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Oct 14, 2009

Australia Post stamps out raunchy Penguins

The retail arm of Australia Post has banned the sale of three literature classics amid concern over racy passages and graphic sex scenes.


The retail arm of Australia Post has banned the sale of three literature classics amid concern over racy passages and graphic sex scenes.

Crikey understands that two weeks ago, staff at 848 PostShop outlets across the country were ordered to pull the Popular Penguin titles Lolita, The History of Sexuality and The Delta of Venus from shelves after customer complaints. All three books contain celebrated sexual encounters and lurid language.

Before their removal, the titilating trio were displayed in a prominent position on orange stands provided by the publisher. One PostShop employee told Crikey that they were now “out the back” after “a memo from headquarters”.

Curiously, another controversial title, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, appears to have escaped the dragnet, despite repeated references to “fucking” and the use of the word “cunt”.

A spokesperson for Australia Post, Alex Twomey, confirmed the ban this morning, saying the titles were “inappropriate for a mainstream shop like Australia Post”. He said the government-owned corporation had received the books unsolicited from Penguin.

“It was purely a decision around whether it fitted our stores. That also extends to DVDs and many other different products,” Twomey said. When pressed by Crikey, he was unable to name the exact selection criteria that led to the decision to remove the licentious titles from sale.

However, one postal worker, who did not want to be named, said the books were removed because of “customer complaints” over “inappropriate passages”. Requests for the books at other outlets were met with a awkward silence. However, Crikey understands that in some shops, the Penguin stands, containing up to 50 titles, have been completely shielded from view.

Lolita, the famous 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov depicting underage s-x, and the notoriously florid Delta of Venus, by Anais Nin, are top-20 Popular Penguin bestsellers. The less popular History of Sexuality, by French social theorist Michel Foucault, examines the repression of human desire, but has still shifted hundreds of copies.

Penguin Australia sales director Peter Blake told Crikey he had “no idea” why Australia Post had removed the offending titles. He said had never encountered a similar objection to their content from other retailers.

“We were certainly surprised by Australia Post’s reaction,” Blake said.

Blake was unable to say what the book ban would mean for Penguin’s bottom line. “Hundreds” of books were now wending their way back to Penguin headquarters, he said. The 99-strong Penguin collection retails in bookstores across the country for $9.95 and is apparently one of the most popular initiatives in the history of publishing.

It is unknown which particular Delta of Venus passage Australia Post objected to.

However, the second page of sultry novel, described in promotional material as containing a “glittering cascade of sexual encounters”, contains the following stanza:

“Her sex was like a giant hothouse flower, larger than the Baron had ever seen, and the hair around it abundant and curled glossy black.”

Lolita, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies since its first edition, opens with the classic line “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins”, describing the 12-year-old object of Humbert Humbert’s affections.

Although the raunchiness is comparatively lacking in Foucault’s History of Sexuality, the word “sexuality” in the title may have sent alarm bells ringing.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which remains on sale, was famously banned in Australia until the 1960s and its overturning remains a watershed for the domestic anti-censorship lobby. The written account of the British trial, The Trial of Lady Chatterley, was also blacklisted.

In January, Australia Post was embroiled in another censorship controversy after it outlawed postcards promoting Adelaide Fringe Festival artist Greg Taylor’s show “Cunts and other Conversations” which included graphic depictions of female genitalia. Horrified mail sorters were told not to process the cards and they were returned to Mr Taylor with a warning they were in breach of Commonwealth statutes.

Next week, departing Australia Post managing director Graeme John is expected to front the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Committee as part of its obligations as a government-owned corporation. It is unknown whether the book ban will be discussed.


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58 thoughts on “Australia Post stamps out raunchy Penguins

  1. Dermot McGuire

    ah Andrew lolita was twelve not fourteen made it even more shocking.

  2. Andrew Crook

    Fixed, ta.

