Arthur Stace, or “Mr Eternity” as we kids used to call him, was one of Sydney’s eccentrics. He was born in 1884 in a Balmain slum of parents who died of drinking methylated spirits. He had little schooling and by his mid-twenties he had only ever worked as a brothel pimp and a two-up school cockatoo, had a long police record and was already a chronic alcoholic.
One night he went to a Christian mission-meeting in Sydney because he had heard they served tea and hot pies afterwards. That night, Arthur Stace was converted. For the next twenty-four years, he worked tirelessly, caring for derelicts and down-and-outers of all kinds, preaching in the open air and visiting mental institutions, men’s hostels and the leprosarium.
In 1930. Arthur Stace heard John Ridley preach. “I wish I could shout “Eternity” through the streets of Sydney,” Ridley called out. The words forcibly struck Arthur. After the meeting, outside on the footpath, he found a piece of chalk in his pocket. He felt a powerful urge and with the chalk wrote “Eternity” on the pavement.
“The funny thing is,” he said later, “That I could hardly write my own name. I couldn’t have spelt “Eternity” for a hundred quid, but it came out smoothly and in a beautiful copperplate script. I couldn’t understand it and I still can’t.”
For the next thirty-seven years, Arthur chalked the word “Eternity” into the footpaths of Sydney and into the character of the city. He also chalked it into the minds and lives of countless people who testify to the power of his one-word sermon. Later on I met Arthur when he spoke at our church — a small, quiet man in an old suit.
He said eternity was something for all of us, something to lift us out of our ordinariness, out of our sin and give us hope. Arthur died in 1967, but today, near the Sydney Square waterfall, set in the paving stones in letters about 21cm high in white wrought aluminium, is the old word “Eternity” exactly as he used to write it. Arthur Stace is still held in the city’s memory.
~ by Rowland Croucher, in: High Mountains Deep Valleys – Eternity in our hearts.