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Should the Chamberlains’ car be in the National Museum?

By 20 August 2014 18

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I remember being in a car with my family on the way to the snow one year when I was about 7 or 8 and there was an awful accident. We had been stuck in a jam for ages and when traffic finally moved there were people still on the scene covered in blood, about three or four cars with significant damage (the kind where you wonder how people get out) and that general sense of dread as we crawled past. It’s probably not something you would see today (30+ years later) as it would all be cleaned up before traffic flowed once more. Since then though I generally try not to look if there has been an accident that traffic is moving past. Of course, as most people around me tend to want a good view, the traffic slows down so that I am forced to snail past the cars/people involved.

Reading the front page of the Canberra Times today, I can’t help but gain a sense of rubber necking in the purchase of the Chamberlain car for the National Museum.

The yellow Holden Torana hatchback was the Chamberlains’ family car and ultimately became a piece of evidence crucial in the case, stripped to its shell as part of the inquiries. A forensic biologist claimed the car had contained baby’s blood – a claim later overturned by a Royal Commission.

It was a grievous miscarriage of justice that took 32 years to finally settle with a coroner finding that the baby had been taken by a dingo, but I can’t help but wonder if the car is something we should really be gawking at in a Museum.

In some way it feels to me to be intrusive. Like stepping into a story that doesn’t directly involve me. A tragedy that isn’t and wasn’t mine.

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18 Responses to Should the Chamberlains’ car be in the National Museum?
#1
Battlecat11:09 am, 20 Aug 14

I take the point that it’s an uncomfortable piece, but the job of a museum, especially a national museum, is not just to entertain or display stuff worth gawking at but to record history. And the vehicle and the case in general is an important part of Australia’s history. Even if they just preserve it in the warehouse they’re still doing their job. It’s a good thing that stuff like this is being preserved because as a country we have been traditionally very poor at that.

#2
justin heywood11:19 am, 20 Aug 14

But the car isn’t a relic of a terrible death, not to me anyway. It reminds me how wrong ‘public opinion’ can be.

During the trial, pretty much everyone I knew was convinced of the Chamberlain’s guilt. Rumours abounded (‘Azaria’ meant sacrifice in the desert etc) and Lindy Chamberlain certainly looked guilty. The media and forensic scientists seemed to be in no doubt either.

But, we were all of us wrong. Worth remembering today when modern social media makes the pack mentality even more immediate and self-affirming.

#3
VYBerlinaV8_is_back11:51 am, 20 Aug 14

Battlecat said :

I take the point that it’s an uncomfortable piece, but the job of a museum, especially a national museum, is not just to entertain or display stuff worth gawking at but to record history. And the vehicle and the case in general is an important part of Australia’s history. Even if they just preserve it in the warehouse they’re still doing their job. It’s a good thing that stuff like this is being preserved because as a country we have been traditionally very poor at that.

Agree. It should be displayed in the NMA as an important artefact of our history. The point of these things is to make us think, and an item like this works well towards this aim.

#4
Holden Caulfield11:54 am, 20 Aug 14

“In some way it feels to me to be intrusive. Like stepping into a story that doesn’t directly involve me. A tragedy that isn’t and wasn’t mine.”

What about the extensive indigenous collections, how do you manage gawking at such content?

#5
HenryBG12:25 pm, 20 Aug 14

The Chamberlain case was huge in the national consciousness and has demonstrated that so-called “science experts” giving convenient (to one side or the other) evidence in court need to be treated with far more scepticism than is currently the case.

The National Museum is by far the ugliest and most laughable blot on Canberra’s landscape, but if they want to put a relic of a significant part of Australian cultural history, I support it.

#6
James McMahon12:41 pm, 20 Aug 14

Its a bizarre choice. Not really being invested in the story, as i was too young, it did strike me as a very odd choice. What is the relevance for our National Museum to promote such piece? guilty or not – a child was killed.

#7
Very Busy12:53 pm, 20 Aug 14

Maybe David Eastman’s car will be parked next to it one day.

#8
dungfungus1:07 pm, 20 Aug 14

HenryBG said :

The Chamberlain case was huge in the national consciousness and has demonstrated that so-called “science experts” giving convenient (to one side or the other) evidence in court need to be treated with far more scepticism than is currently the case.

The National Museum is by far the ugliest and most laughable blot on Canberra’s landscape, but if they want to put a relic of a significant part of Australian cultural history, I support it.

I find myself agreeing with you for the third time in one day HBG. I hope this isn’t a trend.
I am glad you mentioned the failure of “so-called science experts” in their contribution to evidence in court as the climate change “science experts” also need to be treated with far more scepticism than is currently the case.
I often take Canberra visitors to the National Museum and they all make (diplomatic) comments such as the ones you have made. I agree with them and you.
The one criticism that is prominent is there appears to be too much emphasis on indigenous history and artefacts. That is not to say it has an important place but when talking about a Museum of Australia, the 200 years since it became a nation is more relevant than the 40000 years before then.

#9
dungfungus2:36 pm, 20 Aug 14

Very Busy said :

Maybe David Eastman’s car will be parked next to it one day.

With a Ruger .22 in the boot alongside a couple of freshly shot rabbits?

#10
eyeLikeCarrots3:51 pm, 20 Aug 14

Why not, the baby was in the dingo so why not the car in the museum ?

#11
dannybear5:17 pm, 20 Aug 14

There was a black dress belonging to Azaria on display there during an exhibition a few years back how is this any different?

#12
David M7:06 pm, 20 Aug 14

The car is very symbolic for a number of reasons, but particularly about how easily miscarriages of justice can occur.

For those who are uneasy about ‘rubber necking’ bear in mind that Michael Chamberlain parted with the car willingly so that it could go into the NMA’s collection.

#13
dungfungus7:12 pm, 20 Aug 14

dannybear said :

There was a black dress belonging to Azaria on display there during an exhibition a few years back how is this any different?

Exhibitions are temporary. I think the Torana is going to be there permanently.
I thought a smiling Mr Chamberlain in the photo next to the Torana was a bit “off”.

#14
Masquara7:36 pm, 20 Aug 14

Very Busy said :

Maybe David Eastman’s car will be parked next to it one day.

No – Chamberlains’ is of national significance, Eastman’s car would end up at CMAG …

#15
Masquara7:38 pm, 20 Aug 14

Erm the Chamberlains themselves have given the car (possibly with a tax concession) to the National Museum so, Emily, there is no issue.

#16
dungfungus9:42 pm, 20 Aug 14

Masquara said :

Erm the Chamberlains themselves have given the car (possibly with a tax concession) to the National Museum so, Emily, there is no issue.

Probably saved them the expense of getting it towed to a metal recycler.

#17
justin heywood10:24 pm, 20 Aug 14

dannybear said :

There was a black dress belonging to Azaria on display there during an exhibition a few years back how is this any different?

A bit of a weird tangent I know, but: Lindy Chamberlain was released after a piece of Azaria’s jacket was found at the base of Uluru, during a search for a British tourist who had fallen to his death.

The tourist, David Brett, was a believer in mysticism and the occult. Living in Sydney, he had written to his mother that he felt ‘something strange was happening to him’, and told a pastor that there was a demon in his stomach. He was last seen by his friends walking towards Uluru in a trancelike state. He left behind newspaper clippings about Azaria.

Sound like a case for our own JG Montgomery. I read this story about David Brett years ago, but in can’t find the original source, only this:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-481862/The-haunting-parallels-dingo-baby-missing-Madeleine.html

#18
John Moulis11:49 am, 21 Aug 14

justin heywood said :

But the car isn’t a relic of a terrible death, not to me anyway. It reminds me how wrong ‘public opinion’ can be.

During the trial, pretty much everyone I knew was convinced of the Chamberlain’s guilt. Rumours abounded (‘Azaria’ meant sacrifice in the desert etc) and Lindy Chamberlain certainly looked guilty. The media and forensic scientists seemed to be in no doubt either.

But, we were all of us wrong. Worth remembering today when modern social media makes the pack mentality even more immediate and self-affirming.

Don’t forget that it was right in the middle of Reaganism and the Moral Majority with Fred Nile writing a weekly column in Murdoch’s Sunday Telegraph. This caused a backlash against “weirdo fundamentalist religion” in Australia, and the Chamberlain’s strict Seventh Day Adventist beliefs were lumped into that category. Australians desperately wanted Mrs Chamberlain convicted of murder and jailed as part of this backlash against American-style religion and Reagan. I remember I was in the Treasury cafeteria when the guilty verdict came through on the radio and everybody at our table broke out into spontaneous cheering.

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