Why was this book banned?


‘She was alone — with a crew lashed by a hurricane and maddened by desire’.

Love me Sailor by Robert S Close is a book we’ve never have the privilege of reading in Australia. It was banned in 1951 by Australian customs officials for being too smutty.

The hard working public servants at customs seized approximately 15,000 naughty books, comics and magazines from the late 1920s to the early 1970s and locked them away in the National Archives.

‘Most of the books were censored for being obscene and over-emphasising matters of sex and crime and encouraging depravity’, says Curator of the National Archives of Australia Tracey Clarke.


Other titles on the censors’ hit list included gems such as The House Keeper’s Daughter, the tag line to which was ‘She was curvy and careless and lived down the hall’. And if that doesn’t pique your interest — or pique something — there’s that old favourite Road Floozie described as ‘A burning exposure of the moral background to long-haul trucking in America’.

‘It remains a mystery why some books were locked away,’ says Clarke.

What was considered too ‘blasphemous, indecent or obscene’ to enter the country was never really defined by the Customs Department and was subject to change. In fact, the law was so confusing that booksellers would import books in good faith only to have them confiscated by customs.

In 1930 the NSW Collector of Customs tried to clarify matters — or not — by introducing the ‘Average Householder Test’. The test was whether the average householder would accept the book in question as reading material for his family. And it was a ‘he’. If Dad didn’t consider the book appropriate for Mum and the kids then the publication would be banned.

And it wasn’t just pulp fiction with lurid covers and scandalous titles about floozies and long-haul trucking that was considered unfit for the innocent eyes of householders. Literary classics such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, were also considered too lewd for blushing Aussies.

The banning of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in 1957 caused national embarrassment after a copy was found in the Parliamentary Library.

‘It was discovered that the United States ambassador had presented copies of the book to foreign countries as an example of his country’s fine literature,’ says Clarke.

‘It was only after this embarrassment that the censorship system underwent a big overhaul, with the banned list being reviewed and, for the first time, made public.’

While we might laugh at such puritanism, thinking how prudish and censorious we used to be, the banning of books by previous generations gives pause to reflect on our own society’s censorship laws. For example, on January 1 this year, the R+-rating for video came into effect, allowing the importation of previously banned video games.

In years to come, future generations may be shaking their heads at the decision to ban games such as Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. The game was refused classification in 2006 — effectively banned — because, in the words of the Classification Review Board, it ‘provided elements of promotion of the crime of graffiti.’

For now, though, many of these banned books are being taken out of the National Archives’ vaults for public display. A collection of the books will be on display at the National Archives in Canberra throughout 2013.

Details of the books and other documents in the Banned display can be found on the associated blog.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com