Image: Robert Crumb

John Howard once said: “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”. He was referring to refugees at the time but there’s a much broader spectrum to the denial of visas. For example over the years Australia has regularly placed bans on certain well known individuals entering the country for a whole variety of reasons – in what you might perceive as both good and bad.

Prominent anti-Semites and outspoken racists have often been excluded as was the case with holocaust denialists, David Icke and David Irving, both from the UK. The notorious American neo-Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell was also refused entry. There was little protest regarding their exclusion but that was not the case when US activist, actor, author and comedian Dick Gregory was banned during the Vietnam war, the reason given: that the Afro-American would stir up demonstrations against the war. The ban was lifted some years later but I can’t remember Gregory ever touring here.

Dick Gregory. Image: What’s So Funny podcast

There have also been a number of strange cases where people, in particular entertainers, have toured the country, been banned some years later and then allowed back in at a later date. That was the case with US rapper Snoop Dog, who was temporarily excluded in 2007 following felony gun and drug charges at home. Kevin Andrews, the immigration minister at the time ,was quoted as saying:

“He has a whole string of convictions. He doesn’t seem the sort of bloke we want in this country.” 

Maybe his participation in a televised roast of Donald Trump, when the “orange one” was beginning his campaign for the White House, was viewed as a redeeming factor.

David Icke. Image: BBC

Needless to say both Gary Glitter and Australian-born British citizen, Rolf Harris had no problems obtaining entertainment visas to enter the country, despite ever present whispers.

When it comes to entertainers and creative artists there have also been some rare incidents where a self-imposed ban has come into play. That was certainly the case back in 2011 when the renowned US graphic artist Robert Crumb pulled the plug on his Australian visit following a vicious tabloid fuelled campaign of vilification against him.

One of America’s greatest cartoonists and all round eccentrics, Crumb was invited to the ‘Graphic’ Festival that was to include an exhibition of his works at the Sydney Opera House. For perhaps no other reason than raising tabloid fury, the Sunday Telegraph decided to demonise him, drawing attention to his often racy, but by no means obscene comics and admissions of sexual fantasies. Somebody there didn’t get the joke!

ROBERT CRUMB Untitled [Let’s Eat] 1966–70 Ink on paper 9⅝ × 7½ inches; 24 × 19 cm

Rather than focus on just that, they chose to validate the outrage by getting an opinion from Queensland based anti child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnson. Despite the fact that she had never heard of Crumb, they sent her a tiny sample of his prolific work and she replied that it would be complicit in creating communities that are unsafe for children and should be banned. Her published quote at the time was:

“The Sydney Opera House is endorsing the depraved thought processes of this very warped human being. These cartoons are not funny or artistic – they are just crude and perverted images emanating from what is clearly a sick mind.”

‘Le Monde Selon Crumb’ (1991) – Lambiek Comiclopeidia

Fearing further vilification and even physical violence when he arrived, Crumb pulled the pin on his tour, effectively banning himself from the visit. He apologised profusely to the organisers and in an open letter to the Sydney Morning Herald he wrote:

“I was quite alarmed when I read the article in the Sunday Telegraph. I showed it to my wife, Aline, who said, ”That’s it, you’re not going.” She got a very bad feeling from the article. She feared I might be attacked physically by some angry, outraged person who simply saw red at the mention of child molesters. She remarked she’d never seen any article about me as nasty as this one.”

The whole episode was a shabby exercise in assassination-by-tabloid and had little to do with targeting those involved in real child abuse. Ironically the Australian tabloid media has been very slow in investigating and exposing paedophiles and other child abusers here, be they in the Catholic church or even working within the media. 

Taylor Swift with fans. Image: SCOTT BARBOUR:TAS:GETTY IMAGES

It would never happen of course, given the millions of dollars involved, but what might eventuate if Taylor Swift committed some minor misdemeanour prior to her upcoming Australian tour and the bureaucrats in Immigration decided to cancel her visa? We could well see our own version of the January 6th insurrection with thousands of furious teenage girls storming Parliament House in Canberra. And further food for thought – what if Prince Andrew was invited to Australia for some charity endorsed junket in the near future. Would you grant him a visa?

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