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.
'By taking as its starting point the concept of magazine exceptionalism, this essay argues that popular magazines such as the Australian Women’s Weekly play an important, if not always obvious, role in influencing perceptions of the natural environment. This occurs partly through feature articles on what commonly is called natural disaster, which tell stories of human interactions with nature when it behaves in unwelcome ways. Interrogating these stories over time can inform and challenge writing practice. To illustrate, the essay examines Australian Women’s Weekly feature articles on exceptional floods from 1934 to 2011. It identifies recurring tropes, most notably metaphors of warfare as well as, in some articles, a more ecocentric perspective. Findings are aligned with a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship concerned with the ways in which writers conceptualise non-human others. That scholarship calls for a posthumanist sensibility at a time when anthropogenic climate change will make humans’ relations to the natural environment more fraught.' (Publication abstract)