You’ve come a long way, baby …

The Australian Women's Weekly - - 85 years -

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.”


“It brought the world to us.”


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.”


“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.”


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