AUSTRALIAN WOMEN’S WEEKLY
Founding editor George Warnecke’s vision for the Australian Women’s Weekly was: ‘Start it Big. Give it an unswerving Australian outlook. Above all, whether the journalists are writing about fashion, cookery, baby care or diet, there has to be an element of news in what they write.’ He took this formula to the young (Sir) Frank Packer, and in June 1933, the magazine that was to become Australian Consolidated Press’s flagship, and a national institution, was launched.
Creating a ‘world for women’, the Weekly offered its readers advice on managing their domestic lives, as well as fiction and stories about royalty, film stars and fashion, scandals and survivors. It rapidly rose to a pre-eminent position as the top-selling Australian magazine. Interstate editions, including a ‘letter’ from one social editor to another, were swiftly rolled out. The height of the Weekly’s popularity came in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was read in one in four Australian homes, and had the biggest circulation per head of population of any women’s magazine in the world. It implicated itself in the lives of its readers, through outlets and promotions including the Women’s Weekly Test Kitchen, cookbooks and World Discovery Tours.
The Weekly managed to attract and hold major advertising clients. Because of this combination of journalism and advertising, among all Australia’s women’s magazines, it is an unparalleled longitudinal record of changing everyday culture: ideas about femininity and beauty, sex and romance, marriage and child-rearing, women’s work (paid and otherwise), food, houses and health. It has responded to major changes in society.The Weekly played an important role during World War II in rallying women to participate in the war effort, whether from their homes or by joining the workforce.
After the war, the Weekly’s reader’s life was expected to revolve around her husband and children, but she was also invited to embrace a more glamorous ideal of femininity. By the late 1960s, however, there was a groundswell of discontent among women unhappy with their domestic lot, often juggling a badly paid job as well. Even in the pages of the Weekly, ‘housewife blues’ was finally given a name.
In 1959, recognising the emergence of a new group of young readers and consumers, the magazine introduced a ‘Teenagers’ Weekly’ supplement. But it became clear as the 1960s went on that young women did not want to live like their mothers: they were better educated, and they wanted to earn money and see the world—even to explore their sexuality. Since the 1970s, the Weekly has had to respond to two major changes in women’s lives: mass participation in the paid workforce and expanding horizons for personal and sexual fulfilment.
Editors—of whom there have been remarkably few—have dealt with change in different ways. Alice Jackson (1939–50) was succeeded by Esmé Fenston (1950–72), whose firm ideas about what was right for the Weekly were shared by Packer. She was succeeded by the magazine’s best-known journalist, Dorothy Drain (1972–74), who disliked having to defend the Weekly against emerging women’s liberation ideas. In a brief interregnum after Sir Frank’s death, Ita Buttrose (1974–76) introduced radical changes such as inviting readers to write about their experiences of sexual abuse. When she was promoted to publisher, the editorship was taken on by Dawn Swain (1976–85), who had trained with Fenston. Swain toned down this new look, and steered the magazine through its 1983 change to a monthly. This coincided with its 50th anniversary, which was marked by the publication of Denis O’Brien’s book, The Weekly.
Later editors included Richard Walsh, the first male editor since Warnecke, and Nene King (1992–99), who notoriously took the magazine into gossip, paying paparazzi for revealing photos of celebrities. Deborah Thomas (1999–2008), like Swain before her, returned the Weekly to respectability. She is now publisher, having been succeeded as editor by Helen McCabe.
Today’s Weekly still has many continuities with the format of its heyday—promotions and competitions, readers’ letters and special supplements. The same kinds of products are advertised. The Weekly always prided itself on its smart look and high production values, and in appearance it has changed radically over time, as the publishers made use of the latest developments in colour reproduction, printing and binding. The Weekly adapted to the many changes in the mediasphere largely by multiplying its functions, and bringing out supplements that would later make up separate segments of the magazine market.
The Singapore Women’s Weekly was launched in 1997, followed by the Malaysian Women’s Weekly in 2000. The Australian Women’s Weekly became part of the Bauer Media Group in 2012, recording a circulation of 459,175 in 2013.
REF: S. Sheridan with B. Baird, K. Borrett and L. Ryan, Who Was That Woman? (2002).