Founded by George Warnecke and R. C. Packer and designed with the assistance of John Hill and the cartoonist William Ernest Pidgeon, the Australian Women's Weekly began in a newspaper format in June 1933. At first only available in New South Wales, it soon became so popular that editions were introduced to all states. By 1937, a New Zealand edition was also being produced.
Aimed at the home maker, the Australian Women's Weekly has provided information and entertainment to several generations of Australian women. The frequent notion in articles and fiction (especially in the 1940s and 1950s) that matrimony was the fulfillment of a woman's life and that such a life was subservient to the male bread-winner has been scrutinised by feminist critics in recent decades. Several book-length studies and many articles have been produced that explore the social dynamics that can be inferred by the content of the magazine in its long history.
Fiction was a large component of the magazine in its early years, but that has diminished markedly since the early 1970s. Issues from the 1930s contained lively debates in letters and articles about the value of literature, and many poets and fiction writers were profiled. A series on 'Famous Women' included biographies of George Eliot, Aphra Behn, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The magazine began a long series of condensed novels in October 1934, exposing readers to many overseas writers and a number of local products such as Frank Dalby Davison, Henrietta Drake-Brockman and E. V. Timms. Around 250 novels had appeared in condensed form by 1940. In the 1940s the Weekly also distributed a series of illustrated children's books by non-Australian authors, published by The Shakespeare Head press, under the series title, Australian Women's Weekly Children's Classics. Titles in the series included Fairy Bluebell and Rosamond by Elizabeth Keith and Dandy Lion by Percy G. Griggs.
In July 1952, an author profile and a condensed version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby was included. Readers continued to receive encouragement throughout the 1950s and 1960s with competitions, quizzes, advertisements and information about book clubs. Since 1970, the Australian Women's Weekly has continued to publish short stories and occasional poetry. The magazine has been a major sponsor of the Byron Bay Writers Festival since 2000.
Since 1970, the Australian Women's Weekly has undergone several changes of format and has included less conventional issues for the magazine such as contraception, sex and the environment. The Australian Women's Weekly remains one of the most dominant popular magazines for women in Australia, maintaining one of the world's highest circulations per capita.
'BEATRICE GRIMSHAW, masterly spinner of South Sea yarns, makes the utmost of her ingeniously-woven story of castaways on a South Sea isle. The novel palpitates with romance and rocks with comedy. Tragedy stalks the pages, and is caught by "Laughter holding both his sides."
REV. JAMES ROBINSON, widower and model of mid-Victorian propriety, has two beautiful daughters. ELEANOR, the elder, is handsome and conventionally-minded; ADELINE, the younger, is timid, clinging, frail, and romantic.
There is a furore in the household when Adeline falls in love with a dashing cavalry officer who is MARRIED! The vicar receives an appointment to an Australian bishopric and sails with his girls "out of harm's way!" They are cast away on a remote South Sea island with LADY GILLILAND, wife of the Governor-General of Australia, CHARLIE CHAINE, the very same cavalry officer whom Adeline so indiscreetly loved, brawny sailorman BUZACOTT, and MR. and MRS. GERALD BLACK. Mr. Black is a champion runner.
A boatload of amazing English-speaking men—themselves descendants of castaways and suffering, in their island Paradise, from an acute shortage of Eves—is an unusual dramatic touch.'
Source: Blurb for the Australian Women's Weekly serialisation, 9 February 1935, p.5.