The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences acknowledges Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and gives respect to the Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the MAAS website contains a range of Indigenous Cultural Material. This includes artworks, artifacts, images and recordings of people who may have passed away, and other objects which may be culturally sensitive.
92/305 Food safe (bush pantry), wood / metal, maker unknown, probably Queensland, Australia, c. 1930. Click to enlarge.

Bush pantry

Designed in Queensland, Australia
The Powerhouse Museum has a significant collection of domestic objects used to store food before the invention of modern refrigeration. However none displays the eccentricity and imaginative flair of the home-made rotary food safe.

This extraordinary piece of recycling involved the elaborate conversion of a 44 gallon drum to a food storage unit or 'bush pantry'. The lowest section comprises a ventilated meat cupboard, while twelve small drawers fill the middle. The top tier has three larger drawers, one labelled 'sugar'. Its construction involved cutting, folding, shaping and soldering the sixteen tapered drawers, which run on internal tracks fixed to a central column. The skill needed suggests that the maker's normal farm work may have involved using sheet metal to make rudimentary water tanks and roofing. Other materials used were wooden knobs for the handles, sheet metal cut-offs, agricultural water pipe and the light gauge steel of kerosene tins.

A fine example of 'making do', involving the salvaging of a commonplace refuse item and transforming it into a useful piece of furniture, its conception conveys a high level of imagination, innovation and resourcefulness.

It appears that the maker was inspired by the 'Rotary Kitchen Canister' advertised in Anthony Hordern's 1923 mail-order catalogue, and went to elaborate lengths to create a home-made replica. Perhaps the maker found the price, which exceeded the average weekly wage, prohibitive. When money was scarce, the creative use of 'found' materials accorded with the ingrained ethic of household economy which found expression in the adage 'waste not, want not'.

Acquired by Lord McAlpine in the late 1980s and now part of the Museum's collection, the food safe is thought to have been made in Queensland in the mid 1920s. It was one of the central pieces of the Museum's 1990 exhibition 'Bush toys and furniture'. The exhibition presented a unique collection of Australian home-made toys and furniture, made in the bush and the suburbs, from the 1850s to the 1950s. It explored what has survived of the vernacular tradition of improvising everyday objects from whatever materials were at hand. This tradition of recycling gained impetus after World War I, in the frugal times of soldier settlements and later the Depression. The interest of private collectors in these utilitarian pieces has been an important force behind the current re-evaluation of this unique aspect of Australia material culture. Because most of this collecting has taken place outside of museums, very little documentation has survived about how the objects were produced, who made them and who used them.


Object No.


Object Statement

Food safe (bush pantry), wood / metal, maker unknown, probably Queensland, Australia, c. 1930

Physical Description

Metal 44 gallon oil drum with top and base, converted to a food safe. Three tiers of drum have squares cut in sides to make openings for home-made drawers. Painted blue. The top tier contains 3 large drawers, trapezoid shape with curved front, made by folding and crimping metal sheets and held together with metal pins. Each drawer has circular, wooden knob screwed into centre of each. Middle tier has 12 small drawers similar to those above, one has handle missing. Bottom tier has one curved door, hinged with perforated wire mesh insert, wooden knob handle and flat plat lock on inside. Interior of base is empty. Bung in place in base of drum. Internal construction - inside on 3 levels are metal runners, bolted to a metal ring in centre through which the tube of the stand passes. Each drawer is hooked onto the runner by a flat metal plate screwed to the base of the drawer. Top drawers have metal plates bolted to the top to act as stoppers.

Cylindrical, upright metal tube, painted white, set into another wider tube the ends of which have been cut and splayed out to form 4 metal feet in a cross formation. There is a square, flat metal plate at the bottom of the narrower tube with 4 holes in it on which the safe sits.


Top, chalk mark "62", Top, Moulded "[illeg.]OYCO" / "185[illeg.]26". In black on front of large drawer "SUGAR"



890 mm


610 mm



Queensland, Australia 1925-1930


The food safe was probably designed in Queensland, Australia. Sometimes people went to elaborate lengths to imitate a commercial object. The extraordinary bush pantry converted from a 44-gallon drum appears to have been inspired by a 'Rotary Kitchen Canister' advertised in Anthony Horderns' 1923 mail-order catalogue. (The price which exceeded the average weekly wage, was no doubt prohibitive.)

The safe was probably made in Queensland, Australia, Its construction involved cutting, folding, shaping and soldering 16 tapered, rotating drawers, all attached to a central pipe. The skill needed suggested that it was undertaken by a sheet metal worker whose normal farm work would have involved making water tanks and roofing.

Note on object file from Graham Cornall "Memories" (no other publication information) says "Around 1920 Metters of Sydney manufactured the original revolving pantry." It is implied that this safe was copied from the original design.

A further note on the blue file from the catalogue of "Bush toys and furniture 4 July - 2 September 1990, Powerhouse Museum Stage 1" by Ann Stephen, curator, Industrial and domestic life, and Caroline Lorentz, assistant curator: "Sometimes people went to elaborate lengths to imitate a commercial object. The extraordinary bush pantry converted from a 44-gallon drum appears to have been inspired by a 'Rotary Kitchen Canister' advertised in Anthony Horderns' 1923 mail-order catalogue. (The price which exceeded the average weekly wage, was no doubt prohibitive.)"

Notes from an article published in 2000:

The rotating canister pictured in the Anthony Hordern's catalogue was an up-market variation on the traditional food safe .. The rotating canister had drawers for dry food in the upper half and a meat safe at the bottom. "Every receptical is flat, ant and vermin proof,' proclaimed the brochure.
With only the illustration to go on, the anonymous craftsman set about duplicating the expensive model with bits of metal that could be salvaged locally. The starting point was an oil drum, already the right shape and size.
Taking iron offcuts and steel from flattened kerosene cans, he cut folded and crinkled them into shape, holding the pieces together with metal pins. Then he fixed runers from a central tube - made from a length of agricultural water pipe - to the wall of the drum. The bottom thrid of the drum was fitted with a door with a wire mesh panel to allow cooling air to circulate around any fresh meat inside.
The real thing was coated with hygienic white enamel. In the bush, blue paint had to do.

Ref: Stephanie Pain, Opinion histories - Any old iron.., New Scientist, 25 March 2000 pp44-45



Collected by Lord McAlpine in the late 1980s.


Credit Line

Purchased 1992

Acquisition Date

7 April 1992

Cite this Object


Bush pantry 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 11 July 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Bush pantry |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=11 July 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

Know more about this object?


Have a question about this object?