Tex Morton, Troubled Celebrity

18 Aug

New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Tex Morton is remembered as the father of Australian country music today.

He was Australasia’s country music star, beginning his career as a recording artist in 1936. The star of his own records, radio show, travelling rodeo show, how-to-play-guitar packs and comic books, he was a genuine celebrity throughout the tumultuous 1940s. With his fresh-faced looks, musical talent and self-promotional flair, he was sometimes mobbed by young women at his public appearances: a pop star before the term entered the vocabulary.

You can find many an admiring write-up of Morton’s career by country music specialists and aficionados. They note that he left Australia for ten years at the end of the 1940s, spending most of the 1950s touring Canada as a stage hypnotist.

What you won’t read is that Morton had a seriously troubled personal life before he left Australia in the 1940s.

In 1945, at a time when he was married with twin sons, Morton and the rodeo performer Lance Skuthorpe Jr were charged with the joint rape of a 16 year-old girl at a party in Darlinghurst, Sydney. The charges were dropped a couple of weeks after their first court appearance. Presumably this was because it was the girl’s word against theirs. Morton and Skuthorpe both admitted that they had sex with the young woman, but claimed it was consensual.

Not surprisingly, Morton split with his wife Marjorie around the time that the rape charge hit the press. He was back in the newspapers in 1946 when his estranged wife sued him for maintenance. She claimed that he only ever made irregular payments to help support her and their sons. The judge agreed. Morton’s attempt to avoid playing regular child support was unsuccessful, but only after he and Marjorie had traded bitter allegations about each other’s behaviour in the witness box.

In 1950, the Western Australian showman Bob Carroll made headlines in Perth by claiming that his wife Dorothy had conducted a long-running affair with Morton in the 1940s. Dorothy Carroll (later Ricketts) had performed alongside Morton in his roadshows as Sister Dorrie, the singing cowgirl.

It is fascinating that even though these scandals were widely reported, they had little impact on Morton’s celebrity at the time. They had also disappeared from public memory by the time he returned to Australia in the 1960s, hailed as the founding father of the local country music scene.

Final note

The musician-historian Toby Martin and I have an article coming out in the next issue of Australian Feminist Studies discussing the troubled relationship to women and domesticity in Tex Morton’s music and life.

13 Responses to “Tex Morton, Troubled Celebrity”

  1. Neil B 29 November 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Love Tex, so do my kids, love larrikins also, the older Aussie type…check newstead Short Story tattoo (www.newsteadtattoo.org) in May 2013 for “The Tex Morton Story” done by local yodeller and Aussie country larrikin Archer Shepherd

    • Melissa Bellanta 30 November 2012 at 5:45 am #

      I’ll do that and get back to you. I thing Tex’s music is great, too. Difficult man, effortless songwriter.

  2. Lady Persiphone 9 September 2014 at 9:20 am #

    Would there be any way to find out more about that 16 year old girl who was raped? I am putting together my family history (the Skuthorpes.)

    • Melissa Bellanta 10 September 2014 at 4:58 pm #

      It would be very difficult. It would be worth speaking to staff at the State Records NSW about whether there might be any documentation of the charges brought before the court – but generally speaking, decent documentation only exists if a case went to trial…

      • Lady Persiphone 10 September 2014 at 7:33 pm #

        Ahh that’s true. Thanks for your reply anyway.

  3. Andrew Smith 22 June 2015 at 6:44 pm #

    All this is well known, and has been for years. My concern is that amateur psychologists will read more into these cases than is warranted, in much the same way as all sorts of unwarranted conclusions are often made by university-based academics drawing conclusions from limited evidence and sometimes based on unwarranted assumptions. Some writings on country music are no exception.. I have seen some awful examples of post-modernist-type ‘analyses’ in writings about country music performers.

    • Melissa Bellanta 24 July 2015 at 6:09 am #

      We’ve all seen bad examples of postmodern analyses! What you’re talking about is to some extent horses for courses, though, I think: academics from outside the country music scene are going to take a different perspective on it to fans and players.

  4. Andrew Smith 22 June 2015 at 6:51 pm #

    Further, I have interviews of others who knew Mortpn at the time and especially knew of details of this case. The slant of your article about this is arguably somewhat skewed, as you do not appear to be aware of these (other) facts.

    • Melissa Bellanta 24 July 2015 at 5:41 am #

      Dear Andrew – if the facts are only in the interviews you’ve conducted and not in the public domain, then it would be hard for anyone else to be aware of them. I don’t think you’ve you published them, have you?

      • Andrew Smith 17 August 2015 at 11:23 am #

        I haven’t published them, as my research was in the musical aspects of Tex Morton, although I am planning to write a book later. But that doesn’t justify your writing an article that may be skewed, particularly since Morton is now dead and cannot defend himself.

      • Melissa Bellanta 19 August 2015 at 3:04 pm #

        People write things on the basis of the facts available to them all the time, Andrew!

  5. Andrew Smith 22 July 2015 at 10:23 am #

    The Tex Morton ‘rape’ case is well known. Some statements in the article above are incorrect, too.

    Having interviewed some people involved in the case, I believe there is a good deal more to the story than what came out in the press. I hope your article isn’t just some pseudo-academic feminist study, devoid of the full facts of the case.

    • Melissa Bellanta 24 July 2015 at 5:42 am #

      Dear Andrew – I would love to know the full facts in that case. Regards Melissa

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