Her clothes, her nasally voice, her cool demeanor — it was all wrong for a grieving mother. Australians didn't understand her stoicism and recoiled when she spoke of graphic evidence clinically and without tears. "They'll just peel it like an orange," she told one reporter, describing how a dingo slashes the skin of its prey.
She began receiving death threats. People spat at her, howled like a dingo outside her house, called her a bitch, a witch and worse.
Lindy — heavily pregnant with her fourth child — was convicted of murder, accused of slashing her daughter's throat with nail scissors and making it look like a dingo attack. She was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor. Michael was convicted of being an accessory.
Three years into Lindy's prison sentence, Azaria's jacket was found by chance — near a dingo den. Days later, Lindy was released from prison. A Royal Commission, the highest form of investigation in Australia, debunked much of the forensic evidence used at trial and her conviction was overturned.
The turnaround stunned Australians. It was a wrecking ball to the notion that the justice system protected good people. That an innocent woman — an innocent pregnant woman — could never be thrown in prison. That the courts were immune to prejudice.
"The general public didn't want to believe it," says Anthea Gunn, curator at Australia's National Museum, home to a popular collection of Chamberlain memorabilia. "Because why would you? You want to believe those places are above reproach."
Australia is a nation that was, in many ways, born out of judgment, when Britain began sending its unwanted convicts to the continent in the 1700s. These social outcasts fought against what they considered the elitism of the British class system, cheered for the underdog and honed a sharp sense of injustice. Australia proudly dubbed itself "the land of the fair go."
Today, the "fair go" is a key part of Australian identity, a phrase that shows up in politics, popular culture and everyday life.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard once declared, "We will hang on to our Aussie mateship and our Aussie fair go in the worst times and in the best." Virgin Mobile ran a "Fair Go For All" ad campaign featuring a character named "Robin da Hood." A perceived injustice, such as a parking ticket, is often greeted with a frustrated grumble of "Fair go!"
But the fair go mentality didn't seem to apply to the Chamberlains, with their little-known religion.
Michael Chamberlain was a pastor with the Seventh-day Adventist church, a Protestant denomination that few Australians understood. In the absence of fact came rumors that spread with frightening ferocity, of child sacrifice, witchcraft, even Satanism. Had Lindy killed Azaria as part of a twisted religious ritual? Did the name Azaria really mean "sacrifice in the wilderness?" (It is a Hebrew name that means "helped by God.")
The hysteria was reminiscent of the Salem witch trials in the U.S. Even a black dress once worn by Azaria was seen as proof that Lindy was an evil murderess — because what kind of mother dresses her baby in black?
Michael Chamberlain, who was divorced from Lindy in 1991, is now an author in a small town north of Sydney. When asked about the case, he is both weary and wary, carefully limiting what he says ahead of the inquest as he waits to see whether the system will give him a chance.
"The church got so smashed up, erroneously, and all through, really, a nasty dose of prejudice," Chamberlain says. "I can say that I think our religion definitely impacted quite strongly on the attitude that many Australians developed."
The growing evidence that they had unfairly judged the Chamberlains was a bitter pill for Australians to swallow, says John Bryson, author of "Evil Angels," the definitive book on Azaria's disappearance.
"Australians always thought of themselves, and this country, as being the country of fair play," Bryson says. "That certainly wasn't the case."