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




9 comments so far

  • I've just managed to find a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover and it is my next Must Read book. I read Sons and Lovers years ago and that was great.

    I read my first porn book at 16 - imaginatively titled "What a Screw". There's smut and there's smut but both books were read voraciously by me!

    Ms Patonga
    Date and time
    January 30, 2013, 9:54AM
    • Lady Chatterly's Lover has to be one of the most boring books I ever tried to read - right up there with Moby Dick and The Celestine Prophecy, and not far behind The DaVinci Code.

      Date and time
      January 30, 2013, 12:31PM
    • Moby Dick was a big let down (scuse the pun) the Da Vinci code was boring and an affront to Baigent, Lincoln and Lee. The books described above would most likely be considered relatively tame by todays standards. But I'm sure someone some where in this PC nation of ours would find them to be disgusting filth and promptly have them banned again

      Stanley Kubrick
      Date and time
      January 30, 2013, 1:18PM
    • Aw Adventurous reader, I'll still give it a go. Totally agree with you re Da Vinci code - haven't read the rest. But the second Dan Brown book was even more boring that DVC! I wanted to kill all the characters.

      I remember all the shrieking about American Psycho as well. I remember reading a book when I was about 20 called Garden of Sand by a Larry someone or other - that was pretty outrageous - dealt with white trash and incest with the kid obsessed with his mama. So outrageous I think I read it twice!

      Ms Patonga
      Date and time
      January 30, 2013, 1:35PM
  • There is a long history in Australia of random and arbitrary examples of censorship.
    Books, movies, video games, all have been banned based on seemingly random criteria.
    For some reason we accept this patronizing interference in our personal sovereignty.

    In retrospect these bans usually appear ridiculous and absurd. As though reading Lady Chatterley's Lover or watching a Clockwork Orange is going to turn us into raving lunatics.

    One of the biggest absurdities is the censors themselves who declare that the Australian population is not intellectually or morally capable of handling publications that they themselves have read for us. As though they have access to some well spring of moral fortitude and intellectual superiority that enables them to review these publications without it destroying their psyches, but that we as the general public couldn't possibly deal with it.

    It's absurd. If something isn't expressly illegal, it should be published or distributed in this country. We are a free country. Censorship of legal material is anathema to a free society.

    Date and time
    January 30, 2013, 10:47AM
    • It wasn't only reading matter, movies and games that were 'censored' for us - songs were also banned. There was a song by Vicki Lawrence called "He Did With Me" which was banned in Australia until the line "And all the toast that used to burn, While we'd make love instead" was replaced. (I don't remember what with, but something lame).

      Yep - it was just too terrible to hear - imagine someone singing "make love" in a song! Disgusting!

      Date and time
      January 30, 2013, 10:47AM
      • Within 20 years it is likely that all these books will be once again banned and that men with Homburg hats will be frisking people for smut at the customs tables. The internet will be illegal and the First Amendment will be repealed (not the second amendment though).

        Date and time
        January 30, 2013, 2:08PM
        • Any chance we could get them to ban One Direction ???

          Date and time
          January 30, 2013, 2:41PM
          • I do recall a teacher saying that back in his day the very best way to get the boys at his school to read any particular novel was to ban it. Apparently there was a very well-thumbed copy of Lady Chatterly's Lover that did the rounds.

            Date and time
            January 30, 2013, 3:23PM

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