Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

The Banning ofRedheap:Sober Facts about an Inflammatory Fiction

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2013), 105, (1), 171–185.

Abstract

The banning of Norman Lindsay’s novelRedheapin 1930 was a controversial decision at the time and has been the subject of much commentary by historians, biographers and journalists. Since the 1960s there have been some half dozen contradictory explanations for the decision, ranging from standard operating procedure in the Department of Trade and Customs to the personal intervention of Lindsay’s mother. In this paper, I outline the various theories, identify their fallacies and comment critically on the tendency for secondary accounts to repeat the claims of previous writers, no matter how erroneous or improbable, with no attempt at verification. In the first part, I outline the contending theories as to the origins and cause of the ban; the second part is a brief narrative of the affair; in the third part, I evaluate the theories and make a judgement as to which accounts come closest to the truth. I conclude that none of the accounts is satisfactory and that the explanation for the ban is to be found in the policies and attitudes of the government officials and politicians involved in the case.

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Footnotes

*The author would like to thank the two anonymous referees ofLabour Historyfor their comments and suggestions. Google Scholar

1.Peter Coleman, Obscenity, Blasphemy and Sedition(:Angus & Robertson, 1961, 1974). Google Scholar

2.John Hetherington, Norman Lindsay: The Embattled Olympian(:Oxford University Press, 1973), 183. Google Scholar

3. Smith’s Weekly, 31 May1930. Google Scholar

4.Lionel Lindsay, Comedy of Life: An Autobiography(:Angus & Robertson, 1967), 134. Google Scholar

5.Hetherington, Norman Lindsay, 183. Google Scholar

6.Ibid. Google Scholar

7.Hansard, House of Representatives, vol. 124(21 May 1930), 1949. Google Scholar

8.Michael Pollack, Sense and Censorship: Commentaries on Censorship Violence in Australia(:Reed, 1990), 167, 171. Google Scholar

9.R. G. Howarth and A. W. Barker, ed., Letters of Norman Lindsay(:Angus & Robertson, 1979), 289. Google Scholar

10.Joanna Mendelssohn, Letters and Liars: Norman Lindsay and the Lindsay Family(:Angus and Robertson, 1996), 212. Google Scholar

11.Nicole Moore, The Censor’s Library: Uncovering the Lost History of Australia’s Banned Books(:UQP, 2012), 117–22. Google Scholar

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13.Details can be checked at Adam Carr’s election archive, accessed September2013,http://psephos.adam-carr.net. Google Scholar

14.Moore, The Censor’s Library, 120. Google Scholar

15.Stephen Payne, “Aspects of Commonwealth Literary Censorship in Australia 1929–1941”(MA Qual thesis,Australian National University, 1980). Google Scholar

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17.John O’London’s Weekly, 5 April1920, copy at CRS A425, file 59/24212, National Archives of Australia (NAA). Google Scholar

18.Herald(Melbourne), 14 April1930. Google Scholar

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21.Brossois to Collector of Customs, NSW, 23 April1930, CRS A425, file 59/24212, NAA. Google Scholar

22.Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April1930. Google Scholar

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30. Adelaide Advertiser, 3 May1930, copy on file 59/24212. Google Scholar

31. Sun(Sydney), 14 May1930. Google Scholar

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41.Ibid., 23 May1930. Google Scholar

42.Robert Darby, “The Censor as Literary Critic: Judging Fiction in the 1930s,” Westerly 31(December1986):30–40;Moore, The Censor’s Library, 33–35. Google Scholar

43. Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July1933, 12. Google Scholar

44. Smith’s Weekly, 31 May1930, cited in Payne, “Aspects of Commonwealth Literary Censorship,” 47. Google Scholar

45.Joanna Parkinson, “Australia’s Trustees: The Censors and Literary Censorship, 1929–1937”(BA Hons thesis,History Department, ANU, 1984);David Day, Contraband and Controversy: The Customs History of Australia(:AGPS1996). Day observes that Customs was “a traditionally Catholic-dominated section of the public service” (p. 102) and mentions the zeal of Brossois and the wider Sydney office specifically (p. 181);Moore, The Censor’s Library, 96–97. Google Scholar

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47.“Report of the Royal Commission on the Moving Picture Industry in Australia,” Parliamentary Paper, no. 227, Session1926–28, vol. 4, part 2, 1373–409. Google Scholar

48.Ibid., recommendation 12. Google Scholar

49.Ina Bertrand, Film Censorship in Australia(:UQP, 1978), 68–71, 87. Google Scholar

50. Argus(Melbourne), 23 May1930, 9. Google Scholar

51.Australian Labor Party (ALP), Official Report of Proceedings of the 12th Commonwealth Conference, 26 May 1930(:Labor Call Print, 1930), 60–62. Google Scholar

52.“Red Heap Discussed: Strong Protest: ALP Conference at Canberra: To Lift Ban?” Labor Daily, 30 May1930, copy on CRS A425, 59/24212, NAA. Google Scholar

53.ALP, Official Report of Proceedings of the 12th Commonwealth Conference, 60. Google Scholar

54.Ibid., 60–62. Google Scholar

55.Coleman, Obscenity, Blasphemy and Sedition, 14–15. Google Scholar

56.This was the infamous “householder test.” Customs officers were instructed that “the term ‘indecent’ is to be interpreted in its wider sense … Collectors should be guided by their experience of what is usually considered unobjectionable in the household of the ordinary, self-respecting citizen.” At the time of theRedheapcontroversy, the Collector of Customs NSW interpreted the instructions in an even broader sense: the Department’s test of indecency was “whether the average householder would accept the book in question as reading matter for his family.” In other words, if a book could not safely be read by a five-year-old, nobody was allowed to read it. As Coleman comments (Obscenity, Blasphemy and Sedition, 13–14), consistent application of such a test “would have excluded nearly all significant twentieth century literature” and much else. See also Day, Contraband and Controversy, 102, 149, 181. Google Scholar

57.Richard Nile, The Making of the Australian Literary Imagination(:UQP, 2002), 250. It is a pity that Nile intrudes an alien “not” into Garran’s key sentence about law concerning itself with morals, thus reversing his meaning and intent. Such are the gremlins that bedevil the publication process. Google Scholar

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Author details

Darby, Robert