New Idea is the oldest continuously published women’s magazine in Australia. The New Idea: A Women’s Home Journal for Australasia was founded by Thomas Shaw Fitchett (1874–1949) in Melbourne’s Swanston Street in 1902. Originally a monthly, it was similar in style to overseas magazines such as the English the Girl’s Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine, featuring free paper patterns for dressmaking, as well as a blend of local and syndicated content including serialised fiction and poetry, advice columns and articles on parenting, beauty, needlework, gardening and cooking. Thomas Shaw Fitchett edited the magazine, while his father, Methodist clergyman, editor and author William Henry Fitchett, contributed occasional articles. The cover price was sixpence. Advertisers included the Methodist Ladies’ College (with which the Fitchett family was closely affiliated), Helena Rubenstein beauty products, Arnotts’ Milk Arrowroot biscuits and a variety of patent medicines.
In 1911, the magazine was renamed the Everylady’s Journal which was published as such until 1938, and from 1928 in tandem with a weekly edition of a re-launched The New Idea. By 1934, the editorial offices had moved to Stanley Street, West Melbourne and Thomas King Fitchett, Thomas Shaw Fitchett’s son, had become editor. Thomas passed this role on to his younger brother, John Campbell Fitchett, in 1937. Shortly afterwards, The New Idea again became a monthly and the Everylady’s Journal ceased publication.
In 1945, Southdown Press bought out the Fitchett Brothers’ publishing business, although the premises remained at Stanley Street. In 1951 News Limited bought Southdown Press, boasting at a company meeting in 1954 that it had also improved The New Idea’s circulation so that it was well ahead of its competition. In 1956 the Audit Bureau of Circulations estimated circulation to be at 203,789. The following year, the magazine became a weekly publication again, which it has remained ever since. The editor at the time was E.M. Webb, a journalist formerly on the staff of the Melbourne Herald.
It was Webb who introduced one of the most enduring features of The New Idea—the ‘Mere Male’ column—in 1950. Inspired by readers’ letters containing humorous anecdotes of husbandly misadventures, Webb decided to offer a fee for any paragraph on this subject that was published in the magazine, and was inundated with stories. An anthology of the ‘Mere Male’ ‘pars’ was produced in 1955 and sold as the Women’s Report on the Mere Male from the Famous Feature in The New Idea. The popularity of this feature continues to the present day.
By the early 1960s, the magazine’s name had been simplified to just New Idea, and the magazine had moved to Rosslyn Street, West Melbourne, where its first female editor, Joy Hayes, was appointed. Content included the ever-popular pattern service (featuring designs by Enid Gilchrist), serialised fiction by Barbara Cartland, recipes by Ethel Brice, Slimming with the Stars, Baby Clinic, crochet and knitting patterns, and beauty and gardening advice. This formula continued into the 1970s, with slightly more controversial content such as discussions about the birth control pill, as well as coverage of famous personalities such as Jackie Onassis. The offices moved to Walsh Street, Melbourne and, with a cover price of 15 cents, circulation was reported at a new peak of 505,000.
Dulcie Boling succeeded Hayes as editor, and introduced new columnists such as Margaret Fulton and Peter Russell Clarke to the cooking pages, while still retaining the pattern service—now sponsored by Butterick—as well as knitting patterns, serial fiction, star gossip, Money Matters, and a Tarot and Psychic section. Circulation hit an all-time high of 1,003,516 in 1989. In 1999, a separate New Zealand edition was launched with an initial circulation of 65,603.
In 1991, Rupert Murdoch separated his magazine holdings into a new company, Pacific Publications. In 2002, Pacific Magazines was acquired by the Seven Media Group, which since 2011 has been known as Seven West Media after a takeover by Kerry Stokes’ West Australian Newspapers Holdings Limited. New Idea continues to be a key player on the Australian media scene, and in 2013 was one of three top selling weekly titles in Australia, reaching 19% of the total Australian female population every week, with a circulation of 283,132 and an estimated readership of 2,032,000.