The first Australian magazine to be aimed specifically at men was K.G. Murray’s Man (1936–74), which in its prime in the 1940s and 1950s easily outsold the late 1990s ‘lad mag’ giants Ralph and FHM (Australia).
Man’s formula of adventure fiction, stories of war and heroism, damsels in states of distress and undress, erotica, humour and illustrations reflected the broader magazine market for men in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s: true stories, fiction, cartoons, gags and gals. Murray himself published widely within these genres, alongside other local titles (many of them short-lived), and some published by the Stag Publishing Co., including Impact: Exciting Adventure Stories for Men, Adventure Life, Cartoons and Gags, Out of the Mouths of Babes, Guy, Mr, Sir, Knight, Caper, Him and Wow!, and the somewhat more successful Squire (1953–56).
In the pre-war years, the Australasian (est. 1864; Australasian Post, 1946–2002) and Pix (1938–72) had been general-interest pictorials. From the 1950s, they were aimed more specifically at men, featuring scantily clad female cover models and pin-ups, and stories of sex, sensationalism, sport and motoring. People entered this men’s ‘p-mag’ market in the 1950s, as did the more risqué Parade (1947–81) and Peep: For Men Only (1952–57). In the 1950s and 1960s, illustrations and drawings of women in the men’s magazine press gave way to more explicit photographic erotica. Titles from the 1960s included Pleasure (1965–66), Dare (1965–66), Gentlemen’s Choice (1965–66), Australian Models (1966) and Man’s World (1967–197?), followed in the 1970s by Climax (1972–73), Foxylady (1975), World of Men, Australian Debonair: The Sensuous Magazine for Men and Casual.
Extending the ‘p-mags’, Australian Playboy (1979–98) and Australian Penthouse (1979– ) were launched in 1979, later joined by Picture (1988– ). Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) obtained the Australian licence for Playboy, publishing interviews, feature articles and entertainment reviews, and crowning an Australian ‘Playmate of the Year’ annually. People (which had absorbed Pix in 1972) started a ‘Covergirl of the Year’ quest in the early 1980s, with the buxom British model Samantha Fox an early winner.
Aside from (but often including) pornography, the men’s magazine sector has typically included specialised categories of sport and motoring, which flourished from the 1970s, focusing on hunting, shooting, fishing, diving, racing, AFL and Rugby League. The birth of popular titles such as Motor Manual (1946– ), Wheels (1953– ), Australian Motorcycle News (c. 1955– ), Sports Car World (1957–88) and Two Wheels (1968– ) was followed by publications including Ozbike (1977– ) and Street & Strip (1986–97), many featuring semi-naked and naked female models.
While other specialised areas of the men’s magazine sector—business and finance, technology, and crafts such as woodworking and home maintenance—don’t tend to feature sexualised representations of women, this has been the historical staple of men’s mass magazine publishing in Australia and when a new genre of men’s magazines emerged in the 1990s, it was clear that these could not survive without images of ‘babes’.
Observing the success of the 1980s men’s style magazines in Europe and the United States, Sydney publisher Bruno Giagu launched Follow Me Gentlemen in 1984. It drew on the ‘new man’ iconography, promoting men’s fashion and grooming, health and nutrition. Addressing urban image-conscious professional men, it also covered computing, travel, wine and fine cuisine. It failed to find mass market success, folding in 1991. Press journalists attributed its demise to being ‘too gay’, with its strong emphasis on fashion, grooming, health and ‘heavily gelled hunks in boxer shorts’. Australian men, it was suggested, didn’t want to see men’s bodies or male narcissism in any form.
The new lifestyle magazines for men—Max (1997–99), Ralph (1997–2010), Men’s Health (1997– ), FHM (Australia) (1998–2012), GQ Australia (1998– ) and more recently men’s style Australia (2003– ) and Australian Men’s Fitness (2008– ) brought—to varying degrees—the disparate men’s interests of technology, motoring, sport, humour and women together. But they also increasingly incorporated fashion and style, skin care, nutrition and health. This feminisation of the men’s magazine genre, grounded in ideologies of narcissism and consumption, was new in Australia.
In the mid-1990s the UK men’s lifestyle sector quadrupled following the phenomenal success of ‘new lad’ magazines Loaded and FHM, which celebrated juvenile humour, hedonism and a disinterest in effeminate fashion and grooming in favour of a hypersexual obsession with women’s bodies. Australian publishers saw the obvious similarities between the British ‘lad’ and the Australian ‘larrikin’, and it was the ‘lad’ magazines that broke the Australian market for men’s lifestyle magazines.
