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Offensive to a Reasonable Adult

Offensive to a Reasonable Adult

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Offensive to a Reasonable Adult

994 pagine
13 ore
Dec 17, 2011


Welcome to Wowserland.

In its short history, Australia has banned / censored the most films of any Western so-called "democracy", With no Bill of Rights, nor free speech protection, Christian morals groups historically dominate the censorship of all film, their particular fear and loathing reserved for sexually explicit films. Indeed, so great is the Christian opposition to sexually explicit films that Australia now bans film depictions of sex acts that are legal to perform between consensual adults: you can do it but you can't watch it.

From Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail to the notorious A Serbian Film and Human Centipede 2, the Australian censorship system has banned/censored the works of some of the finest world filmmakers - Catherine Breillat, Volker Schlondorff, Hector Babenco,Luis Bunuel, Federico Fellini, Larry Clark,Virginie Despentes, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Tinto Brass, Russ Meyer, Eduardo Cemano, James Whale, Tod Browning, Howard Hawks, Jim Jarmusch, Milos Forman, Nagisa Oshima, Gaspar Noe, Michael Winterbottom, Dennis Hopper, Melvin Van Peebles, Andrew Blake, Ingmar Bergman, Bo Arne Vibenius.

Christian moral hypocrisy is laid bare in Offensive to a Reasonable Adult, a meticulously researched and referenced chronological study of the evolution of the Australian film censorship and classification apparatus. A century of censored cinema: with formerly secret Office of Film and Literature Classification reports, political correspondence and never-before revealed details of banned and censored films.

Film censorship in Australia and the attempt to smother the adult / sex industry clearly reveals the Christian moral agenda to control not only Australia's viewing habits but their sexual habits as well - this is politiciation of sexually explicit material as discourse entitled to free speech protection: from the banning of birth control literature as "obscene" to the birth of the Australian Sex Party.
Dec 17, 2011

Informazioni sull'autore

A freelance author and former Australian National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA) SAR Research Fellow, Robert Cettl (HBA, GCTESOL, GDIS, MTESOL) is an English lecturer at the University of Jinan, Shandong, China. Robert's non-fiction writing is published through McFarland & Co. Inc. and Bloomsbury Academic in the USA and collected by such as Yale University Library, the British Film Institute and the national libraries of Australia and China. He is also an experimental ethnographic filmmaker whose digital feature films are collected by the NFSA and soon to be released on Video-on-Demand and whose short videos about living and working in China can be found on his YouTube channel.

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Offensive to a Reasonable Adult - Robert Cettl

Offensive to a Reasonable Adult

Film Censorship & Classification in ‘Secular’ Australia

by Robert Cettl

© 2011 Wider Screenings TM | Transgressor. Adelaide. South Australia. 

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ISBN# 978-0-9872425-9-4 

Cover Double Personality © Gennarro Guarino |


What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.

(Salman Rushdie in Adams, P 1993; Agree to disagree; Weekend Australian 27-28th May 1995)

Table of Contents


1.1 Initial Colonial Instability

1.2 Constructing Obscenity: the Legacy of the Hicklin Test

1.3 Federation and the Beginnings of Uniform Censorship

1.4 On the Protection of Children

1.5 The Coming of Sound & the Preservation of Moral Standards

1.6 Official Commonwealth Film Censorship

1.7 Film Festival Exemption from Censorship


2.1 The Turning Point – The Age of Permissiveness

2.2 Pornography hits Australia: The Christian Backlash

2.3 The Child Pornography Debate Commences

2.4 The Introduction of the X-rating

2.5 Blasphemy, Bomb Threats & Bureaucratization

2.6 The Consolidation of the Australian Adult Industry

2.7 Signposting the Conservative Creep: Confronting Salo

2.8 Conservative Repercussions Begin


3.1 Regulating Offensive Aesthetics

3.2 The End of Film Festival Censorship Exemption

3.3 Initiating a Moral Panic

3.4 The Facilitation of Censorial Reform

3.5 Reactionary Conservative Creeps: Censorship Post-Lolita


3.7 Non-Violent Erotica in the C21st

3.8 Debating the Aesthetics of Offense

4. Lobbying for Liberty

4.1 Fallout

4.2 Birth of the Australian Sex Party

4.3 RC: the Line in the Sand Redrawn



1.1 Initial Colonial Instability

The origins of Australia’s film censorship / classification system – which by 2010 would be the strictest of all democratic nations in the Western World – lay pre-Federation, in the New South Wales 1827 enactment against the publication of Blasphemous and Seditious Libels and the 1828 Places of Public Entertainment Act (Arnold 2007). New South Wales itself was created as a colony just five years earlier, in 1823, its leaders representing only the wealthiest and most respectable of its citizens. The 1827 enactment transplanted to Australia the ideological imperatives of the UK’s 1819 Blasphemous & Seditious Libel Act while the 1828 Act’s purpose was to regulate theatrical performance so that all performances were attended in an orderly fashion where patrons were free from physical or moral harm (described then as injury).

Decency and decorum were inherent prescriptions for law and order in a land of convicted criminals still subject to British social, cultural, political and moral value policing. Discipline was a central concern, with early authorities scornful of populist entertainment means and media. Strict control and regulation over the growing population was thus soon essential policy. A license was thereby required from the colonial secretary to operate any entertainment venue open to the public and venues without such permission were shut down as disorderly, their owners prosecuted and any audiences subject to punishment for being rogues and vagabonds (Bertrand 1978, p. 2). Authority demanded absolute control over all means of public interaction and communication. Any such premises were furthermore to be closed on Sundays, for the nation’s day of religious observance, in accordance with Christian tradition on presumption of Australia being a Christian colony.

The 1828 Public Entertainment Act was superseded by the 1850 Public Exhibition Act which saw one significant addition – the colonial secretary or Port Phillip superintendent could prevent any staged entertainment or part thereof on the grounds of the preservation of good manners, decorum or of the public peace (Bertrand 1978, p. 2). Now, the content of any exhibited entertainment as well as the venue of its exhibition was subject to regulation. Australia’s early theatres struggled to comply, intent to prove the merits of Australian theatre as an emerging art form but bound to stage entertainments of popular appeal to ensure revenue. The primary opposition to the early theatres as such populist venues came from the then-emerging clergy class, standing firm on bringing Christian values and principles to bear on the developing nation’s moral fibre.

Indeed, religious leaders of the time tended to be of the opinion that any pleasure-driven activity was bound to corrupt the Godly: theatre-going thus was a morally pernicious pastime tending to deprave and corrupt innocent and/or unprepared minds. Victoria’s highest profile Presbyterian minister Adam Cairns, for instance, gave the following denouncement of the theatre on 29th May 1856:

We know of no instance of good effected by stage playing, either to young or old; but we do know of many an example of moral wreck and degradation, the bitter fruit of indulgence in this enticing pleasure. A youth is tempted to frequent this place of diversion. He ceases from prayer; he absents himself from the sanctary; imagination is excited; conscience slumbers; and the risk is imminent that he become the slave of some lust, or perhaps the perpetrator of some crime. The public acting of men and women; the vivid portraying of the warmest and wildest passions; the progress and development of amorous intrigue; the impassioned look; the wanton gesture; the allusion and equivoque; the sly hint and the significant innuendo; the witchery of female loveliness in distress or in repose; are all fitted, and are all powerful to stimulate the sensual affections, and to intoxicate the gazer as with a cup of sorcery. And well do the veterans in vice know the potency of this bewildering spell. (Victorian Religious Pamphlet quoted in Dunstan nd, pp. 135-136)

The clergy class embraced Australia as a new Christian land: thus, in 1877, the Bishop of Melbourne announced in response to the class of people attracted to the early theatres that (n)o Christian man ought to enter [a theatre] till he has ascertained that the abominations are removed (Bertrand, 1978 p. 2). He further qualified such abominations as people that would be carefully excluded from any family circle (Bertrand, 1978, p. 2). Such uncipient family values demanded strict accord and soon any entertainment which encited a passionate response in the viewer was decried as sinful and corrupting of society’s moral fabric, thus in need of careful regulation and policing to both protect impressionable youth from exposure to decadence and prevent adults from access to temptation.

The presumption here was that such popular entertainment venues be thus made accessible primarily so as to ideologically conform to the values of persons of proper moral fibre – ie. Christians. Christian decency as the glue binding Australian society had to be upheld at all costs, the citizenry protected from exposure to corrupting influences inevitably provocative of lustful urges as a precipitator of social decay. Sexual-based entertainments were tantamount to the erasure and collapse of Christian civilization itself. Reverend Hugh Johnson put it thusly:

It is wrong to cross the threshold of an institution three-quarters of whose influence is pernicious and poisonous. Its very advertisements are an appeal to lust. What is the idea of exhibiting young women, not only improperly but indecently clothed – so clad to the eye of the audience they seem, and are meant to seem, almost naked? Does anyone need to be told why? Simply to breed lust and furnish candidates for the brothel. (Johnson 1887)

Despite the call to higher morality of the righteous Christian authority, in C19th Australia, prostitution was rife in the capital cities, the clergy class believing such immorality to be indicative of the nation’s proclivity for social evils. Such social evils had to be well policed to preserve a decent community standard (i.e. a Christian one) and prevent moral decay. Moral decay was represented, to the Christian, purely by sexual immorality: sexuality – beginning with the suppression of the country’s thriving brothel scene – needed to be tightly regimented and controlled for moral decency and Christian propriety to thrive and shape the nation. In evidence of the lack of moral fibre deemed responsible for the brothel trade, Christianity had to be enforced and imposed for it to maintain its authorital and ideological imperative as the Australian community standard.

Furthermore, it was the moral duty of such Patriarchal Christian authority to protect women from exposure to material which would erode their virginal propriety, hence the increasing outcry against sexual health and contraception publications, exactly the type of material that in the USA at the same time was being suppressed – and its makers subject to prosecution – by arch-censor Anthony Comstock. It was Comstock’s pathological contempt for the sin of masturbation and any material that could be deigned to promote it that led to such prudery being referred to retrospectively as Comstockery. Yet, it was the very lack of opportunity for women and their either traditional elevation to moral bastion or demonization as damned whore (such as greeted convict women) within a strictly Patriarchal Christian authority that contributed to the spread of social evil which was by then the euphemism for prostitution (Summers1975).

Again following the British precedent – the UK’s 1857 Obscene Publications Act – the first control measure on literature in Australia was Victoria’s 1876 Obscene Publications Act. This was objected to strongly by Australia’s then freethinker movement, increasingly active by the 1880s and vitriolic in their stance against the suppression of books on issues of birth control and sexual health which had been denounced as immoral and obscene by Christian authorities although were increasingly popular in many Australian bookstores. Nevertheless, booksellers could be fined for selling such publications on the grounds of obscenity since the 1876 Act, with police raids increasingly common.

The inherently Christian paternalistic principle for all Australian censorship was finally and fully established in the 1882 South Australian Places of Public Amusement/Entertainment Act wherein it fell to the chief secretary to prohibit any such entertainment on the grounds that it may provoke a breach of the peace or was determined to be in violation of public decency or propriety (Arnold 2007; Bertrand 1978, p. 41). Just as the popular theatre was becoming increasingly subject to concerns over decency – though no record of a theatrical closure on such grounds exists until the C20th – dancing was decried by the clergy class as yet another social evil akin to the theatre (and prostitution). Again it was a Christian Reverend who equated obscene literature, the theatre and the dance as the influence of the Devil to erode morality, especially that of impressionable young men at leisure time:

However a young man may be situated, the evening hours bring to him certain temptings and perils. The day’s work is over and nature craves recreation. No-one understands this natural necessity better than the devil; he makes the most of it. The evening is the harvest time and then he opens the numberless doors of temptation… shun every book that stirs lewd passion, or that shakes your faith in God, as you would shun a rattlesnake. (Cuyler 1884)

The censorial objection against the incipient birth control movement was ideological: not only was the literary content found to be revolting on moral grounds but official representatives of the Crown believed that society would be overthrown if the principles behind the birth control movement were adopted by the public or endorsed by government as signalled by their free availability (Coleman, pp 68-69). Whether the true obscenity lay in the revolting literary aesthetics or the perceived radical ideology behind it was open to debate. Either way, sexually referential or explicit aesthetics were associated with radical anti-Christian ideologies (atheism, humanism). Australia’s first successful prosecution for distributing obscenity occurred on 17th May 1888 when William Whitehouse Collins was fined and convicted for selling a pamphlet by the British freethinker and birth control advocate Annie Besant: The Law of Population: its consequences and its bearing upon human conduct and morals (Dunstan 1968, p. 185).

