For over twenty five years, from 1930 to 1956, the people of Sydney woke up each day to a one-word sermon—”Eternity”—handwritten in white chalk or yellow crayon (when raining) on footpaths, train station platforms, and perimeter walls lining the city’s many walkways and streets. Each day a fresh batch of graffiti rendered in beautiful copperplate lettering style would appear at places where there weren’t any the previous night. Somehow, for twenty five years, a mysterious figure had managed to sneak into the city every night and leave his presence on the city’s walls and sidewalks. It attracted the ire of Sydney City Council at first, but as the weeks become months, and the months became years, the “Eternity” graffiti became an iconic symbol of the city. Pedestrians stepped around and over the words, and street sweepers and cleaners left the elegant writings untouched. This is some way explains why the “Eternity” graffiti illuminated on the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of new year’s eve celebration in 2000. The real explanation, God orchestrated it so that many worldwide would be impacted by the “Eternity” message. Arthur Stace was illiterate so it was obvious, certainly to Arthur, that God had initiated it. “I couldn’t understand it, and I still can’t,” Arthur later told in an interview.. But Arthur did know that God had asked him to do it. Arthur was obedient to go out on the streets of Sydney everyday, rain or shine, until the day before he died.
The mysterious figure behind the phenomenon, who was to become the most famous graffiti artist in Australia’s history, managed to keep his identity a secret until one morning in June 1956, when he was caught in the act. That morning, Reverend Lisle M. Thompson, who preached at the Burton Street Baptist Church, saw a church cleaner sneak out a piece of chalk from his pocket and write the word on the footpath.
Rev. Thompson approached the cleaner and asked, “Are you Mr. Eternity?”, to which the cleaner replied, “Guilty, your honour.” Soon after that encounter, the Sunday Telegraph published an interview with the artist and the mystery that had baffled Sydney for over 25 years was finally revealed. The cleaner’s name was Arthur Malcolm Stace.
Born in 1885 in Redfern, Stace’s childhood and much of his adulthood was marked by abject poverty. His parents were alcoholics, and his sisters ran a brothel. In order to survive, he resorted to stealing bread and milk and searching for scraps of food in bins. At the age of 12, Stace became a ward of the state and worked briefly in a coal mine. As a teenager, he became an alcoholic and was subsequently sent to jail at 15 for drunkenness. His twenties were spent running liquor between pubs and brothels, and working as a lookout for gambling dens. During the First World War, Stace found work as a laborer with the Australian Imperial Force, but his recurring bouts of bronchitis and pleurisy led him to be discharged.
Stace finally found his calling in November 1932, when he went to listen to a Baptist preacher named John Ridley give a sermon. In a homily titled “Echoes of Eternity“, Ridley declared: “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?“. The words so captivated Stace that at that very moment, Stace pulled a piece of chalk he had in his pocket, bent down and wrote the word “Eternity” on the church floor.
Even though he was illiterate and could hardly write his own name legibly, the word ‘Eternity‘ came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. Arthur had to ask the person next to him what he had written.
God has a calling for each one of us, what is yours? Don’t know, then get into prayer until you do. Also, will you be obedient as Arthur was to carry it out regardless of the cost?
The story of Arthur Stace (Acorn Press, 2017)