Unsung icons: Fridge magnets

Comedian David Smiedt takes an irreverent, but appreciative, look at the classic things that define you-beaut Aussie life
Matt Cosgrove

Fridges are the Madonnas of the kitchen – constantly reinventing themselves in anticipation of our tastes. Given that there are many Australian grandparents who remember the last days of the ice chest (no, that’s not the name of the Material Girl’s latest album), the fast evolution of the fridge is nothing short of staggering.


Today, they come complete with French doors, glass windows, saturated carnival hues, in-built computers that tell you if you’re running low on milk, and are commonly finished in more brushed stainless-steel than a racing car. They are now a design objet or, to put it in decorator speak, “refined accents in a coherent kitchen statement”. Here at HB, however, we fondly recall the days when they came in two colours: white and white.


These humming monoliths were the ideal backdrops for the mini art collections that were fridge magnets. Long before check-ins on social media, you could tell where a person had been simply by looking at their Kelvinator. Most Australian hotspots boasted their own souvenir magnets, yours for a couple of dollars. Some were aesthetically driven, bearing just a palm tree and the legend ‘Cairns’ emblazoned below it in a suitably balmy font; others simply bore the name of the city in letters that aspired to the Hollywood sign; a few even strove to miniaturise and magnetise the intricate detail once reserved for tea towels.


Fridge magnets also reflected the yearnings that Australians had for that most mysterious of destinations: overseas. As we increasingly became global travellers, miniature replicas of the Prague churches, Parisian towers and Big Apples nudged their way onto the fridgescape – as did an increasing amount of slogans. Those in charge of marketing destinations seem to have collectively decided somewhere around 1982 that a name and image was no longer enough to make a place memorable – it needed a catchphrase. And one that would fit on a magnet, mind you, so four or five words maximum. As in Cessnock’s “Mines, Wines & People”, “Dunedin, it’s alright here” and the rather unfortunate “Right Up My Hutt Valley”.


Long before check-ins on social media, you could tell where a person had been simply by looking at their Kelvinator

The permanent visibility of fridge magnets was not lost on local tradies. Who wouldn’t want a 24/7 advertisement in the home of potential customers? Especially when it reminded you of the proximity of suburban sparkies, neighbourhood painters or nearby plumbers with bonus points for a snappy slogan: ‘Clem’s – “We’ll unclog ya!” ’


Then, there were the word magnets. Dozens of thumbnail-sized tiles came in a box, and both visitors and family alike were free to whip up a haiku or limerick on the way to get a glass of Fruity Lexia. Puerile adolescents were known to place some fairly salacious prose in situ and see how long it took Mum to notice: approximately six hours is the answer. A variant was to be found in the fridge magnets made up of individual letters in a fruit salad of colours – and every
day was a battle of good and evil, between the words you wanted to make and those you were allowed to.


But fridge magnets also provided anchor points for the mosaics that make up family life: children’s artwork, letters from their schools, birthday invitations, reminder notes that your lunch was in the fridge or that you were simply loved. And in the monochrome, stainless-steel era of today, that’s literally saying something. 


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