Prohibited Pulp

National Archives
Thursday, 5 December 2013

Certain publications are … being imported into Australia, which have no literary or intellectual value and are obviously published in order to cater for those seeking to satisfy depraved tastes for morbidity, sadism, sensuality, etc. These books are usually printed in luridly attractive covers … [and] are retailed at prices ranging as low as 3d. or 4d. a copy.

Acting Customs Minister John Perkins, 11 May 1938.

Literary and scholarly works made up only a small proportion of the publications banned by Australian Customs. The bulk of prohibited imports were pulp fiction novels, comics, magazines and pornographic material. These items were considered to be a threat, not only to our morals, but also to Australia's literary standards. They were banned by Customs under special provisions introduced in 1938 to address the growing number of cheap books and magazines entering the country.

Crime and detective thrillers

In the 1940s and 1950s, crime and detective thrillers were an especially popular pulp fiction genre. With themes of both sex and violence, novels by bestselling authors like Mickey Spillane and Darcy Glinto (Harold Kelly) were frequently banned by Customs. Featuring bold covers designed to attract readership, many pulp fiction titles are now considered a collector's item.

Adult magazines were often subject to blanket prohibitions lasting years. Popular American men's magazine Playboy was banned in Australia from 1955 to 1960. Considered obviously obscene by the censor, adult magazines and other pornographic material were also criticised by feminist anti-pornography groups which argued that these publications objectify women.

Book covers: Vengeance is mine by Mickey Spillane, and Road Floozie by Darcy Glinto.

Mickey Spillane, Vengeance is Mine [1951], Corgi Books, London, 1960. Banned circa 1950s. NAA: C3059, Vengeance is Mine.

'Darcy Glinto' (Harold Kelly), Road Floozie [1941], Robin Hood Press, London, 1953. NAA: C3059, Road Floozie

Road Floozie

Road Floozie was submitted to the Literature Censorship Board after 100 copies of the book were seized in Sydney on 16 February 1942. The Board concluded that the book 'needs no comment from a literary point of view. The style is on a level with the cheap paper, and the illustration on the wrapper … The book is a cheap edition written for the pornographic market'. An import ban was placed on Road Floozie on 4 March 1942.

British author Harold Ernest Kelly penned at least 15 novels under the pseudonym 'Darcy Glinto'. The Hangman is a Woman and She Gave Me Hell and… were also banned by Customs.

The Housekeeper's Daughter

The Housekeeper's Daughter was banned in May 1949, more than 10 years after it was first published. One member of the Literature Censorship Board made the following damning assessment:

In my opinion this book is rubbish. It has no merit as literature and contains many passages which are quite gratuitously obscene. I would ban, though even placing a ban upon it is showing considerably more consideration than it deserves.

The Chairman agreed, describing it as a 'trashy novel' that is 'obviously written for pornographic purposes'.

Book covers: She gave me hell and ... by Darcy Glinto, and The Housekeeper's Daughter by Donald Henderson Clarke.

She gave me hell and ... by Darcy Glinto. NAA: C3059, SHE GAVE ME HELL AND ...

Donald Henderson Clarke, The Housekeeper's Daughter [1938], Avon, New York, 1953. NAA: C3059, The Housekeeper's Daughter

Hotel Wife

'Worthless – & I shd call it indecent', is how one member of the Literature Censorship Board described Ruth Lyons' Hotel Wife. Banned on 5 July 1935, the novel was a prohibited import for nearly 30 years.

Black Mask Detective

Fifty copies of popular American detective pulp magazine Black Mask Detective (also known as Black Mask) were seized at Port Adelaide in 1938. Noting that the magazine was 'not yet on the prohibited list' but was 'on a par with other similar magazines which have been prohibited', the Collector of Customs, South Australia, recommended prohibition. This copy was probably confiscated in the early 1950s and kept for reference purposes.

This article was originally published in 2013 as part of National Archives's Banned display and blog, delving into the secret history of Australian literary censorship.

Book covers: Hotel Wife by Ruth Lyons, and Black Mask Detective.

Ruth Lyons, Hotel Wife, Macaulay Company, New York, 1933. NAA: C3059, Hotel Wife.

Black Mask Detective, December 1950. NAA: C3059, Black Mask.