MARY CUTTING: Quiet perseverance
Mary Cutting’s demeanour is one that permeates warmth. People are rarely surprised to find that Mary is a seasoned nurse and foster parent of many years. Mary Cutting is, in fact, my mother. A woman whose strength I never fully comprehended until, as an adult woman, I moved interstate away from all that is familiar. In 1983 my mother took a similar, albeit more courageous leap and followed her heart and new husband some 14,000 kilometres from Nigeria to country Victoria, Australia.
Mary isn’t the kind of woman to brag about just how brave and headstrong a young woman she was, but if she were, she’d have supreme bragging rights.
MEET MARY CUTTING
THE PIN: Can you describe your childhood in Nigeria?
MARY CUTTING. I grew up in a small town in Diko, a beautiful little farming community in the now Niger state, Nigeria. We lived in a town of about 2000 people and everyone knew each other. We had the most wonderful childhood.
What were the expectations that your family had of you?
MC. First and foremost that I didn’t do anything that would shame the family. You put the family first. You don’t go out thinking about yourself. Their expectations were that I should be a good adult, a good young person and a good child of theirs.
Were your own expectations in line with theirs?
MC. They were and they weren’t. I wished for myself a good life and I wished that they would give me the chance to marry someone that I love.
How did you meet your future husband, Steve?
MC. I met Steve in January 1981 at a bank. He had just arrived [in Nigeria. I was amongst the crowd of people waiting to be served. He had taken the week off and had gone to the bank and get a bit of money. I was on my lunch break and generally, when nurses or teachers went to the bank, they would serve you quickly so you could go back to work. They served me straight away and I walked out and Steve walked out of the crowd and met me at the car park, when I was just about to get in my car. He asked me where I bought my car and how much I bought it for. He was interested in buying one just like mine… that’s how we met.
How did your parents react to your relationship?
MC. Not so good, not so good. I was cut off from the family and I wasn’t allowed near home. No one would talk to me and my father warned everyone not to talk to me. It wasn’t well received and I was excluded from the family. It took over a year before anyone wanted to have another meeting with me. There hadn’t been any interracial marriages in the past so it was quite a big thing for them to take in.
Do you remember what it felt like contemplating moving countries?
MC. It was so totally way out of what everyone was doing. For me the distance was a concern but I was willing to take that step. That was a challenge I was willing to take.
What year did you move to Australia?
MC. In 1983. I visited Australia to meet Steve’s family in 1982 and then moved to Australia the following year.
What differences in Australian culture really stood out in stark contrast to Nigerian culture?
MC. The nuclear family system and how you can live on a street with so many people and yet not know who was next door. There wasn’t that sense of community at all. At the time, the South African apartheid was still on the news everywhere. I didn’t know so much evil could be done to you because you were a different colour. We didn’t have that in Nigeria, so when I came [to Australia] and it was on the news that was hard to take. Suddenly I thought ‘oh my God, I’m a walking target, I’m here in the midst of white people’. So more and more I became very afraid and scared that someone would attack me or treat me badly because of my colour, which I had never ever experienced in my life.
Were and are you often asked where you’re from?
MC. Not these days. In the past, when I was in the workforce as a nurse, a lot of patients and doctors would ask where I was from.
What are your hopes for your own children?
MC. That they have a good life and that they live a life free of racism. I’ve had to fight a bit of racist behaviour on behalf of my kids when they were in primary school and high school but I think that it should get easier.
THE PIN: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
MARY CUTTING. To embrace everything about myself. There were times I thought maybe life would be easier if I were white and maybe it would be but I’ve embraced my blackness. We’re all different and we should embrace what we’re given.
Photo credits: Loco Photography and the Cutting family
Published March 2016