Originally conceived as a weekly newspaper for women, The Australian Women’s Weekly became the largest-selling magazine ever circulated in this country. Published by Frank Packer, it was initially printed as a black and white newspaper and sold for 2d. In the early years it took a stand regarding the status of women in society, but by the mid-1930s was principally appealing to the traditional homemaker. The ‘Weekly’ became an important source of recipes and helped shape food trends in Australian homes.
From the earliest days, The Australian Women’s Weekly published recipes. A regular feature, starting in 1933, was the recipe competition. Initially, a prize of £5 was offered for the winning recipe each week. The first prize-winner was for Winter King Pudding, a steamed pudding with dried fruits, won by Mrs William Thompson of Campsie. (John Newton has noted in his book The Getting of Garlic the strange custom of married women being known not just by their husbands’ surnames but their first names as well). Consolation prizes of five shillings were awarded to recipes for Mock Oysters (corn fritters), Nutty Biscuits, Egg Snow for Invalids, Rabbit and Ham Paste, Cauliflower Cake and Cabbage Rolls.
The weekly recipe competitions continued but by September 1933 the prize money had reduced. For a while, five weekly winners received £1 each. Later, the top recipe received a pound, while the runners-up were given two shillings and sixpence. It’s likely that the entrants were in it as much for the fame as the money and the magazine continued to receive thousands of entries for these competitions. Sometimes they had themes, such as the Orange Recipe Competition, the Jam Competition or the Left-over Meats Recipe Competition.
Special competitions occurred from time to time with much larger prize money, such as the $1000 recipe competition in 1939. In July 1948 The Australian Women’s Weekly launched its £2000 Cookery Contest. The competition offered £1000 for the best weekly household menu to feed a family of four within one of the specified budget ranges. A further £1000 was to be divided among the best recipes in various sections: Cakes, Meats, Desserts, Pastries and Various (Scones, Teacakes, Nut Rolls).
In the event, so many entries were received that the Weekly couldn’t publish enough of them in the magazine. This led to the production of a booklet called The Australian Women’s Weekly Cookery Book which was sold through newsagents for two shillings. It was the first of many cookbooks over the coming decades.