THE STORY OF ARTHUR STACEHe started early, usually before dawn
,and he wandered through all the streets of sydney.Every morning he was
somewhere else, Wynyard, Glebe, Paddington, Randwick, Central Station.As he said
- where God directed him. Every night the message appeared in his head. He was a
very little man, bent, grey-haired, only five feet three inches tall and just
seven stone. He looked frail enough to blow away.Then with the formality of
another generation he always wore a grey felt hat, tie and prim double-breasted
navey blue suit. Sometimes in the dawn light he would be seen around Wynyard
Station..He would nod to the drunks still left on the pavement and he would look
at the debris of the affluent society stretched out on the park benches, trying
to keep warm under newspapers.If he detected any movement there would be a pat
on the head or a warm greeting. He had the air of a man who
As he walked every so often he would stop, pull out a crayon,
bend down and write on the pavement in large, elegant copperplate -
ETERNITY. He would move on a hundred yards then write it again,
ETERNITY, nothing more, just one simple word. For thirty-seven
years he chalked this one-word sermon and he wrote more than half a million
He did not like publicity. He regarded his unique style of
Evangelism as a serious mission, something between Arthur Stace and his Maker,
so for a decade these Eternity signs mystified Sydney.They were an emigna.
Sydney columnists wrote about it, speculated on the author, and several people
walked into newspaper offices and announced that they were the author.The real
man kept quiet.
The mystery all came clear in 1956 and the man who
cracked it was the Reverend Lisle M Thompson of the Burton Street Baptist
Church.Arthur Stace was actually the church cleaner and one of their prayer
leaders. One day Lisle Thompson saw Stace take out his crayon and write the
famous Eternity on the pavement. He did it without realising that he has been
spotted .Thompson said :"Are you Mr Eternity?" and Stace replied "Guilty Your
Honor". Lisle Thompson wrote a tract telling the little man's extraordinary
story and Tom Farrell, later had the first interview. He published it in the
Sunday Telegragh on 21 June 1956.
Authur Stace was born in a Balmain slum
in 1884. His father and mother were both drunkards. Two sisters and two brothers
also were drunks and they lived much of their time in jail. The sisters ran
brothels and one of them was ordered out of New South Wales three times. Stace
used to sleep on bags under the house and when his parents were drunk he had to
look after himself. He used to steal milk from the doorsteps, pick scraps of
food out of garbage and shoplift cakes and sweets.
His schooling was
practically non-existant; so much so that this was noticed by Govenment
officials .At the age of twelve he became a state ward .Not that this helped him
greatly. When he was Fourteen he had his first job - in a coal mine - and his
first pay cheque he spent in a hotel. Already he had learned to drink at home so
like the rest of the family he became a perambulating drunk, living in a fog of
alcohol. He went to jail for the first time when he was fifteen, then it became
a regular affair.
He was in his twenties when he moved to the seedy inner
suburb of Surry Hills .There his job was to carry liquor from the pubs to the
brothels, and particularly his sisters's brothel. Then there were other jobs
such as cockatoo at a two-up school, that is the character who gives warning of
the approach of the police .He was mixed up with various housebreaking gangs and
because of his size he was splendidly useful as a look out man. (1)
During the first world war he enlisted in the 19th
Battalion, went to France and returned home gassed and half blind in one eye.
Back in Surry hills he took up his old habits, drink in particular. He slipped
from beer, to whisky, to gin , to rum, to cheap wine until finally living on
hand-outs. All he could afford was metholated spirits at sixpence a bottle. His
alcoholism was so extreme his mind began to go and he was in danger of becoming
a permanent inmate of Callan Park Mental Asylum. (2)
He told Tom Farrell that in 1930 he was in Central
Court for the umpteenth time. The magistrate said to him: "Don't you know that I
have the POWER to put you in Long Bay jail or the POWER to set you free". "Yes
Sir" , he replied, but it was the word POWER that he remembered. What he needed
was the power to give up drink. He signed the Pledge but he had done that many
times before. He went to Regent Street Police Station and pleaded with the
Sergeant to lock him up."Sergeant, put me away. I am no good and I haven't been
sober for eight years.Give me a chance and put me away". The Sergeant said :
"You stink of metho, get out!"
This was the depression time and a metho
drinker, dirty, wretchedly dressed, had to be the least likely of any to get a
job. Outside the Court House there was a group walking up Broadway. The word had
got around that a cup of tea and something to eat was available at the Church
Hall. In the nineteen thirties one would endure almost anything for free
The date was August 6th and it was a meeting for men conducted by
Archdeacon R.B.S. Hammond of St Barnabas' Church on Broadway. There were about
300 men present, mostly down and outs, but they had to endure an hour and half
of talking before they received their tea and rock cakes. Up front there were
six people on a separate seat, all looking very clean, spruce and nicely turned
out, a remarkable contrast to the 300 grubby-looking males in the audience.
Stace said to the man sitting next to him, a well-known criminal: "Who are
they?" "I'd reckon they'd be Christians", he replied. Stace said: "Well look at
them and look at us. I'm having a go at what they have got," and he slipped down
on his knees and prayed.
After that, he did find it possible to give up
drink and he said: "As I got back my self respect, people were more decent to
me". So he won a job on the dole, working on the sandmills at Maroubra one week
on, one week off at three pounds a week.
