opinion

Two warm nights, 33 years apart: Aiia Maasarwe has become the Anita Cobby of a new generation.

Mothers don’t tell daughters how Anita Cobby died.

They know, of course. There’s certain information one never forgets.

They don’t share the details that for decades have crept into their minds as they drift off to sleep. Or the flashes that haunt them as they walk home from a dimly lit train station. Or the sentences pulled from news reports that they suddenly remember, as their daughter dashes out the front door.

There are some things they hope their daughters never know.

It’s often said that an act of violence perpetrated upon one woman is internalised by all women. Much like terrorism, the threat is omnipresent, lurking behind every tree and hiding within every rundown car. The world itself is experienced through the prism of fear. Is there anything more oppressive than that?

Anita Cobby was 26 when she met friends for dinner in Redfern on a warm summer night in 1986.

The registered nurse left Central station at 8:48pm, and arrived at Blacktown station just before 10.

Usually, 26-year-old Anita would call her father at the station and he would pick her up, but this night all the surrounding pay phones happened to be out of order. There were also no taxis available at the taxi rank. It was a beautiful, clear night, and Anita decided to walk home.

It was 10pm when a gang of five men pulled up beside her in a stolen car, grabbed her, and dragged her in to the vehicle kicking and screaming. A number of witnesses on Newton Road in Blacktown heard the voice of a distressed young woman, and called the police.

That night, Lyn, the friend who dropped Anita off at Central station was awoken by a terrible nightmare. It was Anita, telling her she was dying.

Anita’s mother, Grace Lynch, woke the following morning and noticed her daughter wasn’t in her bed. Often, Anita would spend the night at a friend’s house if she’d been out late, so Grace assumed they’d hear from her that morning and wasn’t too concerned.

That afternoon, she received a phone call from the hospital, asking if she knew where Anita was because she hadn’t turned up to her 1pm shift. It was at this moment that Grace knew something was wrong.

Grace, her husband Garry and Anita’s sister Kathryn, began calling friends and family, asking if they’d seen Anita. At 8pm that night, they called her husband John Francis.

Anita and John were taking a break from their marriage, but were by all accounts on good terms.

He was having dinner with his father and a friend, when there was a call to the restaurant. As soon as John heard they couldn’t find Anita, he panicked. He frantically left dinner, and went straight to Anita’s home in Blacktown.

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The next day, John and Anita had made plans to go to Shelley Beach on the Central Coast, so John did just that. He hoped that maybe she would be there waiting for him. John listened to the radio, thinking about how just months ago they’d sat alongside each other, singing and laughing.

Suddenly, the song playing was interrupted by a news broadcast. John still remembers the words vividly.

“A naked body of a young woman has been found in a paddock at Prospect in Western Sydney. Police are yet to identify her.”

John never made it to Shelley Beach. Instead, he turned around and drove straight to Blacktown.

Anita was murdered on that still, quiet February night.

Radio broadcaster John Laws obtained a leaked copy of Cobby’s autopsy report, which he read out live on air four days after her death. They were worse than anything an ordinary person could have possibly imagined. Whoever did this, listeners realised, hated women. Really, truly, hated them.

Five men – whose names are not worthy of reproduction here – were convicted of her murder.

That case took place 33 years ago and a generation of women never forgot about it.

It was a warm night, too, just after midnight, when 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe found herself walking home from The Comics Lounge in North Melbourne.

The streets were dark, and the international student decided to call her sister, Ruba, in Israel.

“I didn’t expect you to pick up,” she said. They were the last words Aiia would say to Ruba.

There was a scream, and Aiia began swearing in Arabic before saying to her attacker: “You piece of shit”.

Ruba heard four bangs. Then silence.

Aiia was killed that night, much like Anita, by a man she didn’t know. Her body was treated with contempt, reduced to an object upon which to perform unimaginable brutality.

A generation of women won’t ever forget it.

We’ll think of her as we navigate the streets alone at night, as trees and street lights cast ominous shadows. We’ll think of her when we hear a rustle outside our windows, a sign that we, too, could at any moment cross paths with evil. And we’ll think of her when our own daughters waltz out the front door, unaware that women just like them were taken decades too soon.

And we won’t tell them the details of what happened to Aiia, either.

We know, after all, that those details never stop haunting you.

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