Antique Meat Safe

May 2015


I claimed this as a pile of paint when my Dad sold his house. It was in Mum’s shed to hold empty preserving jars and any other leftovers from the house which could be stored in a garden shed.

Before being moved into that shed, this cupboard spent most of its life down stairs … at the bottom on the two steps which lead from the new part of the house down to the old. This cupboard held both empty and full preserving jars, along with jam jars, and other bits and pieces which didn’t fit in the old kitchen.

The house on the side of the hill on a farm in the mid north of South Australia, and from the original two rooms it has grown like Topsy to seven main rooms … most of them large. This photo was taken in the 1970s, in winter judging by the colour of the grass, and the cupboard above was just about in the middle of the house. The garden has changed, the house looks much the same still, but then it is hard to change something as solid as this! I guess it is appropriate that the cupboards built for this house were also solid pieces.


It is called a meat safe because the doors and the sides of the cupboard were filled with metal with small holes in it, allowing airflow through the cupboard, but the holes were small enough to keep out flies, in particular blow flies, which had a habit of choosing meat of any sort as a home for maggots, which would grow up to be the next generation of blowflies. Some pieces of the original metal screen had been replaced with a small wire mesh similar to the fly screen we use on doors and windows, and some of that had been painted over so often it was solid … except where there were holes in it, which had been covered with fabric and painted over.

Most cupboards built for this purpose were about half the size of this one, sometimes even much smaller … this one would have held a couple of sheep, a pig and still have room for a small yearling steer … probably a bit of overkill on a farm with a population of two adults and one growing boy at the time the cupboard would have been built.

During the shift we noticed the legs were a bit dicey … one split during the shift, two had nails through them to hold them together, the others looked as though somebody had tried to shape them, but I am pretty sure beavers would have done a neater job. (No, I don’t think beavers would have been the carpenters … not many running creeks for them to dam in our part of the world. Besides, the koalas like their trees upright.) The cupboard is now 6 inches shorter than it was, but it is still 64 inches tall, and 68 inches wide … lots of space for fabric, books, wadding … and more!

The position of the cupboard probably only moved a few inches in the first century of its time on the farm … then moved five miles into my parents retirement house … well, the shed at the back of the car shed alongside the house. In contrast, it was on the road for about six hours to get here where we currently live. It has been in our shed for some time waiting for me to build up the fortitude to tackle the paint stripping.

It took a week to find the cupboard under the paint, with the frame made of similar timber to the bottom of the kitchen dresser I found under similar paint a month ago. (My carpenter nephew thinks it is probably cypress) The shelves are a little darker, with much darker stains where it appears some of the jars of preserves were not sealed as well as they should have been.

The back of the cupboard deserves to be seen … if I had a big enough room I would use it as a room divider. Six inch wide boards which came up beautifully with just one coat of Danish Oil. Perfect place to hang a small wallhanging if only we could see the back!

Installing the cupboard in my sewing room meant two dark shelving units had to go out to the shed, which meant everything on them had to be cleared off … then I realized that the doors on the new addition needed more room to open, so the sewing table and the cutting table had to swap positions, which also meant the desk in the corner had to come out temporarily so I could get to the power point behind it so the sewing machine could be attached to the electricity grid. Thankfully, the kitchen dresser which wouldn’t fit in the kitchen dining area when we moved in didn’t have to be moved even an inch!

The room is now partly operational again, but I don’t remember where I put anything … but best of all, I am putting empty boxes in some cupboards. I am thinking it is better to fill vacant spaces with empty boxes than to just pile stuff in as I acquire it!


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