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

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

George Orwell’s first book was a tale of living in poverty in two of Europe’s great cities. Published in 1933, it was summarily banned in April of that year by T. W. White, Australia’s repressive Minister for Customs. In 1936, the Literature Censorship Board followed up by banning Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, which the chair of the Board, Sir Robert Garran, described as ‘indecent’ and ‘of no literary merit’.

Just a year later, Orwell established his reputation with The Road to Wigan Pier and his early works became valuable publishing property. Penguin released Down and Out in a huge paperback edition in 1940 and the book was widely imported into Australia until 1953, when a Customs officer noticed that it was still an illegal import.

At this point, the book was sent to the Literature Censorship Board, apparently without explanation. The Board was bemused. As one member put it, ‘I find no ground, whatever, for considering this an indecent book and, indeed, am surprised at the Customs Department referring it to the Board.’

The book was officially allowed into Australia 20 years after it was published, and three years after its author had died.

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