When a person is genuine in their intentions, it is bound to affect at least a few people. When you start writing the word 'Eternity' with chalk in beautiful copperplate font on anything that doesn't move because your life has undergone an amazing change, you don't know who you may affect. This was the case with Arthur Malcolm Stace, the Eternity man, who has affected and influenced a whole nation.
Born in Sydney's inner city suburb of Redfern in 1885, Stace was brought up in severe poverty by parents who were both alcoholics. He was also their fifth child. Just to be able to eat, he would steal food including bread and milk and would search for scraps of food in bins.
Picture 1: Arthur Stace writing his signature word on the streets of Sydney. Photo: Trevor Dallen, 1963
At 12 years old he had become a ward of the state and by 15 he was an alcoholic and had been sent to jail. Jobs that he took on included working in a coal-mine, being a look-out for illegal two-up games, a scout at his sister's brothel and a labourer. When the Great War broke out, at 5 feet and 3 inches, he joined the 19th Battalion in the 5th brigade in the Australian Imperial Force as a side-drummer. When he arrived in France, he became a stretcher-bearer. He stayed there until he was discharged, due to pleurisy, in 1919.
On the night of August 6, 1930 in St Barnabas Church, Broadway the Reverend R.B.S Hammond was preaching on eternity. It was enough for Stace to convert to Christianity. Inspired by the idea of eternity, Stace listened to the teachings of evangelist John G Ridley who taught on the 'Echoes of Eternity'.
""Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You've got to meet it, where will you spend Eternity?"
When interviewed after this event, Stace explained that the word Eternity would be ringing in his head..."Suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity."
"I couldn't understand it, and I still can't," said Stace.
It is estimated over the next 35 years Stace wrote the word 'Eternity' in his beautiful copperplate over 500,000 times, nearly getting arrested at least 24 times for graffiti-ing. Whenever he was confronted he responded: ""But I had permission from a higher source".
His writings could weather three to six months; one in Surry Hills, he was told, lasted twelve. He became a legend around Sydney, known as 'the man who writes Eternity' or Mr Eternity. He would rise at 4am each morning, pray for an hour, then head out on the streets with yellow chalk in his pocket. After leaving his famous message where people would see it, he would then spend the rest of the day helping in rescue and mission societies. His identity remained a mystery for 25 years, until someone caught him one morning in mid-writing.
Mr Eternity affected more than just the people around him, or those who saw his writings around the city. A whole new generation were able to enjoy his one-word sermon when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up on New Year's Eve heading into the new century, and later in 2000 at the Sydney Olympic Games.
Picture 2: Arthur Malcolm Stace's final resting place in Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park. Photo: FindaGrave
In 1967 Mr Eternity finally left this life to experience what he had spent so many years writing about. He is proof that no matter how humble a person's circumstances, we can always learn from their experiences.
* 'Arthur Malcolm Stace', National Australia Archives, naa.gov.au, accessed 3rd May, 2020
* 'Arthur Stace', Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Stace, accessed 1st May, 2020
* Chris Cunneen, 'Stace, Arthur Malcolm (1885–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/stace-arthur-malcolm-8615/text15049, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 3 May 2020.