‘Banned’ café display

Our new café display is up at the National Archives in Canberra. Featuring a large wall montage and stories about books banned in Australia from the 1920s to the 1970s, the display reveals much about how our social attitudes and morals changed during the 20th century.

'Banned' at the National Archive in Australia

‘Banned’ at the National Archives in Canberra
Photographer: Angus Kendon

For conservation reasons, the original books are not on display in the brightly-lit café area, but we scoured bookshops and trawled through eBay to find copies to flick through. We’ve also included copies of censorship documents which provide an insight into why some books were banned.

Check out our Books page for more information about the prohibited publications on display, including links to digitised documents in the National Archives collection.

Stay tuned next week for a story about JD Salinger’s classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye. The banning of this novel in 1956 caused national embarrassment and led to an overhaul of the censorship system.


4 thoughts on “‘Banned’ café display

  1. Good work. I’m a huge fan of pulp fiction and I know that local and imported pulp was a regular target of our censors in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I’m keen to learn more about all this and will be following your site with interest.

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      You’re right – the bulk of prohibited imports were pulp fiction novels, comics and magazines (including pornography). Literary works made up only a small proportion of the publications banned in Australia.

      Crime and detective thrillers were an especially popular pulp fiction genre and were frequently banned by the censors for over-empahising sex and violence. Throughout the year, this blog will look at the prohibition of bestselling pulp novels by authors like Mickey Spillane and ‘Darcy Glinto’ (Harold Kelly).

      National Archives

  2. Just had a hot chocolate in the NAA cafe, and thought the display was fantastic! I am absolutely intrigued, and as a Librarian I would like to find out more. Do you have a cumulative list of the books that have been banned in Australia, or is there some easy way to find what has been banned over the years?

    • It’s great to hear you enjoyed the cafe display, Jennifer. I hope you had time to look through some of the books and censor reports.

      Unfortunately, we don’t have a cumulative list of the books banned in Australia, nor is there an easy or quick way to compile one. Nicole Moore, who wrote The Censor’s Library, estimates that nearly 16,000 publications were banned by Customs between the late 1920s and 1973. From 1958 the list of banned books was made available to the public (through the Commonwealth Gazette). However, only literary titles or those considered to have some public interest were listed. Most of the publications banned by Customs – cheap fiction, comics and magazines – were not published.

      Around 500 literary titles were banned in Australia. If you’re interested in finding out more about these, I recommend you check out the Banned in Australia dataset on AusLit (http://www.austlit.edu.au/specialistDatasets/Banned), which was compiled by Nicole Moore and Marita Bullock. You can access this dataset at the National Library of Australia, or any other library that subscribes to AusLit.

      National Archives

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