Esky is 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.
The Esky was created by Malley's, a Sydney refrigeration business. Some historians have credited Malley's with the invention of the portable ice cooler. According to the company, the Esky was "recognised as the first official portable cooler in the world." The company's own figures claim that by 1960, 500,000 Australian households owned one (in a country of approximately 10 million).
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. Coleman still produces most of the Esky line in Melbourne. The sale was seen as symptomatic of the decline of Australian made goods due to cheaper imports being available.
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, and used cork for insulation. In the 1960s, a single layer of thick polystyrene was often used, but they were easily damaged or destroyed.
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. Numerous people have been saved after using either the whole esky or the esky lid as flotation devices after boating accidents.
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. 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
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. 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. 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. The esky became an essential part of the beach, outdoor dining and barbecue culture that developed in Australia during the 60s and 70s.
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.
In another uniquely Australian piece of culture, poly-foam knee boards used in the surf, more especially by younger surfers learning the sport, are often referred to by the slang term, "Esky-lid”, or “shark biscuit”.
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