Peril in the sex jungle: sixties Australian pulp

The popularity of my recent post on the hey-day of Australia’s local pulp fiction industry in the 1940s and 1950s has provided me with an excuse for a reprise, this time with a selection of pulp paperback covers from the 1960s.These are sourced from the titles I’ve collected over the years from opportunity shops and second hand books dealers, hence the poor condition of some of the covers.

I don’t know of any history of pulp fiction publishing in Australia in the sixties and early seventies (but I’d would love to hear from any reader that does).

Although the local publishing industry was hit hard when restrictions on the import of foreign paperbacks were lifted in 1959, it was by no means eradicated.

In addition to local reprints of foreign titles, publishing houses such as Horwitz, Cleveland and Scripts continued to pump out a selection of titles, including crime, westerns, war and romance stories.

As was the case in the UK and America, in the sixties Australian pulp publishers started producing kitchen sink and exploitation fiction, often dressed up as lurid exposés of drug use and sexual promiscuity. These fed off mainstream society’s fears of youth rebellion and changing sexual standards.

Exhibit A is the following selection of locally produced pulps that expose the sleazy underbelly, real and imagined, of Sydney’s Kings Cross. And what a pit of crime and iniquity it must have been too, if these books are to be believed.

Not that the authors didn’t have a plentiful supply of real life material to play with. The notoriously crooked NSW state government of the late Sir Robert Askin had taken power in 1965, police corruption was rampant, and the Vietnam War was gathering pace and would soon flood Kings Cross with GIs on R&R. Prostitution, sly grog and drugs all expanded to meet increased demand.

Address: Kings Cross, by Charles Barrett is the story of Claudine with her “breathtaking beauty”, drawn to King’s Cross and its “lurid night life, it’s neon, it’s strip joints, it’s offbeat characters, its dope peddlers, and its call girls…” Alas she soon finds herself trapped in the “peril in the sex jungle”.

It’s a similar story for Sarah Apsley in Marsha Wayne’s King’s Cross Love Affair.  Visiting from the UK, Sarah is looking for a “relaxed new life in the South Pacific”, only to find “mystery and terror in the violent jungle of drugs and vice”.

But the prize for the most over the top take on the perils of Kings Cross must go to Stephen D’Alton’s The Affair of the Dragon. It features a fearsome Chinese underworld organisation, torture, S&M, slavery and gratuitous nudity.

The back cover of The Affair of the Dragon bills it as a “novel of crime, mystery and raw sex that introduces the reader to the ugly reality of Sydney’s Kings Cross and Dixon Street areas, and to the people whose lives are submerged in the violence and illicit sex as they are caught in the city’s whirlpool of vice.”

Crime author David Whish-Wilson tells me he’s got a copy of a book by an author called Julian Spencer called The Spungers (love the title) which deals with what happens when “conflict explodes between a beatnik con-man and a young rebel at Kings Cross”.

No doubt there were many more titles.

But wherever there’s crime and corruption brave individuals exist to combat it.

Drug Scene Kings Cross by Robert Connell promises to unveil the real drug scene, including the aphrodisiac powers of marijuana or “‘pot’ as it is termed by its devotees”.

Vince Kelly’s The Racket Buster features the supposedly real life endeavours of crime fighting Sydney policeman Joe Chuck and promises to take readers “behind the scenes in police investigations”.

A well-known Sydney journalist in the sixties, Kelly wrote a number of true crime and books, including one on the infamous Shark Arm case and another titled Rugged Angel, about the first woman to serve as a police detective in Sydney.

I’d like to do more posts delving into the unknown history of Australia’s pulp fiction industry. So, if you’ve got a lead on an interesting story, or have a book or series of books you would like to review for the site, drop me a line.

Scripts Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1967

Horwitz Publications Inc, Sydney, 1965

Horwitz Publications, Sydney, 1963

Scripts Pty Ltd, Sydney 1967


9 Responses

  1. Great little article – like an old time explorer, you’re hacking your way through forgotten history from Australia’s not so distant past. It’s very hard to find concrete information about any of these books – short of lucking out in book shops – and at garage sales. Even then, second hand books shops are changing, echoing the chain books stores – and older titles are becoming harder to find.

    You may have read it, but Steve Paulsen wrote a fascinating piece on the Australian Horror Writers Assoc site a few years ago:

    At the bottom, he makes reference to a book by Graeme Flanagan called ‘Australian Vintage Paperback Guide’ (1994, Gryphon Books, New York), which I haven’t been able to track down, but it seems like a good starting point for those of us interested in vintage pulp fiction.


  2. Thanks for the Flanagan tip. I’ll try and check it out.

    Yeah, finding these books is getting tougher and tougher. I suspect that part of this is that people are realising how rare they are. There’s also the passage of time. There’s only so many years that the low grade paper that the pulps were printed on will last, especially if they are just stuck in a garage.

    Still, all this only makes it more exciting when you unearth a rare title or two, especially of they are in good nick.

  3. Hi, I’m an avid collector of Australian pulps. Have displayed some of them at the following flickr site if anyone is interested.

  4. Thanks for stopping by. What a fantastic collection of pulp covers. I recommend anyone who read this checks them out. It’s a small world. I found your flickr site quite independently today and was going to check it out tonight. I log on and you’ve left a comment.

    I am particularly fascinated with Jim Kent and John Slater. Who the hell are/were they? I assume that they did not write under their own names, because they are a couple of twisted little puppies. I would love to do a blog post on them sometime in the future if I could find out more about them.

    Thanks for sharing your images.


  5. Thanks Andrew.
    Most of the John Slater books were written by Ray Slattery. Some of the late ones were written by Carl Ruhen (#78 & 80), R L Taylor (#79, 81 & 83) & Carlene Hardy (#84). There were 84 published between 1962 & 1973. Jim Kent wrote 71 between 1966 & 1976. The most memorable & identifiable covers were painted by Col Cameron.
    Ray Slattery also wrote as James Bent, Frank F Gunn, Roger Hunt and Terry West.
    A great source for Australian pulps is Graeme Flanagan’s Australian Vintage Paperback Guide.
    Cheers Mark

  6. Pingback: Behind the bamboo screen: Asian pulp covers of the sixties and seventies | Pulp Curry

  7. Pingback: Pulp Friday: The Spungers | Pulp Curry

  8. Pingback: Pulp Friday: Flat Four Kings Cross | Pulp Curry

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