The pamphlet described London East End poverty and suggested that sociological deprivation was causing the breakdown of morality, the spread of crime and the debasement of society. Population control was thus necessary and women’s empowerment – to escape the yolk of family bondage in poverty that comprised Christian marriage and motherhood – depended upon the practice of birth control and contraception. On these latter points, the pamphlet was descriptive of sexual matters and thus, to the Christian moralist, offensive in its aesthetics and contemptible in its immoral assault on Christian values – their religion was under attack by this material. The combination of sexually explicit material (though for education rather than titillation) and secular humanist values thus defined obscenity to the Christians who insisted upon its censorship lest the moral fabric of society be overwhelmed and Christianity itself collapse. The prosecutor put is as follows:

"The very ratio essendi of this book is immoral, because its purpose is to enable persons to indulge their passions and yet avoid what is the normal consequence, in fact the natural complement of such indulgence; and lastly, the book is likely in its effects to be ruinous to the morals of the community by teaching persons how they can sin without fear of detection." (quoted in Dunstan 1968, p. 186)

Sexually explicit material of a secular humanist philosophy hence, to the Christian, encouraged sin and thus represented a threat to society’s morality – if allowed dissemination it would erode community standards, even though such standards were an imposition by the Christian moralizers influencing authority. Moral authority, specifically Christian, demanded the censorship and regulation of material counter to such – Church as an influence over and above State hence demanded Totalitarian restrictions on the dissemination of information and aesthetics contrary to dogma. Thus, obscenity was the functional construct it needed to enforce its morality and demonize the discourse of the ideological other. Such material would inevitably corrupt and deprave (or re-educate) the reader into abandoning the Christian faith and rejecting its absolutist vision of moral purity and propriety. Sexually explicit material, atheism, secularism and humanism were so entwined at Australia’s onset.

1.2 Constructing Obscenity: the Legacy of the Hicklin Test

Of particular concern in the suppression of birth control literature beginning in the 1880s was the status of women, the birth control movement considered to condemn such virtues as chastity, hold prostitution as of social benefit and teach impressionable girls to disregard the established teachings of virtue (i.e. monogamous marriage) – women therefore had to be protected from exposure to such material which was thus scrutinized according to the criteria for obscenity adopted in the 1876 Victorian Act, a standard first established in 1868 in the UK in what was known as the Hicklin Test.

The 1857 Obscene Publications Act in the UK was the first to allow the seizure and destruction of material considered obscene under common law: in France the same year, the poet Beaudelaire was charged with offending public morals (Straight 2003). The French conviction made clear the main affront was anti-theist mockery through sexually explicit aesthetics:

..... Alongside these poems [Le Reniement de Saint-Pierre, Abel et Caïn, Les Litanies de Satan, and Le Vin de l'assassin] and several others in which the immortality of the soul and the dearest beliefs of Christianity are considered as nothing, there are others which are the expression of the most revolting lewdness [including Femmes damnées, Les Métamorphoses du Vampire, and Les Bijoux]. (quoted in Shirley 2003)

Such issues eventually went to UK trial in 1868 when Henry Scott printed an anti-Catholic pamphlet titled The Confessional Unmasked. After concluding that the reason for the publication of a work judged to be obscene by the Crown was irrelevant in the sentencing of the publisher of such obscenity, the task fell to Judge Benjamin Hicklin to legally define obscenity for the record books. This he did as follows the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences [taken largely to mean youths], and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall (Straight 2003). Not all sexually explicit material judged obscene could be outlawed under Hicklin, however. As David Saunders points out:

The aim of obscenty law has never been a general eradication of pornography… the law has long recognized that the nature of a publication depends on the circumstances of its publication. These include the cultural competence of the readership or audience. The limit of legal concern is clear: publications could fall within the scope of the law if distributed in public in locations… to those whose ethical judgment and cultural competence are not yet fully formed – ‘boys and girls’. (Saunders 1993)

In consequent terms of the protection of children from exposure to obscenity (as a form of moral harm rather than physical harm), Hicklin was a benchmark of surprising longevity in Australia, indeed through to the C21st.

The Hicklin Test was introduced into American jurisprudence by Christian moralist Anthony Comstock who in 1873’s Comstock Act saw the definition of obscene material expanded to include all contraceptives. In Australia, however, in 1888 Judge Windeyer – presiding over the Collins / Besant obscenity case – clearly separated medical and health issues from morality in obscenity rulings, suggesting that sexually explicit material even if used for prurient interests (the necessary quality defining its tendency to corrupt and deprave as warranted by Hicklin) did not qualify as obscene.

To Windeyer, obscenity was a construct, a creation of the Christian moralizer to condemn a discourse of sexual explicitness and suppress its dissemination. Windeyer’s ruling that no function of the human body could be called obscene (and thus no depiction of such legitimately censored) established the basis of Australia’s civil libertarian ideology as a secular humanist ideal in clear opposition, and challenge, to the orthodoxy of the Christian morality which now effectively connoted obscenity as a taboo discourse, a genre founded on un-Christian belief. In his landmark judgement, Windeyer, himself a Christian, albeit a progressive one, ruled that:

"No natural function of the human body is obscene in itself. In the physical constitution of man, including all his natural instincts, there is nothing unholy or unclean. Only in the diseased mind of the unnaturally living ascetic, with his distorted views of religion did God’s handiwork in the human frame become an object of shame and disgust.

The time is past when knowledge can be kept as the exclusive privilege of any caste or class. The fact that a book may excite prurient thoughts if used for that purpose by the low-minded and the young does not make it obscene… no one thinks of prosecuting a vendor of Lempriere’s Dictionary or the Bible Society as publishers of obscene books." (quoted in Dunstan 1968, pp. 186-187)

Windeyer was simply set aside and the Victorian Christian authorities used the 1876 Act to prohibit Melbourne from being inundated with what the censors considered the subtle and deadly infection of French vice (Anon 1889). Such was the description given the works of such as Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant and Emile Zola which had been imported into Melbourne by freethinker Edward William Cole. Customs Minister James Brown Patterson ordered the seizure and confiscation of a shipment of 162 novels on the grounds of obscenity.

Patterson’s political success owed to the burgeoning evangelical movement in Melbourne and he was the darling of such as the Social Purity League, the Society for the Promotion of Morality, the Sunday Observance Society, the Young Men’s Christian Association and even the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement. Thus, he tended to stage public demonstrations of his political power as confirmations of Christian moral authority over the Australian community as had been the case in his single-minded prosecution of Cole. The Cole obscenity case was the most publicized event of what was an election year, and he cited what would be the unimpeachable rationale behind all future Australian censorship on morals grounds: are we prepared to allow the more subtle and deadly infection of French literary vice to be emptied… into the imagination of our children (Coleman, pp. 3-4)

This stance on protecting the morals of Australia’s future youth – the protection of children – delighted his evangelical support base and in 1893 Patterson was briefly elected Victorian Premier before passing away in 1895 and officially eulogized as having made Victoria what it was (Coleman, pp.3-4). By 1898, authorities cracked down on organized prostitution, the result of Christian pressure to establish a decent community. Christian moral authority now demanded not just that obscenity – the secular humanist threat of sexually explicit material – be banned but that children should be protected from the influence of immoral publications, the nadir of which was that labelled obscene: in Cole’s case this being the works of Emile Zola in particular.

