A few days ago, a judge finally ruled that Azaria Chamberlain was killed by a dingo, and the final door was closed for a case that has been open for three decades. For these 30 years, it has perhaps been one of the most high profile missing person/murder cases, one which has finally been put to rest after a ridiculously long ordeal.
Yet, outside of Australia, the case has been reduced to one sentence – one which has entered popular culture as representative of Australian culture and, most importantly, the Australian accent:
“The dingo ate my baby.”
To honour the exoneration of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, we’ve decided to take a look at how, exactly, the phrase became almost as ubiquitous as the one about shrimp on that outdoor cooking apparatus.
First things first: if an American hasn’t said the phrase to you (usually in an awful cockney-esque accent), then you clearly are not hanging out with enough Americans. In my own first 6 months in the USA, I probably heard the phrase a dozen times, and it was definitely interchangeable with “shrimp on the barbie.”
The phrase’s origins can most certainly be traced back to Meryl Streep and her incredibly convincing performance as Lindy Chamberlain in the Academy Award nominated movie about the baby Azaria disappearance. In Australia, the movie was known as Evil Angels, while outside of the Antipodes it was inexplicably known as A Cry in the Dark (if anyone can enlighten us on the reason for the difference, we’re all ears.) Although the choice to cast Meryl Streep in the role of an Australian among plenty of talented Australian female actors was decried, there’s no denying that her performance and accent was incredibly convincing. The Academy agreed by awarding her an 8th Academy Award nomination. In Australia, she also received an American Film Institute award.
Although the movie certainly set the stage, there’s no denying that the best source of quotables in the 90s was Seinfeld. Amid other such Elainisms as “yada yada”, “spare a square” and “get out”, the character of Elaine (played by Julia Louise Dreyfus) officially cements “the dingo ate my baby” as a quotable Australianism:
And there were more. In an episode of Frasier, the character of Niles (played by David Hyde Pierce) tries to pretend a bag of flour is his baby. In a classic moment, Eddy the dog starts ripping into the bag of flour, and Daphne (played by Jane Leeves) cries “The dingo’s got your baby!” Here’s the lead up to that moment:
And there are some others. In Tropic Thunder, Robert Downey Jr. plays an Australian actor playing a black man in a movie. In a hilarious moment, ‘Crocodile Dundee’, ‘shrimp on the barbie’ and ‘a dingo ate your baby’ makes an appearance. Excuse the poor quality of the video:
Finally, let’s reminisce about the less famous version of the story, with Craig McLachlan as Michael and Miranda Otto as Lindy: