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Review: Letters to Lindy

Heather Wallace

“There are three things that have divided this country. Conscription. Whitlam. And Lindy Chamberlain.”

So says an unnamed National Library of Australia public servant towards the end of Letters to Lindyat Canberra Theatre Centre, as he stacks some of the 20,000 letters Lindy Chamberlain received during her ordeal of being tried, gaoled and then exonerated of killing her baby daughter. The public servant is fictional but the argument he has with another character, who thinks condemning Lindy 36 years on is a personal virtue, is real.

It’s the kind of argument I remember hearing as a kid, conducted at barbeques, pubs and over cups of tea, as people all around the country weighed in on a personal tragedy that struck one family on 17 August 1980.


That was the night Lindy Chamberlain called out to fellow campers in Uluru National Park that a dingo had taken her baby. Nine-week old Azaria Chamberlain was missing and her mother reported seeing a dingo leaving the family’s tent. A widespread search and investigation did not find her, and rumours and whispered accusations against Lindy started. Those rumours refused to be silenced even by a December coronial inquest, televised live in an Australian first, finding that the cause of death was likely a dingo attack. Instead the accusations grew louder and louder until Lindy was prosecuted for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Rather than recreating events, the play by Alana Valentine sees Lindy (performed by Jeanette Cronin) sorting through boxes and boxes of letters she received immediately after Azaria went missing, through her trial, the three years she served in prison, and the decades after her 1986 release. The letters themselves are played out by Jane Phegan, Glenn Hazeldine and Phillip Hinton as a Greek chorus interacting directly with Lindy on stage, smoothly transitioning between a cohort of different ages, genders and motivations.

Lindy herself takes the audience to crucial moments with changes of costume and hair indicating where in time we are, talking directly to us and sharing pain, frustration, grief and rage. Through it all the letters keep coming, with strangers offering support and sympathy, or condemning and judging, hate spewing off the page. Even some of the well-meaning ones make you cringe, particularly those that offer support by describing in great detail how a dog the size of a dingo makes its kill. It’s a good reminder that long before social media, arm-chair experts lurked, waiting to pounce.


The letters are real artefacts; Lindy did indeed keep each one, even those that were hateful and spiteful. The heart of the play is her explanation of why she kept them all, now catalogued and donated to the National Library. The letters were all she had left of her baby, the evidence of her short life.

For me the hardest letters to listen to were those written by Lindy’s sons, seeking help for their mother. One letter is addressed to the prime minister, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and made me well up at the desperation of a child reaching out to figures known only from TV coverage, when vicious and biased TV and media coverage had torn apart his family.

There’s a vein of comedy pumping through, and even the vicious and nasty letters are referred to by Lindy in the opening as “the comic relief”. At times the comedy borders on the darkest shade imaginable, and it doesn’t shy away from hard truths about ignorance and fear of someone different.

How you react to the play might be influenced by your age. I was with a good friend born just a few months after Azaria. This is an historical play for her, showing a miscarriage of justice and the extraordinary strength of the woman who survived it.

I’d gone in expecting an uncomfortable evening, hearing the old prejudices against Lindy repeated, that she was guilty because she didn’t cry in public like a ‘normal’ woman would. And because as a child I’d listened to adults passing judgment, I owed it Lindy to be in the audience.

Laughing at the comic moments made me feel almost as uncomfortable as remembering all those nasty comments I’d heard as a child, but the humour is there for a reason – it’s Lindy’s own humour, her response to the long years of suspicion and hate. If that’s how she wants things remembered, then who am I to judge?

The essentials

What: Letters to Lindy by Merrigong Theatre Company
Where: Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
When: On until Saturday 13 August
How much: $40 to $55 for adults; $30 to $35 for concessions and under 27s

Photos by Lisa Tomasetti for Merrigong Theatre Company


Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (, is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author

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