You’ve come a long way, baby …
When a two-pence newspaper called The Australian Women’s Weekly rst appeared on Sydney newsstands in June 1933, it debuted an agenda that would change the face of Australian publishing. There were two front-page features. One, “Equal Social Rights for Sexes”, outlined Mrs Linda P Littlejohn’s “greater determination than ever” to ght for the establishment of women’s social rights. The other, “What Smart Sydney Women Are Wearing”, needs little explanation.
The Weekly was not the rst Australian magazine for women – that honour belongs to Louisa Lawson’s The Dawn, published in 1880 – but it was the rst to truly capture the lives, loves, struggles and concerns of Australian women. It was a journal of record, a place of indulgence and escape and a trusted source of news that united women around Australia.
NSW’s rst female governor, Dame Marie Bashir, 87, was a toddler when the rst edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly rolled off the presses and has fond memories of how the magazine brought the far- ung women of Australia together in a time before television and the internet. This core purpose hasn’t changed. “Its most signi cant achievement still,” she says, “is being a thread that binds people across the whole land.”
The Weekly has developed an especially close connection with women in regional Australia. The magazine quickly became a lifeline for isolated rural women. We spread news of their struggles and achievements and offered tangible support. When there was a glut of Australian oranges, the magazine ran competitions for recipes that featured oranges; we promoted wool with The Weekly’s fashion awards; we supported dairy farmers when the milk market tumbled; and we drew the attention of the nation to times of drought, re and ood.
While the world, and the magazine, have changed inestimably since 1933, The Weekly’s commitment to informing, entertaining and above all listening to and respecting women from across Australia remains unaltered.
In the early 1930s and ’40s, The Weekly embraced the currents of change. In 1936, we asked, “Must a secretary have sex appeal?” In 1934, we wondered whether women’s recent fondness for “slacks, shorts, cigarettes and drinks” meant that we were “adopting mannish habits”.
A 1937 edition published a personal essay by a reader, “Femina”, which was billed as a “provocative new angle” on the question of whether wives should have jobs. Femina believed they should. And throughout the war years, The Weekly supported women in the workforce and armed services, opening a servicewomen’s
“The Women’s Weekly legitimised the fact that women had an enormous role to play, as has always been the case in Australia ... It’s very much an Australian identity.” – DAME MARIE BASHIR AD CVO
club in Sydney and employing Australia’s rst female war correspondents.
However, cooking, baking, housework and homemaking remained a staple of the magazine’s black and white pages. The role of the wife and homemaker was still, for The Weekly, vital and noble. Articles on how to avoid displeasing your husband (don’t ask for money when he is busy) ran alongside advice on helping your husband secure a promotion by keeping ‘his’ home spick and span.
In May 1937, The Weekly published a series of Mrs Wallis Simpson’s recipes under the heading, “Cookery That Charmed a King”. “She likes to cook and has a rst-hand knowledge of this ‘way to a man’s heart’,” we wrote the month before Edward VIII abdicated and made Mrs Simpson the Duchess of Windsor.
More than 20 years later, in 1959, the debate about whether a woman belonged in the home or the workplace raged on, and in some ways seemed less advanced than it was in the 1930s, with articles such as “Working Wives on Warpath: Strong support for the stay-at-homes”.
During World War II, millions of copies of The Weekly had been sent to servicemen overseas, and by 1959, 49 per cent of Australian men were reading it, as did teenagers. The Weekly had become a family paper but its focus was still very much on Australian women’s lives.
As the 1950s gave way to the ’60s, articles offering instructions on how to live longer by reducing the physical strain of housework (and according to The Weekly, the average lifespan ended at 55) were replaced by content that gave women who were increasingly in the workforce a way to escape. “How to manage a boss”, offered tips to secretaries in 1965. The Weekly published ction by Agatha Christie and reported breathlessly on the life and times of Princess Margaret, while the style pages delivered fashion and glamour from around the world.
For trailblazers such as Olympian Dawn Fraser, having a journal of record devoted solely to women at a time when boardrooms, politicians and newsrooms were the domain of men was crucial. As a young athlete, Dawn felt the press treated her with everything from indifference to hostility. The Weekly gave all women in sport a higher pro le, she said, “which has been absolutely fantastic … If it hadn’t been for women’s magazines, I don’t think we would have known some of our champions.”
Actress Kate Fitzpatrick, now 71, who debuted on Australian screens in 1967, said The Weekly brought the whole vast world into Australian homes. “I remember Mum wearing a strapless (I called it ‘topless’) black taffeta dress that had antique ivory lace on the bodice, a tiny waist and a very full, mid-calf length skirt,” Kate recalls. “She looked just like the Dior models in The Women’s Weekly.”
“There was a big lapse in women getting acknowledgement through the newspapers.”
– DAWN FRASER
“It brought the world to us.”
– ACTRESS KATE FITZPATRICK
But The Weekly was never simply a lifestyle magazine. Former editor Ita Buttrose recalls an article about the dangers of nuclear weapons that was published in 1958, not long after she began working as a copygirl at the magazine. “It urged women of the world (including readers of The Weekly) to call for an end to nuclear testing and bombs for the future of the world’s children. It made an impact on me – were we creating a safe enough world for our children?”