  3. baal

    I wish AP would stop selling things I manage to avoid by not going into shops that sell videos of Andre Rieux. Can’t they just stick to stamps rather than toys and printers and colouring-in books all stacked in cardboard bins designed to block your progress to the counter

  4. Duncan Beard

    Andre Rieux is more offensive than anything in Lolita.

  5. Sean

    So what’s the angle on this ‘story’? It’s very difficult to work out whether the writer is for or agin the whole thing, whether he’s upset for Penguin’s lost revenues, or angry with Oz Post for making a legitimate decision about what is appropriate for it to stock on its shelves. These sorts of titles have been historically banned altogether by censors in the past, but is the author suggesting the need for censorship is now over, or vetting racy titles in general public view is a no-no, etc etc. Long treatment here that veers all over the place and yet doesn’t name what the ‘problem ‘ is for any kind of analysis at all — it just reports and reports and reports with a sort of sotto voce snideness that points in every direction at once. This is almost becoming a hallmark of many of the turgid non-stories in Crikey in general. Starting assumption is that everyone else is wrong, but the opinions and motivations of the author remain confidential, you have to guess the subtext based on an assumed psychic connection to the author’s mood at the moment it was written, something like an opaque song lyric or a piece of poetry written in a garret. But we like to be maddeningly contrarian, you just have to guess which twist we’ll take next.

  6. sean bedlam


  7. paddy

    Bloody hell Andrew…….
    I thought this article was satire when I started reading it.

    Since it’s actually true, I guess that rules out Australia Post selling Firstdog cartoons over the counter for the foreseeable future.

    What a bunch of wankers!!!

  8. Jason

    What a fucking bunch of fucking cunts.

  9. SBH

    Sean, there is a very real problem that a wholly government owned enterprise removes works of literature without any clear criteria. Why should they not also remove Harry Potter because magic is synonomous with the devil or something else because it says dinosaurs were the result of evolution? Worrying. I reiterate your namesake’s succint critique above.

  10. Tom

    Fox News (much funnier than the Comedy Channel) recently ran a story suggesting the ‘moral fibre’ of America is in decline through allowing “these arts people” to display prornography whenever and seemingly wherever they chose with legal impunity. Bad ‘arts’ people one thought until they showed examples of that which offended them, Venus de Milo statue and a couple of paintings by Rubens (all with ‘offensive bits’ onscured).
    What strain of idiot nitwit complains to Australia Post about classical literature and worse, what strain of idiot nitwit at Australia Post actually takes any notice of them? For pity sake has the idiot nitwit Fielding been appointed PM while I wasn’t watching?

  11. jwm

    Why is an organisation completely funded by the government and therefore not subject to normal economic forces competing with newsagents anyway?

    It’s not just newsagents either. They sell printers, ink cartridges and mobile phones often undercutting private business in the same area.

  12. beckchanock

    Depiction of sexuality and pornography are not the same thing. Pornography needs to be closely watched (hm I really need a better word there don’t I) and where necessary censored as it is often misogynistic. Novels are more complex and people should be free to read and make up their own minds.
    That said, who shops for books at the post office?

  13. meski

    JWM: “Why is an organisation completely funded by the government and therefore not subject to normal economic forces competing with newsagents anyway?”

    Ok, the AP organisation is as you describe, but many post offices are franchises. I’d leave it up to the individual franchisees to determine if their customer’s sensibilities would be outraged by seeing a copy of Lolita in their store. It isn’t as if there are lurid photos on the cover, and if you open it and start reading it, you have only yourself to blame. Like the internet censorship issue, in a way …

  14. Lucy

    Who are all these people who are “offended” by passages in books that they don’t have to open if they don’t want to, and, more importantly, why are we pandering to them? What is this, 1956? Can’t people be trusted to decide what they will and won’t read? And how else are we supposed to kill time in a post office queue if we’re not even allowed to read the sexy bits in Lolita?

    The streak of wowserism in this country just seems to be getting more and more pronounced. If people want to be offended by Nabokov and Foucault, let ’em. Jeez.

