PETER CUTTING: The Sunny Side
Peter Cutting is a father of two and career man of Nigerian-Australian heritage. Peter grew up in regional Victoria, before moving to Melbourne as a young man and attaining a law degree. He eventually returned to the country lifestyle to raise his own family and has settled happily, living what many would describe as the quintessential Great Australian Dream; a suburban block with lush grass and happy, healthy children.
THE PIN. Can you describe your Australian childhood?
PETER CUTTING. My memory isn’t good for things like this, I don’t remember anything specific. I remember living out in the Mallee [in Victoria], but not in much detail, we then moved to a town called Yea. I remember the house had a large backyard. It was a pretty unremarkable childhood in my view.
Do you recall when you became aware of race?
P. Maybe when I was five years old.
What was it that made you aware?
P. The fact that there wasn’t anyone different in the towns we lived. It was all very white. I’m not sure if I would have been aware of it if we had lived in a metropolitan area where there was more of a mix.
Living outside of a major city, I can’t remember there being anyone else. There were Greeks at my primary school, but broadly speaking, that was it. There were no Asian people or anything. It was pretty strange. High School was much the same. I think there was maybe one Asian kid at our whole school. It was pretty bizarre. There were a couple of kids who were part Asian, but apart from that, nothing really.
When you were growing up did you look to anyone to establish your identity? Did you have role models?
P. I don’t think so. It’s difficult when you’re living in a society like Australia, particularly twenty years ago and even now, still. There isn’t a lot of diversity outside of the cities and if you look at what’s on television, there is hardly any at all.
Growing up in the ‘90s, everyone loved basketball and there were a lot of good American players around. Everyone wanted to be Mike [Jordan]. Every kid wanted to be like that, including me.
Do you think it’s possible to belong to more than one culture?
P. Yeah, I think a lot of people do it. Probably a hell of a lot of people. I think Greek and Italian Australian’s straddle identity pretty well. They seem to be able to conform to the expectations of their parents and grandparents, while at other times acting completely different around other people. I think that’s usually the way people do it.
Do you think that you and your two siblings, who are both women, have shared a similar experience as you in regard to identity?
P. I don’t think so. Being the oldest in the family, I perhaps had a more difficult time. When I was younger, the response to having any issues was to beat other kids or fight them. That was pretty common, which is more of a male thing. I think my sisters had a different experience to mine.
Are you often asked where you are from?
P. Yeah [laughs], quite a bit actually. Maybe not as much as I used to be, but that’s probably because I don’t go out as much as I used to. Generally speaking, the people I meet now are in a professional context, so they don’t usually ask. I think a lot of people assume I am Fijian or Sri Lankan.
How do you respond when you are asked?
P. I don’t mind talking about it. Often the thing that annoys me is people don’t ask the question properly, which is just a pet bug bear. People are lazy with language. I’m interested to know where other people are from, who isn’t interested? It’s about how you frame the question.
For me, the broadness of my accent indicates that I was either born here or emigrated from quite an early age. You can tell that pretty much straight away, so for someone to ask where I am from, the answer is where I lived most of my life, which is Yea in Victoria. What they want to know, and should ask, is what my ethnic background is. That’s the real question. Where are you from is not the question! [laughs].
What are your hopes for your own children?
P. For my oldest, I think she’ll have less of an issue because the Nigerian gene pool has been watered down even more with her. She looks pretty unique, but she also just looks really tanned. So I think she’ll probably slip through the cracks of having to answer that question based on her appearance. I imagine people will assume she is Spanish or Italian.
Is there any advice you’d like to give your daughters on growing up different, coming from your own experience?
P. It’s difficult for kids. From my point of view, not being different is considered a good thing for kids. Kids need to fit in and I don’t see any reason why she should have any difficulty or have to think about it too much. Any of those challenges is just life experience really. Australia has become more diverse over the last twenty years, and if you live in a large regional centre, people are becoming more used to it. It’s not such a big deal anymore. Certainly some ethnic groups get it a lot harder, but any challenge you face will just make you better. That would be the advice I’d give.
Are you comfortable with your biracial and bicultural identity as an adult?
P. I don’t really see it that way, I don’t feel like I have any sort of major cultural differences. On a day to day basis, it’s not a big thing and I’m comfortable with it. When I think back, the biggest influences on my personality have been the people I’ve met in life who have broadly been Anglo-Australians. So I always feel that is where I am most comfortable. I identity largely with that identity, because it’s what I am used to.
First and foremost, I identity as Australian above other labels, which thankfully is really quite diverse in meaning.
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?
PETER CUTTING. Embrace it. There’s no point in thinking about things you can’t change, is there? There are a lot of benefits to it as well, particularly here where it’s so sunny.
- This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo credit: Loco Photography