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

Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint (banned 1969–1971)

Philip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint was declared a prohibited import in 1969 by the National Literature Board of Review. The following year, the Australian branch of Penguin Books decided to challenge official censorship by publishing the book in Australia. Some 75,000 copies had been printed by August 1970. The distribution was planned like a military operation, with Penguin agreeing in advance to indemnify any booksellers who were prosecuted. About half the print run was placed with wholesalers and the rest was trucked to Penguin’s office in the Melbourne suburb of Ringwood, where the books were sent out within two hours. By the time the police arrived at 8 am only two copies were left.

The Victorian and New South Wales governments prosecuted first Penguin itself and then Angus & Robertson, who had 780 copies of the book seized. The trials dragged on until May 1971, when the case against Angus & Robertson was dropped and the seized copies returned. The Commonwealth finally lifted its ban in 1971.

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