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Down Under the Plum Trees

R16: sexual content and offensive language

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this book.

About the book

Down Under The Plum Trees was previously classified by the Indecent Publications Tribunal (IPT) as "Indecent in the hands of persons under the age of 18 years, unless such persons are being instructed by parents or professional advisers." The decision was dated 21 March 1977. The classification has remained in force since that date.

In March 2014 Auckland Libraries sought leave to submit the book for reconsideration of its classifications under s42(1) of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

Down Under The Plum Trees was published in New Zealand by Alister Taylor in 1976. It is a "sex education" manual of sorts. In 1977 the publisher described the book's purpose as "providing accurate sex information for children of about 12 and upwards and of encouraging discussion among young people and between students and teachers and parents and children." The text is interspersed with photographs and line drawings and there is a comprehensive index and list of useful contacts.

Down Under The Plum Trees book cover

Date registered: 09/12/2014

Classification criteria: Sex

Down Under The Plum Trees deals extensively and explicitly with matters of sex. Its contents consist largely of information and discussion related to sexual development and sexual activities, illustrated with diagrams, and photographs whose subjects are often nude. Throughout the book, but more particularly in the later parts, young people interviewed speak frankly and quite explicitly about their sexual experiences. The stories, both homosexual and heterosexual, are often quite negative: they frequently express regret at attitudes and behaviour resulting from ignorance.

Down Under The Plum Trees page detail

Classification criteria: Crime

The book was published in 1976. It clearly states the law regarding sexual acts that were criminal at the time, eg sodomy, and sets out the stringent legal restrictions on contraception and abortion. In spite of spelling out the law, the authors proceed according to the pragmatic assumption that the law will be broken. For instance, there is advice about obtaining an abortion and the "pros and cons" of the available methods of contraception are discussed in detail.

Whether or not the book encourages young people to commit acts that would have been against the law in 1977 is of little relevance to these considerations. Changes in the laws regarding contraception and abortion, and other social and legal reforms, render the information on these matters given in the book of historical interest only.

Classification criteria: Cruelty

Cruelty is evident in some of the anecdotes dealing with the treatment of girls by boys, with quite callous attitudes and behaviour described. The text explains this hurtful behaviour in the context of the way differences between the sexes are perceived and acted on in the lives of children and teenagers.

Classification criteria: Violence

Family violence, and also violence between boys or young men fighting, is occasionally explored in the personal anecdotes, with excessive drinking sometimes a related factor. Some of this is frank and confronting but material dealing with these issues is limited.

There are also a few references in the text to the sexual abuse of children and young people by someone they know. This material includes teenage boys' rape fantasies, and young women's stories about rape and its aftermath in court. The extent of such material is fairly limited in relation to the whole book, but nevertheless it is a significant part of the book. It has some impact on the reader because of the personal accounts are so matter-of-fact and disturbing, and the advice around it by the authors is very frank and non judgemental.

Decision summary

Down Under The Plum Trees occupies a significant place in the history of New Zealand publishing and has considerable social and educational importance. In the mid-1970s Down Under The Plum Trees was a controversial publication that challenged the sexual orthodoxy and sexual mores of its day. The book has long been out of print and large parts of its information are out of date. However, it still has some educational value to teenagers in spite of its reduced relevance.

In a Bill of Rights framework, any restriction on freedom of expression is required to be reasonable, demonstrably justified and the minimum required to avoid injury to the public good. In 1977 the Indecent Publications Tribunal restricted the availability of the book to adults, but made it possible for people under the age of 18 to access the material if they were being instructed by parents or professional advisers. The Classification Office considers this classification to be no longer appropriate.

The book Down Under The Plum Trees is classified as objectionable except if the availability of the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 16 years.

The book was written for adolescents and much of the content still has some relevance and educational value to that age group. However, some of the information in the book - raw and matter of fact accounts of sexual abuse, sexual violence and coercion, and other sexual conduct that is degrading - are likely to be hard for children and young adolescents to put into a context. Furthermore, some of the important information is now obsolete. It is possible, even likely, that some sections would mislead young readers who have not been exposed to, or understood, more recent information.

Teenagers 16 years of age and over are likely to have gained a degree of maturity and experience that would enable them to approach the book, without harm, as an interesting historical curiosity.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R16 label
R16: sexual content and offensive language