  15. Bullmore's Ghost

    I’m with you JWM. I avoid dealing with AP as much as possible because, although they have crammed their outlets with unrelated commercial merchandise, they have done nothing to improve the turnaround time of their supposed core transaction business — postage.

    Queueing in an AP outlet while people in front discuss teddy bears and pedometers with the staff annoys the heck out of me.

  16. shammy

    Oz Post should stock my young adult novel My Private Pectus. The publisher took out all words beginning with f, s, and that bad bad word beginning with b. Perfect for Oz Post. Genius!

  17. Arethusa

    “That said, who shops for books at the post office?”

    Well now this article has brought this to my attention, me, if the prices are good.

    “What strain of idiot nitwit complains to Australia Post about classical literature…”

    Nitwits who live dogmatic lives. Try Jews for Jesus, Hillsong, Christadelphians, Baptists etc for a smorgasbord of intolerance. Or anybody who’s signed up to one of those loopy Rapture forums. Oh my god I did it just to see how they thought. My brain is in ICU as I type.

  18. Liz45

    JASON – Can you explain why you insist on using the c word as a form of abuse, or were you just pretending to be cute?

    Once again we have the big brother nonsense, telling us what to read etc. I’d be more likely to agree if just once they disallowed the computer games that promote violence even sexual assault of women? Or the DVD’s that do the same thing? But reading a novel, truly? Where’s Don Chipp when you need him?

    As a young girl and then a young woman brought up in the catholic church(I’ve since escaped)girls and women were patronized and treated as idiots from the cradle to ??
    I demand the right to read what I please, while of course, protecting children from inappropriate material, particularly alll forms of abuse and violence! I don’t need someone who perhaps makes sexist jokes, or abuses women etc making decisions for me. I’ve raised kids to be competent, caring adults; held down a job and I’m more than competent to make my own mind up about reading material! Truly! Back to the 60’s?

    I go to the PO to pay my rent and bills. I don’t spend time looking around I must say, unless I want to have a look at cards etc. After I’ve got out of the queue I just want to get out of there! If only AP was as intent on looking after their injured workers, or upholding their right to protest etc(remember WorkChoices demos?)

  19. Jason

    @LIZ45 The same reason I use arsehole, dick, cock, wanker, tossbag, sillypoohead. To pretend to be cute.
    Oh wait, that’s the other ‘c’ word.

    Damn, trolled…

  20. Malcolm Street

    I’m thoroughly puzzled by this. It’s not as if the books had titillating covers or anything else to draw attention to themselves, and it’s not as if AP is say a Christian bookshop. And why is Lady Chatterley (at least as notorious as Lolita) not included?

    I don’t like the precedent this is setting – what happens if say Dymocks (who stocks the same range) gets complaints from customers?

  21. Vortex

    “JASON – Can you explain why you insist on using the c word as a form of abuse, or were you just pretending to be cute?”

    Why did he use the c-word? Maybe it’s because like most swear words, it works by its reference to ugly and repellent objects, acts, and organs— in this case, cunts.

  22. Sean

    I don’t like the precedent this is setting – what happens if say Dymocks (who stocks the same range) gets complaints from customers?

    What ‘precedent’? Dymocks can do what they want and stock what they want, within the law. An AP outlet and a bookstore are hardly the same thing. Some of the AP customers probably remember when these books were banned the first time…

    Sean, there is a very real problem that a wholly government owned enterprise removes works of literature without any clear criteria.

    tsk, tsk, terrible, yes, how awful. I’m sure there are no criteria n their minds.

    I think the ‘Lolita’ book is much more likely to be banned for obvious currently polemical reasons than Lady Chatterley’s lover also.

  23. Bullmore's Ghost

    ^ “what happens if say Dymocks (who stocks the same range) gets complaints from customers?”

    They respond with form letter 367B — or whatever. I reckon after 130 years in the biz, they’d be used to answering crackpots.

