timely history of the fight for civil liberties in NSW
The Liberating of Lady Chatterley and Other True Stories:
A History of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties
By Dorothy Campbell and Scott Campbell
Paperback, 190 pages, illustrated. $24.95
5 June 2008
is a book about a problem that is ever with us.
balance between social order and the right of the individual to freedom
of expression, opinion, movement, and protection from arbitrary official
conduct tips all to easily in favour of the state and the most
bullying elements within it unless constant vigilance is maintained
by people who care.
been dilatory about undertaking this review when, on Friday 23 May,
the NSW police swooped on the Roslyn Oxley9 gallery in Paddington,
seized several photographs from an exhibition of works by Bill Henson
and announced that charges would be laid under NSW and Commonwealth
law for publishing an indecent article. The Henson affair
makes the Campbells book very timely reading indeed.
to the Sydney Morning Heralds art reviewer, John McDonald
(who was once flavour of the month with the Quadrant mob leading
the current witch-hunt), To the rest of the world Henson is
not simply one of Australias best-known artists he is
the undisputed Numero Uno.
police acted on the complaint of the child protection advocate, Hetty
Johnston. You can call it anything you want, but at the end
of the day, these are images of naked adolescents, she said.
entirely unnuanced, black and white view is where the problem starts.
Thats the top of the slippery slope, and we have had to climb
back up it before painfully as this valuable history
NSWCCL was founded in 1963. That was almost two decades after the
end of WWII, but Australian law, the police, and in many respects
the legal system clung to the past. As we followed the US into the
Vietnam quagmire, and the hippy phenomena got under way, a growing
popular desire for free expression of social, cultural and political
ideas ran up against repressive laws and police practices that developed
accreting on the illiberal attitudes of the Victorian era during
the social strife of the Depression, the emergency conditions of the
Second World War and Menzies post-war anti-communist campaign.
had been earlier attempts to start an organization dedicated to the
defence of civil liberties in NSW, but these petered out. The spark
that lit the CCL was struck one summer night in February 1963 when
A corrupt policeman and two colleagues took time off extorting
money from prostitutes to terrorise a quiet private party at
a small flat in Kings Cross.
forces of law and order had reckoned without the presence
of Ken Buckley, a former British paratroop officer who was Senior
Lecturer in Economic History at the University of Sydney. Buckley
demanded the officers names, which they gave him, but they refused
to produce identification. When he pursued the matter with the Commissioner
of Police, the names proved to be false, the commissioner stonewalled
and Buckley responded by joining with Dick Klugman and Jack Sweeney
QC to found the CCL.
new organization rallied a considerable number of lawyers tired of
police brutality and falsification of evidence. They covered a wide
range of views from conservatism to the far left, a fact that enabled
the new organization to honestly represent itself as being non-party-political.
It is a measure of the widespread nature of public concern at the
highhanded attitude of the police and their general unaccountability
that even the Daily Telegraph was generally supportive of Buckleys
campaign over the Kings Cross incident.
book provides an extensive overview of the CCLs subsequent interventions.
There are chapters on censorship, reform of police procedures, the
rights of prisoners, Aborigines, children, women, migrants and asylum-seekers
as well as the issue of abortion law and the question of a Bill of
Rights. To read them is to step back into a different, more repressive
Australia and to understand how legal activism has helped create a
better and more tolerant society.
censorship is now come back with a vengeance, it is worth briefly
recounting the controversy over the censorship of literature through
which our current, more liberal censorship regime and and a workable
system of film classification evolved, largely under pressure of the
Joyces Ulysses was banned in 1929, released for publication
in 1937, and then banned again under pressure from the Catholic Evidences
League. Over time it was allowed a restricted readership of scholars
and professionals only. In 1948, an Australian novel Love Me Sailor
was banned and its author, Robert Close, gaoled for obscenity.
time of the CCLs foundation in 1963, DH Lawrence s Lady
Chatterleys Lover, Baldwins Another Country
and Nabakovs Lolita were banned in Australia even though
they were freely available in almost every other country in the world.
In the same year Mary McCarthys The Group was withdrawn
Chatterleys Lover had been released from censorship in the
United Kingdom in 1961 after a trial at the Old Bailey in which the
jury were famously asked: Would you allow your wife or even
your servants to read this book? They decided that they would,
but Prime Minister Menzies kept the book on the banned list because
he decided he would never allow Dame Pattie to read it.
matters worse, the minister for customs then banned The Trial of
Lady Chatterley, an account of the case published by Penguin.
This led to one of the early successes of the CCL, when a clandestine
operation launched by its committee had the book split into 10 parts
and mailed from England to different addresses in Australia where
it was retypeset and published as A CCL Project. Legally
speaking, it proved to be easier to ban books from entering the country
than to ban a book published here and the authorities decision
not to prosecute led to an immediate relaxation of censorship. It
was a significant victory for the CCL. Even so, in 1975, the NSW minister
for police and community services attempted to take away the power
of juries to decide matters of obscenity and to return that power
to magistrates. Draconian censorship legislation was actually rushed
through the NSW Parliament but was, within months, superceded by legislation
that established the present liberal film classification system.
notable example of the CCLs work was the publication in 1964
of the booklet If You Are Arrested. Concerned about acts of
brutality and illegality by individual police officers, and the knowledge
that most citizens had only a hazy notion of the law, the booklet
succinctly outlined an arrested individuals rights, stressing
the presumption of innocence and the right to silence until legal
aid is obtained. Sales of the booklet were brisk, and its contents
were reproduced in Pix and The Bulletin, as well as
some migrant papers. Coming as it did before the upsurge in arrests
at demonstrations and other forms of public protest against the Vietnam
War and South African apartheid, the publication was timely. It is
regrettably, no longer on sale.
also is the CCLs opposition to draconian sedition and anti-terrorism
legislation which the CCL has been active in opposing. As the CCLs
ASIO/Increased Police Powers Sub-committee states the very existence
of these powers in a secret unaccountable body will affect the public
mood, and a use of the powers will enable ASIO to intimidate Australian
citizens. Leichhard Councils recent decision to close
down an exhibition of photos depicting the troubles in Palestine following
a visit from anti-terrorism police is a disturbing example
of this phenomenon.
book makes clear that the CCLs leading role in the struggle
to liberate the individual from arbitrary and intrusive state supervision
was not without debate and controversy within its own ranks between
libertarian purists and those who agued that the state had, up to
a certain point and in specific areas, a legitimate role in limiting
activities of the individual.
Campbells history deserves to be found on the shelf of every
lawyer, political activist and, dare I say it, politician , in Australia.
Thoughtful police officers would also benefit from understanding the
repressive past we have but tentatively escaped. Hopefully they would
be shocked at some of the past practices detailed here.
Liberating of Lady Chatterley is available from the Law Society
Shop or online from the Law Society at: www.lawsociety.com.au.
Or by mail from the NSWCCL: www.nswccl.org.au