Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

A Nation's Imagination: Australia’s Copyright Records, 1854–1968


Censorship practices offer an interesting insight into social opinion and political situations at any given time.

Censorship was heavily practised during World War II to ensure – among other obvious things – that the wartime morale of the country was upheld and no political allies were offended by anything broadcast or published within Australia.56

Following is a brief introduction to records held by the National Archives of Australia that relate to censorship in Australia. The list is by no means exhaustive and is meant only as an indication of the material recorded over the years.

Register of applications for screening of films for import 1917–35

This series contains annual registers of cinematic material submitted to the Censor. Films submitted included features, cartoons, serials, documentaries and news magazine films.

The first register, which records a total of 2790 applications, is titled Register of Applications made under the Customs (Cinematographe films) Regulations, 1917. Entries record the number, date, title of film, result, date of decision and registered number. Some items, particularly those marked 'refused', have an annotation in red – eg CFC 17/14. It has not been possible to ascertain what this annotation refers to.

Other registers are untitled and some have a different arrangement of material. For example, the 1922 register records the number of reels and applicant importers' names as well.

Series: SP348/1
Quantity: 0.9 metres
Recorded by: 1917–19 Commonwealth Film Censorship Board [I] (CA 1925); 1919–29 Commonwealth Film Censor (also known as Deputy Censor and Film Censorship Office), Sydney (CA 598); 1929–35 Commonwealth Film Censorship Board [II] (CA 144)
Register of applications for screening of films for import – Commonwealth Film Censorship, 1917

Samples of entries in this register are:

No. 3, The Clever Mrs Carter (screening before Board ordered; refused, 12 March 1917)

No. 183, Mutt & Jeff in Wall Street (approved, 1917)

No. 786, Paramount Travel Picture No. 22 (approved, 1917).

SP348/1, 1
Register of applications for screening of films for import – Commonwealth Film Censorship, 1922

Entries in this register indicate that the Censor was often heavy-handed when wielding his scissors.

No. 624, Souls Redeemed (Naish Films Ltd; approved, 6 reels, 567½ feet cut, 1922)

No. 1220, Making Raw Stock for Photographic Paper at Kodak Park (Kodak Australasia, approved, 1922)

SP348/1, 6
Correspondence re publicity censorship (PC Files), 1939–45

This series deals with censorship of published material, mostly newspapers and magazines. Files are arranged by subject and include correspondence, records of telephone conversations and instructions, and decisions on censorship between censors and publishers.

Series: SP106/1
Quantity: 7.6 metres
Recorded by: 1939 Department of Information (CA 34); 1939–45 State Publicity Censor, NSW (CA 8217)
Operations and/or movements of the forces of the USA, 1942 SP106/1, PC516 part 1
Naval information – launchings, etc, 1943–44 SP106/1, PC28 part 4
State publicity censor's instructions, 1940–44

This series consists of sheets distributed to the media informing them of specific topics banned, delayed or requiring submission.

Series: SP106/4
Quantity: 1.4 metres
Recorded by: State Publicity Censor, NSW (CA 8217)
'Free French Government', 1940 SP106/4, SPCI133
'Japanese air-raids on Australia', 1941 SP106/4, SPCI362
Broadcasting control – censorship diary, Brisbane, 1942–43

This series consists of one journal that appears to have been a daily record of radio broadcasts submitted for censorship, with a 'Treatment' column annotated as 'passed', 'passed with alterations', 'passed with deletions', 'disallowed' and 'comments'. One week waspresented per page.
Series: ST2474/5
Quantity: 0.11 metres
Recorded by: Department of Information, State Publicity Censor (CA 7435)

Registers of scripts submitted for censorship, 1942–45

This series consists of nine registers containing all the scripts submitted to the State Publicity Censor from broadcasting stations in New South Wales. The time and date of submission, initials of censor, name and address of originator, censor's serial number, precis of contents and treatment are all shown.

Series: SP106/13
Quantity: 0.36 metres
Recorded by: State Publicity Censor, NSW (CA 8217)
Censorship Registers

This series is a collection of registers and indexes of material examined for censorship and items received from Customs sub-collectors. It also contains loose pieces of correspondence, telegrams and newspaper clippings. Some of the material dates back to 1954.

Series: C4230
Quantity: 0.36 metres
Recorded by: 1967 Literature Censorship Board (CA 156); 1968–72 National Literature Board of Review (CA 3842)
Literature and miscellaneous records, classification, 1957–

Please note that this series is ongoing and that records less than 30 years old are still closed. C3059 contains several categories of records, including index cards for publications (for review/request for decision). These cards provide details of the publication title, name of the publisher, a reference number and the name of the importer.

The series also contains annual registers of publications that include information such as title, importer and class number.

Records from the offices in South Australia, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory also form part of this series. Other material includes film registration books, bundles of papers on the classification of videos, video registers, the Deputy Film Censor's numbering system for films, and bundles of press clippings (some originals and some photocopies). The series also contains some hard- and soft-cover books and copies of Playboy, Penthouse and other erotica publications from various countries.

Series: C3059
Quantity: 155 metres
Recorded by: Commonwealth Film Censorship Board [II] (CA 144)
National literature board of review – correspondence on censorship and legislation, c1958–84

This series contains mostly correspondence to and from the National Literature Board of Review on Censorship. It also contains newspaper clippings, 'X'-rated magazines, correspondence on the Little Red Schoolbook and statements from the Attorney-General's Department on censorship.

Series: C4480
Quantity: 0.72 meters
Recorded by: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
Folder containing minutes and sample 'girlie' magazines as a guide to policy, 1961 C4480, 34
Literature censorship conferences (State and Commonwealth), 1961–63

This series consists of reports and related papers leading up to, and arising from, three Commonwealth and State conferences on literature censorship. The meetings were held to coordinate literature censorship and administrative practice between the States and the Commonwealth.

Series: C4292
Quantity: 0.18 metres
Recorded by: Literature Censorship Board (CA 156)
Background and draft material to customs and censorship legislation, 1962–84

This series contains reports, legislative drafts and other material on amendments to Australian Customs laws and amendments to censorship laws in Federal territories. Please note that material less than 30 years old is not yet accessible.

Series: C4291
Quantity: 0.48 metres
Recorded by: Commonwealth Film Censorship Board [II] (CA 144)


Chapter notes | All notes

56 Film and video available for screening in Australia is now given a rating classification by the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC). The rating classifications indicate the suitability of the material for viewing by those under 18 years of age and provide guidelines as to the type of material likely to be encountered. It is rare, but not unheard of, for the OFLC to cut material.


Chapter 5
Searching Further Afield in the Archives