Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
Campfire for the Heart is a collection of true, international stories of
Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have an inspiring resilience story to share, or know someone who does,
please contact Natalie through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
“Get out of the shadows and into the sunshine as quickly as you can.”
In August 1980, Lindy Chamberlain’s nine-week-old baby Azaria disappeared from their tent at Uluru, Australia, triggering an unprecedented torrent of trauma for Lindy and her family. Thrust into the public spotlight, Lindy not only lost her baby, she was vilified by the media and public, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Azaria and, just weeks after being jailed for a crime she didn’t commit, she was forced to give up baby Kahlia who was born while in custody.
In 1986, after serving nearly three years in prison, Lindy was released after the discovery of critical evidence that supported her innocence. However, it took 32 years after the tragedy before an inquest finally agreed with Lindy’s constant claim that baby Azaria was taken by a dingo.
Having suffered layers of grief, injustice, deprivations and prejudice, few people in Australia’s modern history are known and admired more for their resilience than Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton.
Before we lost Azaria, we had just moved to Mt Isa in western Queensland. Like any normal family, we were all settling into the new environment and routines. Aidan was at his new school. We were getting to know our new local church. Everything was going well.
We decided that a camping trip to Ayres Rock (as it was called then) would be a great adventure for the family and provide excellent photography opportunities. One fateful night, Azaria was killed and taken by a dingo at the rock. There were many other terrible things that happened following that, but the hardest of all of them was going through my divorce with Michael in 1991.
I believe in the Ten Commandments and God’s law and therefore take the institution of marriage very seriously. I made a lifetime commitment to Michael and gave my whole heart to make it work, but there were things said and done behind the scenes that made it impossible. I had no desire to leave, but had to make a decision that was in the best interest of everyone. It was very hard.
In the Northern Territory in 1982, when I was wrongfully found guilty of murdering Azaria and sentenced to life in prison, a life sentence for white people meant imprisonment until you die, or at the governor’s pleasure. It was hard not knowing my future, but all the way through, I felt absolutely positive that God would make sure that I would be exonerated.
I recently learnt about the Stockdale’s Paradox named after someone who was imprisoned in Vietnam during the war. It describes a mindset of unyielding faith that you will prevail, but at the same time, you face the harshness of the situation presented at the time. That’s exactly how I coped in prison. I faced what I had to on the spot as best I could and looked forward to the future, knowing that God would never let evil put me through something that He and I couldn’t handle together.
Of course, that is different for every person. Evil knows your Achilles heel, but God won’t let evil give you anything that you can’t handle with his help. God loves you and is with you at all times, even though you sometimes feel like you are alone.
If I didn’t rely on God when I was in prison and let him help me through it, I wouldn’t have been able to cope and be there for my remaining children. I had to be there for my children. While I had many letters of support, I was in prison on my own. There was no one inside to support me, but God was with me. God and I knew the truth about Azaria and that was enough for me.
The big gift that came from my experiences was a greater understanding of God and his love. The hard times also gave me additional patience, understanding and knowledge of people. I often help other people who ask how to deal with problems, or how to forgive people who have done them wrong.
I tell them to forgive for their own sake. Leave the chastisement or punishment to God. It’s not our job. When you choose to enjoy life, you can’t carry anger or resentment. By forgiving, you are giving yourself permission to move on. What happened is not OK, but when you forgive, you’re not carrying it. You’re giving yourself freedom. What ‘they’ do, is not what you become. It’s on them, not on you. When people are nasty, it doesn’t mean that you have to turn into a nasty person too. You don’t have to retaliate with the same venom. You can choose to be nasty or choose not to be.
I let people’s nastiness slide off and go forward. The problem is then over. When you do this, you can get on with your life. You don’t stew over it and get ulcers. Perhaps that’s the greatest gift that prison gave me.
Forgiveness does not say that you were not hurt. Forgiveness is saying to yourself, I will move forward in my life without regret, anger and pre-occupation with this. I choose to control my own headspace and be happy. You can let your mind be occupied by regrets, vengeance or anger, or you can move on. I don’t use rear-view mirrors in life.
Pain may be a part of your history, but it doesn't have to be part of your future or your present. Hardships are a part of the foundation of who you are, but they don't have to be all you are. You don't forget, but your ability to deal with things gets better and time helps too.
Just as God and forgiveness helped me along my journey, so have persistence and determination. Inheriting my Scottish persistence from my father and grandfather, I was determined to have my name cleared not only for my sake, but for my family’s sake and future generations.
Courage was also important, courage to face the awful things that happened. When I was in prison, they initially gave me terrible jobs like scrubbing faeces, vomit and ‘snot’ off walls and floors without gloves. One time, the only tool I was given to clean it all was a toothbrush! Another day, I helped an officer carry a urine- soaked mattress to the dumpster. The urine was dripping onto our feet, sandals and arms and we were both dry-reaching, but someone had to do it! Summon your courage to face your fears and just do it. Get it over and done with.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” That’s exactly what I did. You can choose to like the things you have to do. If you have to do something you don’t like, ask yourself how you can make it better. I used to have a competition with myself about how fast I could get a job done. Soon, I could do anything asked of me.
Get out of the shadows and into the sunshine as quickly as you can. Deal with the problem, then move on. You don’t have to stay in darkness. If you stay there, you get deeper and deeper into the dark shadows. Happiness is a choice. If I feel a bit blue, I pull myself up and make a different choice. Then I realise that life is good again. It doesn’t mean that you get what you want all the time, but you don’t make yourself miserable if you don’t get what you want.
Happiness comes from the inside. It’s not something you are owed and you don’t find it outside of you. It’s a decision you make. You learn to see good in everything and enjoy what’s around you. The glass is half full. You can choose if you're going to live with anger, regret, revenge and think yourself a victim, or you can choose to be the hero in your own life, forgive the past and move on. It’s true that it's not what happens that counts, it's how you choose to deal with what happens.
Looking back, I can see that my truthfulness also helped me cope with everything. When you’re honest and true to yourself, you can look yourself in the mirror and know who you are, unashamed. Truth and justice are always important, so always stand up for the truth.
What is it like being Lindy Chamberlain today?
I’ve chosen to be happy. I found love again with my second husband Rick Creighton- God's bonus gift to me! My kids all live on the other side of Australia, but I enjoy Facetime with them and seeing them when it’s possible. We’re involved in our church community of course, and I enjoy my crafts, like making Christmas ornaments. I do some work filing for the National Library archives and I love designing house plans and interior designs for our home renovation business.
People regularly stop me on the streets and tell me what they’ve gone through, or they apologise, or are excited to see me because they feel they know me. Some people tell me how my journey has helped them. You didn’t hug people outside your family much when I was young, but these days, strangers hug me like I’m a personal friend! Initially it was a shock, but I’m relaxed about it now because I know it comes from good. In fact, it’s lovely to think that people feel this way. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and can’t stop, but I try to never be rude to people.
My final piece of advice for people who are going through a hard time is get to know God personally. Every burden you have is a shared burden. Handle it together. You are always a winner with God on your side. He is your best friend. Let go of the known for the unknown and trust God to do what is best for you. Most importantly, get out there and enjoy yourself.
Lindy Chamberlain- Creighton