Conducted by Detective Graeme Charlwood on October 1, 1980
(Portion of interview concerning the day of Azaria's disappearance)
Charlwood: 'What I'll do first, I'll just get you to go through what happened from here to the incident so that I - '
Chamberlain: 'From the time we left here?'
Charlwood: 'Well, just very briefly.'
Chamberlain: 'Fine. Okay.'
Charlwood: 'So we can work out, leading up to Ayers Rock, then in some depth there. Just so that I can get a clear picture of what happened, and then we can get another statement.'
Chamberlain: 'Yes, all right.'
Charlwood: 'We could start on the statement first, but then things could get out of sequence, I guess. During this, I'll just make some notes, so my memory's clearer. So, you left on what day?'
Chamberlain: 'I was just trying to work it out. We left Wednesday morning. We would have left Tuesday, but the dry-cleaner's had the blankets, and we had to wait till the following morning. So we left here, I suppose it would have been about nine, and we headed more or less straight through. Stopped at Tennant Creek for a while had a look around. Camped at the Oevil's Marbles that night. We actually camped out that night. She slept in the car.
And the following day on to Alice Springs, Stayed at Heavitree Gap, in our other tent. Looked around town that day, and we had a petrol-pump fault, which we had to get fixed. Fixed it up on Friday. Stayed there that night. We were going to stay the following night, but the rodeo was on and it was rowdy, so we decided to take off. We left, probably about lunchtime Saturday. We got there just after sunset. We tried to beat the sunset, to get the sunset on the Rock, but we missed out that night. We pulled in at the ranger station. I suppose it was three quarters of an hour after the actual sunset by the time we got there, at a guess. It was dark, anyway. You know, the glow had gone. The camping-ground was crowded out. There were, I don't know how many, bus-tours. It could have been anything up to eleven of them there, I guess....
The next day my husband got up with the sunrise. And then we took off around the Rock at about, I guess, ten by the time we started. Maybe it was a little bit later than that. We went around, had a look at the Brain. That side around. We came back. No, we stayed, went up the Climb. My husband went up the Climb, and I waited down with the kiddies. Then he took Aidan and Reagan up. Then we took some photographs. No, the photographs we took of Azaria were in between him coming down and the boys going up....Then he came down - so we all came – Reagan was down there with me....He'd had it, by this time, because he climbed the hard section three times in the one day. He was feeling tired. And on the way home I said to Michael I'd promised the kids they could have a look at the water out there, because they reckoned there wasn't any. We were going into Maggie Springs, and we were sort of looking to see where it was, and we saw the bus pulled in just ahead of us. No, it pulled in just after us. We pulled in, saw the sign, then the bus pulled up, and actually they got into the Echo Cave before we did.
And there were some tourists there, and a couple about, I suppose, mid forties, with a child of, I'd say, eight, and another about ten or twelve, walking around the rocks. We met them at the back of that Fertility Cave, and we were standing there talking and looking around, and wondering what the Aboriginal legend of the rock above was, and where the Echo part of it was. And I looked -I sort of sensed as though I was being watched - and I looked up. I would have been standing about where the corner of this desk is, I think. On a rock, just above, there was a dingo looking down over the top at us.'
Charlwood: 'This is, what, sort of right at the back of the Fertility Cave?'
Chamberlain: 'Yes. Well, you could get in it either way. But we had come through the cave. Half of us went through, and half of us went back again. Michael went back around the other way, and the kids wanted to know what the cave was.
And I said, "Look what's watching us." And we all stood there for at least four minutes, maybe longer, watching this dog. There was a crevice just beneath where it was, and Reagan was moving around, and it struck me at the time it was odd, because he said, "Where is it, Mummy, I can't see?" The dog would usually follow movements with its eyes, but it didn't seem to take its eyes off me. It made me feel a bit creepy, which I thought of after. Azaria was with me at the time. She was with me - unwrapped and awake – sitting across my shoulder, looking about....'
