The push for more robust censorship of film came principally from the state of Victoria. The 1922 Council of Public Education in this state commissioned a Committee to consider the moving picture in its relation to the child. Although film was policed for forms of indecency, there were many aspects of the cinema which ‘while clearly not coming under that heading, are yet subversive of morals or tend to degrade public taste’ (CPE, 1922, p5). The Committee held particular concerns about ‘dramatic’ films and those that dealt with ‘the sex problem’ (CPE, 1922, p4). In a survey of Melbourne school-children, it was found that 45 per cent attended the cinema once per week, and 60 per cent more often than once per week. Even more concerning was that 42 per cent of these children who attended the cinema unaccompanied by an adult. The report also drew on the Report of the British National Council of Public Morals released in 1917 regarding some recommendations of ‘ideal’ cinema viewing by children. This report recommended the optimum cinema attendance to be no more than three times per fortnight, under supervised, not to immediately precede bedtime. The Committee thus recommended children be banned from the cinema after 6.30pm on school days (CPE, 1922, p7). Regarding the cinematic medium and juvenile delinquency, the Committee argued: ‘In its likeness to life lies its menace: it may be a power for good or it may stamp upon the plastic mind of youth an utterly false impression of the standards of conduct, inducing a belief that a series of sensational incidents truly represents the happenings customary to a community’ (CPE, 1922, p8). Exploring the educative potential of film and other productions aimed at children were encouraged by the Committee, which also suggested the Federal Board of Censors’ duties be expanded to include local productions and advertising (CPE, 1922, p6).
One of the witnesses was head of the Commonwealth Board of Censors Archibald T. Strong (who held this position from 1919-22), who gave input on the current guidelines used by the Board internally. These were:
Indecent, suggestive, or insufficient dress
Embraces over-stepping the limits of affection, or which would be contrary to propriety in ordinary life.
Position of the actors which are suggestive of sexual passion or desire.
Scenes which might be thought subversive of morality or virtue.
Scenes which might be offensive to the religious feelings of any class of the community.
Scenes which might be morally harmful to the young especially, of both sexes.
Scenes which might seem to encourage, or appear to view with indifference, breaches of the law or perpetration of crime.
Scenes of brutal cruelty or violence.
Scenes from which the inference could be drawn that offences against those laws, or rules, or recognised social codes, which govern the relations of the sexes in married and single life, are not matters to be overlooked or treated lightly.
(Formal guidelines were set by Customs Regulations referred to here).
Following on from the Committee, much debate continued in the Victorian legislative council about the issue of film censorship that eventually led to the development Censorship of Films Act in 1926. This legislation stipulated a quota for the exhibition of 2,000 ft of British films, including 1,000 ft of Australian productions in Victorian screenings to counteract U.S. productions flooding theatres. In an agreement with the Commonwealth Board of Censors, cinemas in Victoria were also now legally obligated to exclude children between 6 and 16 years of age from films determined unsuitable for them, as well as advertise when a film had been designated for children by the Commonwealth censor. This expanded and made formal the distinction between content for children and adults in the practices of Commonwealth Film Censorship which previously issued documents to certify a film either unconditionally or with eliminations, or made conditions or restrictions on the audience of the film (such as for medical purposes, see this post on Damaged Goods for more). However, the legislation brought outcry from the film industry who did not want the responsibility for excluding children and upsetting patrons, and the fines that could accompany failure to comply. In 1929 a national advisory system of classifying G, for general exhibition, and A, suitable only for Adults, was in force, and by 1933 the legal restrictions on children were lifted in Victoria to use this system. The advisory system recognised the onus of children’s cinema attendance lay with their parents. – Rachel Cole
Still from ‘The Kid Stakes’ (Ordell, 1927), recognised as the first feature film produced in Australia for children, from the Australian National Film and Sound Archive, https://www.nfsa.gov.au/latest/kid-stakes#
Book. Bertrand, I. 1978, ‘Film Censorship in Australia’, University of Queensland Press.
Council of Public Education Twelfth Annual Report. 1922, ‘The moving picture in its relation to the child’, p.4-9.
National Archives of Australia file. NAA: A425, 1943/1407. Title: ‘Film Censorship Co-operation with the States in regard to films made in Australia. Agreement with the State of Victoria. Section 14 of Victorian Theatres Act 1928’.