A true story: The dingo did it

Drop the Dead Dingo is the title of my unpublished novel.

It’s unpublished because I wrote it in three months to meet a deadline. I met the deadline, but lost the narrative along the way. Eight months after I handed it to the first publisher (two more also rejected it), I read it and realised where I went wrong. It’s a novel about television, but I forgot the most important thing: to tell a story.

I’m working on the rewrite now – very slowly – but when I’m happy with it, I’ll try sending it to a publisher again. If they’re still publishing books, that is!

All of this is a long introduction to this week’s blog: The dingo did it. I wasn’t going to write about the fourth and final inquest into the death of Azaria Chamberlain, because everybody else has.

But then I thought about it, and when baby Azaria was taken by a dingo (I can say that now without an “allegedly” modifying the verb) in 1980, I was still working for The Australian, and I remember some of the legendary journalists who covered the story, the trial, appeals and the royal commission. They came back to tell stories of some late-night carousing in the Northern Territory.

Errol Simper, who writes the excellent “A Certain Scribe” column in The Australian’s Media Section, wasn’t one of the participants in the carousals. Errol covered it from go to whoa for the Oz, and has a good comment piece in the paper today, saying the coronial finding, aside from confirming that a dingo took their baby, “also said Azaria’s long-suffering parents, Lindy and Michael, are honourable people who’d always told the truth.” (I couldn’t find Errol’s piece on The Australian website. It’s a sidebar to its main story on page 3: http://bit.ly/KAHGVa  The picture above accompanies the story, showing Lindy displaying Azaria’s death certificate, with Michael to her left, lawyer Stuart Tipple, and son Aidan. Photo: Katrina Bridgeford)

And the truth was that the Northern Territory prosecutors never really believed a dingo did it, and had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Chamberlains’ camp by the sheer weight of evidence. The Deputy Coroner, Elizabeth Morris, delivered the finding and an apology the Northern Territory Government still doesn’t have the graciousness to issue on its own. An emotional Ms Morris said to the family in the courtroom: “Please accept my sincere sympathy on the death of your special and loved daughter and sister Azaria. I’m so sorry for your loss. Time does not remove the pain and sadness of the death of a child.”

The media was sceptical at the beginning of the dingo that stopped a nation, and there were quite a few dingo jokes. Journalist and broadcaster Wendy Harmer apologised in a column on her website, The Hoopla, for her comedy routine at the time: “Lindy, Michael. I am truly sorry for the hurt I caused you, your family and friends. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.” (http://bit.ly/KDFDxP ) She also apologised this morning on ABC local radio’s breakfast show on 2BL in Sydney, where she and Angela Catterns are stand-in hosts for Adam Spencer.


Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton told Tony Eastley on ABC’s AM program today it took a “huge amount of courage” for people to admit they were wrong. She added: “And there was a media personality yesterday, good on her, she’s only the second one ever to do so in the media.” (http://bit.ly/KA3d08) That was Wendy Harmer, the first was former Channel Ten news director, Kevin Hitchcock, who told smh.com.au he apologised during a media scrum in 1986: “The reason I apologised to her was that I’d worked out by then that, based on the evidence, she wasn’t guilty. And I felt embarrassed to be part of a media pack that had been chasing her and Michael around the countryside wherever they went and pushing cameras in front of their faces and making their lives absolute hell.” (http://bit.ly/L5JDwO) The apology marked the beginning of a long friendship.

I have been a sceptical journalist for forty years, but I can’t remember if I believed a dingo did it. I did come across quite a few dangerous dogs during my jogging days in the US and I believed it was possible a wild animal could have carried away a baby. But like Errol Simper, I became a true believer as time went by, mainly because Lindy and Michael got better at telling the media their story, which also happened to be the truth. And most of my media mates started to believe it as well – even those who, according to Lindy, “sat in court and literally went to sleep and had their feet up on a chair and then ran out and said, “What did I miss? What’s today’s headlines?” Most of the journalists I knew like Errol, Tony Eastley, and Malcolm Brown (of the SMH who also covered it from beginning to end), stayed awake and on top of the story.

And, just in case you’re wondering, the “dead dingo” in the opening paragraph was based on one killed by a ranger on Fraser Island after the dog had taken a child. It was part of a Sunday program week in review that was running long, and I had to delete a story. “Drop the dead dingo,” I told the editor, and immediately knew I had a title for the novel (there was a British TV series called Drop the Dead Donkey). If only I had a publisher.

And finally, I was chuffed today when I discovered Bill Bradley, the professional basketballer turned US Senator and presidential candidate and author, had retweeted (@BillBradley) a link to my blog from last week (http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-5I) in which I had described him and Hall of Fame baseballer, Stan Musial, as American heroes (they are also two of my heroes).

It doesn’t get any better than this. Thanks, Senator.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s