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Byron Shire
May 19, 2024

Editorial: Ban that smut!

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The banning of books is not all that uncommon – it’s done for political, legal, religious or ‘moral’ censorship reasons.

The narrowing of the collective spectrum seems to be gaining traction in the US especially, where school boards, stacked by ultra-conservative Christians, are limiting childhood education, presumably as God intended. 

Just wait till the kids learn about Exodus 35:2, which says the death penalty applies to working on the Sabbath, or Exodus 21:7, which is ‘When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go free as male slaves do.’

Anyway, Australia has its own history of censorship.

According to unimelb.edu.au, ‘the most common reason for book bans by the Australian government was actually “offensive obscenity”.’ 

Ulysses was banned in Australia from 1927 until 1937. Hundreds of other titles, including The Kama Sutra and Lady Chatterley’s Lover had bans lasting until the ’60s and ’70s. 

Supporting Australia’s puritan views on literature, Angela Heathcote’s article, The books Australia banned (www.australiangeographic.com.au) states: ‘In 2010, literary historian, Nicole Moore, from the University of NSW, stumbled upon 793 boxes of books deep in the underground of Australia’s National Archives in Sydney’. 

Angela says, ‘Inside, were copies of Ulysses by James Joyce, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, even Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by Fanny Hill’. 

‘These titles, and thousands more, were banned in Australia through the 20th century, considered to be obscene, blasphemous, or excessively violent’.

Nicole said, ‘Until the early 1970s, Australia was one of the strictest censors in the English-speaking world’.

‘We were often compared to Catholic Ireland and apartheid South Africa, both of which had strong religious and ideological reasons behind their censorship, but we banned some books they didn’t ban’.

Angela adds, ‘Around 90 per cent of the books that were banned in Australia during the 20th century were classified as “obscene”.’ 

Obscene takes on the British common law meaning, which declares that a book has the potential to “deprave or corrupt” its reader. This definition was often stretched and Nicole says it had a racist and homophobic agenda. 

‘James Baldwin’s famous 1962 novel Another Country, which is set in New York City in the 1950s, and mentions interracial sex, was banned under this definition’.

Thankfully, censorship laws were eased in 1969, after the appointment of Don Chipp as the Customs Minister in the newly elected Fraser Liberal government. According to Nicole, apart from Chipp’s reforms, it was the Australian publishing industry who started protesting the laws and printed the banned sexually explicit 1969 novel, Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth. 

‘Around 170, 000 copies managed to go into circulation very quickly. Penguin was rumoured to be keeping their stock on the road in unmarked trucks, to avoid seizure,’ she says.

Hans Lovejoy, editor


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13 COMMENTS

  1. I think you will find they are trying to ban pornographic books from primary school libraries, no attempting to stop them being published.

  2. A bit of untidiness here Hans. Firstly, when you write, “Supporting Australia’s puritan views on literature, Angela Heathcote’s article, ‘The books Australia banned’ …”, I think you might mean something like “Evidence of Australia’s puritan views on literature can be found in Angela Heathcote’s article …” I doubt she supported these views.

    Secondly Don Chipp was appointed Customs Minister after the 1969 election of John Gorton. The Fraser government won the 1975 election defeating after John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam government. Lest we forget!

    Your musings though did give me a little chuckle – firstly remembering a 1968 ditty Melborn and Sideny about the rivalry between the two capitals. One memorable line has it that:
    “Melbourne is not pure we know but Sydney she is viler
    And the only dirty books down here are read by Mr Rylah”

    ( Rylah being the deputy premier of Victoria (55-71) and public censor.

    My second chuckle is at the rather censorious tone applied here to the topic of censorship. Clearly moderating out close-to-the-bone replies to pro Green commentary is not censorship.

    • You are spot on with your second chuckle.

      Are they moderating out replies ?

      It may be better described as ignoring and not printing the comment, and just not occasionally.

      Definitely not censorship or banning.

      No, no ,no .

        • You’re welcome “Johno”!

          (I don’t approve stupid, irrelevant, off-topic, stupid, irrelevant, inflammatory, trolling or just plain stupid and irrelevant comments
          – which is about 60 per cent of what is submitted)

          Get better at commenting “whoever you are”
          – remembering that I know who everyone is because you can change your name but you can’t hide your IP address 😉

          • Hardly *guffaw*
            – but I am one of five or six people who check comments and get very over some of the crap
            (and the amount of different “personalities” some people have)
            If folk want to really comment and be heard, why don’t they represent themselves honestly with their own name?
            Why do they make a comment and then answer to themselves under a different name?

          • I often talk to myself as to get better answers. Youtube: ‘Ren – Hi Ren’ for details.

          • I empathise Eve. I wouldn’t want to read through much of this repetitive crap every day either. To think there’s as much and more again that we don’t see is terrifying.

            Maybe time to end the online comments. I’d certainly save a lot of time not feeling I have to reply to crap all the time.

          • I have the same issue with the articles, but I wouldn’t shut the Echo down, cause I’m wise and stuff. Youtube: ‘Disturbed – The sound of silence’ for details. It’s not the history lesson that you need, but the left run on feelies, and that’s a lefty song from the 60s.

          • Then the sign said, “The words on the prophets are written on the subway walls
            In tenement halls”

            Without a subway, we have The Echo.

            Were not we all lefties in the ’60s?

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