In 1899 a neologism would soon enter the Australian lexicon in the years leading up to the first World War, the wowser. It was coined in reference to the puritannical morals crusader increasingly infecting every corner of Australian society with a stern Christian sense of decency and moral purity, the latter focused exclusively and pathologically on matters of sex to the exclusion of all else. The original 1899 coinage of the term by John Norton in the 8 October issue of Truth, had it as an acronym of We Only Want Social Evils Remedied, a then slogan of Australia’s temperance movement (Dunstan 1968, p. 2).

Though a term the increasing public use of which referred to the high profile stance and visible efforts of Australia’s early censors and their backers, by 1911 The Bulletin was defining the wowser as:

a professor of false wonderment. He shrieks at vice as though it were unnatural, whereas nothing on Earth is really unnatural save Wowserism… no excuse is possible for the person who looks through the keyhole of a locked door as it were, and then tells the members of his congregation that they would faint in horror if he told them what he saw. He’s a false priest, an apostle of prudery, a common wowser. (Bulletin, April 20th, 1911 quoted in Dunstan, K 1968, p. 2)

Despite their control over the moral standards of the Australian community due to their wide-ranging political support and influence, the Christian, or wowser, faction of Australian society was detested by intellectuals, artists, journalists, free thinkers and civil libertarians as well as much of the Australian populace who had to suffer under their increasing regimen of moral prohibition and inscriptions. Yet, despite ridicule and disdain by even the popular press, the Aussie wowsers defiantly justified their actions as reflective of community standards, a term of increasing importance after federation.

The intellectual and freethinker disdain for the wowserist mentality increasingly demanding a strict censorship regime was first voiced by University of Melbourne Ormond Professor of Music George William Marshall Hall. Hall, who had studied music in Berlin and London, delighted in what was called cultural provocation, testing the limits of what it was permissable to say in Australia, especially in defiance of the Christian wowserist agenda. As Australia’s principal provocateur thus, Hall began by mocking the stuffiness of the moralist movement and implying the horrendous perversion of sexual ethics underpinning Christian belief in such matters.

There is something profoundly absurd in the modern petticoat movement – in these dear creatures, with their nerves, their exquisite sensibilities, their hysterics, and scent bottles and artistic yearnings and, above all, their mission. Or the modern woman is dying to play the part of saviour to unregenerate man – to make him mild and moral. He must not read naughty books, oh dear no! And she shall see that he is tucked up in bed at half past eight o’clock out of harm’s way… He must conquer or perish. In truth, there is nothing in life worth having but what is gained by conquest, and held by main force. (quoted in Dunstan 1968, p. 190)

Hall professed no religion and considered sexually explicit material to be the main means of the artistic transgression of Christian moral constraints upon individual sexual self-expression. When introducing an anthology of poems, Hall went even further, mocking Christian ideals of the afterlife and suggesting that the only eternal constant in a humanist world was sex:

Unconsciously to those of lower intellect, to those of the higher, consciously, the mutual caresses of lovers are the physical expression of the deepest intellectual truth. In the supremest moment of passion the ego is annihilated. They are one – emblem of the eternal principle of all Life, all Beauty – Love, which for a single moment blends the phenomenon Man with the phenomenon Woman. It is but a symbol of Death, which shall make him eternally one with the entire Universe. Art presents to us the sexual relations in this their real, innate, lasting significance – as a beautiful and splendid allegory of the most sought after of all truths. But it is the misfortune of our times that such works are open also to the prurient, the immodest, the eternally vulgar. (quoted in Dunstan 1968, p. 190)

Melbourne’s Argus condemned the book of poetry touted by Hall and refused to publish any extracts of the poems included which, to them, represented in their sexually explicit references a lewdness which is insulting to womanhood, which causes the gorge of the true man to rise; it is such a lewdness which these lines contain… the reality is a Circe like animalism (Dunstan 1968, p. 191).

For the Christian wowser thus, atheistic sexual abandon (in verse in this instance) had to be censored in order to protect women from obscenity, the discourse which was said to inherently degrade them by seeking to awaken their sexual urges and propensity for sin, which the Christian religion since Augustine blamed upon women’s lasciviousness and sought to protect men from exposure to their corrupting sexuality. Nothing which would awaken the sexuality of women, which the Christians considered the origin of all sin since the original transgressions of Eve (and which the Catholics had insituted thereafter accursing humankind in the form of original sin), could be allowed dissemination in a decent society: to shield women from their own propensity to sin.

Christian moral / sexual purity alone saved women from the corruption and depravity represented by the free expression of their sexuality, especially outside the context of marriage and related to birth control which, the ultimate abomination to believers in sin, would allow sex for pleasure only and remove from concern the natural consequence of reproduction that underlay the family as the central unit within a Christian community. To the increasingly atheistic, secular humanist discourse of obscenity originating in the birth control literature of feminist free-thinkers, women’s sexuality was exactly what should be liberated from the repressive structures of a resoundingly Patriarchal Christian morality underscored by Totalitarian censorship such as was possible in a country where Church clearly and openly influenced matters of State.

In this way, obscenity was an inherently political discourse, with a recognizable aesthetic, the sexual explicitness of which celebrated a humanist sexuality in defiance of Christian moral propriety. Thus, the Hicklin Test served the Christians well for it judged and assessed all art / literature (and later film) based on the tendency to corrupt and deprave, i.e. to lead the reader away from the stranglehold of Christian moral orthodoxy into the contemplation of a secular humanist truth the central conceit of which was the freedom from all sexual constraints on individual behaviour imposed as moral imperatives in the name of a supposed higher power which, to the increasing number of atheists and free-thinkers often subject to prosecution for their free expression, was nonsensical, hypocritical and immoral despite its pretenses to propriety.

Significantly, Hall threatened legal action when his Christian opponents wanted him removed from the University where he taught. The University Council, its composition including the Anglican Bishop of Melbourne, felt that Hall’s ostentatious parade of disbelief in Christianity (Dunstan 1968, p. 192) required his dismissal. Hall countered by quoting the 1890 University Act which read no religious test shall be administered to any person in order to entitle him to be admitted as a student of the said University, or to hold office therein, or to graduate thereat, or to hold advantage or privelege thereof (quoted in Dunstan 1968, p. 192). Hall was adamant that religion be separated from education. Resolving a split decision, the University Vice-Chancellor decided not to renew Hall’s tenure when it expired.

