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

The Restricted List

Jenny Lee

In 1956, Literature Censorship Board chair L. H. Allen summarised the Board’s purpose as being ‘to distinguish between what is literature and what in intent, or effect, or in both, is debasing — what, in short, is pornographic, and to ban the latter’.

What Allen failed to mention was that the Board also dealt with books on sexual matters that were neither literature nor pornography. These were textbooks in medicine, anthropology, psychology and sociology, many of which took the censors far outside their areas of literary expertise.

Customs’ response had simply been to ban such books, exciting protests in intellectual circles. Early in 1935, the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science passed a resolution opposing book censorship. Shortly afterwards, Leigh Scott, the University of Melbourne librarian, was quoted in the press as saying, ‘The present ridiculous censorship system has placed us in the position either of refusing to provide students with prescribed books, or of obeying the Commonwealth censor. As an educational institution we prefer to serve the student.’

As a compromise, the censors began placing sexually explicit books of specialist use to students and professionals on ‘restricted circulation’. This meant that they could not be sold through the general book trade, but would be made available through major public and educational libraries, where they were kept under lock and key. As a result, several of the volumes in this cabinet spent up to 60 years in a locked cupboard in the Baillieu Library.

There were 28 books on the restricted list by 1941 and it continued to grow thereafter. Textbook publishing was booming and the censors struggled to distinguish expensive textbooks from expensive pornography; to be on the safe side, they restricted any volumes when there was an element of doubt. Restricted access also made a useful halfway house for controversial books that had previously been banned.

There was no systematic review of the works on the restricted list until 1969, after which many of the books were released.

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