What is a Coolgardie Safe?

Inside the kitchen of a prospector’s hut, Coolgardie 1894

Well … to say that a Coolgardie Safe was the forerunner of the refrigerator is probably an oversimplification. In the areas I grew up in (before electricity) even refrigerators were not what they are today. We were very excited when our first fridge arrived! It ran on kerosine and had a tray at the bottom which had to be refilled daily – much like our old Coolgardie Safe really, except that it had water in its trays. My mother made ice-cream, which was the height of luxury, and we put coloured water in the ice-block trays and made pretend icy poles.

Our Coolgardie Safe was a manufactured one but in 1892, when Clara set off on her big adventure to the new diggings, they were made by the prospectors from empty 40 gallon kerosine tins. Dozens of nail holes were punched into all four sides of the square tins and pieces of hessian were hung on the outsides. A door was cut in the front and shallow metal trays were improvised to fit on the top, and slide underneath. A few holes were also made around the edges of the top tray which was then filled with water. The water dripped slowly down, soaking the hessian and eventually collecting in the bottom tray. The constant desert winds blew through the wet hessian and kept the food inside cool and safe from most of the marauding flies, insects and the odd animal.

Did I show you this picture last week?

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