It is a bright and cold and beautiful June morning in New South Wales’ Hunter Valley when Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton comes to the phone and describes the view from her window.
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton in Darwin last week with Azaria’s death certificate.
“I look out to the mountain and the ribbons of mist in the morning. There are kangaroos, wombats, possums, fruit bats… I even saw a quoll once. They eat everything I plant. I have two days grace when I see the fruit ripening and if I don’t get in quick, they eat the lot,” she laughs.
We settle in for a good, long (very long, as it turns out) chat on the themes that interest Lindy most these days – forgiveness, healing, faith and justice.
We talk a lot about justice.
At the moment she is updating her book A Dingo’s Got My Baby with what she calls the “epilogue”.
The last version of the book left the reader with uncertainty. An open finding. Now Lindy feels she can at last write “The End” after the fourth inquest into her nine-week-old baby’s death.
Thirty-two years ago, Azaria was killed by a dingo. The end.
“My book’s called A Dingo’s Got My Baby because that’s a real story, it’s not just a comedy line. It’s my life. Part of who I am,” Lindy explains. “It’s my phrase. I said it. I’ll use it.”
“It’s done. This era’s over for me now, although I’m not naïve enough to think other people will let it go. I don’t suppose Australians will ever ask: Lindy who? My story is probably woven into the lore and fabric of Australia now, a bit like Ned Kelly.”
Just as opinions are still divided on Ned Kelly, she acknowledges that Australians either love her or hate her.
However, she relates with a laugh that her husband Rick has put a magnet on the fridge that reads: “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”
Lindy mentions a forthcoming television interview to be given by her ex-husband Michael Chamberlain and hopes the era is finished for him too.
“We’ll find out, I suppose,” she sighs.
It’s rumoured that Michael will ask for a formal apology from the Northern Territory Government for the family’s suffering. When I suggest it, Lindy replies smartly that she “doesn’t want to go there”.
“Forcing people to apologise is no good. In another 30 years we’ll all be dead. Time to move on.”
“I could handle things he couldn’t and he could handle things I couldn’t,” she says of Michael. “And sometimes it gets to the point where a couple can’t relate and have to rely upon friends or the strangers who come out of the woodwork.”
She is steeling herself for some sort of “backlash” from Michael’s interview, but if it does come, she will be ready with an arsenal of techniques she has gathered over the past 32 years to bring her to where she is now.
To a place where she has some wisdom to impart.
So we start with forgiveness.
I’m under no illusion that I have been given the chance to talk to Lindy by her representatives because when the coroner’s verdict came out I made a public apology to her for a comedy routine I performed about her in the 80s.
But still, it was surprising when the call came: “Would you like to talk to Lindy?”
We’ve never met that I can recall, although Lindy thinks we were once sat at opposite ends of a table at a birthday party, the Logies, a Women’s Weekly event? Neither of us can remember where or when. But we do agree that for a big country, Australia’s a small place.
Too damn small at times. I’ve been around long enough now to know that you say something rude about someone, they will surely hear of it.
I tell her the reason that I said sorry was that, when I looked back, I felt I’d been part of an unedifying free-for-all and I really should have known better.
She’s not about to give me absolution and say: “Thank you, Wendy. Good girl. Here’s a pat on the head for you.”
“You joined the mob mentality and you knew better than to do that,” she says. “That’s your lesson and it has absolutely nothing to do with me.”
Lindy and Michael Chamberlain talk to the media after Azaria went missing.
She’s been amused by reporters who interview her and interrupt with a mumbled: “I’m sorry too.”
“There are the ones who mean it and the ones who are just saying it because it’s popular, some afterthought. They’re not genuine. It just makes me laugh. You really can tell the difference.”
However, the outpouring of public emotion over the past days since the verdict was something she wasn’t expecting.
“I was really surprised that so many people felt so much relief at the verdict,” Lindy tells me.
“There was a massive level of personal ownership in what happened that so many people had. It was like a huge sigh of relief. The verdict was cathartic for them.
“I honestly didn’t know that. I had no idea. So many people said they were ashamed.”
But again, she is steadfast about her philosophy of forgiveness – that it’s not up to her to make anyone feel noble.
I suggest that perhaps many in Australia would like to hear her declare, publicly: “I forgive you.”
“If I say ‘I forgive you’, that in some way is setting me up to be better than you. That’s not my role. I don’t have that power. You have to forgive yourself,” she says firmly.
As for the haters who have found their voice to come back for another snarl and snap?
“I’m not letting anyone rent out my headspace any more. I’m going forwards, not backwards and I choose not to let these people disturb me.”
It’s a statement of some bravado and, when pressed, Lindy does admit that sometimes she has to give herself a “little lecture” to get back on track when people say things that remind her of the “horror”.
There was a time, long past now, when the public judgement did get her down.
In her darkest moments she turned to an envelope given to her by her late father that was stuffed with inspirational sayings from The Bible and snippets of wisdom. She dipped into it and always found something to buoy her spirits.
“My father always said: ‘Honey, you’re a bright girl. You and God have the ability to do anything. Don’t let discouragement grab you’.”
That’s her mantra: I choose not to be upset. I will ignore this. It is who you are. Not me. I am moving on.
She has the same clear intent of purpose when it comes to grieving: that it is in the past.
But that doesn’t mean she forgets.