1.3 Federation and the Beginnings of Uniform Censorship

With a wowser-engineered concensus in support of censoring indecent and obscene works, the two terms being used increasingly indistinguishably, the media debate centered on whether such should be carried out by the Customs Department or by an appointed Board of experts qualified in such literary measures, The Age commenting that censorship of literature should not fall under the jursidiction of a potentially illiterate Minister and noted that:

no man can draw an exact boundary line to show where indelicacy or pruriency begins or ends… when we remember Swift’s aphorism that ‘very nice people must have very nasty ideas’, we are disposed to tremble for a society which is very nice. Half the art and literature of the world appears to be doomed to extinction or at least to suppression. (quoted in Coleman, p. 6)

In turn, The Age proposed that only those suitable to properly assess literature should be in charge of its censorship and suggested the Board of Education appoint a panel of experts. The advocates of Customs-based censorship retaliated that such a Board would inevitably operate in secret.

Victorian authorities deferred the decision to the then-proposed federal government and Customs Office. Censorship was officially endorsed upon federation as the national censorship scheme with the 1901 Trade and Customs Act governing federal censorship. Under section 52(c) it allowed for the prohibition of the importation of publications (and goods) deemed obscene, indecent, blasphemous and seditious, or those identified to excessively emphasise sex, violence or crime (Bullock & Moore 2008). The first Federal censorship action by Customs was another confiscation of French literature which was subject to debate about its proclivity to erode one’s moral fibre.

Coleman (p.8) provides an illuminating transcript of a 1901 Hicklin Test assesment between Melbourne University German and French Professor EE Miller and a defense council over, in this case, obscene French literature, Honore Balzac’s Droll Stories:

After reading the books, (Miller) said: ‘I felt I needed a bath.

‘Would these books have a demoralizing effect on, say, a Supreme Court Judge?’ the council for the defence asked.

‘I think the question is put in an insulting manner.’

‘Well, supposing these works are read by educated men of high moral character, do you suggest for a moment that the reading of them would render them liable to acts less moral than they otherwise would do?’

‘Yes. They tend to break down in any reader’s mind the distinction between what is right and what is wrong.’

‘Was your moral nature in any way affected by reading them?’

‘I don’t think it lowered my moral tone because I was on my guard.’

‘Time can only tell whether you have fallen from your high estate?’


(quoted in Coleman, p. 8 and Dunstan, pp. 194-195)

Miller was quickly dispensed with in this instance when the defense pointed out that the so called immoral works were freely available in Australia and that a shipment had recently been cleared in Sydney. Following the dismissal of the case there was renewed clamour for more expert censor panel appointees and that banned / blacklisted book lists be publicized rather than kept secret. In practice, the blacklist of banned books remained secret until 1958, fully anthologized in archivized, bibliographic format only in 2008.

Although Australia’s clergy class – who assumed leadership status over the emergent nation – were contemptuous of such lowly populist entertainment as the theatre more so than in any way threatened by its contents as they were of immoral or obscene literature, they admitted its potential importance as a medium and art-form. In 1894, The Age newspaper quoted a respected churchman as follows Art, when it fulfilled its true functions, was the handmaid of religion (April 30th, p.7). Begrudgingly accepting populist mediums of entertainment as having artistic potential, the clergy class was intent to have such art reflect only the standards of their religion – Christianity.

When material was performed that violated their religious-based morality, they protested: the first target of such protest being the work of Henrik Ibsen, on the basis of its representation of neurotic specimens of womankind (Anon 1895). Although theatrical attendance behaviour improved in accordance with the law, performances on Sunday were considered most problematic to the offended wowsers, who insisted on strict observation of the sabbatical to the point where new laws were created to enforce such. Health and safety concerns proved to be the issue forcing the last overhaul of the exhibition laws, with Victoria and South Australia issuing Health Acts to ensure safety compliance.

The first public exhibition of the new art of the moving pictures was organized by Carl Hertz as a screening of Lumiere Bros. shorts at the Melbourne Opera House in August 1896. This was closely followed by screenings in Sydney in September. Initially incorporated into Australian theatres as part of a mixed program of entertainment, no additional legislation was announced with specific regard to them or their exhibition and, although the media were wryly amused by what the Australian public were choosing to watch in the early film forms, as Australia entered the C20th there was little to no extra effort made to censor theatrical or film exhibition in the country.

1902-3 saw the introduction, and rapid popularization, of the mutoscope – a movie viewer which showed a rapid succession of flip-cards. Indeed, the exhibition of titillating loops to an eager public in these arcades prompted The Bulletin theatrical critic ‘Wongim’ to wryly comment that "the machines labelled High Kicking, (A) Peeping Tom, Maiden’s Midnight Romp, etc would soon break down through overwork, whilst those entitled Riding with Kitchener, Coronation Scenes, etc. will probably die of starvation" (‘Wongim’ 1903, p. 30). Of these, High Kicking was produced by the reputable US Edison Company as a record of pioneer dancer and vaudeville sensation Ruth St. Denis, while Peeping Tom was a popular title, with pioneer Georges Melies using it for one of his films.

Though he admitted the titles promised more than the content delivered, ‘Wongim’ was actually delighted by these erotic mutoscopes, viewing of which cost a mere penny, going on to say that:

As I possessed a penny at the time, had a look at one of the aforementioned and was shocked. When I have another penny am going to get shocked again. (‘Wongim’ 1903, p. 30).

Such popularity and attention that followed Wongim’s enthusiasm for the medium (and the nature of its shocking contents) however, was resented and eventually resulted in Australia’s first legal case involving the application of obscenity for motion pictures in 1904 when Frederick Wilson, proprietor of the Melbourne Mutoscope Arcade was successfully prosecuted for having in his possession and showing in the arcade obscene picturesWhy Mary Blew the Light Out, A Peeping Tom (one of the titles which had so amused ‘Wongim’), Behind the Scenes and The Temptation of St. Anthony (Mathews 2007, pp. 2-4).

That many of these erotic mutoscope titles, now effectively considered obscene in Australia as a result of the Wilson prosecution, were produced by reputable companies like Edison as of equal standing to other subjects was ironic. Indeed Thomas Alva Edison himself precipitated the moral objection to obscene aesthetics as early as 1896 with the Kinetoscope loop The Kiss, documenting an embrace between John Rice and May Irwin – two popular Broadway musical comedy stars whom Edison invited to smooch before his recording device.

