The day the Milton Show exploded

In the late 1940s, Milton Shows were still fairly frugal affairs and offered little entertainment for small children. Children quite naturally created their own fun.

A the time, ice creams were sold at public events from large insulated green canvas ‘Shipper Bags’. The ice creams were in wax paper cups and small wooden spoons were provided to scoop the ice cream out. Around the ice creams, the shipper bags were packed with dry ice, which is frozen carbon dioxide.

The dry ice was discarded as the ice cream seller reached deeper into the bag to take out the ice creams. Small children delighted in playing with this strange, cold material. It was much colder than ordinary ice and when placed down the back of a person’s shirt it needed to be removed with great haste. It could actually cause serious burns but no child ever took the warnings seriously.

At the corner outside the old original Milton Showground Pavilion, an elderly gentleman, Mr Anderson, boiled water so that people could fill their teapots and billycans to make themselves a cup of tea. He used a copper laundry boiler supported on a three-legged stand. Below this he had an open wood fire burning continually throughout each show day. At one show, probably in 1948 or 1949, Mr Anderson had worked hard and just prior to morning tea his water was nicely on the boil/

During the fun with dry ice, one boy, without understanding the consequences, lobbed a large lump of dry ice into Mr Anderson’s boiling water and went on his way around the corner of the show pavilion.

The results were spectacular.

As the dry ice instantly evaporated, a giant gas bubble formed below the water. The water rose high in a geyser-like mound and then cascaded down over the sides of the copper. The fire was totally extinguished and was nothing more than a smoking, steaming mess under the empty copper. A somewhat bewildered old gentleman was left with the difficult job of getting everything going again. I don’t think he had any idea what had actually happened.

I recently asked the boy involved (now an elderly man) if he remembered the occasion. It seems that he had either dismissed it from his mind or, because he had gone around the corner, he had not actually seen the outcome.


by Barrie Wilford

Originally published in ‘The Twelve O’Clock Whistle‘ by Barrie Wilford (with illustrations by Kevin Burns) and reproduced with his permission.

‘The Twelve O’Clock Whistle’ – a folk history of Milton Ulladulla

ISBN 978-0-646-96194-1

Available for $20.00 (+P&P) from


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