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K1245 Domestic appliance, Coolgardie safe, home-made, galvanised iron, made in Australia, 1900-1910. Click to enlarge.

Australian Coolgardie safe, 1900-1910

The Coolgardie safe was a piece of domestic equipment widely used in Australia before refrigeration to preserve perishable food in summer. It was an Australian invention used especially in country areas from the 1890s until the mid 20th century.

Coolgardie safes were manufactured both commercially and home-made. They worked on the principle of capillary siphoning and cooling due to evaporation. They usually comprised a timber-framed Hessian-covered cabinet which had one or more internal …


Object No.


Object Statement

Domestic appliance, Coolgardie safe, home-made, galvanised iron, made in Australia, 1900-1910

Physical Description

Domestic appliance, Coolgardie safe, home-made, galvanised iron, made in Australia, 1900-1910

This Coolgardie safe comprises a four-sided cabinet made of a galvanised-iron frame with mesh insets. The sides taper outwards towards the base. The top is surmounted by a square pyramid-shaped cap onto which are soldered two support brackets. These would have held a small round tank or bucket of water. The safe has two hinged doors, each with a simple handle made of a strip of metal. The door frames are made of flat galvanised-iron. At the bottom of the cabinet is a shallow tray to catch the water. The cabinet stands on four short right angle galvanised-iron legs, which are cross braced. The interior shelf is missing.


Stamped on two sides of the tray: "With Care".



1370 mm


650 mm


650 mm


15 kg




The Coolgardie safe was said to have been invented in the dry and arid Western Australian gold-mining town of Coolgardie in the 1890s by Arthur Patrick (Paddy) McCormick, who later became mayor of Coolgardie.

It is thought this Coolgardie safe was home-made.



This Coolgardie safe was purchased from an antique shop in South Caulfield, Victoria, in 1984.

Coolgardie safes could have been made at home from simple and easily procurable materials. The New Settlers' League of Australia advised in their 1924 publication, "Makeshitfts and Other Home-made Furniture and Kitchen Utensils", that "to make a Coolgardie safe, build a frame from strong packing cases, and put a shelf about 2 feet from the ground, and another on top 5 feet from the ground. Cover the frame with Hessian, putting a door on one side. On top, place a kerosene tin cut in half lengthwise. Keep this filled with water, and, hanging from it over the sides of the safe, put strips of Hessian, towelling or flannel. Make gutters of pieces of tin to go around the bottom of the safe, making them all slope toward one corner. Here let the water drip into a tin underneath. This water may be used again. Keep in a breezy place."

A Coolgardie safe is described in Randolph Stow's 1965 Australian novel, "The Merry-Go-Round and the Sea": "Once, one hot day at Sandalwood, he and his cousin Didi had got into the big Coolgardie safe on the back veranda and closed the door. It was very cool in there, water seeping continually down the clinker-packed walls. They shared the safe with half a sheep, and amused themselves by swinging the meat back and forth on its hook like a punching bag".


Credit Line

Purchased 1984

Acquisition Date

6 September 1984

Cite this Object


Australian Coolgardie safe, 1900-1910 2022, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 September 2022, <>


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