The resultant 18 second film was America’s introduction to the voyeuristic appeal of the emergent cinema (Auerbach 2009). Though it was overwhelmingly popular, with audience reception described as full of howling approval, it provoked an immediate moral condemnation, typical of which was a remark by painter John Sloan that the film was a mere physical vulgarity made worse for its projection on a large screen (Auerbach 2009). The gulf between popular appreciation and moral minority condemnation would thereafter dog any aesthetic treatment of a physically intimate nature, sexually explicit or otherwise.

Over and above the Australian mutoscope obscenity ruling, however, was that such films were being shown to children, prompting The Argus to comment in a tone of indignant propriety in complete opposition to The Bulletin’s sly wryness: the worst feature of the place was that to enable children to look at the pictures a small platform for them to stand on had been built in front of the machine (Anon 1904). From the outset of censorship in Australia thus was the joint concern for the (moral and aesthetic) content of material exhibited to the public and the circumstances (and likely audience) of that material, the protection of children (being easily led astray from their Christian indoctrination) increasingly paramount.

The NSW 1908 Theatres and Public Halls Act split the regulation of all public entertainment between three authorities: the Health Department (to maintain safety standards), the Chief Secretary’s Department (building licensing and content supervision) and the police force (for indecency prosecution). Thus, film censorship effectively became the domain of the Chief Secretary and the Police. The authorities’ immediate concern was for screen depictions of crime: in her study of Australia’s film censorship Ina Bertrand cites the case of the 1912 Robbery at the Old Burnside Bank, removed from screening at the request of the superintendent of police who reasoned that as the film depicted a safe-cracking and the killing of a police constable it was highly objectionable, and opposed to the policy of suppressing pictures having a tendency to encourage crime (Bertrand, p. 39).

Once more narrative-based entertainments emerged after 1910, there was increased attention on the medium by those self-appointed guardians of public morality concerned over the protection of the community’s moral standards. Primary amongst the objections to the early cinema was the claim that children could be at least over-stimulated and at worst adversely affected to the point where their maturation was warped by exposure to fearful and immoral works. Morality predominated such concerns – the clergy class even tried to have films shown in lighted venues to discourage audience members taking advantage of a darkened auditorium to engage in immoral conduct (kissing) believing also that perverts would take advantage of the darkness to molest children and patrons close to them.

Of most concern to the moralizers, however, was the belief that people on seeing a film would imitate what they saw, thus leading to a rise in crime and (sexually) immoral behaviour. The moralizers feared that the subtle influence of the cinema would give young people false values, encouraging them to put money and social position above honour, to reject chastity and virtue, to despise marriage, home, and family, and to decide that the only drawback to crime was getting caught (Bertrand, p. 14). Early scientific studies indicating the influence of visual material on learning and child development enhanced the fears of the moralizers and they were determined to take any action necessary to enact appropriate control measures.

For these moralizers, the fact that films were cheap and that many programs changed quickly without regulation was compounded by their observation that films were most popular with Australia’s working classes, mostly poor and uneducated and whom the moralizers felt were in most need of protection as, being without education and mature discernment, they were especially vulnerable to the undue influence of immoral works. Better they go to Church and repent. While progressives were increasingly taking the stance that antisocial and immoral behaviour were rooted in such sociological factors as poverty and social deprivation (as put forth by such authors as Charles Dickens) the moralizers as buoyed by the clergy class felt in contrast that such things as juvenile delinquency and crime were attributable to the spread of cheap publications and theatrical representations of an exciting and immoral character which corrupt the children of the lower classes and stimulate them into courses of dishonesty and vice (Hubbard 1868). Australia’s state and Commonwealth governments, from the outset swayed by Christian moralizers, favoured this latter view though no proof of these claims was ever produced.

Thus, amendment part (v), regulation 60 was added to the 1908 act in 1912 which ensured that: no objectionable cinematograph pictures shall be exhibited in any licensed theatre, public hall or temporary structure. To determine whether a film was objectionable, the 1912 amendments to the 1908 Act required an exhibitor to provide police with a program of the films to be exhibited with titles and brief synopses of all films. Prohibited under this ruling were scenes suggestive of immorality or indecency, scenes of debauchery, low habits of life, or other scenes such as would have a demoralizing effect on young minds (Mathews, p. 4).

It was at the discretion of police whether to request a screening of a particular film in advance if they felt it necessary to do so. Police and anyone appointed by the Chief Secretary could shut down the screening of a film (or part thereof) in which case the determination of its objectionable status fell to the Minister. Police screening was deemed unnecessary if the film was one already approved by a body deemed acceptable to the Minister: both the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) - established in 1912 whereupon it formulated a bulleted list of 67 unacceptable subjects for depiction in film, covering matters of sex, violence, blasphemy and indecency – and the New York National Board of Censorship of Motion Pictures qualified as an acceptable body. Both of these bodies originated through Christian authorities.

In Australia thus, contempt for sin dominated the wowser agenda: sinful material encouraged sinful behaviour – morality was dependent on the control of all discourse in content and form. Censorship was necessary to control sinful behaviour and prevent the demoralization of society, which to the Christian wowsers commenced with the birth control literature responsible for the initial definition of obscenity but increasingly concerned with nudity in art. In 1912 in South Australia SF Wallis in a Parliamentary debate put forth the notion of a system for the censorship of all films – by inspection and registration – entering the state, noting that some American states were beginning to censor crime films (Bertrand, p 42). The first qualification of an objectionable picture requiring a ban was the Australian film The Kelly Gang, determined to be demoralizing to the younger generation (Senate Journals 1926-1928, p. 167): i.e. protecting children from moral harm.

By 1913, 25 films were banned by the minister and it was now legally required that police immediately report to the minister’s office any screening of a film deemed to be objectionable. In establishing the official government authority to ban films, Australia’s adoption of strict censorship exceeded even that of the Americans. Film exhibitors and distributors were initially distressed by the notion of government censorship, lobbying for a voluntary system (as had been adopted in New York), claiming that censorship duty would overwork police with more important concerns.

