Australia’s Censorship Crisis edited by Geoffrey Dutton and Max Harris

Australias Censorship Crisis edited by Geoffrey Dutton and Max Harris
Australias Censorship Crisis edited by Geoffrey Dutton and Max Harris

This is a strange sort of book to read at this time. I say this as it was published in 1970 and censorship has changed dramatically in the intervening 53 years. But it’s very interesting to get a snapshot of what things were like in 1970. I have very few memories of 1970, probably because I was very young. All the books I was reading were already somewhere in the house or in the library, I wasn’t at the stage of being able to buy my own books, and I certainly wasn’t able to order books from overseas. Judging by my experience of ordering books from overseas about twenty years ago it is absolutely something I wasn’t able to do in 1970. Sure, I could read, but I wouldn’t have wanted to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover or any of the myriad of books that were censored or banned at that time. These are books I’m only interested in now to find out what people were worrying about at that time.

This book has essays written by some of the top writers of the day, the fact that I’ve heard of none of them is rather irrelevant. I’ve done a quick google on a couple of them and they have writing credits longer than my arm. The writers are Anthony Blackshield, Gordon Hawkins, John Tasker, Eric Williams, S. Murray-Smith, Geoffrey Dutton, Judith Wright, David Lake, Max Harris and Richard Walsh.

Each essay highlights a different part of censorship. You’ve got censorship in theatre where the play was really quite offensive and incredibly racist, but the only thing that made the police arrest someone was a swear word. This then went to court and the judge had to make a call on whether or not it should be censored.

The censorship in books was rather odd. You could have a book be confiscated by customs, but the same book, if printed in Australia, was okay to sell. The committee reading and censoring books would sometimes ask for a word to be erased or a scene to be rewritten but it was quite inconsistent. I haven’t made a note of the inconsistencies, though.

And with movies, sometimes the censorship committee would ask for the last part of the move to be moved to the front. Other times they would remove a fraction of the movie changing the entire story. I suspect they didn’t actually know much about movie making.

The appendixes are fascinating to read. There are excerpts from some of the censored books, the parts that were excised. We get to judge whether we feel they need censoring. And to do that we would first need to understand society as it was in 1970 rather than as it is in 2023. If you can do that then you’re better than me. As I said, I don’t have many memories of 1970, let alone knowing what society was like at that time.

One thing I did love about all this writing is the use of words. I didn’t write many words down, but the one I did write was ‘prefatory’. I thought it was a great word, something I’d like to use in the future. It just means ‘introduction’, but it’s a great way to say it.

One thing I found fascinating about this book is that it introduced the idea of a ratings system for movies. Between 1968 and 1970 a ratings system was introduced in America. From 1970 a ratings system was introduced in Australia. A friend took a group of us to the movies two years out of three for her birthday, we saw The Towering Inferno (1975) and The Poseidon Adventure (1973). Both of which were rated PG which meant it was suggested children under the age of fifteen could only with these with parental guidance. We were mid to late primary school at that stage. Both movies have haunted me ever since, I’m sure I was much too young to watch those. Before 1970 we could have walked into the cinema to watch these movies without adult supervision. I feel this book has made a difference.

All in all it’s a very interesting book. I pinched it from my parents’ bookshelf at one stage. I know this because my maiden name has been written in the front by my Mum. I’m suggesting my parents would have read this book in 1970 and probably discussed it with their friends.

The post Australia’s Censorship Crisis edited by Geoffrey Dutton and Max Harris first appeared on Suz’s Space | Book Reviews | Editing | Proofreading.


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