In 1963, the Australian government, protector of the morals of the nation, banned the import of James Baldwin’s novel, Another Country. This is hardly surprising.
Although the use of censorship against books and films dealing with matters of sexuality was less common than it had been, this was still the country where Lady Chatterley’s Lover could not be legally imported.
How much less acceptable was a novel dealing with, as one critic, said ‘characters [that] fornicate, take drugs, are homosexuals and express themselves in language one expects from immoral bohemians’; who indulge in public and private violence, basest sexual and emotional betrayals (and that’s just the heroes!), and who, despite all this, are presented not as clinically insane, but as ‘normal’!
But the natives were getting restless. In the Australian Book Review, a number of Australia’s leading literary figures (Geoffrey Dutton, Rosemary Wighton and Max Harris) published an open letter, calling for the ban to be overturned. The book, they admitted, was ‘passionate, emotional and sexually forthright’, but it was far removed from the ‘sub-literature of pornographic intent’. On its literary qualities alone, it deserved to be widely read.
But there was also the danger that Australia’s ban would be read as ‘racialist’ in motivation. This was, after all the age of White Australia and the banning of a novel by America’s greatest coloured writer was just asking for trouble. And surely we didn’t want to lumped in the eyes of the world with the only other country to ban this book – Ireland!