On the notion of acceptable moral standards the New South Wales Federated Picture Showmen’s Association (FPSA) observed that such standards would demand censorship of not only Shakespeare’s plays but reporting of surf scenes from Bondi beach (Bertrand, pp. 40-41). On the principle of censorship it was argued that it was against all individual freedom and, significantly, exhibitors were careful not to risk their livelihood by offending their customers, who were largely families and demanded films suitable for families (Bertrand, p.41). This is significant in that it establishes the dual principles of family values (the driving factor behind the protection of children as a cause for censorship) and offense as factors for consideration in the screening selection and censorship of films in Australia. On the question of moral standards – first entertained in South Australia in a debate over public entertainment on Sundays – it was acknowledged that these differed between countries and so posed a problem when dealing with films imported for exhibition from outside Australia.

The outbreak of World War One in 1914 forwarded the concept of military censorship and the War Precautions Act enabled government censorship in order to secure the public safety and the defence of the Commonwealth (Bertrand, p. 39). Feature films were for the most part unaffected by this regulation although were by no means exempt from the nation’s wowserist censorial agenda. The clergy class began the petition for tighter censorship after moral indignation over a play entitled Twin Beds performed in Sydney. Objecting to what they described as a demoralizing tendency they lobbied steadily throughout the year for the NSW government to create the office of a Public Censor.

In the USA in 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that films were not entitled to free speech protection as artistic works. As Australia had no Bill of Rights which would have examined films as free speech, the issue that was to thereafter galvanise the US was moot. In December 1916 Australia’s first censorship board was created, comprising the chief secretary (who also chaired), the education minister, the chief secretary’s under-secretary, director general of public health and the police inspector general. Religious group the Public Morals Association wanted to be represented while the Women’s Christian Temperance Union noted the absence of a female member of the Board (Bertrand, p. 43).

FPSA were unimpressed that the government created a film censorship board in which the film industry was neither consulted nor represented. In observation of the morals groups lobbying the Board for representation, the FPSA warned that such a Board would inevitably be influenced by those with ill-will to the cinema (Bertrand, p. 44) and wondered why the cinema was subject to such harsh scrutiny and not theatre or literature. The chief secretary thus invited 2 FPSA representatives to be present whenever a film was considered for censorship. Propped up by Christian Church aand morals group influence on law, the important battle to control the minds of impressionable youth through the enforcement of morals-based restrictions on allowable content was now a wowser imperative.

Moralizers in political power resented the license of exhibitors to show as they wished. Of particular concern to them were issues of sexuality and sex education. For instance, the New South Wales under-secretary in 1912 scolded the exhibitor JD Williams Co. for screening a film which was not only morally objectionable but was shown to women and children who, by witnessing a picture of such nature, would obtain an undesirable knowledge of phases of life with which, probably, they would be unfamiliar, and of which they should remain ignorant, if possible (AANSW 1912). For the moralizers, the preservation of community standards was synonymous with a state of enforced ignorance (primarily upon women) which the films violated by providing not just vulgar entertainment but information about those matters which the moralizers insisted they be kept uninformed and uneducated about – forbidden knowledge inherent in the aesthetics of such objectionable material.

The tendency to scapegoat film for social ills thus began to spiral through the Australian legislative process: in 1914, Judge Murray through analogy suggested that film exhibition was a moral issue akin to a public health concern, issuing the following statement following the sentencing of a juvenile:

by the aid of picture shows, moral poisons are being disseminated. There is no doubt about the demoralizing influence of some of the films screened, and the sooner some people are prevented from making fortunes at the expense of the morals of the community the better. (AANSW 1914)

The Presbyterians were the first religious group to weigh into the debate, and in 1912 formed the Committee on Religion and Public Morals, recommending that to preserve moral decency in Australia, the government pursue more stringent censorship for suggestive works of literature, theatre and film. The Congregational Union concurred, quickly forming the Public Morals Committee and writing to the New South Wales Chief Secretary that censorship was in the best interests of the rising generation ( Bertrand, p. 17).

Increasingly, other Christian denominations clamoured aboard the rising censorship bandwagon: by 1916 the NSW Baptist Union issued a resolution expressing grave concern at the unhealthy moral tone of many of the films now being shown in the picture theatres (AANSW 1916). The wowsers supplemented their generalized objections with increased specification, writing about individual films which they inevitably described as immoral or indecent, likely to inspire violent crime or just misrepresentative of the Christian faith. The campaign for a stern censorship regime covering films was taken up by emerging Women’s Unions and Temperance groups (most notably the Women’s Christian Temperance Union) until the push for Australian censorship was fully endorsed by the Australian Council of Churches as a matter of national importance and high priority: to ensure the preservation of community standards of morality and protect children from exposure to immoral influences (objectionable films).

Though stressing the need for a uniform censorial apparatus, the individual states were reluctant to hand over their authority to censor and regulate films to a federal body and thus the moral and church groups began pressuring individual state politicians in addition to lobbying the Commonwealth whose only federal authorization for censorship matters lay in the Customs Act of 1901, particularly section 52(c), used to prevent the importation of undesirable literature. The first formal attempt at a film censorship Board was in 1917 in Melbourne. It comprised three men, retired public servant Harry Wollaston, Uni of Melbourne English Professor Archibald Thomas Strong and director of quarantine JHL Cumpston. Wollaston would be Australia’s first Chief Censor, assuming the role in April 1919 and remaining such until replaced by RS Wallace in March 1922. Wollaston offered a particular detailed vision of what he considered unacceptable material in the interests of the Australian public:

Indecent, suggestive or insufficient dress; embraces overstepping the limits of affection, or which could be contrary to propriety in ordinary life; nude figures, and positions of the actors which are suggestive of sexual passion or desire; any scenes which might be offensive to the religious feelings of any class of the community; or which might be thought subversive of morality or virtue, or be harmful to the young especially of both sexes; or which might seem to encourage or appear to view with indifference breaches of the law or perpetration of crime; and any scene from which the inference could be drawn that offenses against those laws or rules which govern the relations of the sexes, in married and single life, are matters to be overlooked or treated lightly (AANSW 1917 quoted in Bertrand p. 129)

March 1917 saw the Board’s first official decree, with regulations now making it compulsory for every imported movie to go through the Department of Trade and Customs for a certificate of registration before release clearance in Australia. The Commonwealth Censorship Board was to handle all applications for registration which, as per the previous system, required an accompanying film synopsis. If the Board deemed it necessary, it could demand a film screening, to be arranged at the expense of the importer. In addition, a fee system was introduced wherein any importer applying for a certificate had to pay: censorship now became a means of government revenue. In an expansion of the powers of the Customs Act of 1901, the 1917 Board could refuse film registration on the grounds of:

"(a) is blasphemous, indecent or obscene, or

(b) is likely to be injurious to morality, or encourage or incite to crime, or

(c) is likely to be offensive to any ally of Great Britain, or

(d) depicts any matter the exhibition of which, in the opinion of the Board, is undesirable in the public interest"

