For nearly 70 years, customs officers stationed at wharves, airports and post offices around Australia could rifle through imported boxes of books and confiscate anything that appeared to them to be blasphemous, seditious or obscene.
Thousands of books were placed on a “banned list”, which itself was kept secret until the late 1950s. A collection of these titles, including James Joyce’s Ulysses and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, were kept for reference by the Department of Trade and Customs.
In this Australia was not alone. Such secret collections existed in many parts of the world. The British Museum held the UK’s banned collection, while in the Soviet Union, more than one million books were kept from the public’s view.
However, perhaps uniquely in the world, when censorship finally ended with the election of the Whitlam government in the early 70s, the whereabouts of the Australian collection was forgotten.
Associate Professor Nicole Moore, of UNSW Canberra, had heard rumours of this collection and in 2005 began a search.
But it was not until she mentioned her mission to some archivists with whom she was working in the National Archives of Australia that she finally tracked it down – 793 boxes of banned books.
Read the full story in the latest issue of Uniken.