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.
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.