(Bertrand, p. 48)

Importers were allowed to oversee screenings and cuts. Despite the new federal censorship system, individual states retained and applied their own censorship authority, with Western Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania quickly asserting that the Commonwealth Censorship Board needed to act with more severity (Coleman, p. 49). Their main objection was to the synopsis-based registration system as opposed to the compulsory screening of all films. Consequently the Board was entitled to impose screening restrictions after a film had been certified and even recall a film for further (re-)consideration upon receiving a public complaint. Not enough for the objecting states: by 1918 ministerial decree instructed the Board to watch all films before granting them a certificate. As the Board was in Melbourne but the film trade and most importation based in Sydney, films now had to be transported back and forth between the cities and so 2 further censors, George Black and Joseph Brown, were appointed in Sydney, answerable to the chief censor who was in turn still answerable to Customs minister. In the event of a film being refused certification, distributors were allowed to cut the film themselves and resubmit it, without necessary consultation with the makers of the film in question.

1.4 On the Protection of Children

The wowser faction’s demand that films be cut in order to protect children, which had by then seen numerous morals groups lobby both state and commonwealth governments, led Wollaston to state that a connection between the cinema and children’s crime… is not, however, a necessary connection, and not exclusive of many factors often ignored, because less obvious to the untrained observer of social phenomena (quoted in Bertrand, p. 152), This slyly enabled the censorship of films in deference to adult moral sensibilities though the grounds of potential harm to children was paramount. Thus, for instance, the mere mention of divorce was considered to be demoralizing and injurious to existing moral standards, resulting in the 1917 ban of The Divorce Game.

1917 thus saw the ban of a number of films on the grounds of their presumably objectionable morality (considered inherent in their titles) – Where is My Wife?, The Unborn, Where Love Leads, As Man Made Her, The Mortal Sin, The Neglected Wife, Flirting a la Carte and To Another Woman. By 1919, however, the lack of any clear definition – despise deferral to the Hicklin Test – of such notions as indecency and obscenity led to Australia’s first attempt to clarify such limits in terms of objectionable, or offensive aesthetics, though to little avail besides increasing the pedantic nature of the so-called prohibited content. New South Wales regulations were thus revised to prohibit screening of films which included:

"1. Scenes (including titles or subtitles) suggestive of immorality or indecency, or which can be regarded as blasphemous or obscene.

2. Scenes of debauchery, low habits of life, or such other scenes as might have a demoralizing effect upon young or impressionable minds.

3. Indelicate sexual (including marital) relations, or sexual exposition of eugenic doctrines.

4. Scenes laid in houses of ill-fame, views of prostitutes, or the procuration and prostitution of young girls.

5. Executions, gruesome murders, or other revolting scenes showing brutality to people or lower animals.

6. Successful crime such as bushranging, robberies, or other acts of lawlessness and scenes showing the methods of operation of criminals which might be considered as having an injurious effect upon youthful minds."

(Bertrand, p. 98)

As Bertrand points out, the concepts of the impressionable mind (taken to mean youth but also later interpreted as the feeble-minded or perverted) and the specific prohibition on sexual depictions based on notions of propriety and decency were the primary influences of the wowser faction. However, use of terms like revolting and indelicate led such prohibitions open to debate, especially as society progressed, community standards evolved and morality became increasingly relative. Also allowed for in these regulations was the banning of a film deemed objectionable in its entirety without necessarily cutting out any individual scene responsible for such a determination (Bertrand, p. 100). Such was applied to the wowser’s moral scapegoat of the moment, educational films on sexual hygiene and sexually transmitted disease, with Damaged Goods banned in Victoria in 1919. Ironically, the prospect that inferior, unstable minds may be influenced by a film was grounds for its suppression from stable, rational individuals who presumably would be unaffected by it, a bizarre conceit again imported from the UK and making a mockery of an adult’s ability to exercise their own reasoned choice.

By 1922 and the appointment of RS Wallace as Chief Censor, Australia’s censorship system was well established. Its tone thereafter was set by Wallace who felt that censorship would properly raise the standards of the film industry, which he considered in general to reflect a poor morality (Coleman, p. 52). However, Wallace also insisted that "(t)he censors keep in mind the needs and wishes of the normal adult person… it would undoubtedly be a great mistake to bring the art of the movies down to the level of a child’s entertainment" (italics added) (Commonwealth Censorship annual Report, 1925, p6 quoted in Bertrand p, 129). Wallace was at least aware of the potential consequences of uncontrolled censorship in reducing adult-oriented material to the level of a child or adolescent.

An additional Chief Censor, Walter Cresswell O’Reilly was appointed to head the Sydney operation. In line with his superior, Wallace, in response to the increasing clamour over the protection of children cited by wowsers, O’Reilly concurred: we cannot deal with films altogether from the point of view of what effect they will have upon the child-mind (for) (t)o do so would be unfair to the adults who patronize pictures and reduce the movies to a level of juvenile entertainment (Commonwealth Censorship Annual Report, 1927, p. 7). Thus, Wallace and O’Reilly felt that aesthetic factors such as cinematography and film style should weigh as much upon censorship decisions as subject-matter concerns alone (Bertrand, p. 130). This effectively marked the first consideration of the principle of aesthetic validity (or artistic merit) within Australian censorship operations, of which Wallace was adamant that more harm than good would come of keeping from the people strong, genuine drama which handles the facts of life boldly and without pruriency (Bertrand, p. 130).

However, Wallace objected strongly to what he considered the offensive aesthetics of lewdness and in his 1926 report gave the following descriptions of scenes that warranted excision from films on the grounds of vulgarity, women in the act of undressing or engaged in the toilet, people sitting down to dinner in bathing costumes and all honeymoon scenes clearly revealing his moral-based standards of even a supposedly adult suitability. Despite such evident personal disdain, Wallace insisted that a Censor is not applying the standards of his own likes and dislikes to a picture, but is trying to interpret public opinion (quoted in Bertrand, p. 131). The most notorious censorship strategy of the 1920s in terms of the imposition of morality was the re-editing of a film in which a couple marry after first living in sin so that their marriage began the film: all was permissible as long as the marital code was observed (Anon 1999).

This allowed for the prospect for censors to change their interpretation of the standards governing censorship based upon the definition of public opinion at any given epoch, bound to change and evolve, prompting O’Reilly to add by 1932 that what I cut out six or seven years ago I must now leave in (quoted in Bertrand, p. 131). Of this inconsistency, the film trade would repeatedly claim a double-standard,

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