Dulcie Boling

1936 -    |    Victoria      |      Magazine Editor

Dulcie Boling was Australia’s women’s magazine queen at the height of their popularity. She took a moribund publication called New Idea and transformed it into a circulation juggernaut, becoming the biggest-selling magazine per capita in the world during her 16-year editorship from 1977. Later she cracked one of the toughest glass ceilings in corporate Australia, chairing Murdoch’s magazine company as well as being appointed a director of News Limited and Seven Network.

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Dulcie Boling


Dulcie Boling used to wear blue-tinted spectacles.

When she peered at you from the other side of the desk in her fourth floor office at the old Southdown Press building in Walsh Street, West Melbourne, the term “ice queen” was rendered inadequate.

The desk, in size and colour, resembled the Melbourne Cricket Ground in the middle of an especially severe drought. The stare was Arctic. Trust me, a glossies rewrite veteran would never embellish such details.

But eventually I came to realise the stare wasn’t always a sign of Boling’s displeasure. Not always. Often she was merely trying to compensate for her poor eyesight. Nevertheless, it could unsettle a young man trying to get ahead in his career so, in a way, it probably worked to her advantage.

Fortunately, eyesight and foresight are not the same.

From the mid-1970s, it became apparent that Boling had the vision that would bring the weekly magazine market bottom-feeder, New Idea, out of the 1950s, where it seemed to have disappeared under a pile of old knitting patterns, into contemporary times.

Probably more than anyone, it was she who sparked what since has become the stuff of TV mini-series - the so-called “magazine wars” — as first she became a burr in the pantyhose of the Australian Consolidated Press stable, then started to kick its stiletto heels from beneath. Leaving it at that possibly would have been enough to qualify her for inclusion among the other names here, but Boling rarely left it at that.

Born 200km north of Melbourne in Kyabram, in Victoria’s irrigation district, on 29 March 1936, Elizabeth Dulcie Leatham started her career as a cadet journalist on Melbourne’s daily afternoon newspaper, The Herald.

There was a break that coincided with her marriage to businessman John Boling (The Age reported it under the headline “Daisies in Her Hair”) and the birth, 16 months apart, of their daughters Emma and Kate. By the time Boling returned to the workforce, tentatively at first with a suburban newspaper, the family had relocated to Sydney.

In 1975 she joined New Idea’s Sydney bureau as a writer. Soon after, she and her family were back in Melbourne and she was the magazine’s deputy editor. In 1977, she was appointed editor.

Boling was all too aware that keeping New Idea’s core readership meant more knitting patterns and recipes, but she was also interested in “scoops”, however loosely the term might apply. To be first, she somehow had to reduce New Idea’s crippling deadlines — it could be three weeks between putting an edition to bed and seeing it on the street. She scrapped and cajoled to get that down to a matter of days, and the flow-on was enormously beneficial to other titles in the Southdown stable, notably TV Week.

Over the next few years, a young woman named Diana Spencer suddenly made England’s royal family sexy, Australia came to the the forefront of IVF births and more and more local talent started to shine at home and internationally. Boling played hardball to reflect these changes and shed New Idea’s homespun image.

Despite still raising a family, her energy seemed boundless. Her hours were punishing and there were times when she walked the 7km or so to the office, partly as therapy for a back complaint that might have prompted others to declare themselves too debilitated to work at all.

During her watch, New Idea’s circulation soared from about 40,000 to more than one million. Boling trumpeted it as the world’s highest weekly magazine circulation, a claim accompanied by an asterisk and the addendum “per capita”.

She published a genuine world scoop early in 1993 - a transcript of an intimate conversation between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, then married to other people. “The Squidgy Tape” or “Camillagate” was truly infamous.

Boling’s reign as New Idea editor was coming to a close by that time, but she already had become editor-in-chief, then chairman and chief executive of Southdown Press (later Pacific Publications) and had been appointed a director of News Corp in 1987.

In 1993, Boling joined the Seven Network as an independent director, and served for almost two decades.

Her work in the non-profit sector also has been tireless — the first woman to become chairman of the Variety Club; a trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria; and a director of Tourism Victoria, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation and the Mental Health Research Institute of Victoria.

Boling received the Melbourne Press Club’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award. It was presented to her by Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning Australian actor Rachel Griffiths, who donned the blue specs and perfected the Arctic stare for the mini-series Paper Giants: Magazine Wars.

Lawrie Masterson is a Melbourne journalist. He worked at Southdown Press/Pacific Publications between 1978-93, as a writer across all titles, editor of TV Week and US editor of the group. He is a former vice-president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

Courtesy of Fairfax


New Idea 1993 edition