The news that Dolly magazine was closing after 46 years of holding the hands of teenage girls while they navigated the painful years of puberty, felt like the passing of a friend for so many women on social media. The outpouring of sadness but also joyful memories came thick and fast.
I can’t think back to my Dolly days without smiling. Every single time.
It was the beginning of the nineties and teenage girls were developing a conscience. Alongside their Jason Priestley posters, Esprit fashions and Impulse body sprays, they were concerning themselves with the environment and were particularly interested in the welfare of animals.
It was in that context that my Deputy Editor Suellen Topfer and I came up with the crazy idea of sending one of our Dolly feature writers along to a duck rescue mission. Journalist Rachelle Unreich was sent to accompany a group of animal activists to literally save ducks during duck hunting season. Rachelle and the activists collected the injured ducks and took them to first aid. It was a great, entertaining read and became a coverline but I am certain that we didn’t once stop to consider if we had insurance.
We sent another feature writer Jo Elvin to swim with sharks, even though swimming with sharks was her worst nightmare. She also dressed like a boy for a day to see if she would be treated differently (she was) and had to pretend she was a groupie for a celebrity story. Those ‘What Would It Be Like to…’ stories were some of our most popular because they were often very, very funny. They also reflected our readers’ desires which they shared with us constantly. We received around 500 letters each month from our readers and I read every single letter.
The articles that came from those scenarios were priceless. We laughed so hard, a lot, that the business journalists from Australian Business Magazine, who were our Park Street level 4 neighbours, were constantly asking us to keep the noise down.
Editing Dolly was also a passport to mixing with celebrities. My team and I were invited to every concert, every intimate impromptu performance and a ridiculous number of parties with some of the biggest music acts in the country. It was seriously the best possible job for a twenty-something, single person whose life revolved around her job (that described almost the entire Dolly staff). Dolly exuded our enjoyment and our readers regularly sent me letters saying how much fun it looked to work at Dolly.
There were a few things that we took seriously, including the advice that we gave to our readers. Dolly Doctor questions were really answered by doctors and psychologists. Our philosophy was to ensure that our readers never felt judged or pressured. We didn’t want to come across as substitute parents. We saw our role as cool big sister. So we encouraged our readers to say no to sex if they were unsure, but if they were sure, to put safety first and take precautions. It wasn’t always a popular strategy with parents and I had countless examples of mothers abusing me in writing and in person for not telling their daughters to abstain.
We also cared about the little yellow envelope that appeared in my intray each Friday containing the circulation figures for the most recent edition of the magazine. A great sale would keep us buoyant and upbeat for another week. A poor result would begin an afternoon of soul-searching: what was missing from the issue, what could we have done better, was it the colour of the cover background?
I remain proud of the work we created during the first half of the nineties when I was Editor. We attracted our readers to Dolly with relationship breakup stories, posters of hunky celebrities and Dolly Doctor. But we kept them coming back with articles that empowered them: tales of successful young women, non-traditional careers to consider and how to rise above peer pressure and feel comfortable and confident saying no. We regularly rejected racism and sexism and encouraged our readers to embrace diversity of religion, body shape and sexual preference. We treated our readers with the respect they deserved and never underestimated the responsibility that we had been given at such a vulnerable period in their lives.
It was an honour to be the Editor of Dolly and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity.