National Library launches Australian Women’s Weekly digital archive

I learnt something important today, the reason the Australian Women’s Weekly didn’t change its name when it became a monthly publication. In the words of the late, great, owner, Kerry Packer, “Don’t be bloody stupid.”

I learnt something important today, the reason the “Australian Women’s Weekly” didn’t change its name when it became a monthly publication.

In the words of the late, great, owner, Kerry Packer, “Don’t be bloody stupid.”

This afternoon a horde of ladies gathered in the belly of the National Library to launch a nearly completely digitised collection of “Australian Women’s Weekly” archives from 1933 to 1983.

Before a sea of white curled hair-doos, red lipsticked young ladies and hats, ACP Magazines General Manager for media, public affairs and brand development and “Weekly” editor-in-chief, Deborah Thomas, MC, introduced a host of speakers to indulge their memories and fancies of the most iconic women’s magazine down under.

Talking of knitting patterns, family history and the evil sounding ‘banana and rabbit loaf” Cathy Pilgrim, director of digitisation and photography at the library, showed off the fancy front covers of editions past and made me mourn for a bygone era of gloves and pearls and pill-box hats.

Thomas recounted the historic import of its pages: started by Frank Packer in 1933, the “Australian Women’s Weekly” at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s had the largest circulation of any women’s magazine on the planet.

It is one of the only sources of coloured pictures from a black and white time before 1952 when the Melbourne “Argus” became the first newspaper in the world to publish in colour.

The pages were illustrated, the covers were illustrated, but the “Australian Women’s Weekly” claims to have led the nation in fashion photography.

Before we had gourmet foodie magazines, we had beef wellington in one and a half blocks of butter.

Professor Susan Sheridan, author of “Who was that Woman? The Australian Women’s Weekly in the Postwar Years”, from Flinders University detailed its social significance.

She said it was bright and modern and woman centred, but not exclusively domestic, delivering news, practical advice and read for pleasure.

The magazine’s motto at origin was clearly printed on each cover, “There is no one so important in the world as the woman in the home”.

Sheridan said it represented distinctively Australian womanhood, “furnishing dreams”, and a record of changing culture in the country.

The first edition had fashion and feminism on the cover, Sheridan said, “But in the 1960s it was rather slow to accept that Australian womanhood was experiencing a seismic shift.”

Despite changing formats and supplements and lift outs there is continuity in the magazine’s format is evident in the singular covershot faces of beaming ladies, emphasis on cooking and kids and products. The advertising products haven’t changed terribly in the last 80 years.

In a sit down Q and A with journalist and author Di Morrissey, who started as a “Weekly” cadet, and long time columnist Pat McDermott, the vintage clad crowd heard amusing vignettes of life at the magazine.

They were so funny an encore was demanded, but after current editor Helen McCabe assured fans the “Women’s Weekly” of the future will be the same as the “Women’s Weekly” of the past, it was time for tea and punch and goodies kindly reproduced from its 1954 cookbook.

If they were hoping for cake the almost entirely female guests were sadly disappointed.

I know I was, standing there in my mother’s dress and 1930s bob, chewing on a “pig in blanket” and staring at a watermelon hedgehogged with toothpicks holding cheese cubes and pickled onions.

Thank God times have changed!

To see the online collection of the “Australian Women’s Weekly” visit Trove on the National Library of Australia website.

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