Charlwood: 'What time was that?'
Chamberlain: 'Sunset was six-thirty. I would have been bathing them somewhere between quarter to six and six o'clock, I should think.... Meanwhile Michael started to look after tea. Then I picked the baby out of the carry basket in the car, took the carry-basket into the tent, and then carried her down to the campsite. She had wind. I was patting her, walked around with her for a while.'
Charlwood: 'And what time was that?'
Chamberlain: 'It was dark. Between seven and eight. She finally went to sleep. At a rough guess, she would've been asleep half, or three-quarters, of an hour before I put her down. Another young couple arrived there and were using the opposite stove to cook their tea on.'
Charlwood: 'This is in the barbecue area, directly down from your camp?'
Chamberlain: 'Yes. They had a little eighteen-months-old baby girl. And there was a dingo in the area, actually. It had been there the night before. We'd been talking a bit about them, because the hikers that had been camped around there the night before said to us, "Don't leave any food out, because they scrounge for it." And we'd read the notices in the toilets, and I'd only seen them that afternoon. We were actually watching this dingo, when Aidan spied some sort of animal. He didn't know what it was. It turned out to be a little kangaroo-mouse. The husband of the young couple was sitting on the fence, about that far from the railing that goes around it.'
There was a post in between us. And all of a sudden he said, "I think that mouse is here by this post." Before Aidan got there with the torch, this dingo pounced in, right between us. Say, so far from his feet and so far from mine. We'd had no idea it was there. It was so quiet, and was gone. About a quarter of an hour after that, Michael and Aidan had both finished tea, and Aidan said he was tired and wanted to go to sleep. I hadn't had my tea; I wasn't very hungry. Michael said, "You'd better put her down and have your tea." So I said to Aidan, "It's time I put Bubby down." I was thinking to myself, I'll spoil her. He said, "I'll come up with you." I had the tent zipped up with Reagan there, because of what
The day before we'd had a rubbish bag beside the stove, and we'd gone away to get something or other, and come straight back. And an animal, a camp dog or a dingo, I don't know which, had tipped it all out, spread it all over the ground and made a real mess. I'd got a plastic bag, so I jammed it as tight as I could in a sort of open-fireplace by the tent.'
Chamberlain: 'Yes. Over by that concrete...thing'.
Chamberlain: 'Michael said he'd seen a dingo the day before doing the same thing to others. We picked all that up and put it back. Of course, because of this I thought, well, they're scavenging for anything. If they go for nappies, you know?
The kids' shoes were all along the front of the tent. Reagan was inside. I zipped it up. When I came back, I walked up with Aidan. We both climbed in the tent. And he got his parka off and dumped it near the door of the tent, where Reagan's was, and started to get himself into bed. I put Azaria down and tucked her in. I put her down in the things I had her wrapped in, and just put a blanket over the top.'
Charlwood: 'She was, at that time, wearing what?'
Chamberlain: 'The clothes or the blankets?'
Charlwood: 'Clothes. '
Chamberlain: 'She was wearing a throwaway nappy, a sing let, white stretch. suit - it was all white, with white booties underneath - and a little white matinee-jacket, with very pale lemon edging around the collar and cuffs. It was one of those matinee-jackets that's just got two or three buttons on the yoke, and then none coming down, and the button holes were a bit loose. She was wrapped up as I showed you this morning, in the blue bunny-rug and the larger of the two blankets. She slept with her arms up, and her head on the side, and her arms would be this angle, and her head back that way.'
Charlwood: 'She had her arms level with her head?'
Chamberlain: 'Yes, or slightly back a bit. And then Aidan said, "Is that all the tea I'm getting?" He's at that stage, where, periodically, he decides he's got hollow legs, because he eats a huge feast, and he's still hungry. So I said, "Well, I'll get you some more. What would you like?" He didn't know. He rather likes baked beans.
