Arthur Stace writing his message, Eternity in Sydney Courtesy National Library of Australia (nla.pic-vn3107050)

Arthur Stace writing his message, Eternity in Sydney Courtesy National Library of Australia (nla.pic-vn3107050)

The 30 July 2017 marks 50 years since the death of a mysterious identity who inscribed the word ‘Eternity’ on Sydney’s pavements for 34 years. The Dictionary of Sydney chronicles the stories of many of this city’s interesting citizens, but perhaps none are more enigmatic than Arthur Stace or, as he became known, Mr Eternity. 

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Arthur Stace was born in Redfern in 1885. His parents were alcoholics and he soon became a ward of the state, also acquiring a drinking habit by the time he entered the workforce aged 14. He worked as a ‘cockatoo’ or scout for brothels and illegal establishments. He served in the First World War in France and was discharged as medically unfit in 1918.

Back in Sydney, Stace started drinking again but stopped after he attended church at St Barnabas, Broadway in 1930. He worked as a janitor at the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle in Darlinghurst and in 1932 heard a sermon by the Reverend John G Ridley, during which the word ‘eternity’ was repeated. After this sermon Stace claimed that though he could hardly have spelt his own name, let alone the word eternity, ‘it came out smoothly in beautiful copperplate script’.

The Sun-Herald, 1 November 1953 , p3

The Sun-Herald, 1 November 1953 , p3

For the next 34 years, Stace wrote the word on Sydney’s pavements an estimated more than half a million times before he died of a stroke on 30 July 1967.

His identity was only been discovered in 1956.

Since his death, Mr Eternity has been remembered in poetry, film and artworks. Eternity was emblazoned across the Sydney Harbour Bridge at New Year’s Eve 1999 and, in 2013, the Eternity Playhouse opened in the restored Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle where Stace first heard that sermon.

The poet and novelist, Dorothy Porter, said Sydney’s obsession with Mr Eternity was a reflection of the city’s impermanence:

Sydney has a dreadful history of wiping out itself – in the 1960s especially, when everything got razed, covered over with concrete…perhaps [Stace] appeals to us as a symbol of that past, that other lost Sydney and its history.

Go to the Dictionary  of Sydney to read Shirley Fitzgerald‘s entry on Arthur Stace and follow the connections to see where else Arthur Stace is mentioned on the Dictionary  https://dictionaryofsydney.org/person/stace_arthur

 Harbour bridge with 'Eternity' illuminated sign 31 December 1999 Courtesy City of Sydney Archives (NSCA CRS 1004/2)

Harbour bridge with ‘Eternity’ illuminated sign 31 December 1999 Courtesy City of Sydney Archives (NSCA CRS 1004/2)

 

Nicole Cama is a professional historian, writer and curator, and the Executive Officer of the History Council of NSW.
She appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity.

Listen to the podcast with Nicole & Nic here, and tune in to 2SER Breakfast with Nic Healey on 107.3 every Wednesday morning at 8:15-8:20am to hear more from the Dictionary of Sydney.

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