The pastor, writer and educator behind the media scrutiny
The Avondale academic known around the world for his 32-year fight for justice over his daughter’s death has died suddenly, following complications of leukaemia.
Dr Michael Chamberlain, 72, was a conjoint fellow at Avondale College of Higher Education and a resident of Cooranbong. He passed away at Gosford Hospital on Monday evening.
Chamberlain’s association with Avondale began when the New Zealander moved to Cooranbong to study a Bachelor of Arts in theology. He completed this in 1969, after which he and new wife Lindy, whom he met at Avondale, were posted to Tasmania to pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Chamberlain later returned to Avondale for further study, completing a master’s degree in religion in 1982 and a Bachelor of Teaching in 2002. He earned his PhD in education from The University of Newcastle that same year.
His first child, Aidan, was born in Tasmania in 1973. Son Reagan and daughter Azaria were born during the family’s stint in North Queensland, in 1976 and 1980 respectively; daughter Kahlia in Darwin in 1982. Following his divorce in 1990, Chamberlain married Ingrid Bergner in 1994, with whom he had daughter Zahra in 1996.
After his retirement in 2008, Chamberlain devoted himself full-time to writing and community projects. He became Bergner’s carer after she suffered a stroke in 2011, making her condition the subject of his research and advocacy. His tell-all book, Heart of Stone, was published in 2012.
Chamberlain made international headlines in 1980 when Azaria was snatched from a tent at Uluru by a dingo. He and then-wife Lindy were charged over their baby’s disappearance—Lindy with murder, Michael with accessory after the fact. Though the pair were exonerated in 1988, it would be another 24 years before a fourth and final inquest officially concluded the Chamberlains had been innocent.
“I am here to tell you that you can get justice even when you think that all is lost.”Michael Chamberlain
Dr Norman Young, Conjoint Associate Professor at Avondale, worked to index trial transcripts and coroner reports during the royal commission. He was attracted to the case by “the religion factor,” wanting to be sure that Chamberlain’s association with the Seventh-day Adventist Church was not a cause for prejudice in the trials. He authored Innocence Regained: The Fight to Free Lindy Chamberlain using his research on the case.
“When I saw the incompetence of the evidence against them, there was no doubt in my mind that they were innocent,” Young says. “For me, the realisation that hit the hardest was that science is as open to prejudice as any other discipline.”
Active in his community, Chamberlain—pictured above with Cooranbong Chamber of Commerce colleague Bob Kalaf—was known as a supporter of local issues. He ran as a Liberal party candidate in the state seat of Lake Macquarie in 2003, and later become president of the Cooranbong Business and Community Alliance. He advocated for a Freemans Drive road crossing following numerous fatalities and was instrumental in creating the public park in Cooranbong.
Kalaf, also a former president of the alliance, remembers the many projects Chamberlain devoted himself to as “little things that played a big role.”
“It shows the calibre of a man, being fastidious even about the small projects,” Kalaf says. “All progress needs those little things, and he got them done.”
“Michael was a man of great complexity and intelligence,” says Greg Piper, Member of Parliament for Lake Macquarie. “He was a wonderful family man who cared for his wife and children. My thoughts and best wishes are with them.”
PhotographJill Armsberry, Lakes Mail