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IN THE CITY MAGAZINE
The Canberra Times | In the City Magazine | AUTUMN
She studies full time at ANU, contributes a
regular column to Fuse magazine and is the
owner of Canberra city’s newest, hippest
student haunt, The Red Herring.
Oh, and she’s 19-years-old.
But Zara Jackson-Martin doesn’t seem too fazed by the
to-do list of the day. In fact you could almost say she has
the laid-back attitude synonymous with Generation Y,
except for her unmistakable worldliness, cultural savvy
The Melbournian-come-Canberran spent most of her
life split between Malden, the little gold mining in rural
Victoria and the vibrant hum of Melbourne’s city centre.
“Canberra is a real compromise between the city and
country,” she says.
“You’ve still got the convenience of having all the utilities
of a city but it’s that little bit smaller that you can bump
into people you know in the street.”
Moving from Melbourne’s King’s Way where she
could here the trams rattling past her window all night
was a big change and she certainly encountered some
scepticism from family.
“They compared moving to Canberra to expecting an
iPhone for Christmas and getting a pair of socks. But
like I said I really love it now – I wouldn’t have opened
up this place if I wasn’t planning to stay here for a fair
She gestures to her surrounds – a café that’s a
definite reflection of the trendy Melbournian side of
her upbringing. Walking into The Red Herring on
Petrie Plaza is uncannily like walking into a student
sharehouse. Decked out in wooden floorboards,
industrial-height ceilings and aqua and redbrick walls,
the living room sports a forrest of comfy couches and
“Believe it or not a lot of this was in my living room for
a while,” says Zara.
“Before I had a lease on the property, I was already
buying furniture and it got to the point where our living
room had more couches than floor space. It was very
Eclectic music from a stereo fills the room. There’s a
Nintendo Wii to one side. The ‘study’ comprises shelves
of second-hand books that people are welcome to read,
buy and swap. There’s a kitten pen for the household
moggies Zeek and Izzy, free wi-fi and even a king-sized
bed at the back. Here, there’s zero pressure to leave
once your plates are cleared, and all that’s missing is a
sign that reads ‘Please put your feet up on the furniture’.
The Red Herring seems a mischievous dig at what is
largely conceived by Zara’s generation as an uptight and
pretentious café culture.
Zara herself relinquished the lifestyle just over a year
ago to study medicine at the ANU but soon switched to
an arts degree majoring in English history to indulge her
“Being a student I had a lot of what I call in inverted
commas “student jobs”,” she says wryly.
“And they’re not great jobs... I moved up here and
suddenly I was back into that, ‘you’re 19, therefore
you’re going to end up washing dishes in a kitchen’, or
I worked as a stable hand at the racetrack. I guess after
one too many 4am mornings, I decided I didn’t want to
work for anyone else anymore.
“I really love cooking and it’s been a long-standing joke
that if I ever dropped out of medical school I should open
That she did, and without storming the Bastille, the
café is Zara’s very subtle way of encouraging social
change in Canberra city – namely, the social culture of
dining and coffee-drinking. Friday nights feature up-and-
coming bands and the $5 admission at the door goes
straight to them. The walls are adorned with a mish-
mash of work from budding artists and a commission is
never collected for the café. One local jewellery-maker
has already displayed her pieces for sale at the counter.
In fact, Zara invites anyone trying to break into the
creative industry to use The Red Herring as a platform.
“We’re not out to make a huge profit. Nor does the
café just exist so I don’t have to work a “student job”;
I employ a lot of other students as well. I feel that
way they get to eat good food and they get to work
somewhere where they can see their boss, on a day-to-
day basis, washing dishes.”
Zara does all the cooking herself, and the seasonal
menu features hearty food, vegan gluten-free options,
good servings and student-friendly prices. The entire
setup lures you to linger.
“A red herring is a clue that’s designed purely to waste
time and lead nowhere,” she says.
“And I feel that cafés do exactly that, that they don’t
necessarily serve a particular purpose except to take up
and consume time.”
It’s an adventurous enterprise for someone shy of 20,
but one gets the distinct impression the plucky young
entrepreneur might just succeed.
Zara Jackson-Martin is out to alter Civic’s café culture – by any means necessary. BY DIONE VAN-HEER
Mi Casa Su Casa
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