Before the establishment of the Australian Women's Book Review, new books on feminist issues from small presses were mainly reviewed by a few small magazines such as Hecate. In the established literary magazines or other mainstream publications such books were reviewed inadequately or not at all. In 1989, hoping to provide a stable periodical for a more comprehensive review of new women's writing from Australia and overseas, Sara White and Michelle de Kretser produced the first issues of the Australian Women's Book Review.
From the first issues, the editors aimed to publish 'accessible, intelligent writing that will offer a range of books by women to a broad readership'. Reviews addressed a range of general areas such as fiction, poetry, history, biography, health, sexuality, social and cultural issues, and literature for children and adolescents. Regular review essays and feature articles provided deeper analyses and special issues have concentrating on geographical regions such as New Zealand, India, Africa and Singapore.
During the 1990s, the Australian Women's Book Review secured several advertisers and sponsors to support production costs and provide payment to contributors. The magazine's publication by the Victoria University of Technology (1992-1997) also provided some security, but the failure of an application to the Literature Board in 1997 caused some concern for the future of the magazine. Closure was avoided when Carole Ferrier offered to publish the Australian Women's Book Review under the auspices of Hecate at the University of Queensland.
Since moving to the University of Queensland, the Australian Women's Book Review has gone online (in 2000) and is now freely available on the internet. It remains the only Australian book review in print or online that is devoted to women's writing.