Book Review: Alana Valentine’s Dear Lindy shows us just how far the story of Azaria Chamberlain travelled

We all know the story of when Azaria Chamberlain went missing in 1980. The case was one of the most documented murder trials in our nation’s history. So there is should be no need for me to recap the baying for blood by many that surrounded the coverage.

in 2013 critically acclaimed playwright Alana Valentine secured a Harold White Fellowship through the National Library of Australia, and the permission of Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton (Azaria’s mother), to spend three months looking through a unique assemblage of letters, and to turn what she found into a stage play (and now a book). All up Valentine went through 199 boxes of letters, fabric pieces and various other materials which had been addressed and sent to Lindy. These 199 boxes had already been catalogued by Lindy to some degree, who had included star ratings and column notes. Lindy clearly had a passion for detail, with nothing discarded. These letters and materials, collected into the book Dear Lindy highlights just how far around the globe the story of Azaria Chamberlain has travelled.

Dear Lindy begins with a foreword from Lindy, before offering readers a relevant timeline of events. From there the book slides straight into the letters Lindy Chamberlain has received over the last thirty years, and cover the time of her trial, her time in prison, and her subsequent release. There are also transcriptions of interviews undertaken between Valentine and Lindy. The book is broken down into different sections such as, for example, the ‘Apologies’ section, where people who initially thought she was guilty had changed their minds and felt the need to express their change of mind in a letter to Lindy. From reading these letters it seems apparent that many wives thought Lindy was guilty, whilst husband often thought she was innocent.  Religion also has a strong presence in the letters, with many writers appearing to be quite devout.

What seems clear from the collected letters in Dear Lindy is that appeared everyone felt they had something to say about the case. There are the anonymously written nasties, where the level of vitriol is simply astounding – letters stating Lindy ought to be hung for example. Not to mention the slander, accusations and profanity of some of the letter writers. But there are a whole assortment of other letters, including those that tried to help Lindy normalise her situation by writing about their own lives. There are also letters from journalists, actors, the occasional eccentric (an Indigenous man who claimed he took Azaria because he wife couldn’t have children), the theorists, the octogenarians and the shared sufferers.

Of particular interest was the letters from key witnesses – people who had camped at the Uluru campsite at the same time as the Chamberlains. I was shocked to read that many of these keys witness statements didn’t get to court. For example, you’ll read how a twelve year old girl was grabbed by a dingo, a girl who had camped next to the Chamberlains plot at around the same time period. For my own part I was six years old at the time of the case, and I can still remember a lot of the TV coverage of the time. As we all know, what is seen on TV isn’t always the truth.

The National Library views these letters as a reflection of the attitudes of the Australian public in the 1980’s. In each instance the permission of those who wrote the letters printed was sought before publication. Lindy still receives over 1,000 emails and letters to this date, which will perhaps only escalate following the publication of this book. If Dear Lindy is only a snippet of those 199 boxes of letters, just image what else could be worth reading. Perhaps we’ll see a second book published later.

Dear Lindy is a book destined for many people. Whatever your thoughts on the case it is a very interesting read, and may very well prompt you to feel differently about the case. The thought provoking letters and interviews contained within will have you questioning many of the ideas and beliefs you’ve had floating around in your head all these years.

Dear Lindy is available now from the National Library of Australia