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Frederick Michael's story

Frederick has been haunted all his life by what happened to him in the 1970s. And by the fact that he joined his local bushwalking club in Tasmania ‘as a 14 year old boy with everything to look forward to … and a solid family behind me’.

Frederick loved the outdoors and wanted to meet people. One person he did meet in the club was Tim Coburn, who was charming, charismatic and more than 10 years his senior. He became Frederick’s regular means of transport to the walks.

Over a period of time Coburn groomed Frederick and his parents and Frederick was soon staying over at Coburn’s house, often when the club had an early start the next day.

The abuse began at Coburn’s house. ‘He started coming into the room that I was sleeping in and masturbating me.’ He also gave Frederick alcohol, ‘setting the scene in the initial instance’.

Coburn also sexually abused Frederick in broad daylight during one of the bush walks and again when they were in a tent camping overnight.

Another boy called Gary sometimes stayed at Coburn’s house. If both boys were there, one would sleep in Coburn’s bed with him. Frederick assumes that Gary was also abused. He remembers that he and Gary one day ran around Coburn’s house while he was out, and they were both drunk and naked.

The sexual abuse continued for a year. It was Frederick’s first sexual experience – ‘new and exciting in some ways’ – but he felt he had no ability to stop it. The abuse stopped when Coburn started a relationship with a woman from the bushwalking club.

Frederick’s life spiralled downwards after the sexual abuse. His school marks dropped. He began taking drugs and drinking. He stayed friends with Coburn, however, and even attended his wedding, where he got extremely drunk.

After a few years they lost touch. Frederick last bumped into Coburn in the late 1970s. ‘He said something about, “Are you having fun with your bum buddies?”’

Coburn’s comment caused Frederick, who was by then being treated for anxiety and depression, great emotional pain.

At that point in his life Frederick was careering between drug abuse and complete emotional breakdown. He was referred back to psychiatric treatment again and again. This pattern went on for 10 years.

‘I’ve since come to realise I was an untreated drug addict and in a more modern context I might have been put into detox.’

Back then, however, his prescription drugs were fuel to the fire. ‘They’d give me Serepax or Valium … I’d just take those out and wash them down with whiskey.’

In the mid-80s, after a severe bout of anxiety, depression and feeling suicidal, Frederick gave up drinking altogether.

With the help of Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASA) and Narcotics Anonymous, Frederick has stayed drug and alcohol free. He sought counselling from CASA five years ago after a particular film triggered memories of the abuse.

Frederick is very aware of how the abuse has affected his emotional life. He has good support from recovery friends but remains socially anxious and a bit of a loner. Sustaining long-term relationships with women has been extremely hard.

He’s wary of seeing himself as a victim but in that area he’s ‘almost resigned’ to not having it happen.

‘That shy boy joined a bushwalking club because of his sense of adventure and his love of the wilderness and to meet new people … I’m not saying it was all negative but I didn’t join that club to get into a sexual relationship with a man, you know?’

In spite of this, he remains upbeat.

‘Look, I’m not without hope that I can still heal, and not destined to be lonely till I die. And participating in this Commission is part of that process.’

He hasn’t told the police about Tim Coburn but he anticipates telling the walking club about him.

‘He’s probably a revered life member of that club and I’d like to have him taken down off the wall.’

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