Goodbye, Dolly: Ex-editors Dunk, Wilkinson, Go and Cousins on a big sister who answered embarrassing questions

Following the axing of Dolly magazine this week, former editors Lisa Wilkinson, Marina Go, Lucy Cousins and Tiffany Dunk reminisce about the title's cultural impact upon Australia



Lisa Wilkinson – 1981 – 1985 – currently co-host of Nine’s breakfast television program, Today. 

What was so special about Dolly?

The audience. It was a really captive audience.

It was the only magazine, the only form of printed media for that age group. 

For me working on the magazine, the audience were just so engaged with the magazine and it was our responsibility to care for the responsibility we had. Obviously at that age, it’s an extremely vulnerable audience. They are constantly questioning ‘who am I?’, ‘am I getting this right?’, ‘what am I doing wrong?’, “where do I fit in the world?’.

Within the pages of the magazine we tried to cater as best we possibly could for all of the things our readers wanted to see.

Why was it so important to young girls?


It was like a big sister, a trusted friend. It was better than both of those.

You throw in big sister, trusted friend and mother but without any of the complications that can sometimes come with those relationships because we were a trusted advisor but we were impartial.

Human relationships can sometime get a bit complicated but all we wanted to do was inform and entertain our audience with no strings attached other than we wanted them to keep coming back for more. And they did in ever greater numbers.

When I went to work there I had seven years of dusty back copies underneath my bed. This was a magazine that in my own experience was part of my DNA.

There was a delicate balancing act as the editor. You wanted it to be edgy enough that teenagers didn’t feel like it was too safe, but you didn’t want it to be so edgy parents said no you cannot have that.

Certainly during the time I was there, the 1980s, I could grow the audience if I could do that delicate balancing act.

I was just near enough to the audience to know exactly what I believed the audience wanted to see and read, and I was just old enough to completely understand the depth of responsibility that I had.

What was the cultural impact of the Dolly magazine on Australia?

Our job was to reflect what teenagers wanted to see but also push the envelope and give them information they maybe weren’t aware of. What I really liked about that audience is that they were open to new ideas and so as an editor that’s a great challenge.

I treated them with respect. When I took over the magazine I felt it was too young and it didn’t give the readers enough credit for their intelligence.

Just because you like the latest fashion doesn’t mean you’re completely flippant, not complex, not interesting, don’t have other interests outside of fashion.

There was a great line in the ‘Beauty Myth’ about how just because you like red lipstick doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist and it’s that. The fact that women and young women they were discovering they could do so much more than their mothers’ paths allowed for because the ’70s in particular were breaking down so many barriers and that just opened up all sorts of opportunities for young women.

As an editor, it gave me greater scope to do different things. The numbers grew at such a fast rate; when I took over it was running about 100,000 copies and when I left at the beginning of ’85, I think my last issue sold 390,000 copies.

If you treat readers with respect, you believe the best of them, you employ the best journalists you can for that readership, get the best photographers, stylists and graphic designers, which I was fortunate enough to do because I loved finding new talent and nurturing new talent and getting together a really cohesive team then it felt like we were working towards a goal. And not only does the team respond to them, they put out the best possible product and the audience recognised it.

We had no advertising budget, no marketing budget nothing.

This was a magazine that was growing at a rate purely through word of mouth. I freely admit that these were different times, but it was enormously satisfying when I realised that our best advertisement was the magazine that we put out every month.

If we made it good enough, it became our advertisement for girls to come back the next month and tell their friends, get together in the playground and talk about the magazine.

They could get excited about the latest issue, look and want to buy the clothes, like the make-up kits and get really good trusted advice about the relationship’s in their lives like having the power to say no when it came to boyfriends, and if they were going to enter a sexual relationship, that they went into it with their eyes wide open fully armed with the knowledge they needed to be safe.

During your time as editor what were you most proud of?

I think mentoring young journalists and people that worked on the magazine and finding new talent. There was so many people that worked on the team who went on to become editors themselves.

I was just a magazine junkie kid from the suburbs who lucked out big time when they answered a three line ad in the women’s and girl’s employment section of the Sydney Morning Herald.

If I was lucky enough to see that ad;  lucky enough to get that job and to be working at a magazine at a time when there weren’t a lot of people on the magazine who were close to the readership and didn’t quite understand the readership, I think anyone in my position would’ve done what I did.

Having been so incredibly fortunate to be that girl, I wanted other young women and men who worked for me to know the joy of having somebody who believed in them and gave them all the tricks of the industry and taught them how to write well.

