CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Did the Dingo Baby case kick off the sickening Age of the Troll?
Accused: Trial in The Outback
Great British Christmas Menu
The ‘troll’ is a creature of the internet era, you might suppose — vicious, sour, cruel and cowardly. It lurks under stones online and emerges to spit vitriol.
But that definition of the word did not actually appear in the Oxford English Dictionary until 2006. Trolls existed long before the internet, as proved by the story of Lindy Chamberlain and her baby, Azaria, in Accused: Trial In The Outback (C5).
For those like me who know the story only from the 1988 movie A Cry In The Dark, with Meryl Streep as grieving mother Lindy, the real-life intensity of hatred her murder trial provoked seems extraordinary — even by today’s standards of nastiness on social media.
Lindy, her husband Michael and their three children were on a camping holiday near Uluru (or Ayers Rock) in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1980 when baby Azaria was snatched from their tent by a dingo, Australia’s wild dog.
Lindy Chamberlain, pictured with her husband Michael, was put on trial for the murder of her 10-week old Baby Azaria. They were on a camping holiday near Uluru (or Ayers Rock) in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1980 when baby Azaria was snatched from their tent by a dingo, Australia’s wild dog
That summer’s drought had left the animals starving, and one that was hanging around the campsite had already attacked an adolescent girl.
Lindy did not see the dingo take her baby, but from the moment she saw Azaria was gone she had no doubt what had happened.
The body was never found, though some bloodied clothes were recovered after a search.
This two-part documentary, which concludes tonight, was narrated gravely by Sam Neill (apt, since he played Michael in the film). It dealt with the facts of Azaria’s disappearance rather swiftly, perhaps assuming that they were too well known to need much elaboration.
We weren’t told why Lindy and Michael, a pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist church, had left their tiny child unattended, in a tent with a broken zip, or how long Azaria might have been gone before her absence was spotted. Instead, the emphasis was on how the case was reported and the furious emotions it enflamed.
‘Your husband should divorce you and marry a good woman who is not a murderer,’ wrote one troll in a poisonous letter. ‘You should be hung up from the nearest tree,’ seethed another.
Conspiracy theories flew that ‘Azaria’ meant ‘sacrifice in the wilderness,’ or that the Chamberlains’ older son (who was six) killed the baby. Lindy’s unappealing persona didn’t help. She seemed ruthlessly matter-of-fact about Azaria’s death, describing how the dingo might have devoured her — the animals ‘pull back the skin as they go,’ she told a TV crew, ‘and they’ll just peel it like an orange’.
I felt trollish myself after enduring an hour of the irritating background music on Great British Christmas Menu
Even now, having been pardoned with her murder conviction quashed, she declares she finds some of the dingo jokes and cartoons ‘really funny’. She’s hard to like. But that doesn’t excuse the sheer venom aimed at her by the public. Perhaps future historians will date the beginning of the Age of the Troll to her trial?
I felt trollish myself after enduring an hour of the irritating background music on Great British Christmas Menu (BBC2). The same few bars of piano and drums played on a loop. It was like phoning your bank and being stuck on hold for an eternity.
This week it was main courses and spectacularly unappealing they were, too. Is there anything less appetising than watching a pig’s bladder being scrubbed in a sink? The tiny charred rissole in the middle of a vast white plate was standard Cordon Bleu fare by comparison, though if you had that at a restaurant, you’d need a takeaway afterwards to fill you up.
Andi Oliver presided over it all, with her outsize black spectacles perched on her head. She looked like she could join the Two Ronnies.