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3 banned books by New Zealand authors

Posted on 27 September 2017 by Lily

September 25 marked the start of International Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates our right to read.

As RuPaul has taught us, reading is fundamental. So here at the Office of Film and Literature Classification, we decided to celebrate some very special banned books. What follows is a list of three books by New Zealand authors that have had some dubious encounters with local censors over the years.

gif of RuPaul lifting up a pair of glasses. Text on the bottom reads "I can't wait to see how this turns out"
A pile of books with their spines facing outwards

The Butcher Shop by Jan Devanny

The Butcher Shop was banned by the Censorship Appeal Board of Customs, comprised of two librarians and a bookseller, in April 1926. The novel tells the story of a wealthy farming family, and their marital and extra-marital affairs. The censors noted:

The Board considers this a bad book all round - sordid, unwholesome and unclean. It makes evil to be good. We are of the opinion that it should be banned.

Journalists from both the Christchurch Sun and The Post expressed confusion over the ban, arguing that the content wasn’t much different to that readily available in many other novels, and that the only difference was that The Butcher Shop was set in New Zealand.

Restrictions on books made before 1963 are no longer enforced today, so for those of you who are curious, The Butcher Shop is available to borrow from several of our beloved local libraries.

The Butcher Shop

A Way Of Love by James Courage

James Courage originally hailed from Christchurch, and New Zealand remained the setting for most of his novels, despite the fact that he spent most of his adult life in England.

Courage wrote A Way Of Love about a young man’s homosexual relationship with an older man in 1959. The novel was banned under the censorship provisions in place prior to the setting up of the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1964.

Recently, some commentators have viewed it as a milestone in New Zealand writing by gay writers. Published at a time when no other New Zealand writer addressed the themes of sexual orientation and same-sex relationships, except in very indirect ways, Courage’s novel stands out as a brave exception.

A Way of Love

Why Was He Born So Beautiful And Other Rugby Songs with preface by Michael Green

This collection of Kiwiana was banned by the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1968. We humbly offer you their decision, in full:

This is an anthology of bawdy songs, said to be popular among players of Rugby union football. Some are diverting; many are crudely indecent. The question for the Tribunal is not whether footballers should amuse themselves by bawling these songs off the field, but whether their text should be given a wider circulation in what may be called the decent licence of print; and the Tribunal decides that it should not. It is accordingly declared to be indecent.

Because this book was classified after 1963, the decision remains in force today. But if you can get hold of a copy to submit to us, you are welcome to challenge it!

gif of RuPaul nodding. Text on the bottom says "Now sashay away"

Lily works at the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification. Her views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Why Was He Born So Beautiful And Other Rugby Songs


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