I stumbled across this frightening image of book burning in Berlin and the memorial sculpture that in now in Bebelplatz Public Square (formerly Opernplatz) where the book burning took place. The prophetic quote by the German poet Heinrich Heine 100 years earlier, "Where books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too", made me think about book burning and censorship and in a slightly related way, I wondered how many books had been censored in Australia.
I found the a selection of banned books in Australia listed on the Melbourne University website. And I was utterly shocked at the length of the list and the fact that it is merely a "selection". Most of the books on the list were banned or censored between the 1930s and the 70s. Which makes me wonder what happened after the 70s. But the list contains the usual suspects, Henry Miller, William S Burroughs and also some home grown favorites like Norman Lindsay and Christina Stead.
Another section of the website gives background information regarding the banning of specific books. The mini historical portraits are fascinating. For example, Joyce's Ulysses was banned twice in Australia. First in 1929, six years after it was banned in Britain, the bans were lifted in both countries in 1937. But in 1941 it was banned again, after Catholic organisations lobbied the Censorship Board and were successful. The ban wasn't lifted until 1953.
The Customs Minister, E. J. Harrison, said, ‘This book [Ulysses] holds up to ridicule the Creator and the Church … Such books might vitally affect the standard of Australian home life. It cannot be tolerated in Australia any longer.’
I have a book about banned books, but I naively always think of it occurring somewhere else at some other time. But as the website reminds me, in 2008 these debates were reignited in Australia over photographic images created by the preeminent Australian artist Bill Henson. These concerns and debates it seems are still alive and well, see also Banned Books Week and the Controversial and Banned Books site.