The genre experienced a rocky start. Men’s Stuff (1995, Mogul Media) and Amnesia (1996, Horwitz Publications) each lasted just two issues. Metropolitan Style (1995, Pure Adrenalin) made it to four issues. Men’s Stuff and Amnesia drew on the ‘lad’ formula, but none of the mid-1990s launches featured sexualised representations of women. In 1997, three more titles—Max (Next Media), Ralph (ACP Magazines) and Men’s Health (Murdoch Magazines)—were launched. Max and Ralph were modelled on Britain’s FHM and Loaded, but this time including scantily clad ‘babes’. Their publishers had money to invest in their production and cross-media promotion. Ralph was the most ‘laddish’ of the two, but also the most self-consciously Australian. Max was more sophisticated, drawing from men’s fashion magazines while embracing ‘laddishness’. It ushered in the more contemporary style of men’s magazine publishing, with its first issue selling over 40,000 copies. Max’s elevation of fashion to a priority category was transgressive for a magazine aimed at the ‘average Australian bloke’, and it provided the successful formula on which its successors were eventually modelled.
Ralph had more ‘babes’, more lurid sex stories and more emphasis on drinking. There was no discussion about relationships or health. Its fashion section (‘Clobber’) typically featured ‘babes’ in bikinis and overweight bikers modelling leather wear, in line with its sexist, ‘ocker’ humour. Ralph was immediately successful, with its launch issue selling over 70,000 copies and its circulation peaking at 122,000 in 2000. Despite becoming more and more like Ralph, Max folded in September 1999.
Men’s Health, focusing on fitness, health, nutrition, relationships and style, also launched in 1997 with a shirtless, buff male model on its front cover. Its circulation remained steady at around 38,000 over its first few years of publication. FHM Australia (EMAP Australia) was launched in 1998, rivalling Ralph in its humour and coverage of ‘hot babes’, sex, sport and cars, but it was more sophisticated and cosmopolitan, featuring men’s style and grooming; it also attracted more advertising revenue than Ralph. Selling 60,000 copies of its first issue, FHM was a serious rival to Ralph, which immediately became more up-market.
FHM (Australia) and Ralph boosted the Australian men’s lifestyle magazines to exponential growth. By 2002, FHM (Australia) was the 21st best-selling magazine in the country and Ralph was at number 22. The ‘lad mag’ formula had catapulted the sector into the mass market. Yet the imagined ‘average Aussie bloke’ had become more health and image-conscious, as fashion, food, style and grooming content had become a key feature of men’s lifestyle magazines—albeit communicated in the repertoires of sexist and sardonic ‘bloke speak’.
The rise of the Australian ‘lad mags’ was meteoric, but their decline was more so. In 2006, Ralph and FHM (Australia) were still selling more than 100,000 copies each month, but by the end of 2007, Ralph’s monthly sales averaged 70,500 and FHM (Australia)’s had plummeted to around 64,500. By December 2008, FHM’s sales had fallen to 51,825 and Ralph’s to an average of 66,319. It folded after the July 2010 issue. Meanwhile, Men’s Health’s sales soared. In 2002 it averaged just under half of their circulations, but by 2008 it was outselling both the ‘lad mags’. The following year, FHM (Australia)’s circulation slumped and the magazine folded.
Men’s Health is currently the market leader, with Men’s Fitness Australia, men’s style Australia and GQ Australia as the remaining monthly men’s lifestyle magazines. Using male models and with core narratives of health, nutrition, successful relationships, fashion and cosmetics, men’s lifestyle publishing has done a dramatic U-turn, which has seen the decline of the traditional ‘p-mags’ and those centred on the sexualisation of women. Australasian Post folded in 2002 and Australian Playboy in 1999, although Australian Penthouse remains in circulation. Sales of the weekly People and Picture plummeted in 2012, when ACP removed them from the Audit Bureau of Circulations audit. Launched in 2006, Zoo Weekly initially sold over 100,000 copies but now sells just under half that number.
REFs: J. Burton, ‘“Fair Dinkum Personal Grooming”: Male Beauty Culture and Men’s Magazines in Twentieth Century Australia’ (PhD thesis, 2008); http://www. warrigalpress.com.au/magcom.html.