So I went out to the car - which reminds me, Michael had a slide taken about midday, that day, with the car parked where it was, and the tent set up - yes, I went back to the car and got the baked beans out, came back to the tent. Actually, .the car door would hit the tent, so I was right beside the tent at that stage. I saw nothing in the area. Anywhere. There was not a sight or a sound of a thing.
For some reason or other, I didn't zip the tent up again. I was planning to get his food and then bring back the tray with me and let him have it in the tent. I had decided by then I didn't want anything much, probably just watch him, and then go straight to bed. And I walked back to the barbecue area. I can't remember now if we climbed the fence, but I think we might have. I was going to chase him, and he went one way, and I went the other, to see who got back fastest.
We climbed over the fence, on the right side of the gas bottle. Walked around on the side where we had our things, and the can opener was sitting right on top. I put the can of beans down, picked up the can-opener. And my husband said to me, "Bubby cried." I sort of paused, and said to him, "Are you sure?" She was sound asleep. He said, well, he heard a cry. And the other fellow sort of indicated that he'd heard something, whether he heard a cry or not I don't know. So I said, "Well, I'd better go and see." I put the can-opener down, walked back across the gas bottles, climbed the fence, and I was halfway between the fence and the post, on the way to the tent, and I saw the dingo coming out of the tent. And it had its head down, and it was in the light from about there up. Because the tent was being - You've probably got all the measurements, but say the tent was about that far back from the post-and-rail fence, and the bushes came right up to the fence, and standing back further, you could see into the tent. When you got close up, the shadow was shining right down to the front of the tent, from this post-and-rail. It was sort of obscuring the view just where I was standing then, because there was this biggish bush in front of me. And, when I saw it, it was going like this to get out.
And I thought, It's got Michael's shoes, because his shoes were right beside the door. It was a young dingo, and my first thought was either it was a young one, or still a puppy. It would've been so high at the shoulder. Gold. Its coat was in beautiful condition. It wasn't one of the mangy ones around there. The light was blinking on it, so it must have been a shiny coat, and it wasn't dusty, or anything like that. Around its neck it was, I'd say, like a rust. It put its head down.'
Charlwood: 'When you first saw the dingo, it was still inside the tent?'
Chamberlain: 'It was still inside the tent, its head was out, and it was trying to get something through the doorway and swinging its head around, now with its head down. That's what made me think it was a shoe, and I thought, He's got it by the shoelace, and it'd be swinging, and he can't get it through the door. The dog wanted to get out. It was unzipped, not only down the middle, but at both sides, across the bottom.
And I yelled at it, because I thought it would drop the shoe. As soon as I saw it, I started to run. And I yelled. I can't remember what I said. But I think I said, "Get out." Or, "Go." I think I said, "Go on," to it. Sort of yelled, "Go on, get out."
Then I realized. I thought to myself, the kids. There's no food in there. The shoes. And I thought, well, she cried. So he must have disturbed her. And then it sort of flashed through my mind that they're wild. When she first went to sleep, she would sleep very heavily, and he would have to actually touch her to disturb her. I thought, well, a wild dog. It could have bitten her. The only thing visible is her head. She'll need, she'll need, first-aid. As soon as I reached the front of the tent, I could see the blankets scattered. Instinct told me that she wasn't there, the dog had her, but my head told me it wasn't possible. Dingoes don't do such things, and this was, you know, just beyond the realms of reason. And I dived into the tent just to make sure. I could see from the door that she wasn't there. But my mind wouldn't accept it. And I dived in, actually felt in the cradle for her, to make sure she wasn't there. And as I backed out of the tent I felt with my hands, in the blankets that were scattered, and the sleeping-bag, just in case I frightened it off, and he dropped her, and one of the blankets was completely covering her. Being so tiny she didn't make much of a bundle. And if he dropped her? Anyway, and I briefly glanced at Reagan on the way out, and he had his sleeping-bag hood up. No damage to the sleeping bag. There was no skin showing anywhere on him, and I remember it flashing through my mind, well, he's all right, because the dog couldn't see anything of him.
