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Pages Under Scrutiny: A Deep Dive into Book Banning Down Under

By Josephine Egan and Lauren Meaney


Book banning has existed throughout our country's entire history, to varying degrees. Many books have been banned on the basis of being obscene and not aligning with the morals of our society. However, when you discover the books that have been banned, it creates a multitude of questions surrounding the relevance, prevalence, and occurrence of book banning.


Whilst we often relate book bans to recent events in the United States of America, one of the harshest censors of the Western world throughout the 20th century was Australia. Many books have been banned in our country’s short life, estimated to be somewhere over 16,000 titles. When the books being banned are considered, we question the reasons behind these bans.


Within Australia, bans have mostly occurred due to pornography and sexual dialogue. Homosexuality, violence, euthanasia, birth control, abortion and political bias are among a few other reasons. However, most book bans do not stay in place for long. The world-renowned novel by Aldous Huxley ‘A Brave New World’ was banned in Australia from 1932 until 1937, the reason being its supposed obscenity,  anti-religious, and anti-family values. Another classic but very different novel is ‘Age of Consent’ by Norman Lindsay, which was banned briefly in 1938. This was also the second of Lindsay’s books to be banned on his home soil.



There are also many books to which limited access is now available, despite being completely banned in the past. An example is ‘The American Psycho’ by Brent Easton Ellis, which was banned in Queensland and now is only available to those over 18, due to its graphic depiction of violence and sex, which are seemingly the most common motivators for book banning. Other books such as ‘World Full of Married Men’ by Jacke Collinwhich was banned for its sexually explicit content and ‘How to Make a Disposable Silencers’  which is a part of a class of books banned because it "promote, incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence". Another book still banned is “The Peaceful Pill Handbook”, which is an instructional manual on Euthanasia. Other books are simply banned within schools or education systems such as “You: An Introduction” which was banned by the New South Wales Department of Education and Communities in 2015.


This raises the question: is book banning totally wrong or is censorship needed in some ways to protect our community? And where is the line?


We can see this discussion at play in the United States. Between 2022 and 2023 there was a 65% rise in the amount of books targeted to be banned in the US, making it a total of 4,240 books that were banned during the year. This is more books than the previous 2 years combined (2,571 in 2022 and 1,651 in 2021), highlighting the major rise in book banning.


Mostly books related to LGBTQ+ or race are being targeted with 26% and 30%, respectively, of banned books surrounding these issues. During 2023, 17 states had over 100 book censorship attempts, mostly being Republican states. Book banning is currently most prevalent in Texas, Florida, Missouri, Utah, and South Carolina. Most often books banned are written by people of colour, women or LGBTQ+ individuals, which is creating an issue with diversity in literature.


Before this book-banning wave, white, male youth were already far more likely to relate to characters in books, however, this is steadily increasing as more books are banned. ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ by George M Johnson and ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ by Stephen Chbosky are two recently banned books that demonstrate the suppression of ideas within US Libraries. 


Extremely popular books that have been part of curriculums for generations like ‘Lord of the Flies’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ have also been targeted by this book-banning craze. John Green, whose “Looking for Alaska” was the 3rd most banned book in US Schools said, “It’s disappointing to see such a steep rise in the banning and restriction of books”. This restriction of expression of interest could potentially have large impacts on both political and personal landscapes moving forward. I think it’s hard to disagree with John Green, “We should trust our teachers and librarians to do their jobs. If you have a worldview that can be undone by a book, I would submit that the problem is not with the book.”


But how is the US Book Blackout affecting Australia?


On Wednesday the 8th of May, Councillors from the Cumberland City Council voted to remove a same-sex parents' children's book from the shelves of eight libraries across the Cumberland Shire, located in Sydney's West, citing concerns over the 'safety' of the children within the area.

 

Councillor and former mayor of the Cumberland Council, Steve Christou, presented the proposal to ban the book, 'Same Sex Parents' by Holly Duhig, last week, a book recommended for readers aged between five and seven. The vote, with six people voting for the motion, and five against, raises questions about the ethics surrounding the limitation on choice of what members of the public can and cannot read, especially if these decisions can lead to discrimination or marginalisation of a minority.


Steve Christou, Councillor, and the banned book in question. Credit: The Northern Daily Leader.


Christou admitted on ABC Radio Sydney he had not read the book in question and had heard from his constituents that the book “sexualised children”. 


When asked if he believed that banning a book about same-sex relationships was 'discriminatory' towards LGBTQ+ people, as same-sex marriage is legally protected under the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013, Christou defended the council's action, saying that they believe the decision is "representing their community," and that "no books of any sexual orientation should be imposed in the library" for the public to read. He says, "Local residents are complaining, so as an elected representative, it's our job to represent the views of our local community," however, many critics raise questions about the lack of clarity around what constitutes a 'dangerous' book, and concerns have been growing about political figures using public spaces and amenities to promote their own political agenda.

 

This has been further highlighted by the NSW Premier, Chris Minns, who when asked about the incident, replied that it was a "joke", calling on the council to immediately repeal the decision. Consequences such as funding cuts to the council have been put on the table, creating a sense of urgency to decide on whether to uphold the ban or repeal it.



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