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A Birthday for Us, and Cakes From You
One of many creations drawn from “The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Cookbook.” Share yours! Credit Courtesy Claire Davie

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When Bill Keller was the executive editor of The New York Times, he often told us to pay less attention to two things: journalism prizes, which he said never fully rewarded the breadth of our work; and anniversaries of events, which he saw as an excuse for boring backward-looking stories.

I took his guidance to heart, so much so that I pretty much planned to ignore the first anniversary of our Australia bureau opening on May 1. But of course, like any birthday, it was hard to totally avoid.

Our bosses in New York sent us pastries with a nice note. Our New York Times communications team tweeted out a congratulations message. A Crikey columnist examined the response to our efforts.

And, with a bit of lucky timing, this week’s Australia Diary ended up being about birthday cakes. Not just any birthday cakes, but the crazy brilliant sensations that children of the 1980s and 90s enjoyed, thanks to ambitious relatives and recipes from “The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Cookbook.”

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Molly O’Brien, an Australian reader of The New York Times in Brooklyn, did a fantastic job explaining her own history with the elaborate confections. (She was partial to the “Swimming Pool” cake, in case you were wondering.)

She also put it all into context, noting that the book’s creations “fulfilled countless sugary dreams for Australian kids and undoubtedly contributed to kitchen meltdowns nationwide.”

We loved her story and photos so much that we decided to ask all of you for your own experiences with Women’s Weekly cakes, or anything that might compete with them.

Share your photos and memories and we’ll post what we collect. (The image above is one shining example of what we’ve been receiving.)

But her submission also reminded me of how much can be learned when journalism becomes more communal and conversational. I would never have known about cakes like the “Maypole” or “Rocking Horse” — nor would I have known they were such cultural touchstones — if not for our attempt to throw open the doors, and invite in readers’ stories. Your stories.

Looking back over the past year, there are so many things I wouldn’t have known if not for readers of this newsletter.

The responses to last week’s Australia Letter about history taught me just how common it was to grow up in Australia years ago without being taught Indigenous history — something I hadn’t realized since my own children are receiving more of that education in their public school.

If not for all of you, I also wouldn’t have grasped the depth of appreciation for Nippers, nor the nuance and divisions that shape discussions of race and multiculturalism, or gender and power.

I would have missed out on many great books, restaurants, music and movies that many of you suggested; I would have misunderstood the rivalry among Australia’s capital cities, or the degree to which people care so much about those that are often overlooked — I’m looking at you Darwin, Adelaide and Perth — if not for those who wrote to tell us what they loved about where they lived, and why.

I could go on but the point is, for our first anniversary, I’m not going to boast about all the journalism we did that I’m proud of, though there’s a fair amount of that.

I’m just going to thank you for making the journalism better.

Foreign correspondence is nothing if not an attempt to understand, and our bureau’s understanding of Australia — even for those who are Australian — has occurred at an accelerated pace thanks to you.

So happy birthday to all of us engaged in this project. Let’s make year two even better.

And send us your cakes pictures!

Anything made with ambition and love must have something to teach, right?

Here are our stories of the week, starting with Australia, followed by recommendations for what to watch this month.

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Cardinal Pell Will Stand Trial

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A Birthday for Us, and Cakes From You
Cardinal George Pell leaving court in Melbourne on Tuesday. Credit Joe Castro/EPA, via Shutterstock

The news of the week, for Australia and Catholics everywhere: A Victoria court ruled that Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s No. 3 official, will go to trial on charges of “historical sex offenses.”

The most serious charges were dismissed, but there are several significant charges going forward, from multiple complainants.

If you’re wondering why the case has been so secretive, here’s a guide on what’s happening (and why the court has revealed so little information).

One of our reporters, Jacqueline Williams, also went to Ballarat, Cardinal Pell’s hometown, where she explored how the old mining town is learning to talk about decades of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests.

