Cobin grew up in Melbourne with his parents and siblings in what he described as a ‘pretty stock-standard 1970s family’. He attended the local primary school and although he was a spirited child, he had a good relationship with his family.
Cobin does not remember a lot about his early childhood, but when he was in Year 3 or 4 he was sent to see the principal for being naughty.
‘I remember being sent to the principal’s office for some misdemeanour, I can’t remember what. The secretary, Mrs Alcott, was sitting in the front part of the office. I got taken into the office by the principal alone. Then basically I had to go behind the desk with him and what I can remember is sitting on his lap behind the desk. I can remember thinking to myself that “Hmm this is unusual”.
'The only other lap of a male I’ve ever sat on is my father’s when he read me a book. But being at that age you have no concept of anything that may or may not be of a sexual nature. I remember he had really big hands and I remember his hands up and down my body. Whether he touched me on my genitals I cannot remember.’
Cobin recalled that while the principal was inappropriately touching him, he was saying, ‘You’ve been a naughty boy’, in a tone Cobin felt afraid of.
‘Thinking back, as a child I was intimidated and thought him to be unusual, I think that would be pretty fair to say. And not so much the words but the delivery of the words, the inflexion in his voice was almost like “You’ve been a naughty boy”, ie, “We need to punish you” or something.
‘I guess I have some good memories, but most of the memories for me are fairly embarrassing and I don’t really like to talk about it because most of the memories now are related to the incident.’
After that incident, Cobin misbehaved more and frequently absconded from school.
‘I can remember being taken by my mother to various child psychologists and psychiatrists, and eventually being diagnosed with hyperactivity, as they called it in those days. Which I guess was fairly neat for everyone to just accept the way that my behaviour was pretty bad.’
After he finished Year 5, Cobin’s behaviour became so problematic that his parents sent him to a special school for children with behavioural and learning difficulties. Later he was sent to live with his older sister in another state.
‘I think my parents were having so much trouble with me they thought shipping me off to my sister was a good idea. And I sort of liked the idea too, actually … Behaviour-wise [I] vastly improved. Academically, my confidence and self-esteem were and are still almost non-existent.’
Eventually Cobin returned to Melbourne to finish school and take on an apprenticeship. ‘I haven’t had a day of unemployment ever since … I’ve always found a lot of solace in working because it tends to keep my mind busy. Didn’t really have a lot of girlfriends as such.’
For much of his adult life Cobin blocked the incident out of his mind. It wasn’t until he was experiencing a painful breakup of a long-term relationship that he started to consider the impact of the principal’s actions.
‘As a child you have no concept of sex or sexual desire or deviancy. And really, to be honest, I was in my late 30s before it actually dawned on me. I thought, “Hang on, that wasn’t right”. Because I used to wonder why I ran away from school.
‘I believe that as a child I came away with very depleted self-worth and self-esteem. And I think once you suffer that sort of injury or whatever you like to call it, I think it’s very hard to recover once you become an adult.’
In the early 2000s Cobin tried to make a statement to the police about his experience at the school but was discouraged and told it was a long time ago. ‘I don’t have a lot of confidence anymore about just going to the police.’ After speaking with the Royal Commission, however, he may try again.
‘I mentioned this to my mother a couple of times and it’s a really horrible situation because she starts to feel guilt.
‘Her response was, “We didn’t know what was going on”. Obviously she saw the result of my behaviour, what was happening to me and the way I was reacting. And she’s 80 something now, so really not something I want to burden her with anymore to be honest.
‘I just feel like I’m dragging people into my own thing, which sometimes I just feel like it’s my fault. So then I think, “Well, I don’t really deserve any help”.
‘One of the injustices I feel, that as a small child I was in that office … I felt that there was no one, there was no adults there to protect me. And I wanted to somehow make it noted that these things went on in the hope that, if it ever happens to another child, that there’s some sort of way that someone will stand up and protect them.
‘A lot of my anger is directed to people who were in that school and would have known things that were going on or may have been going on but never said anything.
‘I just don’t have any real trust in much at all really to be honest. The culture of our society, the law enforcement, the courts. I don’t think enough has changed.’