If you’ve been alive since 1980, chances are you’ve probably heard this once or twice:

“The dingo ate my baby,” is what people trying to do an Australian accent will usually say after a half-decent “g’day, mate!” It’s been a part of the cultural lexicon for decades, appearing in episodes of Seinfeld, Family Guy, Frasier, Two and a Half Men, more than one episode of The Simpsons, a variety of movies, and so on.

 
 

Did you ever wonder where it came from, or how it started?

On August 16, 1980, Lindy Chamberlain and her husband Michael went camping with their family in Uluru, bringing along her two-month-old baby, Azaria. On the night of the 17th, Lindy reported that a dingo had snatched her baby from their tent after putting her to bed.

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A massive search was organized, but Azaria was not found. Instead, a week later, the jumpsuit the two-month-old had been wearing was found about two and a half miles away with bloodstains. A matinee jacket, or a cardigan, that she had been wearing over top of the jumpsuit was still missing.

Her body was never found.

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The Crown didn’t believe one word of Lindy and Michael’s assertion that a dingo had taken their baby. Instead, they argued that Lindy had slit Azaria’s throat, hid the baby in a camera case, rejoined the campers where she fed one of her sons, then went to the tent to make the claim that a dingo took her baby. While other campers searched, the Crown alleged that Lindy disposed of Azaria’s body.

Their evidence was the jumpsuit with bloodstains, the missing jacket, and supposed foetal haemoglobin in stains found on the front seat of the Chamberlain car. The rest was circumstantial, witnesses claiming to believe Lindy’s story, and the reasonable doubt of the foetal haemoglobin results. On top of that, Uluru chief ranger Derek Roff laid out in a memo two years earlier suggesting that the dingo population was getting out of control, approaching people, even biting them, and requested that there be a cull. He was ignored.

The jury, however, didn’t buy it. On October 29, 1982, after a highly-publicized trial, Lindy Chamberlain was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. Her husband Michael was found guilty as an accessory after the fact.

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Four years later, new evidence came to light. Just by happenstance, during the investigation of another death in Uluru, the matinee jacket was discovered partially buried and nearby a dingo den.

After reopening the case and examining the evidence, it was found that Lindy did not murder Azaria and dump her body in the wilderness. Instead, a coroner reported that Azaria died at Ayers Rock as a “result of being attacked and taken by a dingo.”

The Chamberlains were exonerated and rewarded A$1.3 million in compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

In 1988, Meryl Streep starred as Lindy in a film known outside of Australia and New Zealand as A Cry In The Dark, further cementing the phrase “a dingo ate my baby” into the lexicon.