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Students will gain an understanding of what life may have been like for people who had to use meat safes and the challenges surrounding the use of a meat safe.


  • 4-minute video on the meat safe
  • meat safe image (click on image to enlarge for printout or display).


With your students, watch the video 'What is this? Meat safe'.

The opening of the video shows a rainbow stripes moving across the screen from left to right. A cloud shape pops into the coloured stripes containing an image of a green metal meat safe. The video title 'What is this' is superimposed on the meat safe. A question mark bounces into position at the end of the text ('What is this?') and an eyeball rolls around in the dot forming the bottom of the question mark and winks. Upbeat music plays in the background. A swarm of question marks moves across and fills the frame.

Close up of Teddy, a puppet. In front of him on a black-covered desk is a sandwich. Teddy is making eating noises. Angela the presenter, stands behind the desk. Between Angela and Teddy, on the desk, is a green metal box with a pattern of holes punched into it. Above Teddy in the top right corner of the frame is an animated television graphic. A spinning question mark appears on the television screen.

ANGELA: (to camera) What is this?

TEDDY: I' wooks ike a ig ox.

(Teddy continues eating his sandwich.)

ANGELA: Oh, Teddy. Don't you know it's rude to speak with your mouth full?

(Teddy swallows.)

TEDDY: Sorry, Angela. I said, 'It looks like a big box.' Is that hole on the front some kind of handle?

ANGELA: Let's see.

(Angela puts her finger in the round hole in the front of the box. A door creaks open.)

ANGELA: Oh, it's a handle that opens a door on the box.

TEDDY: The door is one whole side of the box. Is there anything inside?

(Pan of the interior of the box.)

ANGELA: I can see some shelves.

TEDDY: Shelves are good for storing things.

ANGELA: They are, Teddy. Can you tell what this is made from?

TEDDY: I think it's some kind of metal, and the sides of the box have got heaps of tiny little holes in them.

ANGELA: They make a kind of pattern, don't they? So can you figure out what it is?

TEDDY: Some kind of cupboard, maybe? I've never seen anything quite like it before.

ANGELA: Well, that's not surprising, Teddy. It was used in the past for keeping food, particularly meat, fresh. It's called a meat safe.

(Teddy, Angela and the meat safe. As Angela places her hand on the meat safe, the word meat safe appears in the television screen graphic.)

TEDDY: For keeping meat safe from flies and insects or hungry animals.

(Sounds of flies buzzing, and animals roaring, howling.)

TEDDY: What about keeping sandwiches?

ANGELA: Why not?

TEDDY: Why not just put stuff in the fridge?

ANGELA: Well, If we lived somewhere that didn't have electricity, the meat safe would be a very good way to protect our food, including sandwiches, from spoiling.

TEDDY: So it's like a fridge?

ANGELA: Well, it's a bit like a fridge. But you might notice it doesn't run on electricity. In the past, when meat safes were used, people would put it somewhere around their house that was shaded and would get a bit of a breeze.

TEDDY: Would the breeze go through all those little holes?

ANGELA: Yes, Teddy.

(An animation of the evaporative process is shown in the television screen.)

ANGELA: And, if you also hung some wet cloth over the sides of the safe, as the breeze passed through the cloth and the holes, it would cool down the air inside it which could stop the food from spoiling as quickly.

(As Angela talks the animation appears full screen explaining evaporative cooling. Warm air is shown as red arrows flowing towards left side of the meat safe. A white cloth is draped over the meat safe and blue water droplets are shown above the cloth to indicate that the cloth is wet. Blue arrows exit the right side of the meat safe to represent cooler air. Text above blue arrows reads, '18–25 degrees cooler air!')

TEDDY: If I go swimming on a really hot day, when I get out of the water my skin feels very cold.

ANGELA: Even when the wind is warm, the air cools down as it passes through your wet swimmers.

TEDDY: Would the meat safe be cold enough to keep ice-cream too, Angela?

ANGELA: Hmm, what do you think, Teddy?

TEDDY: Aw, maybe not. It would have to be freezing cold to keep ice-cream, wouldn't it?

ANGELA: I think you're right.

TEDDY: Can I have an ice-cream anyway?

ANGELA: How about you finish your sandwich first, and then we'll go and get an ice-cream.

(Teddy resumes eating his sandwich. Eating sounds.)

TEDDY: 'At ounds ike a ood eal.

ANGELA: I think he said, 'That sounds like a good deal'. I'd better go get some ice-cream for Teddy. It looks like he's nearly ready for it. Bye for now.

(Angela waves goodbye.)

TEDDY: (lifting his head from the sandwich) 'Ee ah.

Upbeat music. An animation of rainbow stripes moving across the screen from left to right. A cloud shape pops into the coloured stripes containing an image of a meat safe. The video title 'What is this?' is superimposed on the meat safe. This dissolves to National Museum of Australia logo.

A cream painted upright rectangular metal meat safe featuring perforated sides, a handle on the top and a broken latch on the front hinged door. A plaque on the front of the door reads: ‘Portable Pantry’.
A metal meat safe

A3 printout

1. Discussion

Assist students to summarise the video by facilitating a question and answer session. These questions should be led by the lines of inquiry that the students raise, but some questions may be required as prompts:

  • Did the video make you wonder about anything? Do you have any questions?
  • Have you ever seen a meat safe?
  • What did you notice about the size of the meat safe? Is it larger or smaller than your fridge at home? What might this tell us about life in the past?
  • Can you notice any similarities between fridges today and the meat safe? (door, shelves) What were the differences? (size, electricity)
  • Can you think of any ways a meat safe might be a better way of storing food than a fridge?
  • Remind students of Teddy's questions about storing ice-cream in the meat safe. Can you think of other foods you couldn't keep at home if you used a meat safe?
  • In the past, the people who used meat safes generally did not have electricity. What other items or appliances do you have at home that people in the past would not have been able to use? Why do you think people in the past did not have electricity?
  • Do you think people in Australia still use meat safes? If yes, who would they be and where and when would they use them?

2. Imagining

Encourage students to imagine what life would be like having to use a meat safe at home instead of a refrigerator. What would be different? Why would it be different? Could they live without treats like ice-cream?

Remind students where people in the past would keep their meat safe (on a shady veranda or in a tree). Ask them why the meat safe would need to be kept safe in these places. Ask students to draw a picture of a meat safe in a safe location, protecting food from heat, insects and other animals.

3. Investigation

Print out enough copies of the meat safe image from the Museum's collection to give one to each student. Ask them to take the image home for this homework project: show the image to their parents and ask them the same questions that the students use in class when looking at historical objects.

  • What is this made from?
  • Is it old or new? How can you tell?
  • How could you use it?
  • Who might have used it?
  • What stories from the past might it tell us?

Ask the students to get their parents to record their responses on the back of the image, and to bring the images back to school.

Once the students have returned their images with the responses on the back, help them to share the responses by collecting the images and reading out the responses to the class. Discuss the responses with the class, with an emphasis on the different ideas about the object and any stories that their parents may have shared about having used one themselves or knowing someone who had or has one.

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