The Eternity Man

2000 Olympics fireworks display over Sydney Harbour
 When the evocative word 'eternity' lit up the Sydney skyline during the harbour fireworks display at the close of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics,  not everyone realised the word was a homage to a long deceased Sydney resident and local legend, Arthur Stace - a down and out, non-conformist, hard drinking WWI veteran. However while the man himself may have been humble, he possessed one grand concept that he clung to with an obsessive grip - eternity.

Rough Beginnings
The story of Arthur Stace's claim to fame is a strange one and well and truly embedded in NSW folklore. Stace was born in the late 19th Century, into a family all but crushed by poverty and alcoholism. Before adulthood he was an alcoholic himself and had already done jail time at the impressionable age of fifteen. He seemed tragically destined for failure and a life of hard knocks. Before enlisting for the Great war at the age of 26, Stace worked in a series of seedy occupations, including a stint as a lookout for a two-up (gambling) den and as a scout for his elder sister's brothels.

During the war, Stace served in France and by the time he returned  to his home town, he was partially blind and deeply affected by the experience. Alcoholism and unemployment followed. From the beginning the Fates had dealt up a poor hand to Stace and the self-destructive, post-war trajectory of his life seemed already set.  
One particular day, Stace, in need of a free meal, wandered into a Baptist Tabernacle and found himself moved by the exhortations of a passionate preacher, who shouted from the pulpit:
I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney...Eternity! Eternity!
Stace later revealed to a journalist that he had a piece of chalk in his pocket at the time and there and then wrote eternity on the floor of the Tabernacle. As Stace tells it:
The funny thing is that before I wrote it I could hardly write my own name. I had no schooling and I couldn't have spelled 'Eternity' for a hundred quid. But it came out smoothly, in a beautiful copperplate script. I couldn't understand it, and I still can't. I've tried and tried, but 'Eternity' is the only word that comes out in copperplate.~Daily Telegraph, 1965
Rare photograph of Arthur Stace. Source
Propelled by an extraordinary sense of commitment, for over 30 years...between 1932 and 1967,  Arthur Stace wrote the word eternity in chalk on the streets and sidewalks  of Sydney - at least fifty times a day and always in the same distinctive copperplate style, underlining the word with the tail of the 'y'.

It was a simple but effective means to impart a message to Sydney siders. Passers-by couldn't help but absorb the word and whether consciously or not, contemplate its meaning in some form or other.

For years, the appearance of the word was a mystery and it wasn't until 1956 that Stace was revealed as the perpetrator.

The word, it seems gave his life meaning and purpose...and he has left his legacy.

Copy of Arthur Stace's trademark copperplate lettering