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Memento : Issue 30
the Archives provide a valuable source of information that by and large has not yet been tapped by researchers. Censorship history in Australia may be complex, rich and long, but by drawing on these diverse records it can be understood. In Australia, most censorship at a national level has been conducted by the federal Department of Trade and Customs, acting to ban publications and objects as prohibited imports under the Customs Act 1901. Following Federation, Trade and Customs became responsible for realising the symbolic union of the different colonies through newly centralised control over that highly contested notion, border protection. Section 52C of the Act required Trade and Customs to prohibit the importation of anything ‘blasphemous, obscene or indecent’. This seemingly simple phrase entailed a national bureaucracy of substantial proportions and complexity. Trade and Customs was responsible for identifying imports that appeared to be covered by Section 52C, most of which were publications. Through most of the 20th century, Australians imported far more publications than they published domestically, and British monopoly of the industry meant that many Australian authors were first published in the United Kingdom. Tracing evidence of the practice of this bureaucracy is not a simple task. The records relating to the practice of censorship include some of the biggest file series held by the Archives. In addition to volume, the differing agencies responsible for administering decisions had varied filing procedures and administrative structures, and collected records in somewhat unpredictable ways. From early in the 20th century, film censorship had its own board and, after 1933, a new Literature Censorship Board became responsible for decisions relating to books and publications with literary or scholarly merit. This Board was expanded and restructured in reviews in 1937 and 1957–58, and in 1967 was replaced by a new agency, the National Literature Board of Review. The Office of Film and Literature Classification was established in 1988 and brought together most of the responsibility for censorship into one agency. Outside the activities of these agencies, Trade and Customs established and maintained its own censorship procedures, and remained responsible for censorship of publications that it regarded as having no claim to literary merit, as well as control of the circulation of imported obscene objects. It referred publications suspected of sedition to the Attorney General’s department and worked with the Postmaster-General’s office in its responsibility for registering publications for passage through the post. It also referred some titles suspected of indecency or obscenity to the Department of Health for decisions. For much of the 20th century, publications deemed to be obscene or indecent, or appearing to over-emphasise sex or crime, were dealt with directly by Trade and Customs, without further referral to a separate agency. This category of offensive publication constituted the majority of bannings in Australia since it included most of the imported pornography, pulp fiction, magazines and comics. As the century advanced and our modern, mass-produced, print culture accelerated, more and more of these kinds of publications reached Australian shores. Customs had an office in every state to deal with arrivals at wharves and airports and through parcel post, as well as a central office in Canberra after 1927. Each office had to be kept up to date with the continually revised and expanding list of banned publications. Each office similarly had to report to Canberra when each new title arrived. Details of these titles had to be circulated again to each office after decisions had been reached as to their status – prohibited or passed. One of the more famous obscenity and pornography cases was the discovery of 1,166 obscene photographs in the luggage of Sydney Symphony Orchestra conductor Sir Eugene Goossens in 1957. Customs acted in concert with the NSW Vice Squad and Police, and Goossens was convicted under the Customs Act for importing prohibited publications. This was a lesser charge than he could have been subject to, even though the definition of ‘publication’ and the intended audience for the photographs were at issue in his trial. The scandal nonetheless destroyed Goossens’ career in Australia and forced his resignation. He returned to England where he died four years later. 14 memeNto News from the National Archives (right) Protest letter in defence of Robert Close, 20 April 1948. NAA: T318/1/1 (centre) Exotique magazine cover. NAA: C3059/2, Box 75 (far right) Lady and Sir Robert Garran with Lady and Sir Littleton Groom in Telopea Park, Canberra, 1926. Between 1933–37 Sir Robert Garran was chairman of the Book Censorship Board, and in 1937 he was appointed the Appeals Censor of the Literature Censorship Board. NAA: A3560, 1561