Sydney’s Martian Embassy


 

It’s startling to step from Redfern Street into the Martian Embassy.

Outside, the architecture is 19th and 20th century shopfronts, the standard look of a shopping strip in inner-city Sydney. Inside, however, it’s… different.

As the name suggests, it feels as if you’ve stepped into a different world, of sinuous alien curves rather than old-fashioned right angles. It’s as though the interior of the shop has been grown from the ground up, decorated with a series of curved wooden panels painted a livid green.

In a cosy seating area at the front, visitors sit around a huge globe of Mars, while browsing such handy books as The Intergalactic Traveller’s Guide to Saturn. Nearby stands a large silver telescope which claims to provide views of street life on the red Planet – if you use your imagination.

On the shelves farther in, past a statue of a Martian emperor,  is a mish-mash of quirky exhibits along with products created specifically for the shop.

Novelties for sale to the discerning space traveller include cans claiming to contain “bite-size” oxygen; melted ice from the Martian polar caps; a reflective Martian cape; gravity created in a factory on Pluto; and emergency space food. There are also T-shirts bearing such timeless messages as “Take me to your leader”.

There is method to this madness, as it turns out. The Martian Embassy is actually a front for the Sydney Story Factory, a non-profit writing centre.

“Our focus is on marginalised young people, with about 25% Aboriginal kids coming in,” says Craig New, one of the organisation’s managers. “Everything we do is focused on creative writing. The kids not only create short stories, poetry and scripts, but also short films and podcasts.

“The products we sell are fun, quirky stuff the kids enjoy as well. We’ve got Martian capes, ‘puny humans’ that Martians might want to eat, spaceship repair kits. My favourite thing in the shop is the tin of gravity. We have long arguments with the kids as to whether there is actually gravity inside it.

“We also use the stuff in the shop as prompts, especially if they’re struggling for what to write about in a workshop: ‘What would happen if my character had a black hole in a tin?’”

 

 

 

 

For the traveller, the Martian Embassy is not only a novel place to shop, but a way to help out – all profits from sales go straight to funding the reading programs. On sale alongside the novelties are books by the kids themselves, with titles like I Met a Martian.

When you’ve finished your extra-terrestrial shopping, Redfern is worth exploring. There’s good coffee and food to be had along the street at Barn Doors (108 Redfern St) and Baffi & Mo (94 Redfern St).

And though Redfern is off the standard tourist trail, its streets are lined by interesting emporia.

“The antiques shop across the road is a bizarre place, it often has a cockatoo sitting in a big wheel out the front,” says Craig. “There’s a place further up selling flowers and antiques, which is full of taxidermied animals. There’s a tradition of weird shops in Redfern already, so we slot into that nicely.”

 

The Martian Embassy is located at 176 Redfern St, Redfern, an easy walk from Redfern train station. Open 10am-5pm Monday to Thursday, 11am-3pm Saturday & Sunday.

 

Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Destination NSW and TFE Hotels.

 

 

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