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

Ern Malley, ‘The darkening ecliptic’ (banned in South Australia 1944)

In autumn 1944, the literary magazine Angry Penguins featured a suite of poems by the previously unknown Ern Malley. It soon transpired that Malley and his poems were a hoax concocted by the conservative poets James McAuley and Harold Stewart to parody modernist poetry. The magazine’s editor, Max Harris, was ridiculed in the press for publishing such ‘deliberately-confected bunkum’.

Some months later, the South Australian police seized copies of the magazine and charged Harris with publishing ‘indecent advertisements’. The trial gave Detective Vogelsang, the only prosecution witness, plenty of scope to voice his prejudices. ‘I don’t know what “incestuous” means, but I think there is a suggestion of indecency about it.’

Of the poem ‘Egyptian register’ the prosecution barrister said ‘If it means what I think it does it is clearly indecent. People can’t be allowed to go around writing that sort of thing.’

The magistrate decided that the poems were indecent, in that they offended against modesty and good taste. He observed, ‘I think that the defendant should either acquire that art of delicacy in the handling of sexual topics which is so necessary in Literature, or avoid the topic altogether.’

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