Also in the ’50s, The Weekly and the Marriage Guidance Council of Australia toured the country, offering advice to young people about marriage and reporting that chastity before marriage was considered “out of date”.
“When the contraceptive pill became available in the ’60s, The Weekly did it again,” says Ita, “and published a terri c piece about the bene ts and perceived negatives about taking the Pill. It was such a new concept – women could control whether or not they had children.
Was that a good thing or not? Women weren’t sure. Some worried about side-effects. After reading The Weekly’s well-written, factual article, most women decided the Pill was very much ‘a good thing’.”
Over the years, The Weekly has re ected and led public opinion on issues as diverse as divorce, euthanasia, marriage equality and Indigenous rights. In 1975, the indomitable Ita took the helm of The Weekly, and one of the causes she championed was to change retail trading hours to better accommodate working women.
“With more women joining the workforce, it made sense for supermarkets, butchers greengrocers, chemists, dry cleaners, to stay open over the weekend. As a rule, everything shut sharply at noon on a Saturday,” Ita says. “Women were being run ragged working, dropping the children to school activities and trying to get all the shopping done before the clock struck 12!”
Iconic Australian designer, Jenny Kee, now 71, rst appeared in The Weekly as a model in 1965, aged 17, marking the beginning of a long and vibrant relationship with the magazine, which included photoshoots of her riotously colourful and uniquely Australian clothing. “I still love The Women’s Weekly today – I’m a big fan,” she says.
With former model Maggie
Tabberer at the helm of the fashion pages, style for the working woman became more prominent. A day in the life of Maggie featured the entrepreneur attending meetings and going about her business, in scarves and elegantly tailored suits. Jenny and Maggie collaborated on spreads and Jenny created knitting patterns, including one for her own Blinky jumper which Diana, Princess of Wales, wore to watch Prince Charles play polo in 1982.
“The Weekly quietly but e ectively shaped public opinion and consequently in uenced the thinking and ambitions of many girls and women in Australia.” – ITA BUTTROSE
The Weekly had always been home to ground-breaking reports and world exclusives, and after it became a monthly in the 1980s, it built on its reputation as a trusted source of quality long reads, with world- rsts including the gripping interview with Thredbo landslide survivor Stuart Diver. When Lindy Chamberlain was released from prison, she spoke exclusively with The Weekly and invited the magazine on her heartbreaking return journey to Uluru. When Delta Goodrum was diagnosed with lymphoma, she spoke to her fans through The Weekly. When Anna Murdoch parted ways with her tycoon husband, Rupert, she trusted The Weekly to share her story with Australia. As more recently did
Natalie Joyce. As ‘fake news’ has become ever more prevalent, rst in the tabloids and then through the worldwide web, The Weekly has become a trusted source of respectful and often heartfelt reporting.
Actress Georgie Parker is both a life-long reader of The Weekly, and frequently appears in its pages, and says she loves the long and thoughtful articles. “When I was little, I just loved the covers and pictures inside. But as I got older I started reading the in-depth and stimulating interviews with actresses, trailblazers, politicians, environmentalists, and stories of people’s lives after trauma and tragedy,” she says. “When I rst appeared in The Women’s Weekly, we bought 10 copies, we were so excited.”
From Nancy Bird Walton to
Dame Enid Lyons; Linda Burney to Denise Morcombe, The Weekly has championed the strength and resilience of women. “I remember being on the cover with my major girl crush, Jana Wendt,” actress Rebecca Gibney says. “I once followed her down the corridor at Channel Nine when she was doing Sixty Minutes.
For me she was the most beautiful, inspiring woman on Australian television and I will be forever indebted to The Weekly for bringing us together.”
Deborah Hutton worked at The Weekly as an editor of fashion, beauty and lifestyle for more than 10 years and her 2012 appearance on the cover is considered iconic in Australian publishing. She’d just turned 50 and, wanting to make a statement about body con dence, she posed naked on the cover and penned a personal essay about her journey to self-acceptance. “There’s too much emphasis on how thin women ought to be and not enough on health and the acceptance of who we are, with all our imperfections,” she wrote.
Deborah’s decision marked a signi cant shift in attitudes towards women, and women’s attitudes towards themselves, which have come a long way since The Weekly ran articles on how to lose a pound of fat a day in the 1930s.
“The Weekly has always been on the side of women, a proud advocate, shining the light on important issues, speaking the truth with heart and covering the broad spectrum of interests with style, grace and humour,” Deborah said, in honour of the magazine’s 85th year. “May we see her go on to celebrate another 85 years!”
“In the 1970s, as a young designer in Australia, I used to collect the vintage Women’s Weekly issues from the ’40s and ’50s for inspiration. I still have them today.”
– FASHION DESIGNER, JENNY KEE.
“The Weekly has always showcased amazing women. I remember the Deborah Hutton front cover ... I thought it showed that you can be beautiful at any age.”
– SWIMMER SUSIE O’NEILL