In last week’s Australia Diary, Molly O’Brien wrote about the “Australian Women’s Weekly” birthday cake cookbook and how she spent countless hours poring over it to choose her cake each year.
We asked if there were others who remembered the book and the resulting birthday cakes.
Boy, did they ever!
Some readers sent in old pictures of their childhood favorites, and others said they’re carrying on the tradition with their own kids. Especially for those who have moved away from Australia, the cakes from that cookbook often provided a little (or very big) slice of home.
Clearly the book’s creations mean a whole lot to a certain demographic from a certain time.
But what other traditions are Australians of all backgrounds and decades carrying with them?
If you’re looking to pass on something to a new generation or to hold on to a moment that shaped your past, send your submission to Australia Diary by emailing us.
Now for some of our favorite cake stories — and be sure to check out the slide show at the bottom.
For the Love of Ladybirds
We’ve been making cakes in our family from “The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book” for over 30 years! “The Piano,” the “Puss in Boots,” the number cakes — all have been firm favorites and as kids, we’d spend weeks poring over the book, making very careful choices about which we’d pick when it was our birthday.
Now I make them for my son — this one, above, is from his second birthday last year and honors his love of ladybirds!
We were living in California at the time, and I had to explain the special religiosity of the book — oh the sacred page turning! — to our American friends.
My copy of the book is one I bought secondhand when it was out of print some years back. It was very well-loved then, with splatters of cake mix and chocolate on some of the pages, and one mum had lovingly written which child had which cake at what age on some of the pages. I’ve added to that myself, which feels like I’m carrying on more than one family tradition.
Some of the cakes have dated terribly (there’s a few terrifying clowns and some weird 1980s gender stuff with “boys” and “girls” cakes that feel anachronistic), but I will always love the book with ferocious intensity. It brings back memories of lying on our tummies on scratchy carpet, dreaming of cake, candles and that fluffy buttercream icing.
The Four Cake
I’m from the United States but married an Australian, and we lived in Melbourne where our son, Kieran, was born. Kieran and I loved to pore over the photos of the cakes in the updated version (published in 2002) of the “Australian Women’s Weekly” cookbook, called “Kids’ Birthday Cakes,” and to choose one for each birthday, just as the author of the article described.
I have made five of the cakes from the book, including this one for Kieran’s fourth birthday. He was mad about cars at that age!
Your article brings back lovely memories of those fun times.
Like all Aussie kids, I grew up having birthday cakes from the “Australian Women’s Weekly” cookbook. I had the swimming pools, the Barbie cake and a particularly memorable duck cake — with a beak made of chips!
Last year we pulled the book out of storage for my niece’s second birthday. We let her choose any cake and she choose this jack-in-the-box.
The result was terrifying, to say the least. It’s the eyes, I think?
The clown cake has since become an “in” joke in our house. The printed photo appears in beds, taped to toilet seats and slid under bedroom doors. But my niece, she loved it.
The Reluctant Baker
My mother, originally from Sydney, met my father in the United States and moved to America in 1988.
My mom is an excellent cook, but she has never enjoyed baking very much.
Once a year though, she promised to spend as much time and effort as needed to bring to life one of these “Australian Women’s Weekly” cakes for our birthdays (sometimes with a bit of help from visiting Aussie friends).
We cherished those platypus, punk rocker, Dolly Varden, tea party, swimming pool, and basketball cakes. But mostly we cherished the Aussie tradition here in the United States. And, of course, my friends were always jealous of these amazing Australian cakes.
Can’t wait to keep passing this tradition through the next generations!
The Sports Car
On the birth of my first child, my mother gave me her original copy of the “Australian Women’s Weekly” cake book. I can’t imagine anything so special from my childhood especially since I moved to Germany.
I have three kids now and every year on their birthdays (and sometimes just for fun) they pore over that battered cake book just like my brother and I did. And three times a year I try a “Women’s Weekly” classic.
I am not the artist my mother was, but the kids are ridiculously happy with the result no matter how bad it looks!
Max, my youngest, turned 3 on the weekend and knew straight away that the sports car was his. He doesn’t even eat cake, but the green icing was a hit.
My German friends think I’m slightly nutty. But for my Aussie friends here in Germany, it’s a little bit of home.
Thank you for your wonderful story!
The Rubbish Truck Shortcut
My son loves browsing through our copy of the classic “Women’s Weekly” cake cookbook. (We live in Berkeley, but I am from Melbourne.) The book has given him the idea that absolutely any kind of cake is possible, so every year he requests something really tricky to make.
Most recently he requested a rubbish truck cake for his brother’s first birthday. I’ve given up, and at this point just plunk a toy on top to represent the theme. That book has given kids bloody unfair expectations of what a birthday cake should look like!!
For more and more and more cake:
Share your stories with us. For guidance and inspiration, here are a few other recent entries: for the birds, no hat, no play, a housewarming party, tales of nippers, growing up on the creek, generational angst, paying with pineapples, magical mermaid pools, lizard friends, nude beaches, music and road trips, curious lifeguards, death and kindness, plus poetry and #metoo on the work site.