  24. SBH

    So what else can they ban Sean? You’re not worried that they just decided, for reasons they won’t tell or don’t know that some customer complaints are to be acted on but others ignored? What would happen if they say, banned stamps with Isaac Isaacs or John Monash because Muslims complained about such a prominent depiction of Jews. Nuts, you bet but no less nuts than banning a book with naughty bits.

  25. Michael Butler

    How many people making complaints have actually read the books in question, I wonder?

    My guess: precisely none.

    And of course, if they have, then they’ve taken advantage of a freedom they’d deny others. Nobody forces you to start, or continue, reading a book.

    (Yes I know you could buy it somewhere else, but that’s not really the point.)

    One of the perils of living in a free society is that we’re highly likely to be offended some of the time, perhapse even quite often. It’s not illegal to be offensive.

    Not yet, anyway.

  26. Sean

    So what else can they ban Sean? You’re not worried that they just decided, for reasons they won’t tell or don’t know that some customer complaints are to be acted on but others ignored?

    Nup. Not worried. They ‘banned’ the books, i.e. returned them to Penguin for resale at other outlets who are happy to carrry them, and all’s right with the world. I understand they actually decided based on customer complaints. How else would AP know it was a problem. Who cares.

    Storm. Teacup. This.

    Get. A life. Everyone.

    P.S. If you really want to get dirty books try the same titles at Dymocks, they’re on the stand. Then there’s these cool little shops everywhere you go as well with even raunchier stuff. Apparently there’s a lot of porn on the net involving actual pics and video also, and it’s often free, so forget about titillating novels, go straight to the real thing, Problem solved.

  27. SBH

    was that a sidestep?

  28. meski

    Hey Sean: Not worried?

    When the N a z i s came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the J e w s,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn’t a J e w.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out.

    (certain words spaced to beat the c e n s o r)

  29. Sean

    heh heh, clearly the ‘freedom of speech’ libertarian types have never managed a business, probably never will, and are never called on to exercise good judgement in any occupation. ah, to live the life of a free-thinking perepetual uni student and serial employee.

  30. Sean

    and the fact that they can’t tell conditions under the nazis apart from living in relative freedom and prosperity is a real cause for concern, and that this issue is the biggest thing they have to think about of all the real issues there are.

  31. Jason

    Dear Sean,

  32. Sean

    Yeah, thanks Jason. When did you emigrate from the states, by the way?

    e.g. let’s write a story about creeping cultural imperialism from the US, that has infected Ozites in particular. Much more newsworthy and cringe-worthy than the AP story.

  33. Jason

    Dear Sean,

  34. beckchanock

    Oh come on Sean if there’s any plus to American domination of culture and language it’s the extra swear words. Lighten up, (Edit)

  35. baal

    In a nutshell the limits of the internet illustrated by this seemingly endless blagging off by a couple of twerps!

  36. meski

    Sean, I’ve been a student, an employee, owned a business, and am now an employee again, I’d suggest you not make assumptions about people that you know nothing about.

  37. SBH

    Ah yes, Sean, only people who’ve run a business are allowed to express an opinion. On that matter seeing as 80% of small businesses go broke in the first year and 90% in the first 5 years, how is it that they represent the paragon of advice?

    Also as this was a decision made by a large government entity and applied across all Aust Post stores what’s the relevance of the “you’re uninformed because you haven’t run a small business” argument?

    Next, You’ve never run or provided advice on how to run a government or government department so what makes you think you’re qualified to comment on how government runs? I bet you do though all the time but somehow others opinions you can write off because you assert, without any evidence I might add , that they’ve never run a business. Your characterisation of them sounds political rather than economic.

    Last, this is about Australia Post ( a very large government business) deciding for no particular reason that their prepared to share, that they will ban something. You didn’t answer my previous question about what else you’d let be happy to let them ban. Don’t you think that if the government or one of its agencies decides something should be restricted in it’s distribution they should tell us why?

