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Esky was an Australian brand of portable coolers. The term "esky" is also commonly used in Australia to generically refer to portable coolers or ice boxes and is part of the Australian vernacular, in place of words like "cooler" or "cooler box" and the New Zealand "chilly bin". The term derives from the word "Eskimo".

Esky brand was purchased by Coleman, an American brand, in 2009.



Thumb a Sydney refrigeration business. Some historians have credited Malley's with the invention of the portable ice cooler.[1] According to the company, the Esky was "recognised as the first official portable cooler in the world."[2] The company's own figures claim that, by 1960, 500,000 Australian households owned one (in a country of approximately 3 million households at the time).

Outdoor recreation company Coleman Australia bought the Esky brand from Nylex Ltd after the company went into administration in February 2009. Esky has been producing coolers since 1952.[3] Coleman still produces most of the Esky line in Melbourne.[4][5][6] The sale was seen as symptomatic of the decline of Australian-made goods due to cheaper imports being available.[7]


The current models are constructed with two layers: polypropylene on the outer shell, with a polyurethane inner layer. This makes it lightweight and portable with excellent insulation. The Esky originally had a steel outside shell,[8] and used cork for insulation.[3] In the 1960s, a single layer of thick polystyrene was often used, but they were easily damaged or destroyed.[9]

The lightweight construction makes most eskies float in water, and they have been recommended by safety specialists to be used as an improvised lifebuoy, if more specialised equipment is not available.[10] Numerous people have been saved after using either the whole esky or the esky lid as flotation devices after boating accidents.[11][12][13]

Generic use[edit]

In Australia, the 'esky' name has become, or as a legal matter nearly has become, genericised: the popularity of the product has led to the use of its name to refer to any cooler box, regardless of the brand. Many dictionaries, including the Australian National Dictionary and the Macquarie Dictionary, now include definitions in their publications defining it as such.[5][14] However, the use of the Esky trademark must be approved by the brand owner to avoid any liability.

Government agencies and media outlets in Australia have used the term in preference to generic alternatives.

In Australian culture[edit]

The esky has played a unique role in Australian culture, especially with regard to outdoor activities, camping, and sporting events, and for reasons of novelty.[15] In particular, the design and use of the esky has evolved through its relationship with Australia's drinking culture. A feature of the first Esky model was that it was designed to carry six "standard" 1-pint bottles as well as a triple level food section.[16] Malley's Esky was created as a tool for camping and caravanning holidays and was called the Esky Auto Box, encouraged by the post-war popularity of the private motor vehicle.[1] The esky became an essential part of the beach, outdoor dining and barbecue culture that developed in Australia during the 60s and 70s.[1][17] Due to their portability and extensive use outdoors, an esky can also double as makeshift cricket stumps, with some companies even making hybrid products that include retractable stumps (among other useful features such as a bottle opener).[18][19]

Though not unique to Australia, Australian media have widely reported on a number of high-profile incidents involving motorised eskies fitted with small motors and wheels. Police have impounded offending vehicles and have issued fines to those operating them on public property.[20][21]

Spectators at the closing ceremony at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney each received a promotional pack of a small polystyrene Esky containing other items of memorabilia.[22]

In another uniquely Australian piece of culture, poly-foam bodyboards used in the surf are often referred to by the slang term, "Esky-lid”, or “shark biscuit”.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Santich, Barbara (2012). Bold Palates: Australia's Gastronomic Heritage. Wakefield Press. ISBN 9781743050941.
  2. ^ Mountney, Jason (2011). "History of the Esky – a cool Aussie icon". Reader's Digest (Handyman December/January 2011). Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  3. ^ a b Newton, John (12 October 2002). "Playing it cool". Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. ^ Higginbottom, Nick (2 July 2009). "American company Coleman buys Esky from ailing Nylex". Herald Sun. Australian Associated Press. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b Oakes, Dan (15 August 2009). "Cool plan to take rescued Esky to the world". The Age. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  6. ^ "Esky". The Coleman Company. Archived from the original on 20 November 2013. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  7. ^ Millmow, Alex (8 July 2009). "They've taken my Esky away". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  8. ^ "Wine Casks, Eskys and Lamingtons". Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre. Archived from the original on 16 May 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  9. ^ Simpson, Willie (9 December 2003). "Case of the chills". The Age.
  10. ^ "Esky a lifesaver". The Canberra Times. ACT: National Library of Australia. 5 January 1979. p. 7. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  11. ^ "Esky keeps man afloat 25 hours". The Canberra Times. ACT: National Library of Australia. 2 May 1989. p. 3. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  12. ^ Tobin, Mark (5 January 2012). "Four rescued as boat sinks off Sydney".
  13. ^ "Another Oz shark victim?". 27 November 2000.
  14. ^ The Macquarie essential dictionary. Sydney: The Macquarie Library Pty Ltd. 2005. p. 263. ISBN 1-876429-07-0.
  15. ^ Powerhouse Museum. "Esky by Malley's". Powerhouse Museum, Australia. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  16. ^ "Advertising". Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954). Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia. 20 August 1954. p. 7. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  17. ^ Dupleix, Jill; Shield, Mark (23 October 1993). "An Esky for all occasions". The Sunday Age.
  18. ^ "Cricket Cooler - Backyard Cricket Stumps with a 33 Litre Cooler |". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  19. ^ "Cricket Cooler | Halfords UK". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  20. ^ Jefferson, Andrew (18 January 2015). "Rosebud man fined for driving Esky without a licence". Herald Sun. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  21. ^ "Adelaide man riding motorised Esky reported for driving unlicensed, unregistered vehicle". ABC News. 6 January 2015. Retrieved 22 June 2021.
  22. ^ Powerhouse Museum. "2001/84/28 Promotional kit, Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, cardboard / polystyrene / metal / plastic / paper, Sydney, 2000". Powerhouse Museum, Australia. Retrieved 12 March 2015.