The Birth Of Cleo Magazine

Cleo magazineI’m looking forward to an upcoming TV series about Cleo – the Australian women’s magazine that featured male centerfolds (only a few months after Cosmo had pioneered it with Burt Reynolds). If you follow the blog you’ll have already seen the image of actor Jack Thompson nude in the first ever Cleo male centerfold. The TV series features a scene showing how Jack’s legendary “Venus” photo was shot.


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Cleo was ground breaking in 1972. It openly discussed sex and made the ideals of feminism accessible to Australian women. There’s a long interview with original editor Ita Buttrose here. A few good quotes:

“We had the best story conferences,” recalls Buttrose of the early days of Cleo, which she describes as progressive but not pornographic. “We wrote about sex as if we had discovered it.” A great deal of laughter came out of their offices in Park Street, Sydney, as the team of mainly young women (and a couple of men) had disarmingly candid conversations on topics ranging from sex toys to lesbianism.
In 1972, there were no women in Federal Parliament, they were not permitted to drink in “public bars” in pubs, and had only recently achieved the right to equal pay. There were no anti-discrimination laws, no Family Court or no-fault divorce, and no maternity leave, and abortion was illegal without extenuating circumstances.

Like many women of her era, Buttrose suffered discrimination. She couldn’t open a department store charge account without her husband’s signature (even though she supported him while he studied architecture). As late as 1976, she was one of the highest-paid women in the Australian media, yet was refused a bank loan.

I don’t have a lot of time for Cleo or Cosmo today because they’re so obsessed with fashion and diets. But in the 70s, they were revolutionary and I’m grateful for them; they laid the groundwork that enabled magazines like Australian Women’s Forum and then For The Girls to exist.
Jack Thompson nude in Cleo