Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Michael Chamberlain, her former husband, arrived at the Darwin coroner's court yesterday, 15 years after Azaria's disappearance at Ayers Rock, seeking an unambiguous finding that they had had nothing to do with her death. They have always maintained that the nine-week-old child had been taken by a dingo, or wild dog.
But John Lowndes, the Northern Territory coroner, delivered an open finding, declaring he was unable to state precisely how Azaria died. Mrs Chamberlain- Creighton, he said, did not kill her daughter, but there was insufficient evidence to conclude that a dingo had done so. Far from putting the case to rest once and for all, as Azaria's parents had hoped, yesterday's verdict has opened it up to renewed speculation.
Lindy and Michael Chamberlain divorced in the wake of the legal, political and media saga that engulfed them in the years following Azaria's disappearance from the family's holiday tent at Ayers Rock on 17 August 1980. Her body has never been found.
Both parents have remarried, Mr Chamberlain, 51, to an old friend and Mrs Chamberlain, 47, to John Creighton, a furniture store proprietor in the United States, where she now lives.
Both were in court to hear yesterday's verdict, and both expressed their disappointment afterwards. Mrs Chamberlain-Creighton said: "We're pleased that the coroner has gone one step further in clearing our names. We can't say that we're pleased with the open finding. We're reviewing that at the moment. So, I guess this may not be the end of the case after all, and you may hear from us again.''
Mr Chamberlain said: "We wanted a clear statement on how Azaria died and what took her life. We seem no further advanced on that.''
The Chamberlains had asked for this, the third coroner's inquiry into Azaria's disappearance, in order to formally expunge an earlier finding that left open the accusation that Mrs Chamberlain, as she then was, had murdered her infant daughter. The first inquiry in 1981 supported the parents' claims that a dingo had snatched the sleeping child from the tent, and concluded that a person or persons unknown had intervened to dispose of the body. A second inquiry the following year committed Mrs Chamberlain for trial for murder and her husband for being an accessory. Both were found guilty.
After serving three years of a life prison sentence, Mrs Chamberlain was released in 1986 when Azaria's matinee jacket was found at the base of Ayers Rock, a vital piece of evidence which supported her claim of innocence. Although a Royal Commission inquiry later exonerated the Chamberlains, and their convictions were quashed, the outcome of the second inquiry has never been declared legally void. The Chamberlains finally achieved its burial yesterday. But they wanted more: a ringing declaration that the dingo did it.
So much time and anguish has passed since the fateful night at Ayers Rock, however, that they may have been asking too much of the coroner. Australians will continue to gossip about the Chamberlains and argue about what happened to their baby.