Banned Books in Australia A Special Collections-Art in the Library Exhibition

'Australian Editions'

Jenny Lee

For much of the 20th century, Australian censorship had a chilling effect on writers, booksellers and publishers. The Australian book market was mainly supplied through Britain and it became common practice for publishers to pre-censor books by eliminating passages that might attract the attention of the Australian censors, often submitting them in proof to test the waters before the books were printed. Throughout the British book trade, expurgated editions became known as ‘Australian editions’.

An example was Grace Metalious’s novel Peyton Place, which was published in 1956, made into a film the following year and formed the basis of a hugely popular 1960s television series. An expurgated edition published by the London firm of Frederick Muller was released late in 1957, while the original edition was banned.

The Minister for Customs and Excise, Denham Henty, took this as a signal to suggest similar ‘amendments’ to books in cases where his department took a less liberal view than the Censorship Board. Shortly after the expurgated Peyton Place was released, Henty wrote to the Appeal Censor, L.H. Allen, suggesting that a passage be excised from James Cozzens’ By Love Possessed, which the board had passed. ‘I feel that pages 147–156 are a little brash and could be expressed with a more delicate touch,’ he wrote.

The Appeal Censor backed the board’s decision, arguing, ‘If indecency is held to be absolute, much of the world’s best literature would perish … Books that are obscene are debasing in their entirety, but I see here a very just picture of life presented in a manner which would appeal only to serious intellectuals. I would recommend release.’

Often, however, publishers accommodated the censors by expurgating books. Having run into problems with Australian censorship in the 1950s, the London firm of Anthony Blond made money from it in the following decade by buying rights to US titles and publishing them in expurgated editions. The official censors would then ban the originals and give the pre-censored edition an uncontested position in the Australian market.

Blond’s editions came out so quickly that many Australian readers did not even realise they were being offered expurgated works. In the case of Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers, for example, Blond’s abridged version appeared in 1961, the same year as the original was published in New York and banned in Australia. Similarly, Blond cut Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge to suit the Australian censors, who duly banned the original.

Even Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which D.H. Lawrence wrote specifically to confront the censors, was expurgated and released in Australia. Six different expurgated versions were in circulation before the Commonwealth’s ban on the uncensored book was lifted in 1965. Lawrence himself had approved an edition prepared by Knopf, but most of the others were unauthorised. In this as in other cases, censorship compromised authors’ rights to the integrity of their work.

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