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

Frank Hardy, Power Without Glory (withdrawn in Victoria 1950, released 1951)

Frank Hardy knew there would be trouble when he published his first novel, Power Without Glory, a story of political influence, corruption and crime. His central character, John West, bore a striking resemblance to John Wren, a businessman who wielded great power in Melbourne.

To conceal the book from Wren’s allies, Hardy published it himself in August 1950, then publicised it through workplaces and union meetings. Most booksellers refused to carry it, fearing legal action, but interest soon began to build. Copies of the novel did the rounds accompanied by typed sheets listing the characters and their real-world counterparts.

The first print-run sold out in a few weeks and another 16,000 copies were being printed when Hardy was arrested for malicious libel, not of Wren but of his wife Ellen, whose counterpart in the book has an adulterous affair.

Both sides of politics attacked the book in parliament. The premier described it as ‘salacious and defamatory’ and the opposition called it a ‘foul and criminal libel’. Hardy’s defenders said these statements were denials of justice, because the case had not yet been tried. Nevertheless, the Victorian government took over the prosecution and, as a condition of bail, Hardy withdrew the book from sale.

His trial finally took place in June 1951 before a jury in the Victorian Supreme Court. The trial exposed a problem for the prosecution: if, as they claimed, the book was a thinly disguised version of fact, then John Wren was a criminal many times over. Hardy’s defence argued that the book was a novel and the character of Ellen West a fiction.

The jury eventually agreed and ruled Hardy not guilty. There was wild applause in the court and the remaining copies of the book materialised for sale on the streets of Melbourne.

Frank Hardy Defence Pamphlet

This pamphlet opposing the criminal libel charges against Frank Hardy over Power Without Glory was handed out in front of the court. While Hardy left the court a free man, the judge decided that the pamphlet was in contempt of court and jailed its printer, Jack Selig, for three weeks.

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