Labour History

The Banning ofRedheap:Sober Facts about an Inflammatory Fiction

Labour History (2013), 105, (1), 171–185.


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

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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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41.Ibid., 23 May1930. Google Scholar

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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