Inside the Collection

Holiday activities – Sinclair car kettle

Silver car kettle with cord
Car kettle made by Sinclair Australia, Strathfield, New South Wales, 1950-1960,collection of the Powerhouse Museum, gift of George Hamill, 2002, 2004/34/1.

With the Australian summer holidays in full swing and many families on the road it’s interesting to think about the changes in road trip catering. Since the early days of motoring car picnic sets have been available. The early sets were often impressive, boasting cups, plates, cutlery, containers and a small burner. During the 1950s, when car ownership took off, simple electric car kettles, like the Sinclair, came on the market so tea and other hot drinks could be prepared by the roadside. This kettle was powered by 12-volt direct current from the car battery. How did it work? Well, the small round flat terminal was screwed onto a live terminal point such as a switch, junction or light behind the dashboard and the alligator clip was attached to any metal surface in the car. The black plug could then be pushed into the socket in the kettle to boil the water. This took a few minutes and provided enough water for three cups of tea. It must have been a boon compared to boiling water on a primus or making a fire to boil the billy.

Advertising material for the Sinclair car kettle posed the question ‘Why pay for hot water or restaurant charges?’ It claimed to be a must for picnics, drive-in theatres, sporting events, camping and fishing trips, as well as for truck drivers, mothers travelling with babies (to warm the milk) and commercial travellers. The kettle came in a variety of anodised metallic colours: red, blue, gold, green and silver. All the prospective purchaser had to do was to state the make of car, battery voltage and colour required for a kettle to fit their car.

We know that this car kettle was purchased new and used by the donor in his 1952 Austin A40 tourer car both in the bush and on holidays and camping trips to Mudgee, Cobar and Katoomba in country NSW. During the 1950s he was a door-to-door salesman, selling his wares from the car. As well as this provenance what makes this car kettle particularly interesting is that it came to the Museum with its original box and instructions. To make it an ideal acquisition there should have been a photograph of the donor using the kettle on a picnic in the 1950s. But unfortunately this was not the case.

Is the roadside cuppa now a quaint old-fashioned idea that few travellers are still willing and able to enjoy? Are we now too hard pressed for time and anxious to get to our destination? Certainly our 6-lane highways, which bypass country villages and towns, don’t permit roadside stops, instead funnelling drivers into enormous Service Centres. Besides which, the hot beverage of choice is now ‘good’ coffee.

Written by Margaret Simpson, Curator

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