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More From Australia

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A Birthday for Us, and Cakes From You
“Study for Hattah Man and Hattah Woman” (2013), one of Polixeni Papapetrou’s works.

Culture

• Polixeni Papapetrou, Photographer With an Eerie Eye, Dies at 57: Her photographs often featured her own children in startling costumes, but the most attention-getting one involved no clothes at all.

• The Best Italian Subs — At Least in Australia: At the Re Store, the continental roll has been a community staple for more than 50 years, writes our restaurant reviewer.

From Green Jelly Swimming Pools to Coconut Rabbits: In this week’s Australia Diary, one reader remembers the cherished birthday cake recipe book that raised a generation.

• ‘Ink,’ a Tale of Rupert Murdoch’s Rise, Is Coming to Broadway: Another British import is coming, this one about an early chapter in Mr. Murdoch’s career.

News

• Why David Goodall, 104, Renowned Australian Scientist, Wants to Die: The ecologist flew to Switzerland to end his life, saying his quality of life had deteriorated badly. His case has renewed a debate about assisted suicide.

• Australia Pledges Millions of Dollars in Bid to Rescue Great Barrier Reef: The government will set aside 500 million Australian dollars to help the global treasure after years of damage from warming waters caused by climate change.

• White House Delays Tariffs on E.U., Canada and Mexico for 30 Days: But the administration said it had reached an agreement with Australia.

• Ex-Lobbyist for Foreign Governments Helped Plan Pruitt Trip to Australia: Though the trip never happened, it shows a pattern in which the American Environmental Protection Agency’s chief has relied on people with business interests to shape the agenda of his foreign travel.

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A Very German Love Story

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A Birthday for Us, and Cakes From You
Helmut Lethen and Caroline Sommerfeld in their apartment in Vienna. Credit Akos Stiller for The New York Times

Helmut Lethen and Caroline Sommerfeld speak for two intellectual camps: the old left and the far right. They are political enemies. And they are married, having a dialogue their country is not.

Their marriage is “exceptional, incomprehensible even, but it is also a laboratory for tolerance and a rare window into how the other side thinks,” writes Katrin Bennhold, our Berlin bureau chief.

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Fortnite Fanaticism

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A Birthday for Us, and Cakes From You
A scene from the popular game Fortnite: Battle Royale. Credit Epic Games

Worldwide cultural moments used to occur around movies or music, but at the moment, it’s a video came called Fortnite that is redefining leisure time and cultural references.

The boys at my son’s school in Sydney are obsessed, and so are millions more.

The game has gotten so big in the United States that malls are being turned into gaming arenas. And parents like me are trying to figure out what makes the game so popular, how to manage their kids’ interest in it and, in my case, how to play.

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Opinion | Selections

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A Birthday for Us, and Cakes From You
The character Apu from the animated series “The Simpsons.” Credit Fox, via Associated Press

• Shorebirds, the World’s Greatest Travelers, Face Extinction: An interactive story on a worldwide catastrophe that extends to Australia: Shorebird populations are falling so quickly that many biologists fear an imminent wave of extinctions.

• A Reckoning for Apu, ‘The Simpsons’ and Brownface: Keeping Apu on “The Simpsons” in his current form would be a huge missed opportunity for the show, writes an editorial board member.

• The Happiest Guy in the World: From Op-Docs, two decades ago, Mario Salcedo went on a cruise — and never came back.

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… And We Recommend

From Isabella Kwai:

Make sure you have a box of tissues to weep into and a friend to hold onto for comfort.

Season 2 of “The Handmaid’s Tale” has arrived and it’s darker than ever. I learned that the hard way last weekend, while searching for some escapist entertainment.

Our reviewer summed up my feelings toward it pretty well: “Sometimes the best testament to a story’s effectiveness is that it makes you hope for it to end.”

Here’s what else to watch …

• Our guide to Netflix Australia this month.

• Our guide to movies in Australian theaters this month.*

* Yes, we’re making this a regular thing since so many of you seemed to like it.

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