And I backed to the door of the tent, feeling as I went, and as I stood up in the opening, I called out to Michael that the dingo's got the baby. And as I was calling this, I started to run in the direction that the dingo had gone, because as it came out of the tent - as I was running towards it - it went out the tent and across in front of the car, which from my direction was right, and ran off into the darkness. It was under the shadow of the fence at that stage, and I didn't look at it again. My interest was what was in the tent, because immediately my thought was to get out after it. I felt within myself that she was dead, because if she was alive I'd have heard a whimper, or a cry, or something, unless by some miracle she was unconscious and still alive. And Michael called to me as I was running across there and said, "What?" So I said something to him. And again, "The dingo's got the baby, quickly!"
And that was all in the matter of the time coming out of the tent and around at the other corner of the car. The dingo was standing in the shadow of the car, at the back, the back left-hand corner of the car. And as soon as I peered around the corner, it took off. It was standing with its back to me, with its head slightly turned at that stage. I couldn't tell you whether it had anything in its mouth or not. My mind refused to accept the thought that it had her in its mouth, although I knew that must be it. I didn't know what I was going to do when I caught it, but I was going to.'
Charlwood: 'At that stage, you could only see the back of the dingo and its head, when it was at the back of the car?'
Chamberlain: 'Well, I could see all the dog in the shadow. I was standing here, and it would have been slightly on an angle, with its head partly turned, and it took off at an angle. Say that's the car, here. I was coming around, here. It was there. The road was here. It took off across there [demonstrating]. I took off, up this way, and when I got to here, in the meantime Michael came from the barbecue, straight through this way and caught me: "Where?" And I said, "That way!" And he went up in the dark, and he ran out without his torch. I'd stopped, because I realized there was dead silence. You couldn't see a thing, you couldn't hear a thing. The light from the barbecue didn't show anymore, there. I realized that there was just no hope of finding it. We needed a torch. We'd searched for ours earlier. Couldn't find the little one we were using. We went to get our big one out. We've got one of those Big Jims. Something had been packed on the button and flattened the battery, and the one we had was just about flat. That's why we were looking, because I realized that our torch was useless, and it sort of went through my mind, Nobody's going to believe me. They'll all think I'm either drunk or I'm joking if I go to the tents and tell them to come. It's just going to take too long. I needed help now. So I just stood there and yelled as loud as I could, "Has anybody got a torch?" because the dingo had the baby. "Has anybody got a torch!"
It was almost as if people had them on their laps. There were three torches that came almost immediately. They must have been sitting beside their torches, came out and called to me as they sort of ran towards me, "Which way?" And I said, "It's gone in there," and pointed to the direction as they went in. Michael realized he couldn't see and rushed back to the car. By this time, the lady in the tent beside us called out, "Have you gone for the police?" And I said to her, "No, it's only just happened, and we need a torch. We've got to look for her, if someone could go?" And she said, "Well, would you like my husband to go?" And I said, "Yes." And she ran back for her torch and for her husband, and she came back and she said, "He's going straight around for the police and ranger." Michael was back by this time, and we offered him the torch. It was one of those fluorescent ones. And the only thing that did penetrate into his mind at the time was that they don't give enough beam. They shoot around, but it's not a beam. And we went to our car and looked for a torch, and asked people if they had torches could they go and look....' About that time, Michael went back out, with a torch. They would've spent, I don't know, quite a few minutes out there. Say ten, fifteen minutes. Then the police arrived and the ranger was there within two or three minutes after him.
By this time, there would've been anything from thirty to fifty people out with torches, looking. Then the police went around and got more, and they just kept coming from the bus tours. Within the hour there would have been about two hundred or more, out in different directions.
And Michael said, "Did you check to make sure she's not there?" And I said, "Yes, she's not there, but do you want to come back and look with me, just to make doubly sure that there's nothing I've missed?" And we checked the tent again. And as we were crawling out of the tent the second time - he had the torch this time, and he was using it everywhere, just to make sure that there was nothing - he shone the torch on the end of his sleeping-bag, and I saw the drops of blood which I hadn't seen before.'
Charlwood: 'This was on the one that he was sleeping in? His sleeping-bag?'
Chamberlain: 'His sleeping-bag.'
Charlwood: 'On Michael's?'
Chamberlain: 'There were only half a dozen of them or so. We didn't see anything else at that stage, and he said to me, "Look, Honey, she's bleeding, so I don't think there will be any hope." She also had a very - a very - tail end of a cold. She was just sniffling, and it had been very, very cold when I changed her nappy earlier on. Because of the cold she had, and the temperature - which had frozen the water around - we had a saucepan half full of water the night before, and it had frozen ice on the top of it. I said to him, "With the cold she's got, if she's alive anywhere, we've got maybe three quarters of an hour, an hour and a half, for them to find her, or she'll be - she'll be either - have very bad pneumonia, or she'll be frozen to death, with no blankets on or anything. After about two hours we just hoped that we would never - We initially said to the police if they found anything of her, it didn't matter what it was, we wanted to see her. Then we decided that, if they found her, we'd like to see something of her clothes, but we didn't particularly want to see her, in a morbid state at all. As the night wore on, the ranger said he felt that they wouldn't find anything. He said we'd be very lucky to find clothes; it'd probably taken it back to its den. Very occasionally they would savage without killing. Then he was asking heights - And I said to Michael that I had no reason to say that, except for a mother's instinct that I felt it was a female that had taken her that it was like the first dingo we had seen at Maggie Springs that afternoon. And Michael said to me, "Now listen, you be careful. It's one thing to say what you saw, and it's another thing saying what you suppose to be. If you go around saying it's the same as that dingo, there seem to be dozens of dingoes around here, and they all look alike, you know. You're getting into the realms of probability." So I never said anything about that then. Although the next day, when Inspector Gilroy came and talked to us, and he asked me to describe the dog at the barbecue, I said to him, "Well, it was so like that one I'd seen at Maggie Springs, even when I saw it coming out of the tent, I thought, Oh, you're the rascal we saw this afternoon. But it's a bit far away, I guess. They're too alike, around here. And when they said, afterwards, that they'd found the clothes near Maggie Springs, I said to the inspector, "Can you tell me if they were found just behind the opening of that cave? What do you call this cave?'
Charlwood: 'The Fertility Cave.’
Chamberlain: 'And the inspector said, "Oh, it wasn't far from there, as a matter of fact." He said, "You're thinking what I'm thinking. I remember you saying to me that it was so like that dog, and your husband shutting you up." And then afterwards, discussing different things with the ranger. He was talking about that, the different habits, the different heights, and etcetera. To my mind it was a female. Of course, you know, it's supposition. Of course, you probably know more about that than me, by now.'
Charlwood: 'No. I don't know a great deal about the dingo. What, then, was the baby wearing when it was taken from the tent?'
Chamberlain: 'I've ready explained to you, before. The booties, stretch-suit, the singlet, a throwaway nappy, and the matinee-jacket. '
Charlwood: 'The matinee-jacket.'
Chamberlain: 'They've got them all back, except that matinee-jacket, and it wasn't a tight one. It had light elastic around the wrists and the buttons were loosish. So there is as much chance of it being off on a bush, on the way from the Rock somewhere, as there would be down a den, and left away from the other clothes, I should think.'
[Short break. Charlwood is joined by Sgt. Morris.]
Chamberlain: 'When will the inquest be?'
Charlwood: 'The coroner hasn't fixed a date yet.'
Sergeant Morris: 'You know what the finding will be?'
Charlwood: 'So, on the Sunday night?'
Chamberlain: 'Michael said, by his watch, when it happened it was about eight-thirty.' So the searching went on into the night. At midnight the ranger came back and said, "I feel that there's not much chance of finding her," What went on from there?'
Charlwood: 'So the searching went on into the night. At midnight the ranger came back and said, "I feel that there's not much chance of finding her," What went on from there?'
Chamberlain: 'Was it the ranger, or the police? I don't think we saw the ranger again that night at all. The police came back two or three times. We didn't see the ranger until the following morning. We'd seen both police, off and on, and they said that by the habits of the dingoes in that area there wasn't much hope of finding her at all, and it's cold. Now, Aidan - which I missed out, before - Aidan, as I came back to the tent, I hadn't realized that he was following her, following me. But as I saw the dog, I'd glanced back to the others as I told them. They looked up, and I said that a dingo was in the tent, and I glanced back, and noticed Aidan was four foot, six foot, behind me, following me back where he went then I don't know. He wasn't near the tent. He must have been coming, but he didn't get into the tent when I was there - Reagan is still there. Reagan is still there - and - I knew Aidan was there, and - he came running out from around the car. He must have been near the tent, or looked in the tent. I don't know. As I came back, these people were starting to come everywhere, and he arrived, to me, just before the lady who asked if I was sending for the police.
Aidan is actually the type of child that when, well, if he cuts his foot he goes hysterical, and he didn't that night. In fact, it amazed me. Shock, I suppose. He came running out, and he screamed at me, and he said, "Mummy, don't let the dingo eat our baby!" He put into words what my mind wouldn't accept. There's no doubt in my mind that he was quite aware of what had happened, and what was going on. I explained to him, then, that I wanted him to stay back. I didn't know whether to stay with him, or go and look for her, or what. And the Western Australian lady said to me, "Don't worry about him. I'll look after him. If you want to go out with your husband and look, you can." And we went looking, and Aidan was still standing around there, but I was cold, and he had taken his parka off to go to bed already, and I said to him, "I want you to go and get into bed," and I told him what was happening. And I said, "There is nothing we can do, the policeman's coming soon, get into bed." Because if Reagan woke up he would be frightened. Reagan slept through the lot. And I said, "I want you to be there so Reagan's all right, because he knows you." Aidan didn't want me to go away, so I said, "I'll be just out there, where I can see what's happening. If I go away, the other lady is going to stay right there on the fence, where you can see." Well, he was still awake around the twelve o'clock mark, I should think. I thought he was asleep a couple of times, when I nicked in to get tissues and all, popped back and checked him each time.
I went out with Michael. We both went together, looking, and we came back about every half hour to check if the police had come back, or if anybody had found anything. And we stayed close then, in case they wanted us, back and forth. We could hear them. People were doing other things. We were out by ourselves.
We stayed out, ourselves, until somewhere between eleven and eleven-thirty, if not longer. But we didn't want to look any more after that. Michael said, "I'll quite down, someone else might, but I don't want to." I think perhaps too, the initial shock was wearing off, and he sort of realized just what he might find, and didn't want to, so he stayed and sat on the fence. Then Bobbie, the nurse, went around to find a motel room for us.'
Charlwood: 'When did she arrive?'
Chamberlain: 'Could have been anything between nine and ten o'clock. That's a wild guess. She stayed with us for a while and then she went away.'
Charlwood: 'Where had she gone?'
Chamberlain: 'She went somewhere, to the motel, I think. Then she came back, and she said she had a place for us. And the policeman was coming over to pick up our stuff. I think it was quite a while, somewhere between twelve and twelve-thirty we packed up. We decided to pack the lot. I went with the policeman, and took some things in the back of his car, and the rest we just threw in the back of our car. I took the kids in their sleeping bags. And Michael grabbed the last few things, and came in our car. The Western Australian lady, and the other lady, said they would tidy up our dishes at the barbecue for us, and send them over in the morning. They sent everything back except the tin of baked beans, which I thought was rather diplomatic of them. And I think we finally settled, by the time we were all ready, at about half past one, or just before. I was the last one. It was half past one when I looked at my watch, just before we climbed into bed....'