Coolgardie Safe - An Aussie Invention

Coolgardie Safe - An Aussie Invention

Like most citizens from around the world, Australians have, out of sheer necessity, invented all manner of household and manufacture equipment to improve their way of life. Because of geographic isolation, economic struggles or simply being “Johnny on the spot”, Australia boasts a large number of inventions that have been so successful that they have been used thought the country and indeed around the world.

One such invention is the Coolgardie Safe. Put simply, the Coolgardie Safe was invented in the late late 1890’s to preserve food, especially food that would spoil if not kept cool, such as meat, butter and milk. The Coolgardie Safe was invented by Arthur McCormick, who was a contractor working in the Eastern Goldfields regions of Western Australia, where gold had been discovered in 1892.

Coolgardie was considered the capital of the West Australian goldfields. Prospectors came from far and wide to make their fortune. Coolgardie is situated some 180 kms from Perth and its climate is notoriously hot during the day and cold at night. As fresh food was very scarce and extremely costly in the gold fields, it was essential that any available food was preserved and kept from being spoilt by the heat and protected from scavengers and wildlife.

McCormick’s invention is based on the principle of evaporation. The scientific definition of the principle of evaporation is “to change any liquid into a gaseous state requires energy. This energy is taken in the form of heat from its surroundings”.

McCormick noticed that a wet cover placed over a bottle helped to chill its contents, and if this bottle was located in a breeze or where air was circulating, even though the cover would dry out more quickly, the contents of the bottle would get colder.

McCormick constructed a box like apparatus, with shelving inside for the food to sit on. He hung a hessian cover or bag over the top of the box, ensuring that it was hanging over the sides of the box. He also placed a shallow tray on the top of the box, which he religiously added water to at least twice daily. One end of the hessian (or burlap) covering would be placed in to shallow tray of water and gradually the water would seep down the bag, making it damp. As the water evaporated, the heat dispersed, keeping the precious food inside the box fresh and edible.

McCormick found that the drier the air, the greater the rate of evaporation and the cooler the safe. So it was especially effective in outback Australia where the air is notoriously dry and hot.

Improvements were made to the Coolgardie Safe as people began to understand the simple principle and they were assembled in large numbers for commercial sale. One such improvement was placing the legs of the Coolgardie Safe in tins of water – this inhibited ants and other creepy crawlies from gaining access to the food via the legs.

The Coolgardie Safe was a popular household appliance throughout Australia, both in urban and country areas until the 1920’s when the first ice chests became more convenient to use.

Interestingly, in these modern times with so much focus on renewable energy, there has been recent efforts to revive the use of Coolgardie Safes in order to reduced the carbon footprint of our high energy input lifestyle. Also, designers have been concentrating of refining the concept of the Coolgardie Safe for use by third world countries, in order to improve the quality of food storage in isolated areas.

Click here for modern Invention based on Coolgardie Safe principle


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