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Mother’s tale breaks the silence

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A Greek Cypriot of Australia was so moved by her mother’s struggle she made sure the story was published, helping many others who may have suffered abuse finds PAUL LAMBIS

Ten years ago, Helena Kidd, a first-generation Australian of Greek Cypriot origin, came across her mother’s handwritten Greek diary. When it was translated, a very different woman emerged from the pages than the one who had brought her up.

The hardships Maria Avraam experienced as a Greek Cypriot woman forced into a loveless, abusive marriage, immigrating to a foreign country, coping with marital abandonment, and raising three children as a single parent were glossed over.

“Writing about the pain served as a coping mechanism for her, allowing her to face the challenges and intense emotions she encountered daily,” Helena said. “But her diary also reveals the story of a brave woman who, despite all the struggles, persisted in her efforts to provide her children a better life than the one she had known.”

diaspora maria on her engagement
Maria on her engagement

Maria Avraam was born in the village of Skarinou in 1923. Like most women of the time, Maria was to assume a subservient role in society as the only female – other than her domineering mother – in a household of five brothers. As a result, she accepted her fate as expected when the time came for her to marry a man she hardly knew.

As she describes in her memoir, Maria endured undiagnosed depression, a life of servitude, physical abuse, and even rape during her marriage. Maria was eventually left to care for her three small children alone in Australia when her husband abandoned them. “My mother gained strength from her children, working hard to put a roof over our heads,” Helena said.

However, Maria was still plagued by the psychological and physical pain for many years, and it was not until she was 64 that she decided to write something down. “She did not want to publish her autobiography at the time; her goal was simply one of self-healing,” Helena added.

According to Helena, when she came across her mother’s memoir, and after reading about Maria’s estranged relationship with her own mother, her marginalisation in Cypriot society because of her gender, and the hardships she faced as a married woman, she felt the need to share it with a wider audience. “Her story is a real and brutally honest depiction of her life and feelings, directly from the heart,” Helena told Living.

“When the book was published, my mother could not believe that people were interested in her story and the impact it had on so many others, especially victims who are frequently forced to remain silent.”

diaspora when the past awakens
When the Past Awakens

When the Past Awakens is a universal story that sheds light on issues that, like those Maria encountered, are still present in today’s world. “It also highlights Cyprus’ culture and the advancement of women in terms of gender equality and humanitarian ideals,” Kidd added.

Helena uses Maria’s memoir as inspiration for many of her motivational speeches on domestic violence in Australia. “The reception to my mother’s autobiography has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said.

The book was shortlisted in the category of Community Diversity for the Victorian Community History Awards, giving Maria the confidence in the value of her narrative and the significant life lessons it imparts. “I was overjoyed that before she passed away late last year at the age of 98, my mother had the opportunity to hold the published book in her hands,” Helena said.

“My mother provided us the best life she could despite the challenges. She passed on her courage and strength to my siblings and me. This book is not only about my mother but also the women of her generation who kept going despite the adversities.”

Helena is now penning a second memoir as a Greek Cypriot living in Australia. Her book aims to shed light on how the subsequent generation fared after their parents left their native Cyprus to make a fresh start in a foreign country. The memoir also touches on the importance of migrants buying into the dream of home ownership.

“My personal story will reveal my perspective as a Greek Cypriot of the diaspora and extensively feature my mother Maria throughout. Her story will continue through mine.”

Helena is also involved in an oral history project where she conducts interviews with Greek women over the age of 80 who live in Australia, documenting their stories for future generations to study and learn from.

“Stories like my mother’s give us the means to examine and address issues from the past. It puts us in a position to perceive things that are frequently hidden from view in the here and now and gives us a key perspective for understanding and addressing both present and future issues. After all, by helping, abuse victims may feel more at ease and confident to break the silence.”

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