Azaria: A True History
Melbournestyle Books, 2020
44pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99
On a cool August night 40 years ago, in the shadow of Uluru, a mother laid her baby to sleep in a tent while she and her husband and her other two children sat under the stars outside – and unknowingly began a scandal that even today, still divides opinion. For that baby was Azaria Chamberlain and before the night was over, a story that made world headlines had begun. Because when the mother heard a rustling in the tent she turned and saw a dingo making off with the baby and called out… sparking one of the most controversial episodes in modern Australian history.
For despite the baby’s jumpsuit being found by the Anangu trackers the very next day, people had not heard of a dingo taking a baby before and so the rumours and gossip started. Fuelled by media reports of a baby with an unconventional name, a family from a different religion and a mother in such deep grief she couldn’t cry, everyone had an opinion and so the story of Azaria Chamberlain captured the world’s imagination. It would be 32 years before the truth was known and even then, many didn’t believe it. Still don’t.
At first when I received this book I wondered why this story would need to be known by our young readers, many of whom would have parents too young to remember the events. But as I read it it became clear – just as Uluru is “ten times bigger underground than it is above”, the message that we must look further and deeper for the truth than the surface headlines is very powerful, particularly in these days of fake news and deliberate manipulation and misinterpretation of facts. Azaria’s story, widely identified as Australia’s first modern trial-by-media, is just the vehicle that carries the more important concept that our older students need to bring to their research. Look at sources for purpose, perspective, accuracy and authority before accepting them and relying on them as truth; that everyone brings something to a situation depending on their beliefs, values, attitudes and motives and that the truth can soon be lost under a myriad of layers.
The story of Azaria became “like a fairytale from long ago , with a wolf in the forest, a cruel king and angry townsfolk” and just like fairytales, a kernel of truth gets overlaid with embellishments and changes with every new teller. However in this beautifully illustrated picture book for older readers who now, more than ever, need to learn about the need to be critical thinkers and to not take things on face value Coote has demonstrated the evidence of every character in a story having its own perspective – even the dingo, often now maligned and vilified by humans, was just doing what dingoes do.
For those of you wanting to demonstrate why our students need to walk the extra mile, this would be the perfect introduction.