Her Honour declined to find that Azaria Chamberlain’s death was the result of misadventure or accident, noting that neither of these circumstances adequately reflected the Australian context where a person’s death was directly attributable to an animal. Noting that in Australia, it was known that persons had died after being attacked by animals such as crocodiles, sharks, and reptiles, Her Honour made the direct finding that Azaria Chamberlain died as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo. Her Honour noted that the Northern Territory was over represented on a per capita basis in national records on animal related deaths.
In February 1981, in the first inquest before Mr D Barritt SM made a similar finding —that Azaria Chamberlain died as a result of having been taken by a dingo. Nine months after his Honour handed down his findings, the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory quashed those findings and directed a second inquest take place.
The second inquest was held shortly after the Court’s direction and Mr G P Galvin CM committed Mrs Chamberlain for trial for the murder of her daughter, and Mr Chamberlain was also committed in relation to a charge of accessory after the fact. They were both found guilty of those charges. An appeal was lodged but was unsuccessful.
A Royal Commission of Inquiry was held in 1986 in relation to the convictions of the Chamberlains following the discovery of baby Azaria’s missing matinee jacket at Uluru. In 1987 the then Administrator of the Northern Territory, Eric Johnston pardoned the Chamberlains. In 1988, the Court of Criminal Appeal of the Northern Territory overturned the convictions, declaring the Chamberlains innocent.
The Chamberlains subsequently received compensation from the Northern Territory Government arising from their wrongful convictions. This included a payment for their car, which was completely dismantled as a result of protected forensic investigation.
In December 1995, the third inquest, before Dr John Lowndes SM, found that Azaria Chamberlain died at Ayres Rock on 17 August 1980, but his Honour found that the evidence adduced did not enable him to make findings in relation to the cause of her death, and recorded the cause and manner of her death as unknown.
As a result of the findings made by Ms Elizabeth Morris SM in the fourth (and hopefully final) coronial inquest, the death certificate of Azaria Chamberlain now records her cause of death as the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo.
A copy of the findings can be downloaded at http://www.nt.gov.au/justice/ntmc/judgements/2012NTMC020.htm
SUE ERICKSON is an Assistant Parliamentary Counsel in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, Northern Territory.