In February, 1997, a letter from the Office of Film and Literature Classification advised that
"Ulysses has long been freely available in this country although it has not been formally classified. That does not necessarily mean it could not be classified at some future time if an applicant submitted it for classification."
The following-from Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition by Peter Coleman--on the shelves of Manly Library (Call Number 098.12 / COL)--covers the story to a rather limp and indecisive conclusion.
Peter Coleman writes:
" The first Board consisted of two men from the old committee....and the National Librarian....Statutory Regulations were gazetted in 1937...its recommendations were still only advisory and need not be accepted. But the Government indicated it intended to seek and follow the Board's advice more systematically than it had done with the committee.
This limitation was not noticeable at first, and the new system began well when in its first two years about 100 books were released on the Board's advice. These included...in 1938 A Farewell to Arms, Brave New World and Ulysses.
In 1941, however, the limitation on its power became clear in the cause celebre of James Joyce's Ulysses. This book was first banned in Australia in 1929 and first released in March 1937....The English edition had been circulating in Australia for four years when the Catholic Evidence Guild demanded that it be banned again. Mr EJ Harrison, the Minister for Customs, then decided to examine the book and what he read so shocked him that his "hair stood on end" and he ordered the ban imposed immediately. "This book", he said, "holds up to ridicule the Creator and the Church. It ridicules the whole moral standard of civilization, citizenship and decency. Such books might vitally affect the standard of Australian home life. It cannot be tolerated in Australia any longer" To drive his point home he read some passages from it to an assembly of journalists in Canberra, and while he was reading the Minister for External Affairs, Sir Frederick Stewart, walked into the room. "Words fail me" he said "I have not a sufficiently wide vocabulary to express my opinion of the book". He made an attempt, however, and described it as "a collection of unadulterated filth" The Postmaster General Collins was more readily articulate "Ulysses is a filthy book that should not only be banned but burnt" The Attorney General said: "I have never read the book, but I shall certainly read it now"
According to Ross Gollan, "a special typescript edition of Ulysses was produced for the information of other Ministers. It contained the alleged dirty parts only and had some eyes sticking out as if they were on stalks.It was decisive"
The Adelaide Advertiser described the new ban as "to date...the best joke of the war" But the Minister for Customs received wide support. The Catholic Evidence Guild, the Salvation Army, the Presbyterian Assembly, the Baptist Union, the New South Wales Methodist Conference, the Guild of St Luke, the Assissian Guild, Moore Theological College, the Anglican Synod, the Anglican Archbishop, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney--these among others issued statements of congratulation......
In Victoria the Deputy Leaders of the State Parliamentary Labor Party suggested that the only way to stop the appeal of "filthy and boldly pornographic" books like Ulysses was to encourage more "early and happy marriages"
On the other hand a number of organisations attacked the Minister.....In Sydney the University English Department provided three speakers for a public meeting attacking the ban....and set Ulysses as one of the subjects for the 1942 Beauchamp Prize Essay.
But it was, in fact, certain Anglicans who gave Minister Harrison his biggest shock--the Warden of St Pauls, the Bishop of Grafton and the editor of the Church Standard all attacked the ban...all he could do was maintain the ban and challenge his critics to read out certain passages from the pulpit.
This was in the spring of 1941, and soon the issue died as the war in the Pacific developed. The book remained on the restricted list, available only to "bona fide applicants", but since almost everyone could claim to have a bona fide interest in the book, it was in fact freely available. Mr. Harrison had succeeded only in guaranteeing it a far wider sale than it would otherwise have had."
Footnote defining bona fide applicants: " Members of the medical profession, psycho-analysts, university students and such adult students as may have a recognised position in the field of physiological, social or educational research" and who need a prohibited book for their work. In practice, in the Ulysses case, the "screening" of would-be purchasers was gradually left to the booksellers, who freely imported stocks and who were, to say the least, perfunctory in questioning customers' bona fides."
Another reference quotes Australian writer Geoffrey Dutton saying in 1969 that "Until recently, and it may well still be so, Ulysses was in the strong room at the library at Adelaide University!"
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