My greatest joy was teaching young journalists and encouraging all the people who were on my team, a bit like a mother bird pushing the young bird out of the nest and you sit back and watch them fly.

I think a badge of honour was putting Nicole Kidman in front of the camera for the first time in July 1983. I am proud to say I gave Nicole her very first magazine cover and that probably started a trend, I think she’s done something like 250,000 magazine covers in the years since.

And she was a Dolly reader herself, as was Miranda Kerr, Jessica Hart, all Dolly cover girls.  I gave Kathy Lette her very first byline.

Nicole Kidman Dolly

It was a great breeding ground for young journalists, and young graphic designers, young photographers but all of them were Dolly readers themselves. There was an enormous unprecedented and unmatched affection for Dolly by young Australian teenagers.

Do you think an online version of Dolly will have the same impact as the printed product?

No I don’t think it can. There are so many places where women can get their information; some trustworthy, the majority not. That was the thing about Dolly.

Our readers knew how trustworthy it was but now you go on the internet and I don’t know what’s factual and what isn’t.

It’s a bit of a roll of the dice and that’s the great pity; there isn’t that one unifying club, if you like, where young women can go and feel like its the advice that they can trust.

A recent survey came out that said in all print in Australia, the Dolly Doctor page is the most trusted place for advice when it comes to women’s health and their bodies.

With no more Dolly will young women ever buy magazines now or will it become more digitised?

I can only see it going more digital which is a great pity because there is an enormous intimacy that comes with sitting down with a printed page.

That said, book sales are actually up at the moment. I think a lot of people are finding the online experience and the e-book experience nowhere near as satisfying as the printed page.

Maybe things have to go to a certain point to where people just think ‘you know what? I actually prefer the feel of paper and the smell of magazine print.’

I think it’s a much more intimate experience than swiping left and right.


Marina Go – 1990 – 1994 – currently chair of Wests Tigers

In the past few days, since the public announcement of the closure of Dolly magazine after 46 years of helping girls through their often harrowing teenage years, I have been asked to pen my memories of what it was like to be Editor of Dolly in the early nineties. Some of that can be read at womensagenda.com.au, and news.com.au.

Rather than repeat myself, and as I have written a book that devotes five chapters to the Dolly years, I thought that I would highlight an extract that explains Dolly’s four-year obsession with covergirl Alison Brahe as an insight into a commercially successful cover strategy from the nineties, long before social media or the internet could have diluted our message by saturating our readers’ Facebook and Instagram feeds with photos of her. It was a period of buoyant circulation and profit.

I wanted to emulate the success that Cleo had had with Elle Macpherson. Basically, Lisa Wilkinson discovered that her readers responded to Elle every time she put her on the cover. It honestly used to feel as though Elle was on the cover of Cleo every other month and sales were soaring. I needed to find Dolly’s answer to Elle Macpherson.


We often sat on the floor in the middle of the office reading magazines – not only because we were based in a corridor for most of that first year and lacked a meeting table. I was flicking through a copy of Company, an english magazine similar to Cleo, when I spotted Alison Brahe. I had an instant reaction to her and asked Carlotta to find out who she was and how we could get to her.

“Good news,” Carlotta said, after making a few phone calls. “She’s Australian and she’s coming home next week.”

I was so excited. We agreed to shoot a cover with her as soon as she arrived in the country.

Alison Brahe’s first cover sold more copies than the issue before it – an important trend in magazine publishing. So we tried it again a couple of months later – and again the sales spiked.

We started using Alison as our Dolly model. In the 12 issues following Alison’s first cover, I realised that we’d used her on the cover about five times.

Barry Bloom, the owner of Portmans, one of Dolly’s biggest fashion advertisers, could see the effect that Alison had on teenage girls and signed her up to be the face of their campaign.

At one stage it was quite ridiculous. Alison was on the cover of Dolly, in the fashion pages and in the ads too.

And a few months later, she even started to appear in the celebrity stories. Carlotta was on a Dolly fashion shoot with hunky actor Cameron Daddo when he confided in her that he was keen to meet Alison Brahe.

Carlotta obliged and introduced them over a couple of drinks one night. As it was a Dolly coupling, we were keen to write the story.

To our readers, Alison’s life was about as close to perfect as you could get – and we milked the whole thing for as long as we could sustain our readers’ interest, which was about four years.


