtroom. They deepen the insight into what is likely to become the legacy of the Chamberlain case: what barrister and Queen's Counsel Chester Porter calls the 'extraordinary list of forensic blunders' that sent an innocent woman to prison, and the procedural reforms that attempted to ensure that this would not be repeated.

1982 trial

The explanation that Azaria Chamberlain was prey to a dingo at Ayers Rock was treated with suspicion by the media and public. After two coronial inquests, Azaria's mother, Lindy, was ordered to stand trial for murder.

The trial gripped the nation's attention, with developments in the case continually covered. The bulk of time during the six-week trial was given to testimony from forensics experts, who testified for the prosecution and the defence about the evidence gleaned from clothing, the Chamberlain's car, the camera bag and camping equipment that were at the scene, and the methods used to obtain this evidence. A number of these objects are in the Museum's collection.

The ABC paid for the rights to broadcast the drawings as part of the television news coverage of the events in court.

Drawing showing a courtroom scene with a man standing, in side profile, holding a small doll, with his hands wrapped around its back. The doll wears a long white bodysuit. A judge, wearing a wig and a red cape with black trim sits at the bench. Two laywers, wearing wigs and black robes sit to the right of the man holding the doll.
'Professor Cameron demonstrates with doll', coloured ink and pencil drawing by Veronica O'Leary, 1982. National Museum of Australia

Artists in the courtroom

O'Leary depicted many of the key witnesses associated with the case as they testified. The Chamberlains, the judge, jury and legal counsel for each side are also depicted. Key moments, such as the announcement of the guilty verdict, are illustrated. In some cases O'Leary added quotes from newspapers to the drawings that described the events, after the images had been broadcast.

The drawings are ink and coloured pencil on pastel paper. They were rendered quickly to capture the sense of the events as they unfolded. In a 1996 Northern Perspective article about her experience as a court artist O'Leary described the use and creation of the drawings:

The court drawings were specifically commissioned by ABC Television, and each afternoon at 3.30 were broadcast around Australia from Darwin to catch the National News. Tony Eastley presented the day's courtroom drama and drawings. Sometimes up to 15 of these would be flashed into the script. The emphasis was on quick, dramatic court-room scenes which would be bold enough for television and which would furnish a lively account of pertinent witnesses and 'turns' in the trial sequence.

This sometimes meant scribbling up 30 drawings a day to cover many possibilities so that journalists could support a particular by-line or crack some interesting angle on the case. Because of the one-and-a-half hour time difference between Darwin and the southern states, drawings had to go on air long before the court session had finished for the day. In these cases, rapid drawings of key witnesses were called for, or standard drawings of jury and Crown or Defence or the Chamberlains were used as fill-ins.

O'Leary returned to her role as courtroom artist in 2012, travelling to Darwin for the fourth coronial inquest into the death of Azaria Chamberlain. Coroner Elizabeth Morris found that Azaria's death 'was as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo'.

Sketch showing a bearded man in a courtroom, sitting in front of a microphone. The man wears a brown-coloured uniform. A judge, wearing red robes with black trim, is partially visible, sitting higher in the rear of the sketch. The words '...to take advantage of laxity in any prey species and by this I mean children and babies...' and 'I haven't the slightest doubt a dingo would enter a tent if the situation arose' have been applied over the sketch, to the right of the man who is testifying.
'To take advantage of laxity in any prey species ...' Veronica O'Leary's sketch of ranger Derek Roff giving evidence at the 1982 trial of Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. Roff's quotes have been superimposed with Letraset. National Museum of Australia

Changing art of courtroom drawing

National Museum curator Dr Anthea Gunn said the Chamberlain case was perhaps the most infamous 20th century trial in Australia, making this collection was an ideal archive with which to preserve the art of courtroom drawing.

'As media becomes increasingly immediate, cameras ever less obvious and individuals ever more used to being filmed, courtroom drawings seem increasingly archaic,' Dr Gunn said.

'The collection also presents technology on the cusp of digital transformations. The drawings were filmed at 3.30pm and broadcast to the southern states and with one drawing is an overlay of an acetate sheet with Letraset text to append quotes over the top of the image; techniques now achievable in minutes with the most basic computers.'

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