Rick Mor­ton Mel­bourne Univer­sity Press; $29.99

The Monthly (Australia) - - FRONT PAGE - NOTED by He­len El­liott

Class is ac­cess.

If Rick Mor­ton hadn’t men­tioned any­thing else in his book, you wouldn’t have wasted your money. But Mor­ton, social af­fairs re­porter for The Aus­tralian, has a hun­dred and one equally in­ter­est­ing things to say, as he en­quires into the na­ture of social and fam­ily struc­ture via a raw and con­fes­sional au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. Mor­ton is only 31 but his has been a life less or­di­nary. Perk up: this is no mis­ery mem­oir. The Mor­tons have owned mil­lions of acres in the Queens­land out­back, around Birdsville, for more than a cen­tury. To Mor­ton’s an­ces­tors, the out­back was land that didn’t want to be worked and was happy to kill you. They re­sponded in kind. What­ever hap­pened to the Mor­tons, there was vi­o­lence, de­struc­tion, cru­elty and ob­ses­sion with own­er­ship of the land. So much for the fa­bled bush aris­toc­racy. This was out­back Game of Thrones. The trauma was in­scribed across gen­er­a­tions. When Mor­ton was seven, his mother took him, his baby sis­ter and his older brother, who was re­cov­er­ing from mas­sive burns, from the sta­tion his fa­ther was man­ag­ing and started over as a sin­gle par­ent. Rick be­came work­ing class in an equiv­a­lent Queens­land town. What Mor­ton writes about is peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the op­po­site of en­ti­tle­ment. There isn’t a word for this state. “Disen­fran­chised” isn’t right be­cause these peo­ple never felt “fran­chised” in the first place. The op­po­site of en­ti­tle­ment is to feel that there are things in the world that are won­der­ful but they will never be for you. Rick Mor­ton had, and still has, a re­mark­able mother, Deb, who stead­fastly pro­vided for her chil­dren and loved them un­con­di­tion­ally. One theme of Mor­ton’s en­quiry is why, given his ad­ver­sity, he should sur­vive so well. He knows it has to do with his mother but, then, his brother is an ice ad­dict. Rick Mor­ton got an ed­u­ca­tion and a job that is a vo­ca­tion. He is smart but has also had daft luck and wants to know, why him? His mother, in her amused way, al­ways in­sisted Rick was an alien sent to re­port back about Earth. And so he has. He still har­bours a pure clean anger at the myr­iad in­jus­tices of which he has been aware all his life. But the anger is fil­tered through hu­mour, a warm heart, a lack of self-pity and a jour­nal­is­tic eye for facts. Mor­ton mines ques­tions that most of us feel too ex­hausted even to glance at. How did we get to be our­selves, and is it pos­si­ble to change? And how can we be­gin to un­der­stand oth­ers who might seem like aliens? Mor­ton is fresh. His book is bril­liant, he’s bril­liant, but I wish he had called it “One Hun­dred Years of Squal­i­tude”.

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