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A dingo took the baby

It's unusual to see office workers in Sydney gawking at TVs during their morning coffee break. There's no sport on then.

Last modified: 12 Jun 2012 14:51
Photo: Andrew Thomas

It's unusual to see office workers in Sydney gawking at TVs during their morning coffee break. There's no sport on then. But on Tuesday morning, it wasn't sport Australians were interested in. It was the words of a coroner, in Darwin.

Her words were - in theory - the last words; the definitive conclusion to a saga that transfixed a nation for more than 30 years. A dingo DID kill Michael and Lindy Chamberlain's baby.

What was it about the case that made it as iconic for Australians as their Sydney’s Harbour Bridge?

Partly, it was the setting - in the shadow of Uluru, the rugged Outback heart of the nation. It was a mystery set in a place most Australians revere but rarely visit.

Then the cast of characters: a pretty young mother with a strange religion, who didn't seem to care enough nor cry in front of the TV cameras. And the elusive dingo – an iconic Australian animal, but not one thought, in 1980, to attack unprovoked.

Most countries gather a few "did they/didn't they?" stories that become part of the national narrative, that lodge in the collective consciousness. At home, they become conversation-starters with strangers; to people abroad, they are a little of what people know about your country.

Perhaps America’s most famous was the saga of OJ Simpson. Britain’s include the disappearances of Lord Lucan and, more recently, Madeleine McCann. The "dingo baby" was Australia’s. This coronal inquiry was almost certainly its final chapter. Those office workers gawking at their TV sets were watching a little bit of their national history conclude.