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June 21, 2024 7 mins
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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey, brain Stuff,
Lauren Vogelbaum. Here just a heads up. This episode deals
with the accidental death of an infant. We're not getting graphic,
but if that's not something you're up for today, go
ahead and skip this one. And hey, take care of yourself, okay,

(00:22):
all right. There is a good chance that, especially if
you have consumed any kind of pop culture from the
nineteen nineties, you've heard the phrase a dingo ate my baby, exclaimed,
usually in a bad Australian accent. You too might have
said it been laughed heartily with your sick o friends. Yet,
if you weren't watching the news in the early nineteen eighties,

(00:44):
the chances are also good that you haven't heard the real,
unfunny story behind this statement. So today let's talk about
dingoes and whether they're dangerous and how they've ever gotten
near a baby in the first place. Dingoes are Israelia's
native wild dog that came to the Outback from Southern
Asia thousands of years ago. They're similar to feral dogs

(01:07):
in the US. Just to catch your name, the average
dingo is lean, with a body length of about four feet.
That's about one and a quarter meters and a weight
around thirty pounds or fourteen kilos, so the size of
a big, scrawny golden retriever, but with pointy ears, a
drooping tail, a pointed face, and a short coat in
shades of white, gold, orange, red, and black. Dingoes usually

(01:30):
travel in packs, though there are some lone wolf dingoes.
A pack will be led by a dominant dingo couple,
and that pair will typically mate for life. They're also
typically the only dingoes in the pack that will breed successfully,
as they suppress other breeding attempts and have even been
known to kill other pups born in the pack. They'll
breed once a year with about five pups in the litter,

(01:51):
and raising those pups is a whole pack affair. They
have a life span of around seven or eight years
in the wild and up to fifteen in captivity. Dingoes
are opportunistic hunters and scavengers. They eat mostly rabbits, rodents, birds, lizards, foliage,
and nuts. Like wolves, they're extremely smart, as smarter than

(02:12):
domestic dogs except yours. Of course. They're cute too, but
wily and unlike your dog. Dingoes have wrists that rotate
that means they can use their paws like hands. They
also have much bigger canine teeth than most domestic dogs.
Their limbs are double jointed too, and they can turn
their necks one hundred and eighty degrees around. They run fast,

(02:34):
climb with ease, and jump high. They also howl like wolves.
You might want to remember these facts for any future
camping excursions. Perhaps because of their intelligence, These canines are
generally thought of as pests by humans. Our tumultuous relationship
with them can be traced back at least as far
as seventeen eighty eight. That's when the British first took

(02:56):
sheep to New South Wales, giving dingoes a new easy prey.
By the eighteen eighties, dingoes were invading farms and rural communities.
The solution was to build the Dingo Fence, a fence
that crosses Australia for about three thousand, five hundred miles
that's around five thousand, five hundred kilometers. It still stands
today and is the longest fence in the world. The

(03:19):
population of pure dingoes has declined as many have bred
with feral dogs, domestic dogs, and hybrids, though the definitions
among those are sometimes contested. One place where pure dingoes
can still be found is on Queensland's Fraser Island, though
they're very predatory there, which has led to tragic incidents
with humans, which brings us to yes, it is sad

(03:43):
but true. Dingo has on record eaten a baby. Dingoes
generally don't attack people, but if they sense fear, they
are more likely to attack. Here's the story behind this tragedy.
In nineteen eighty, the young Chamberlain family went camping near
Australia's famous Oolaroo also known as Ayer's Rock in the

(04:06):
Northern Territory. A Lindy Chamberlain, thirty two years old at
the time, saw a dingo leave their tent and immediately
went to check inside it. She discovered that their ten
week old baby, Azaria, who had been sleeping in the tent,
was gone. A Lindy supposedly cried out to her husband Michael,
something along the lines of the dingoes got my baby.

(04:28):
The authorities were called and there was a large but
unsuccessful attempt to find Azaria. Many people heard about this
disturbing and horrific event and it stayed with them because
it's not every day that you hear about this kind
of animal attack. The incident was a big deal at
that time. Most people didn't think a dingo could or
would eat a baby. Authorities suspected Lindy of killing his

(04:49):
area and then concocting the story about the dingo. Ultimately,
she was arrested, tried, and found guilty of murder in
nineteen eighty two. Michael was also found guilty of being
an accessory after the crime. There was widespread media coverage
of the trial. People even picketed outside the courthouse with
signs that read the dingo is innocent. Dingoes dominated water

(05:11):
cooler conversation around the globe. Fast forward to nineteen eighty six,
both Lyndy and Michael's convictions were overturned when the police
discovered a baby's jacket near an area full of dingo layers.
It was as Areas. On September fifteenth of nineteen eighty eight,
the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously quashed all

(05:32):
convictions against Lindy and Michael Chamberlain. That same year, a
movie known as Evil Angels in Australia and New Zealand
and as a Cry in the Dark elsewhere, portrayed the
tragic events of the case. The Meryl Streep and Sam
Neil starred as the Chamberlain's Finally, in twenty twelve, after
thirty two years, the coroner officially changed as Area's cause

(05:54):
of death to quote as the result of being taken
by a dingo. After the new ruler, Lindy addressed the court,
she said, obviously we are relieved and delighted to come
to the end of this saga. No longer will Australia
be able to say dingoes are not dangerous and only
attack if provoked. Two years later, Lindy was awarded one

(06:15):
point three million dollars for wrongful imprisonment the dingo had
taken her baby. Since the incident in nineteen eighty there
have been several more documented cases of dingo's attacking and
killing children, but the phrase truly entered pop culture due
to a couple other things. What Meryl Streep gave an

(06:35):
impassioned rendition of the line in that nineteen eighty eight film,
and then in nineteen ninety one, an episode of the
sitcom Seinfeld parodied it. In the episode, Elaine is annoyed
by a woman at a party who repeatedly and obnoxiously
says that she cannot find her fiance, whom she calls baby.
Elaine eventually leans toward the woman and, very clearly in

(06:58):
her best worst desay reliant accent, says, might be a
dango at you, baby, Sorry about that. The iterations of
the line later popped up in everything from The Simpsons
to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Tropic Thunder, encasing it
in popular culture with very little reference to the original story.

(07:20):
Today's episode is based on the article our Dingo's Dangerous
and did One Really Eat a Baby? On HowStuffWorks dot com,
written by Megs Barwick. The brain Stuff is production by
Heart Radio in partnership with how Stuffworks dot Com, and
it's produced by Tyler klang A. Four more podcasts from
my heart Radio visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or
wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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Jonathan Strickland

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Ben Bowlin

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Lauren Vogelbaum

Lauren Vogelbaum

Cristen Conger

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Christian Sager

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