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

The Little Red School Book (banned in Queensland and Victoria, 1972)

Two Danish educators, Soren Hansen and Jesper Jensen, wrote The Little Red School Book as a subversive reference text for teenagers. Controversy surrounded the book from its first publication in Danish in 1969. It was critical of institutional politics and religion and used explicit language to discuss sexuality and drug use.

Alerted to the fuss in Europe, the Minister for Customs and Excise, Don Chipp, ordered his department to examine the book before it arrived in Australia. Customs advised that any ban would be readily challenged in court and that radical publishers and student organisations had already received copies of the text and begun preparing local editions, which Customs could not touch.

Chipp announced that the book would be allowed into Australia. In the ensuing furore, Christian groups lobbied MPs and ministers to ban the book. The Catholic Weekly attacked the book as ‘a nasty, shoddy publication which should never have been allowed into Australia’ and Senator Kane of the pro-Catholic Democratic Labor Party described Chipp as playing ‘a major role in eroding the moral basis on which Australia’s society stands’.

Chipp’s file on the subject contains more than 400 items, most — though not all — from vehement opponents of The Little Red School Book. A representative letter reads: ‘Ban the “Red book” and make it clear you are not a moral coward bent on making our young folk a bunch of moral savages.’

The controversy divided the conservative McMahon government, with Chipp’s ministerial colleague Kevin Cairns supporting the Queensland government’s decision to ban the book. In Victoria, vice squad detectives seized copies from 150 Victorian shops.

There were fears that Chipp’s stance would cost the liberals the 1972 election, which the PM intended to fight on a law and order platform. An organisation calling itself Keep Pornography Out of Our Schools threatened to copy extracts from the book and distribute them in Chipp’s electorate during the coming campaign. Describing this behaviour as ‘pure pornography’, Chipp commented: ‘It’s amazing how dirty pure-minded people can get.’

The Little Red School Book is available online from the National Library of Australia.

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