The unexpected death of Dr Michael Chamberlain, 72, from leukaemia-related complications has resulted in a stream of tributes from people who remember his passion for justice, intellect and sense of humour.
“Along with family and friends, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia mourns the loss of Dr Michael Chamberlain, a former pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church whose life, along with that of his family, was tragically altered many years ago,” said Pastor Jorge Munoz, president of the Adventist Church in Australia. “His fight for justice will remain a lesson for all of us in this country. Our prayers and thoughts are with his family at this time and we pray God’s comfort may be with them all.”
"He was very mild mannered but he was passionate . . . he developed an extremely strong sense of justice . . . We will miss him."
In 1980 Michael was pastoring the Adventist Church in Mt Isa, Queensland, where he lived with his wife Lindy and their children Aiden, Reagan and baby Azaria. During a fateful camping trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock), Northern Territory, 9-week-old Azaria was snatched from the tent by an unseen marauding dingo. Her body was never found.
The baby’s disappearance sent shockwaves around the world and sparked speculation that the Chamberlains, being members of the largely unknown Seventh-day Adventist Church, had deliberately killed their baby in some kind of ritual sacrifice. This religious prejudice coloured public perception and the legal proceedings that followed, resulting in Lindy Chamberlain being convicted of murder and spending three years in prison, while Michael was given a suspended sentence.
The Chamberlains and their supporters displayed incredible tenacity as they fought for justice and were successful in having Lindy released and the verdict overturned. The legal wrangling continued right up to 2012 when a Northern Territory coroner released her official finding that a dingo was responsible for Azaria’s death. But the constant pressure and public scrutiny came at a cost, with Michael leaving pastoral ministry in 1984 and divorcing from Lindy in 1991.
Despite the irreparable impact of his losses, Michael Chamberlain continued to strive in many areas of his life and was much admired in his home community of Lake Macquarie, NSW. He married Ingrid Bergner in 1994, completed a PhD in 2002 and ran for parliament in 2003. He also authored a number of books (including a history of Cooranbong), worked as a teacher and served as president of the Cooranbong Business and Community Alliance until about a year ago, when he took on the vice-presidency. For much of the past five years, Michael has been caring for his wife in their home after a stroke left her severely debilitated.
“Michael was a man of many parts and acquired fame that he never wanted,” said friend Dr John Hammond. “He was very mild mannered but he was passionate. Because of how they were treated [after Azaria’s death] he developed an extremely strong sense of justice . . . We will miss him.”
According to Dr Hammond, Michael Chamberlain was admitted to Gosford Hospital last week and “declined very quickly”. He died on Monday, January 9.
As news of Michael Chamberlain’s death spreads through the Adventist community his Facebook page is being bombarded with expressions of shock and remembrance, with friends and admirers paying tribute to his warmth, intellect and humour.
“He was a great person to have a deep theological discussion with, or just a quiet personal conversation,” said Jessica Trevithick. “He was sensitive to others and had a heart for God. He was a friend to many.”
Lynelle Long remembered Michael as “a father in spirit and soul! Not too proud to admit your faults or failures. Deep, thoughtful, spiritual, with wisdom from your journey.”
Family friend Pastor Mel Lemke highlighted the many facets of Michael’s personality: “colleague, fellow motorcycle lover and rider, academic, theologian, passionate defender of justice and freedom, avid campaigner against systemic abuses, husband, father . . . You will be greatly missed Michael. ‘Til a better day my friend.”
Michael Chamberlain’s funeral will be held at 2pm, Monday, January 16 at Avondale College Church, Cooranbong, NSW.