Michael Chamberlain dies: the Mount Isa story

FLASHBACK: Michael and Lindy Chamberlain attend court in Darwin.
FLASHBACK: Michael and Lindy Chamberlain attend court in Darwin.

A dark chapter in Australian history – and one with several pages written in Mount Isa – was closed on Monday with the death of Michael Chamberlain in NSW reportedly as a result of complications from acute leukaemia he suffered from for the past year.

Michael and Lindy Chamberlain were the parents of Azaria Chamberlain, a baby born in Mount Isa in 1980, who disappeared on the couple’s camping trip to Uluru, sparking one of the most infamous cases in Australian legal history.

Michael Leigh Chamberlain was born on February 27, 1944, in Christchurch, New Zealand, eldest son of a World War II airman, Ivan Chamberlain and Greta.

He went to Lincoln High School, Christchurch, and while he was there his mother, formerly a Baptist, joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Chamberlain studied at Canterbury University where he investigated his mother's church. He converted and in 1965 he travelled to Australia in 1965 to study theology at Avondale College.

In 1968, while finishing his course, Chamberlain met New Zealand-born Alice Lynne "Lindy" Chamberlain, daughter of an SDA pastor Cliff Murchison and Avis.

Chamberlain graduated in theology in 1969 and married Lindy in November that year. The couple were posted to Tasmania, where son Aidan was born.

In 1974, Chamberlain began his media career, producing radio scripts. In 1976 the family moved to North Queensland, where son Reagan was born and where Chamberlain continued his media activities in radio and the Cairns Post.

The family moved again this time to Mount Isa where he produced and presented a radio program called The Good Life. His work was respected for its lively and informed commentary on lifestyle and culture throughout far north Queensland. 

Michael and Lindy Chamberlain with baby Azaria's empty basket.

Michael and Lindy Chamberlain with baby Azaria's empty basket.

Daughter Azaria was born in Mount Isa on June 11, 1980. Two months later, the family went for a holiday in the Northern Territory arriving at Uluru on August 16.

Azaria disappeared the following night.

“Dingo takes Mt Isa baby” read the headline in the North West Star, August 18 and the first coroner in 1981 indeed agreed a dingo had taken the child.

How the North West Star covered the news on Monday, August 18, 1980.

How the North West Star covered the news on Monday, August 18, 1980.

However with the SDA Church still misunderstood in Australia, national newspapers fueled suspicions that the Chamberlains killed their baby possibly as a religious sacrifice.

Police received an anonymous tip from a man, falsely claiming to be Azaria's doctor in Mount Isa, that the name "Azaria" meant "sacrifice in the wilderness" (it actually means "God helped").

NT detectives came to Mount Isa to interview the Chamberlains and build a case against them.

There was also evidence presented that the tracksuit trousers Lindy wore on the night were bloodstained when taken to a Mount Isa dry cleaners two months after the incident, though this was never proven.

At a second inquest in 1982 coroner Gerry Galvin committed Lindy to trial for murder and Michael for being an accessory after the fact.

On October 29, 1982, in the NT Supreme Court, the couple were found guilty as charged. Lindy was jailed and Michael got a suspended sentence. Daughter Kahlia was born in Darwin on November 17, 1982.

In 1984 the High Court dismissed the Chamberlains' appeal and Michael resigned as an SDA pastor to look after his sons while Kahlia went to foster parents.

In 1986 after the discovery of Azaria's matinee jacket at the base of Uluru the NT government released Lindy and ordered the inquiry. On June 2, 1987, Royal Commissioner Trevor Morling exonerated the Chamberlains. It wasn’t until 2011 that the NT coroner admitted a dingo took the baby and apologised to Michael and Lindy.

But the trials put too much strain on their marriage and they divorced in 1991.

Michael remarried and had another daughter and later wrote books and taught at schools in NSW.