At once a treatise on social mobility in Australia and a grim reminder of the trauma of family violence played out down the generations, Rick Morton’s memoir definitely grips you from the first chapter. I listened to this as an audiobook and it is read by Rick Morton which really brought home the personal nature of his story. His unflinching honesty shown throughout the telling of an emotionally complex family life is a credit to his writing ability.
The first part of the book deals with the awful family violence perpetrated by Rick’s grandfather, George the patriarch of an isolated cattle stations in remote Australia the size of Belgium. The man was terrifying and his power absolute, made worse by the isolation the family was in. This was hard to listen to but to understand Rick’s life and his emotional responses you had to understand his father, and his father was violently and emotionally abused by his own father. Rick’s father, Rodney, abandons them after a devastating farm accident where his 7-year-old brother is badly burned. The abandonment is total, emotionally and financially. Rick’s heroic mother Deb kept them together and always struggled financially. Living in remote regional Australia her skills only prepared her for low paid jobs and without any other financial support the family struggled from week to week. Rick’s brother Tony turned to drugs which then involved the family in crime, shocking his Mum, but they never abandoned Tony.
Rick wrote about the writing of his memoir here and says even now he looks for clues that he has been abandoned in every relationship he has. The second half of the book dealing with Rick’s own growing up does have some poignant truths about the reality of social mobility in Australia and the importance of access to University is really key. It did resonate with me in a similar way to Tara Westover’s book Educated and my review of that book can be found here. Rick is now a journalist and he notes that he is the only journalist from the ‘lower’ classes writing for any newspaper and that this does influence the stories told, the opinions shared and how the news is interpreted. He disagrees vehemently with the notion that Australians are ‘classless’ and everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed using his own families story to illustrate how this just is not played out in the lives of the struggling poor. This is an important story to read, understand and share as it discusses and highlights important community issues that affect us all today – the lasting effects of domestic violence, the nature of poverty for single parent, especially single mothers, families and impales the myth of an egalitarian Australia that treats everyone equally. A recommended read.
By Jane Cowell, CEO Yarra Plenty Regional Library