Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Anita Cobby died in Vain: Anita and beyond

By Darlene Taylor - posted Thursday, 21 October 2004

More than eighteen years ago, Australia found itself overwhelmed by the pack-rape and slaying of Sydney woman, Anita Cobby.

Enduring interest in the Cobby case was confirmed with last year’s Anita and Beyond art exhibition, while Julia Sheppard’s Someone Else’s Daughter has been reprinted several times since it was first published in 1991.

The book is important, not the least because it discusses the lives of all involved, including the seemingly inevitable path to destruction of John Travers, the ringleader of the group of men who killed Anita.


Anita has been subject in death to the kind of mythologising that sets her apart from ordinary women. Her posthumous sanctification seems to have been partly driven by the need to assert a hierarchy of female victimhood.

This aims to teach women that horrific offences rarely happen to the “decent”. When they do, they will be punished with the utmost severity, as evidenced by the sentences meted out to the perpetrators: Travers, Michael Murdoch and Les, Michael and Gary Murphy (“the Murphy brothers”).
It is probably unanswerable, and definitely uncomfortable, to wonder how Anita would have been treated had she survived.

When Gail Bell, the author of Shot: A Personal Response to Guns and Trauma, tells us a police officer invested her with guilt for the attack against her, and American author Alice Sebold names her book Lucky because authorities told her she was - “in comparison” to a woman who was butchered at the same location where she was raped - we are perhaps given some idea.

Of course, the outrage at Anita’s fate is also explained by the savagery inflicted upon her. It is a mournful fact that Anita’s ravaged body was found by a farmer on his property in February 1986. It shouldn't have been necessary for Anita to be a former beauty queen, a nurse, an “angel”, for there to be strong feelings about her death; her humanity was surely enough.

With petitions demanding the re-introduction of the death penalty, abuse directed at the families of the guilty, and a frenzied media, we lost the opportunity in the wake of the murder and during and after the trial to learn more about the intrinsic violence of sexual assault.
This has been rectified somewhat. According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald one of Anita and Beyond’s installations was influenced by, “(the numerous news reports where) male judges say maybe (rape victims) deserved it and... other outlandish statements”. “I find that quite sick”, said the artist, “just because they’re not dead”.

The play turned movie, The Boys, was evidently not based on the crime, but has come to be spoken about as though it were. As the title informs us, the film is about males connected in some way. “Where have the boys gone?” it is asked, and we do not really want to know the answer. The Boys are actually three men: Brett, who has just spent a year in prison for aggravated assault; Glenn, employed, engaged, who despite buying a car with money raised from selling Brett’s drugs leads a “normal” life; and Steve, whose anger at pregnant “girlfriend” Noela is ferocious.


However, he is not without a minute capacity to care, as we glimpse when he thinks he sees her on the street after she has fled the powder keg that is “the boys’” home. With Brett’s homecoming, Glenn and Steve immediately fall back under his spell. Just eighteen hours later he burns the clothes that contain evidence of what they have done. Brett is manipulative, arrogant, possesses a bully’s sense of entitlement and a need to confirm his masculinity - which we are led to believe was “compromised” while he was in jail - with mind games and domination.
“If you don’t hang together, you hang separate”, he lectures them, and thus establishes that it is with him they belong and not with the women or work commitments that form the foundation of most men’s lives. The outsiders, Jacqui, Glenn’s fiancée, and Noela, offer a slim hope the day of Brett’s homecoming will end differently.

Although unrealised, this affirms what Philip Butterss, in his analysis of working-class masculinity in four Australian films, When Being a Man is All You’ve Got: Masculinity in Romper Stomper, Idiot Box, Blackrock and The Boys, views as “a version of the ‘God’s police’ formula, the civilising influence of a girlfriend on a brute male”.

If The Boys offers any insight into the mentality that lay behind Anita’s murder, we are left doubting much could have stopped it, or at least any violent behaviour, from its protagonists, because the chance was lost long ago.
Sheppard informs us that Travers was in trouble from a young age, while Brett is devoid of empathy.

We can only hope another of the exhibits in Anita and Beyond got it wrong when it suggested that Anita died in vain because other women have been murdered in the years since she has been gone.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Article edited by Ali Smith.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

10 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Darlene Taylor writes for the popular group blog, Larvatus Prodeo.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Darlene Taylor
Photo of Darlene Taylor
Article Tools
Comment 10 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy