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by Conor Burke
posted 01/08/2018

One Hundred Years of Dirt By Rick Morton: A review

One Hundred Years of Dirt is the debut by Rick Morton- award winning journalist and social affairs writer with The Australian. At only 31, Morton has given us a book that is part family history, with all the traits of really good long form Journalism. Part memoir, jarringly honest and full of introspection. And part social commentary and treatise on the Australian dream and the class system at its heart.

Morton sits across from me in what he describes as “Tory check” or an RM Williams chequered shirt to the rest of us. We laugh at this, but it gives me an insight into the slight guilt that lingers for Morton as he leaves the working class behind and crosses over to the middle class.

Morton’s book goes back to where it all began, his family’s farm, “seven cattle stations roughly the size of Belgium” or 30,000 sq. kilometres of Outback Australia. And there starts the tale of domestic violence, abandonment and poverty borne of patriarch of the Morton family

It was “harsh, proper harsh country and he was a harsh man, a harsh violent and cruel man” he says of Far North Queensland and his late grandfather, George Morton, respectively.

The title refers to the literal 100-odd years of family owned land, but also “the kind of dirt that sticks to you over a lifetime of maleficence, torment, trauma, mistakes, all those things add up to tell the story of a person.” says Morton.

And like its near name-sake, One Hundred years of Solitude, Morton’s story is a generational tale and looks at how our history can follow us and whether we are doomed to repeat it.

It is also the -not often told- story of a determined woman and mother, struggling below the poverty line raising children alone. The star of this book is undoubtedly Morton’s mother.

“I wanted to share it [my story] because my mum’s a hero. And I don’t think she has ever got the reward or recognition she deserves” Morton beams, “and it was the only thing I could do to properly acknowledge her”.

It is a small read at 187 pages, but its like the time you saved up to eat that really expensive meal and you’re not even mad that it was tiny, because it was so bloody good.

To carry on the food metaphor, it also feels like the time you ate a pizza, sides and a large bottle of coke all by yourself.  You’re full, uncomfortable, proud and a little ashamed all at the same time. Morton urges us to confront some uneasy truths about Australia.

Ultimately it is a story of triumph. It is heartbreaking, funny, complex and sweet. The book covers a broad range of topics from mental health to drug abuse to sexuality.

At times, he writes  as if looking down upon his subjects from above. He is able to explain issues to the reader in depth and ever so accessibly. All the while writing with a flair not always associated with a news journalist.

Morton had dreams of telling this tale “since primary school” he tells me. According to his mum, Morton is “an alien, put on this Earth to tell stories like this” And to read One Hundred Years of Dirt you wouldn’t argue with her.

Click the link below to hear my full interview with Rick Morton.


And head and buy the book from all good bookstores.

One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton Published by Melbourne University Publishing

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