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What is this? Meat safe

Learning activities


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'.

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’. Thumbnail image.

A metal meat safe. William Edwards Collection. Source: National Museum of Australia.

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 National Museum of Australia'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.


Go to What is this? and the teacher resource video.

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