Historical information

The Coolgardie safe was invented in the late 1890s on the Western Australian goldfields. Its invention was credited to a local contractor named Arthur Patrick McCormick. It was a practical system to preserve food prior to modern refrigeration. The wire grid kept the food safe from vermin and allowed breeze to blow through. It was often covered with wet hessian so that as the breeze circulated the water evaporated, creating the same concept as coolant in modern refrigerators and ice boxes. In most respects it was a variation of the bushman’s hessian bag hanging in a tree. In larger towns and cities during this time period large "ice works" could deliver block ice to areas that required a form of refrigeration. These ice blocks where held in early refrigerators to keep perishables cool. In isolated or rural households, the Coolgardie or meat safe was the next best, practical solution for food preservation. This safe was used in the home of the Conway family in Wodonga.


This item is very significant to the Wodonga region as it represents the initiative and problem solving skills of the early settlers. It also reflects the primitive conditions in which they lived before the arrival of more modern services such as electricity.

Physical description

Meat safe or Coolgardie safe manufactured in Australia. This safe is made from metal and has been painted in green paint. 2 sides of the safe have a pattern of 6 squares of holes to allow for ventilation and air flow. The holes would also guard against insects and other vermin. There is one shelf inside, dividing it into 2 sections. The safe has a hook attached so that it can be suspended, often from a tree or on a verandah to increase air flow. The safe would often be covered by wet hessian to promote further cooling and preservation of foods such as milk, butter and meat.