“When the 17th of August comes around (the date of Azaria’s death) I don’t say ‘boo, hoo, I should cry today’. I like to remember her birthday instead. A happy day. Why would anyone want to make themselves miserable every single year?”
These days Lindy is often approached by those who are struggling to move on from grief and she recalls a woman who said she was frightened, as the years wore on, that she could not quite recall the face of her dead daughter in the way she once could. She was terrified of forgetting.
She admonished herself for that and was paralysed. Couldn’t go back or move forward.
“I didn’t know this woman,” says Lindy. “What was I going to say? I just told her she had to forgive herself for getting over it. That she would always remember. But that she would not find happiness as long as she lost her daughter all over again, every day.”
Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton says she refuses to be defined by the death of her child, her time in prison or her trials in the media.
She sees that combination as a rare storm, but is adamant she’s not alone in her tribulations.
When we talk about “healing”, again the analogy of a storm is evoked.
It’s something Lindy is often asked about in her public speaking engagements and so had to come up with a concept her audiences could grasp.
In was when she was in living Seattle with her husband Rick that she observed the aftermath of a fierce storm and saw the foliage had been tossed and blown to reveal bare dirt. As she puts it: “the scar of the earth below”.
Days later, the branches and vines had bounced back and the same scene had been restored to serene loveliness.
“I thought, you know, that’s just how it is with grief and hurt. It doesn’t go away. It’s there all the time. Just underneath. Superficially, it’s disappeared, but it’s still there.”
“You learn to cope, a little bit here, a little bit there, but the hurt remains and sometimes the wind blows again and it’s all uncovered – you read something; someone does or says something. It’s the old scar again, exposed and painful.
“But you learn to recover more and more quickly.
“You’re not poking at a raw wound. You can touch the scar. It will not kill you any more.”
Then there’s faith.
Lindy is a Christian. Did God send her a trial as a test of her belief?
She rejects that notion out of hand, is adamant that there’s no rhyme nor reason for the way suffering is apportioned, but that we all have our own challenges – equal to hers.
“Everyone has something in their lives that is truly hard, but I believe that God will never give anyone a burden that can’t be borne with his help.”
And what of courage, I ask?
She simply says it’s doing what you know you have to – no matter how uncomfortable that may feel. No matter how unequipped you may be. No matter how old, how young, or how shy you might imagine you are.
Can she claim the title of courageous for herself?
It’s not for her to say, she responds quickly. She just did what needed to be done at the time.
“It reminds me of prison where there was this girl who was always telling us she was a ‘lady’. We used to laugh and say: ‘If you were a real lady you wouldn’t feel the need to tell us’.”
It’s quite unnerving the way Lindy slips in and out of her time in prison. As if it were yesterday.
It’s a deeply disturbing reminder that she was incarcerated and spent three years in Berrimah Prison, convicted for murdering her baby, was escorted from prison to give birth to her fourth child, daughter Kahlia, and then taken back to her cell.
And all the while… innocent.
“There were three girls in with me who were good girls and I will lay my reputation on the line they did not do what they were accused of. One Aboriginal girl wasn’t even given a translator until her appeal was over.
“She sat with me day after day. I know she didn’t do it. She said: ‘Well that man alive before I leave.’ I believed her.”
Now what engages Lindy – apart from her art and craft and the busy renovation business she runs with her husband – is justice for those wrongly imprisoned.
She is the spokesperson for JUSTICEwa and urges me to go and look on the site.
On it she is auctioning off one of her old suits (from the 80s… size 12, she hoots!) to raise money to pursue the cases of those seeking justice.
And here Lindy’s off – speaking at length with passion and all the knowledge gained from seeing the Australian legal system up close and personal for three decades.
“A lot of people must think that if I got justice after all these years, the system must be OK. But it’s not,” she declares with passion.
“If people want to apologise… if they are genuine. Perhaps they can make a donation to the cause.”
And on the topic of money.
Being THE Lindy Chamberlain made her unemployable, for years.
Even though many Australians think she and her family must be wealthy after the $1.3 million in compensation for wrongful imprisonment, it was a sum that covered less than one third of their legal expenses.
These days Lindy uses her Flybuys and forgoes cups of coffee to save up to visit her youngest, Kahlia who lives in the Virgin Islands.
She has “taken off the fake fingernails” to get down to the task of writing a book on forgiveness and hopes to have it finished by Christmas.
She can sense there’s a hunger out there for all she has learned.
“People stop me on the street and talk to me about a child they lost, 30, 40… even 60 years ago. They all speak to me like it was yesterday.”
“Now Rick and I have the time to give something back for all our good fortune, and all the people who have helped us.”
Forgiveness. Healing. Faith. Justice.
We have come back to these words over and over again in our warm and wonderful conversation.
Perhaps there was no need to mention “courage”.
It doesn’t seem to be part of her vocabulary. Even though in mine it is inextricably linked with the name Lindy Chamberlain.
Lindy subsequently rings me after this article appears and says I left out one thing: “Wendy, you didn’t ask me if I forgave you?”
She’s right, I didn’t. That would have been an imposition, I think. And what if she hadn’t?
She says she did know I’d told jokes about her- in fact she remembers all the cartoons and comedy sketches.
“But I want you to know that I already had forgiven you. In my heart. Years ago. If people ask me directly I always say ‘yes’, because I have.”
*You can contact Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton through her website.
*Homepage photograph via The Examiner.