First Review: The Book That Shook The World

We’re in the middle of a climate of religious groups seeking to influence our airwaves.

The Festival of Light has claimed victory over a review of Californication by the Australian Media and Communications Authority. And Hillsong is supposedly pulling the strings behind Australian Idol’s finalists.

So have we really come much further than in 1971 when conservatives were outraged over the publication of “The Little Red Schoolbook?”

Written by two Danes, the book sought to empower schoolchildren by having them question societal norms and fight for a better education system.

20 of its 200 pages included straight-up-and-down facts about sex and drugs. They were the pages that mattered.

There were frank “how-to’s” on sexual acts using everyday profanities without apology. Drug facts were openly discussed. The book was non-judgemental, seeking to provide children with the information that adults had kept from them for years. And therein lay the anarchic rub.

Europe was up in arms. In Australia Don Chipp, our then Minister for Customs, approved its import. As footage in this documentary by Con Anemogiannis illustrates, news crews had a field day with it. Suburban ladies were doorstopped for vox-pops in which they ‘tut-tutted’ from beneath mild-mannered hats. It’s quite hilarious to now look back on these clips. One of the Christian conservatives is even a dead ringer for Flacco.

Anemogiannis, who documented The History of Homosexual Australia, managed to track down and reunite the two Danish authors who haven’t met in some 40 years. He also talks to the Australian publisher and local journos, writers and historians in what amounts to a fascinating, if forgotten, chapter of our social history.

But one moment in the doco turns into history repeating itself. As the film unfolds and we are none-too-numbed by the dropping of the “Fs” and “Cs” there is a pixellated book illustration of penetration, with a subtitle explaining it has been blurred in keeping with timeslot classification. So an image that could be printed in 1971 is unable to be screened in 2007? This is too ironic.

Finally, as archival footage of Labor’s “It’s Time” rang out, my head started to hurt at how a censorship debate prior to Whitlam’s 1972 electoral win is turning full circle in 2007. Let’s talk true anarchy shall we?

The Book That Shook The World airs 8:30pm Friday on SBS


  1. Thanks for letting me know about the program. I found the book very influential when I read it in 1978 as a pre-teen. Most of the political messages went over my head, but I did learn to question things. I was also living in Adelaide, and under Don Dunstan, the environment was right for forward thinking. My parents knew I read it, and offered to talk about anything I read, but I think I was a bit embarrassed by that.

  2. Well said David.

    The recent rush of neo-christianity scares the living crap out of me, to be honest. As someone who was brought up in the catholic school system and witnessed first-hand what religious fervour makes people do, I was an atheist by the age of 12 and remain so to this day. And this recent “activism” has simply reassured me that I made a very good call at such an early age.

    In TV terms, though, SBS’s recent tendency towards populist censorship bothers me greatly.

  3. David, the same thing still occurs in the US with parents trying to remove books from local libraries and school libraries that aren’t “compatible with christian teachings.”

    Even an uproar over, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” about the menstrual cycle!

    While Governor Jeb Bush pushes his christian allegorical Chronicles of Narnia into the curriculum.

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