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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Maria

1986 (printed 2013)
Michael Riley

from the series ‘Michael Riley Portraits 1984-1990’
inkjet print on paper (frame: 41.5 cm x 43.4 cm depth 5.0 cm, image: 39.1 cm x 40.9 cm)

Maria (Polly) Cutmore, Gomeroi Elder and direct descendent of the Weraerai clan of the Gomeroi, The Weraeria people were the victims of both the Waterloo Creek and the Myall Creek massacres which occurred southwest of Moree, New South Wales during 1837-1838. Polly was born in the black ward of the Moree District Hospital, the McMasters Ward – the segregated section of the hospital, staffed with Aboriginal nurses. Standard practice at the time, Polly's birth records, like most Aboriginal people from the McMaster Ward, were burned and destroyed.

She grew up on the Aboriginal only Mehi Crescent Mission on the outskirts of Moree and was subjected to racist laws, only allowed to go to town at certain times, not allowed into the local public swimming pool or certain clubs, and segregated seats at the local cinema. Polly recalls being doused in the toxic chemical DDT as child before she was allowed to swim in the Missions pool, a precaution which was reserved for Aboriginal children in case they had head lice. The Missions pool, or the Moreee Baths and Swimming Pool, is a heritage-listed swimming pool in Moree and was the first site of successful protests for Aboriginal rights led by Arrentre man Charles Perkins in 1965. Known as the Freedom Rides, university students travelled around rural New South Wales protesting for Aboriginal rights and thrusting the entrenched issues of open racism and segregation into the national agenda. The publicity of such events at the pool contributed to the 1967 Referendum, leading to change within the Australian Constitution and an increase in the recognition of First Nations rights.

Polly is a fierce activist fighting tirelessly for her community, and the preservation of Gomerio land, water and sacred sites. Frequently voicing her concerns for Country, she has spearheaded a number of campaigns regarding the lack of water, the impact of gas mining and the acknowledgement and meaningful recognition of the 1837–1838 massacres. Polly continually advocates for justice and wellbeing for her community, people, Country and culture.

Purchased 2013
© Michael Riley/Copyright Agency, 2022

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Michael Riley (age 26 in 1986)

Maria Polly Cutmore

Subject professions

Activism

Performing arts

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency