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The Haunting True Story Behind the ‘Dingo Ate My Baby’ Line

Ryan McLachlan
Photo Credit: Giggling Goose Productions / Fred Barron Productions / West/Shapiro Productions / Castle Rock Entertainment / MovieStillsDB and Warner Bros. / Roadshow Entertainment / MovieStills DB
Photo Credit: Giggling Goose Productions / Fred Barron Productions / West/Shapiro Productions / Castle Rock Entertainment / MovieStillsDB and Warner Bros. / Roadshow Entertainment / MovieStills DB

The phrase, “The dingo ate my baby,” or some form of it, has become part of popular culture over the years. While it has been used in various shows, often for a laugh, the origins of the line came from a tragic saga that led to the death of Azaria Chamberlain in the Australian Northern Territory in 1980.

‘A dingo ate my baby!’

In August 1980, Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, along with their children, embarked on a camping trip in Uluru. The area is also known as Ayer’s Rock, located in Australia’s Northern Territory. After putting baby Azaria, into their tent, Lindy reportedly saw a dingo, a breed of wild dog, nearby. Upon inspection, she discovered that Azaria was gone. It was at this moment that she screamed “A dingo ate my baby!”

Ayer's Rock in the Northern Territory, Australia.
Ayer’s Rock. (Photo Credit: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Despite a thorough search, Azaria was never found. The coroner’s inquest agreed with Lindy’s proclamation that a dingo had, in fact, attacked the child. It was concluded that after the attack, “the body of Azaria was taken from the possession of the dingo, and disposed of by an unknown method, by a person or persons, name unknown.”

The Northern Territory Police, however, disagreed with this decision. Further investigations led to the Chamberlains being charged with Azaria’s murder. Lindy Chamberlain was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Michael Chamberlain was later found guilty of being an accomplice and was sentenced to an 18-month suspended sentence.

In 1986, police investigating another case in the area discovered Azaria’s jacket, a key piece in Lindy’s testimony. The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory ordered that Lindy Chamberlain be released immediately and the case was reopened. In 1988, all convictions against Lindy and Michael Chamberlain were overturned.

A dingo walk on a road in the Northern Territory.
Dingo in the Northern Territory. (Photo Credit: Jarrod Amoore / Mark Marathon / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0)

For false imprisonment, Lindy was awarded $1.3 million, and after another inquest held in 2012, Azaria’s death certificate was amended to say her death had been caused by a dingo.

The case caused quite a stir, with some people standing outside of the court with T-shirts reading, “The dingo is innocent!.” Lindy also received a great deal of hate mail. One letter read, “Murderer, murderer,” while another stated, “99.5% of the people know you are guilty.”

Use in pop culture

After the phrase was popularized by the media frenzy surrounding the case, it soon made its debut on the big screen. The line was first used in the 1988 film Evil Angels, also known as A Cry in the Dark. The film, starring Meryl Streep as Lindy and Sam Neill as Michael, depicted the events surrounding the events of Azaria’s 1980 disappearance. In the film, Streep, after seeing a dingo around one of their tents, exclaims, “The dingo’s got my baby!”

Sam Neill and Meryl Streep in a still from Evil Angels.
Evil Angels (1988). (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. / Roadshow Entertainment / murraymomo / MovieStills DB)

Perhaps the most popular use of the phrase outside of the original case appeared in the 1991 episode of the sitcom Seinfeld, “The Stranded.” Elaine, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus is at a party when she utters the line, “The dingo ate your baby.”

In 1994, the phrase was alluded to in the film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, when some characters are playing charades, and one portrays Lindy Chamberlain. That same year, the episode “Flour Child” from the sitcom Frasier had the dog Eddie attack a bag of flour and Daphne, in an Australian accent, says, “That dingo’s got your baby.”

The cast of Frasier including Eddie the dog
The cast of Frasier including Eddie the dog (Photo Credit: NBC / Komond / MovieStillsDB)

The line was also referenced in a 1997 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a 2006 episode of Family Guy. In 2007, The Office became the most recent show to touch on it in the episode “Product Recall,” in which Keven, speaking in an Australian accent, says, “I like ice cream, too, mate. Alligators and dingo babies.”

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Although the quote “a dingo ate my baby” has almost exclusively been used to get a laugh, its origin was anything but a laughing matter.

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Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.