Lucy Cousins – 2013 – 2016 – currently editor and founder of Urbansweat Sydney

Like nearly all of Dolly’s editors over the past few decades, I grew up with the magazine, stealing copies from my sister until I was old enough to buy my own. In a world before the internet, Dolly provided me with everything I needed – fashion, quizzes, beauty, boys and, of course, Dolly Doctor.

Dolly was one of the few publications that I could relate to (along with Judy Blume and Paula Danziger novels) and it ended up igniting my life-long love affair with magazines; one that took me to London, South America and back to Sydney as editor of Cleo and Dolly.


Together my incredibly hardworking (and ever hopeful) team and I attempted to pull together two of Australia’s most iconic magazines every month, on very limited budgets and almost no support. And one thing I realised while doing that, is that Dolly as a brand still has huge relevance for teenagers today.

Our social media channels were overflowing with feedback, comments and suggestions for the mag and website, and above all, our confidential Dolly Doctor inbox received a constant flow of calls for help. Some eternal (“I really like him, but I’m afraid to tell him”), some worrying (“I’m being bullied and I can’t tell my parents”) to some very current (“I Snapchatted him a selfie in my bra and he’s posted it to Facebook”).

To me it seems we’ve come full circle, because even though there is now more access to information than ever before, it’s becoming increasingly hard to find trusted sources for everything teens want to know. Don’t believe me? Type “Should I have sex?” into Google and see the kinds of articles that come up.

My point? I’m incredibly glad that Bauer Media has decided to keep the highly successful dolly.com.au. It shows that they understand the power and purpose of the brand.

For me, though, the 14-year-old girl inside of me today is mourning for the close friend I grew up with; one that inspired, challenged and pushed me to become the woman I am today.


Tiffany Dunk – 2010 – 2013 – currently national TV editor, News Corp

The day I landed the job as editor of Dolly was the day I fulfilled my ultimate career dream.

I’d always yearned to edit the magazine, knowing that it was an incredible means for being able to make an impact. To do things that would make a difference to the audience.

While many might think it was all pop star posters and lip gloss, the truth is Dolly was unlike any other magazine in the country – it had the capacity to affect not only your readers, but their peers, their families and beyond.


Dolly was the first magazine to put down the retouching tools and use readers of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities, instead of models, in their fashion and beauty shoots.  During my time in the editors’ chair, we won the inaugural Positive Body Image award for our work in helping to represent a healthy, realistic and diverse range of beauty to what has always been an impressionable audience.

Campaigns to identify and help put a stop to bullying – especially vital at a time social media was starting to creep into every aspect of a teen’s life – were a huge pillar for the magazine.

And then, of course, there was Dolly Doctor.

One of my team compared handling the rush of teen hormones as being akin to giving an L-plater a Ferrari to drive. It’s stuck.

Because while it’s easy to forget what it was like being a teen (and even easier to lose sympathy for what you see as their dramatic behaviour) it’s not really that hard to cast your mind back to what troubled you at that age.

I’ll never forget the relief those Dolly Doctor Q&As gave me when I was growing up and had no clue what the heck was going on with my body, with boys, with my friends, my family et al..

Early in my tenure I went back into our archives to look at the questions teens in past decades had sent in to the mag.

Turns out, the STIs they worried about may have been different (and the contraceptive advice had certainly changed from take the pill to use a condom) but the exact same questions were being asked then as they are, I have no doubt, today.

Readers turned to Dolly for advice that they didn’t trust would be correct if they asked their friends. They came to us with questions they were too embarrassed to ask their doctor, their parents or their teachers.

We were a place where there was no judgement. A place you could read about girls just like you who had done incredible things. Where you had the chance to have your own story and could take comfort in the fact you weren’t alone in a time when it felt like you truly were.

Plus we had One Direction posters. Not going to lie, those were a big draw.

To this day, those readers are in my favourite memories about that job.

They were – and again, I have no doubt still are – passionate, insightful, brutally honest and overwhelmingly grateful for the work we put into the magazine.The feedback made all the late nights in the office and hard work more than worth it.

When I decided to leave the magazine after four years, a day on which I shed plenty of tears I may add, I knew the one thing I wanted to keep was my connection to that incredible audience.

I joined a not-for-profit program speaking in high schools around topics including body image, mental health, nutrition and more.

I find ways to write stories to either continue to tell the stories of this fantastic new generation of teens or to help their parents’ better help their kids navigate the teen years.

While it was no doubt inevitable that Dolly would eventually close its paper doors, what’s also inevitable is that teens will continue to need the advice; guidance and validation the magazine provided them.

I just hope that there are people out there as passionate as the Dolly team who will help connect them to it.


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