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The Dingo Did It

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Hot Flash: An Australian coroner has finally, decades after the fact, concluded that yes, it was the dingo that killed the baby girl, not the mother who reported the dog had grabbed her as she slept. According to NPR, the “decades-long mystery over the death of a baby in Australia has been solved. Back in the 1980s, the case of an infant killed in the outback drew worldwide attention.”

Mystery my ass!

Lindy Chamberlain served three years in prison for her daughter’s murder before new evidence exonerated both her and her husband. The case became the subject of books, a TV series, an opera, and even a Hollywood movie {A Cry In The Dark}, with Meryl Streep uttering the line that’s become synonymous with Australia. (The dingo took my baby.)

Why did people jump to the conclusion that Lindy Chamberlain was lying? Why didn’t they believe her about the dog? IMO, it’s because the underlying issues stacked against her were prejudice and hostility towards mothers. So common is mother bashing in most cultures that wild dogs garner more public sympathy than a woman who just lost her baby. It didn’t help that Chamberlain came off as a cold, unemotional woman; perhaps if she’d been a warm cuddly Mama Bear she’d have gotten more compassion. But she wasn’t, and she made no attempt to fake it.

Had this been a racial issue or even one of gender, not including the motherhood role, people would have recognized the stereotypical thinking that led to Chamberlain’s vilification. Mothers, however, remain an invisibly oppressed group, despite–perhaps even because — this oppression is so deeply entrenched. Anyone who doubts this has only to closely follow this story.

Originally the coroner’s report found the Chamberlain family had no fault in this murder, but the rumors spun out of control about the Chamberlain’s sacrificing their baby girl, Azaria, in a religious ceremony, and the case was reopened.”

Even after being cleared, the media continues to refer to the parents as if their innocence is still in doubt: “The Chamberlains had claimed {emphasis mine} that a dingo opened the tent and carried off their infant daughter.”

When I saw A Cry in the Dark I was so furious I became inarticulate, unable to talk or write about the case. That feeling has dissipated somewhat, but I’m still furious, not only for Lindy Chamberlain, but for all the less extreme but similarly motivated incidents that relentlessly occur. As the mother of a child born with a chronic medical condition, I was a bigger target than most; I could tell stories to raise the hair under your arms. Even my daughter, with her wonderfully healthy and perfect specimen of a first baby was shouted at by an old man in the street for carrying her little bundle outside when it was raining!  Mothers are always on trial, always suspect. Sure, things have improved somewhat since I had babies – but will mother bashing ever stop entirely? Will people ever suspect wild dogs first, before they accuse a bereaved mother of infanticide?

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