Age of Consent
By Joan Bruce, Queensland Literature Coordinator, State Library of Queensland | 25 May 2017
The Age of Consent came out on both sides of the Atlantic in the same year, 1938.
At the time most books were published overseas and imported into Australia, which made Customs Department, with their total control over what came into the country, our main censor.
It was a role they carried out with diligence and enthusiasm and in 1938 they were waiting for The Age of Consent to hit the docks.
Still, times had changed since the banning of Norman Lindsay's first novel Redheap in 1930 and years of lobbying by the book community had finally seen the appointment of a board of experts to advise on works of literary merit.
In November 1938 a copy of Lindsay's latest work was forwarded to members of the Literature Censorship Board.
Dr Allen was Chairman of the Board. His laconic postscript "Binns agrees" refers to Kenneth Binns, the Parliamentary and National Librarian.
Allen (and Binns) didn't think that it overstepped the bounds of decency. "Would pass" was their succinct recommendation.
The Board member with the loveliest handwriting of the lot, Professor Jeffrey F. Meurisse Haydon, was a lecturer in French and German at Canberra University College. His special skills were useful in assessing the many rude French books scooped up by Customs. (Moore, p.34)
Haydon passed The Age of Consent "unhesitatingly".
An annotation on the bottom of the original letter from Customs to Dr. Allen shows that The Age of Consent "passed" the censor on 13 February 1939.
In a lesson in how misinformation can spread, however, many sources claim that it was banned in Australia from 1938 to 1962. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The actual 'banning' was so brief that the bookselling community and the press seemed barely aware of it, with the Courier Mail calmly listing it on 21 January 1939 among new publications received.
The Age of Consent is one of the best known of Lindsay's novels, partly because of the 1969 film starring James Mason and Helen Mirren and partly because it escaped the fate of his earlier works Redheap (banned 1930 to 1958) and The Cautious Amorist (banned 1933 to 1953).
Freedom Then, Freedom Now
The Age of Consent is one of many collection items to be featured in SLQ’s latest exhibition, Freedom Then, Freedom Now, which runs from 5 May until 19 November 2017 at the State Library of Queensland.
Freedom Then, Freedom Now is an intriguing journey into our recent past exploring the freedoms enjoyed and restricted in Queensland and examines what happens when collective good intersects with individual rights. Freedoms often depend on age, racial or religious background, gender, income and where you live. Freedoms change over time and with public opinion. This exhibition draws on the extensive collections of SLQ to reminisce, reflect on and explore freedoms lost and won in Queensland.
Moore, Nicole. The Censor's Library. (University of Queensland Press, 2011)
NAA: A3023, folder 1938 (Decisions, with comments, on literature forwarded by the Customs Department to the Literature Censorship Board, 1938-1939)
Joan Bruce – Queensland Literature Coordinator, State Library of Queensland
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