Unfit for publication

This Sunday afternoon I went to a forum put on by the Sydney Pride History Group. This was a presentation by Peter de Waal about his book Unfit for publication.

The book is a collection of primary sources dealing, chiefly, with all trials for sodomy in the Supreme Court of NSW from its inception in 1823 up to 1930 (the end-date was determined by NSW Archives’ 70-year rule for documents of this nature and when Peter started the project.) The main records used are the depositions, the judges’ notebooks, prison records and press reports. In addition, de Waal has included some documents about some earlier trials, and also unearthed from the Police Gazette details of about 2,500 cases heard in the latter part of this period in the Courts of Quarter Sessions (roughly equal to today’s District Court.) The documents are only sparingly footnoted: the true historical work using these documents is yet to come. In the meantime, they stand as a special local equivalent to the Monumenta Germaniae Historica.

The title comes from a phrase often included in the newspaper accounts when passing over the details of the evidence. Apparently, courts were also on occasion cleared of all under 21 and all women.

Peter de Waal is himself famous as being possibly the first homosexual to out himself publically in Australia, when he appeared on the ABC’s Chequerboard program with his partner, Peter Bonsall-Boone in 1972. As a result of this Peter Bonsall Boone lost his job as secretary to the parish of St Clements Mosman. Even I can remember that. They still live together, although (as the link above nicely puts it) “their relationship has changed over time, and other partners are now on the scene.” PBB was at the forum and helped to type the documents which de Waal read onto a dictaphone at the archives offices.

I read about this in the Sydney Star Observer, though that newspaper failed to include either the location or the starting time for the event. This may be one reason why the attendance was, I expect, disappointing for the group. Apparently about 30 people indicated that they might come (you were asked to RSVP in advance for catering purposes as light refreshments were provided) but we were less than half that number. D came at the start but decided it looked a bit too academic for his taste. There were possibly 2 people younger than I.

The book is self-published in three A4 volumes. There has been a first edition of 50 copies and I bought the second-last set of a second edition of 20. That’s not a long print run! There’s no copy in Sydney University’s Fisher Library and I couldn’t track down a copy in any lending library at all.

I may write something more about it here once I have had a chance to look at it properly. I expect it is the sort of book to dip into rather than read cover to cover, so perhaps I shall keep it handy in the smallest room in the house. [TMI?] I promise to wash my hands before rushing to the keyboard to offer any further account.

One Response to “Unfit for publication”

  1. Old Man Sentenced « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Unfit for Publication Vol 3, 1601 at 1603] “My name is James Williams. I am a labourer. I reside at George Street […]

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