“You baby killer!” yelled the schoolboys at Julie as she walked to her Adventist School in Strathfeild in 1980. She ignored the taunts as she’d done every day since the Chamberlain case broke sensationally in the tabloids. But this time, as she walked, a half-full can of Fanta hurled by her head as the boys cheered.
Julie wasn’t alone. Many Australian Adventists of the period have stories of harassment, from prank phone calls to public abuse. The hatred that underpinned the anti-Adventist bigotry was more than uncomfortable; it likely influenced the decision to prosecute the Chamberlains and the subsequent miscarriage of justice.
As we go through the process of healing the scars from that period, it’s incumbent on us to evaluate carefully what we’ve learned about our national vulnerabilities in the process, as well as what we still need to learn.
What is particularly surprising about the anti-Adventist bigotry of the period is that it happened at all. Australia is, after all, one of the most diverse and tolerant societies in the world. We look at attacks on minorities around the world and shake our heads. The brutality, the tribalism, the ignorance and the scapegoating that undergirds the hatred spewed at minorities from 1930s Europe to modern-day Iran seems entirely remote and foreign to us. And if you had to pick an innocuous faith community, it would have to be the vegetarian, noncombatant, healthcare providing, granola-making and education-cherishing Adventists who had a century’s worth of contributing to Australian society by the time the Chamberlain case broke.
If anyone could be safe anywhere, it would have to be a peaceful faith community with a long history and deep roots in a tolerant and progressive society.