  38. Sean

    “you’re uninformed because you haven’t run a small business”

    Where did I say ‘small’ business? See the problem I’m talking about re judgement and fallacious heuristics, seeing words that are not there?

    I’ve actually worked in big government at managerial level and know far too much about how badly it runs as a matter of fact. Spoken with the odd Secretary. Know the deep pathology of public service middle management. I’ll contribute a few stories to crikey one day, perhaps.

    AP banned a book based on their interpretation of ‘decency’, exercising their power of management discretion. You should see how the Americans define this sort of thing, Australia has a real problem deciding what is decent and why. Plus I think you should also consider the long history of censorship in Australia as a form of contextualisation instead of railing against this little now.

    But as I said, there are about 1 trilion bigger and more important issues in the world, some of which I’m going away to fight now if you’ll permit me — most to do with the failings of government on more important matters. I stand by my original comments about the triviality of the issue.

  39. baal

    Well Sean, time now to out up or shut up – ie send in something substantial to Crikey (revealing all) or stop this incessant whingeing. And SBH, Jason and the rest of you should take the opportunity to go walkies too.

  40. SBH

    And yet judgment fails and as you continue to exert energy on this one

  41. Sean

    Not a lot of energy, but I unwisely ticked that box to be notified of comments via email…

    This would have to be one of the longest runs of comments on a non-issue on crikey yet –who will have the last word?

  42. baal

    I will. It’s over

  43. Bullmore's Ghost

    Ya reckon? 🙂

  44. Sean

    Thanks, Baal. Thank God. Or, alternatively, thank Baal. We worship you.

  45. SBH

    Sean I stopped at the imprecations of Baal (fear him, prepare the sacrifice) but ………

    AP Banned a book that has been through a censorship process resulting in it being freely and publicly available. I speculate that you don’t like it because you think it’s indecent. That’s ok that’s your right.

    My point, and you might want to apply some heuristic methodology to this, is that they didn’t say it was banned because it was ‘indecent’. they said it was removed because some customers complained. There is nothing in AP’s statement that says this was a business decision.

    It is very problematic when a Government agency decides to restrict information and refuses to tell the citizenry why it did so.

    Strike me not oh mighty one for failing to heed your word and bless all my oxen.

  46. Sean

    My point, and you might want to apply some heuristic methodology to this, is that they didn’t say it was banned because it was ‘indecent’. they said it was removed because some customers complained. There is nothing in AP’s statement that says this was a business decision.

    This is how Australians always explain what they did — they never name the real reason, they always point to some operational thing. I don’t know why they do this, they just do. Small target deflection type stuff I suppose so it minimises the potential for some unforeseen scandal including being accused of being moralistic or judgemental or something. Whereas you’ll note Americans aren’t afraid to cite ‘moral’ motivations for their actions both in business and govt. So, some customers were morally outraged and complained and they removed them then. Same difference. Who cares.

    It is very problematic when a Government agency decides to restrict information and refuses to tell the citizenry why it did so.

    ha ha, you’re joking, right? Do you have any idea how much you don’t know about what the govt is doing in policy all the time? There is extremely dodgy stuff going on all the time in govt involving much bigger decisions than this, and the decision-making is not democratic, and often hurts a lot of Australians. I don’t know where to begin, and at what tier of govt. As if I have to tell you, just read the daily papers, forgetting about crikey. Anyhow, AP is a corporatised business, it’s not ‘the govt’, its revenues simply flow to the govt. This is an important distinction, and the whole thing has nothing to do with Big Brother style censorship by the govt as much as a decision by a business unit to not carry certain titles that customers think are indecent. And which a ‘reasonable person’ under the law might also reasonably hold to be indecent by today’s standards. The works are freely available in other businesses for consumption. If it was my shop, I would make the executive command decision to choose what I wanted to stock also.

