What’s the Real Story Behind the ‘Dingo Ate My Baby’ Quote?

The famous line has a very tragic backstory.

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In August 1980, an Australian family suffered a tragedy while camping in Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock) in Northern Territory, Australia. Lindy and Michael Chamberlain’s baby, Azaria, was taken from their tent by a dingo, a breed of wild dog. Lindy reportedly screamed “A dingo ate my baby!” which became a punchline across the country, and even the world.

After a wide search, Azaria’s body was never found. Even though an inquest initially accepted Lindy’s word that Azaria had been taken by a dingo, she was later accused of murdering her own child. She was tried for murder and sentenced to life in prison. Her husband, Michael, was later convicted of being an accessory after the fact. But the discovery of new evidence vindicated the couple years later, and Lindy was freed.

The whole saga exposed numerous issues in Australian society: attitudes towards women, the role of the media, the entertainment industry, the judiciary, and the process of investigations. There was even a film about the tragedy released in 1988 called “A Cry in the Dark,” with actors Meryl Streep and Sam Neill portraying the real-life couple.

The actual quote, “A dingo ate my baby,” often varies in popular culture. The night Azaria was taken, some news outlets quoted Lindy as saying “A dingo’s got my baby,” while others stated that she said, “A dingo stole my baby.” Regardless, variations of this quote became ubiquitous and often a running joke.

In 1981, due to evidence found in a second inquest after the disappearance, charges were pressed against Lindy for murder. The evidence was based on traces of fetal hemoglobin, only found in babies who are six months old or younger, found on Azaria’s clothes with a human-sized handprint, and in the Chamberlains’ car.

Much of the case was sensationalized by the media, particularly the family’s religion, which was misunderstood. They were Seventh-day Adventists, a Christian denomination that is not widely known, and is regarded with skepticism by other Christian groups, partly due to their practice of marking Sabbath on Saturdays rather than Sundays. The media speculated that Azaria was killed in a grisly cult-like ritual.

In an interview with “60 Minutes Australia” in 1986, Lindy can be seen weeping, denying she killed her child, and adding, “I loved that little girl.”

 
In 1982, Lindy started her life sentence in a Darwin prison, while maintaining that she was innocent. Michael was convicted of being an accessory to murder and received a bond.

Then in 1986, a chance accident led to the discovery of Azaria’s jacket.

An English backpacker named David Brett, had slipped and plunged to his death while climbing Uluru. While police searched for him, they found a child’s small white jacket, half buried and close to dingo lairs. This discovery vindicated the couple, and days after Lindy identified the jacket, she was released from jail. In 2012, more than 30 years later, the coroner closed the case, ruling that the baby had indeed been taken by a dingo.

The couple divorced a few years after they were exonerated. Michael died in 2017 after complications from leukemia. But he spent years trying to clear his family name. Lindy also campaigned to have dingos acknowledged as a danger to humans.

In a 2020 miniseries titled “Lindy Chamberlain: The True Story,” she opened up about the kind of hate mail she received during that time, revealing that she held onto those letters, despite the cruel accusations she heard. “Lindy, you should be hung up to the nearest tree,” one letter stated. “99.5% of the people know you are guilty.”

“Murderer, murderer,” stated another letter. “You murdered the baby because it wasn’t normal.”

Ultimately, her cry for help, so pilloried and ubiquitous in popular culture, was the truth all along.

Sources:

“AFP Forensics Recruits Get Rare Access to Chamberlain Collection.” Australian Federal Police, https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/platypus/afp-forensics-recruits-get-rare-access-chamberlain-collection. Accessed 26 Aug. 2021.
 
“‘Dingo Ate My Baby’: Sam Neill Opens up on Miniseries about The True Story on What Happened to Azaria.” NZ Herald, 27 Sept. 2020. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/dingo-ate-my-baby-sam-neill-opens-up-on-miniseries-about-the-true-story-on-what-happened-to-azaria/VDU2CBHCTIZCR35APIF7BJN2ME/. Accessed 26 Aug. 2021.
 
Gelineau, Kirsten. “Michael Chamberlain, father of baby killed by dingo, dies.” Associated Press, 9 Jan. 2017. https://apnews.com/article/f99ac4525fb6497fb082e1402655db9f. Accessed 26 Aug. 2021.
 
Kamenev, Marina. “Did a Dingo Really Get Her Baby? A Case Reopened.” Time, Oct. 2010. http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2025730,00.html. Accessed 26 Aug. 2021.
 
“Michael Chamberlain: Father of Baby Killed by Dingo Dies.” BBC News, 9 Jan. 2017. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-38554255. Accessed 26 Aug. 2021. 
 
Simper, Errol. “Discovery of jacket vindicated Lindy.” The Australian, 14 Aug. 2010. https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/discovery-of-jacket-vindicated-lindy/news-story/7ddecc2792ee7da942c0de57fd7042a9 Accessed 26 Aug. 2021. 
 
Taylor, Jessica. “All Your Questions About Seventh-Day Adventism And Ben Carson Answered.” NPR, 27 Oct. 2015. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/10/27/452314794/all-your-questions-about-seventh-day-adventism-and-ben-carson-answered. Accessed 26 Aug. 2021.