Some months later in the Burton
Street Baptist Church at Darlinghurst he heard the evangelist, the Reverend John
Ridley. Ridley was a Military Cross winner from the World War One and a noted
"give-'em-Hell" preacher. He shouted: "I wish I could shout ETERNITY through the
streets of Sydney". (3) Stace, recalling the day, said: "He
repeated himself and kept shouting 'ETERNITY, ETERNITY' and his words were
ringing thrugh my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and I felt
a powerful call from the Lord to write "ETERNITY". I had a piece of chalk in my
pocket and I bent down there and wrote it. The funny thing is that before I
wrote I could hardly have spelled my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn't
have spelt "ETERNITY" for hundred quid. But it came out smoothly in beautiful
copperplate script. I couldn't understand it and I still can't".
claimed that normally his handwriting was appalling and his friends found it
illegible. He demonstrated this to a Daily Telegraph reporter. He wrote ETERNITY
which snaked across the pavemant gracefully with rich curves and flourishes, but
when he wrote his own name "Arthur" it was almost unreadable. "I've tried and
tried but 'ETERNITY' is the only word that comes out in copperplate", he said.
(4) After eight or nine years he did try something else
"OBEY GOD", and five years later, "GOD OR SIN" and "GOD 1st", but finally he
stuck with ETERNITY. He had some problems. There was a fellow who followed him
round and every time he wrote ETERNITY this other character changed it to
MATERNITY. so he altered his style to give ETERNITY a large, eloquent capital E
and maternity took a dive. The City Council had a rule against defaceing the
pavement and the police "very nearly arrested" him twenty-four times. "But I had
permission from a higher source", he said.
He lived with his wife Pearl
in Bulwarra Road, Pyrmont and this was his routine. He rose at 4am, prayed for
an hour, had breakfast, then he set out. He claimed that God gave him his
directions the night before, the name of the suburb into his head and he arrived
there before dawn. He took his message every 100 yards or so where it could be
seen best then he was back home around 10am. First he wrote in yellow chalk,
then he switched to marking crayon because it stayed on better in the wet. He
did other things. On Saturday nights he led gospel meetings at the corner of
Bathurst and George Streets. At first he did it from the gutter but in later
years he had a fine van with electric lighting and an amplifier.
Stace died of a stroke in a nursing home on July 30, 1967. (5) He was 83 .He left his body to Sydney University so that the
proceeds could go to charity. The remains were finally buried at Botany Cemetary
more than two years later. (6)
suggestions that the city should put down a plaque to his memory. Leslie Jillet
of Mosman said that there should be a statue in Railway Square depicting Stace
kneeling chalk in hand. (7)
In 1968 the Sydney City
Council (8) decided to perpetuate Stace's one-word sermon
by putting down permanent plaques in "numerous" locations throughout the city.
Sir David Griffin, a fromer Lord Mayor, tried to perpetuatewhat he called "a
delicious piece of eccentricity", but a team of City Commissioners killed the
idea. They thought it was too trivial. (9)
there was angry debate in the Letters to the Editor columns. Some said, better
than plaques, let's put the money into decent walkable footpaths, (10) and another reader believed Mary Anne Smith, who gave us the
Granny Smith apple, was far more worthy of recognition. (11)
But finally Arthur Stace did get his plaque. It
happened ten years after his death and was all due to Ridley Smith, architect of
Sydney Square. He set the message ETERNITY in cast aliminium, set in aggregate,
near the Syndey Square waterfall. The Sydney Morning Herald Column 8
said: "In letters almost 21cm (8in) high if the famous copperplate message
ETERNITY. The one word sermon gleams in wrought aluminium. There's no undue
prominence. No garish presentation. Merely the simple ETERNITY on pebbles as
Arthur Stace would have wanted it.(12)
did have an interest in Arthur Stace, according to the Sydney Morning
Herald. As a boy he used to hear him preach on the corner of Bathurst
Street. Even more interesting, Ridley SMith was named after the fire-breathing
Reverend John Ridley, the very man who converted John Ridley back in 1930.(13)
That was the end of the story except that seven years
after the death of Arthur Stace, the word ARTHUR appeared around Sydney. The one
word message appeared on footpaths, walls and poles, written in chalk. A
newspaper columnist claimed that he saw the writer actually on the job, putting
ARTHUR there on the pavement. He was a little man, white-haired, annd he was in
a black coat. He scuttled away through the traffic before the columnist could
get to him.
There was much speculation about the meaning of ARTHUR. Was
it an old friend of Arthur Stace trying, like others, to keep alive his memory?
A newspaper even called in a handwriting specialist who, after studying the
blockline manner in which ARTHUR was written, made the profound statement that
clearly the writer had a working class background, there was some connection
with the building industry, and he was a middle aged man with a limp. Clearly
Sherlock Holmes could not have done better!
Although the signs appeared
for several years, nobody discovered Arthur or what the words meant; Except that
in somewhat obscure fashion Arthur provided the answer himself. One day he wrote
a whole sentence on the footpath:
Arthur is Jesus' brother and is the poor devil who cops the
The above is a transcript
of a Book By Keith Dunstan Ratbags. This page has been copied from Green
(1) Sunday Telegraph, 21 June 1956.
(2) Reverend Lisle
M. Thompson, The Crooked Made Straight.
Telegraph, 12 June 1965.
(5) Sydney Morning
Herald, 1 August 1967.
(6) Daily Telegraph, 8 October
(7) Sydney Morning Herald, 9 May 1968.
Telegraph, 30 April 1968.
(9) Sydney Morning Herald, 20
(10) Ibid, 10 May 1968.
(11) Ibid, 14 May 1968.
Ibid, 12 July 1977.
(13) Ibid, 13 July 1977.
(14) The Herald, 9