  47. SBH

    We don’t know that customers think the books removed wre ‘indecent’ what ever that means (Cue Richard Dreyfuss sitting nude in the bathroom scene in the Goodbye Girl “Yes, I’m naked, but I’m also decent…”) They just removed them say the were’innappropriate’. You, Sean are the one who decided to introduce the notion of Decency. Anyway, if that’s why they removed them why not say so?

    But that aside, let’s see if my heuristic model is holding up. You think that because lots of bad things are being done we shouldn’t complain about any bad thing? is that the thrust of your last para?

    AP is a Government Business Enterprise which is a patricular kind of thing created by parliament to be specifically and deliberately different from corporatised business. It is a Government agency and is wholly owned by and accountable to Government (that is, us). It’s an important distiction. It has “a comprehensive system of corporate governance practices designed to provide appropriate levels of disclosure and accountability.” and yet in this decision there was no disclosure.

    Now I swear to Baal that that is my last word.

  48. Sean

    You, Sean are the one who decided to introduce the notion of Decency. Anyway, if that’s why they removed them why not say so?

    See? That’s why they won’t name the game, they are afraid of narky peple getting all funny and philosophical about things. Much safer to think of some pretext or excuse and hope everyone goes away.

    As I said, Australians always seem afraid of naming the game, in business and govt, they are used to making diversionary excuses. I’ve seen it here over and over again, and it annoys me just as much as it annoys you, SBH. Australians are afraid to be honest because 1) it reveals their true motives which can be used against them 2) they are worried about a debate or ‘big ideas’. Truth is the only casualty. There, I’ve explained it twice now, are you going to post the same question a third time so I can say it again? Maybe ask Barry Humphries next time? I’m only the messenger here.

  49. Venise Alstergren

    Oh well folks, now you know the mentality of the bigots who voted for Steve Fielding.

    For a country as fecund as Oz we have an awful lot of people who faint at the thought of f/uck and sex and all that jazz.

  50. acannon

    I would like to concur with a few of the previous posters in that it would be really nice if Australia Post had an express line for people who actually wanted to post a letter and not pay bills, purchase emergency Christmas presents, buy shares, alter satellite positions or whatever else it is you can do at this all-in-one temple to the Modern Age that AP has become. Also, when I ask for a stamp, I mean one of those old-fashioned sticky things with a picture on it. My Dad collects them.

  51. Bullmore's Ghost

    Christmas + post office = agony.

  52. Venise Alstergren

    Just looking at the titles of the offending books again. Lolita? How terribly 1950s.
    History of Sexuality, that’s sunk on it’s title. You know, wink, wink, jab in the ribs, say no more; S-x. The Delta of Venus reminds me of a book I had called The Tears of the Nile.

    Years ago our next door neighbours dropped in for a drink. He was a psychiatrist and he was looking at my books and pulled out The Tears of the Nile, asking if all my books were about women? Genuinely puzzled I peered at it and said “That’s right Peter, it is the history of the river Nile! Doh!”

    “Have another drink”, said my partner.

  53. acannon

    My local is still selling A Clockwork Orange. Maybe someone should tell them it has some rude bits in it. Actually no don’t.

  54. meski

    This thread’s still going?

    @ACannon: Clockwork Orange is ok, because it’s got *violence*, and that makes it ok :^)

  55. acannon

    Oh yes! Of course! I forgot that violence against women is OK but sex with them isn’t.

  56. Venise Alstergren

    Are we all lightened up, and squared away? Jolly good!

    MESKI: For some strange reason the wowsers who cause all the trouble aren’t at all hassled about violence. Which indicates to me the evil of religion per se. S-x in movies and books is far more uplifting (pun unintended) than sheer violence but it’s the s-x that attracts them and because they want it for themselves-to see how ‘disgusting’ it is before agitating their local member (no pun intended) to have it banned.

    You work it out, I can’t.



  57. Bullmore's Ghost

    Yes, this thread is still going … because I said it is 🙂

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