ANU shows off some of its most controversial books

The Australian National University (ANU) is celebrating Banned Books Week this week by showing off a selection of books in the University’s libraries that have at one point been banned, either in Australia or overseas.

Banned Books Week is an annual celebration of the freedom to read, and the value of free and open access to information.

Library Manager of the ANU JB Chifley Library, Meredith Duncan, said while book censorship in Australia had eased up in the last few decades since the introduction of the internet, the issue of banning books has always been controversial.

Ms Duncan said Australia has a long history of banning books, particularly from the 1930s through to the 1960s.

“We don’t ban books the way we used to,” Ms Duncan said.

“The main type of books Australia used to ban were those seen as obscene. They would have been considered sexually explicit or as having very bad language.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence is a typical example. It’s seen as classic literature now but was banned in Australia from 1929 all the way to 1965 as it was seen as sexually obscene, with explicit relationships.

“Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was banned from 1932-1937 obscenity and for being anti-religion and anti-family.

“If you read these books now, they are so tame. We see so much worse on shows like The Bachelor that our society is more accepting of a wider range of views and experiences – in both fiction an non-fiction.”

Ms Duncan said the most recent book to cause a public fuss in Australia was American Psycho by Easton Ellis released in 1991.

“It was one of the most recent fiction titles to be banned and to cause controversy,” she said.

“The censors allowed it into Australia but restricted it, it was one of the first items to have an R-rating like a movie.

“You could still borrow it from a library but it was kept out the back for over 18s only, and it was very tightly controlled.”

Ms Duncan said these days, censors focused on hate speech and instructional books for things like bomb and weapons making.

ANU Library is marking this week by highlighting a number of books in its collection that have been banned, or are still banned, around the world including:

More information is available here:


Meredith Duncan
Manager, ANU Chifley Library
T: 02 6125 7161


Aaron Walker
ANU Media
T: 02 6125 7979
M: 0418 307 213

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