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Stace, Arthur Malcolm (1885–1967)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Arthur Malcolm Stace (1885-1967), pavement scribe, was born on 9 February 1885 at Redfern, Sydney, fifth child of William Wood Stace, a labourer from Mauritius, and his native-born wife Laura, née Lewis. Raised in poverty, Stace later claimed that he became a ward of the state when aged 12, worked for two years in a south-coast coal-mine, was gaoled for drunkenness, lost a succession of jobs and turned to thieving; he also claimed that his two sisters were prostitutes and his two brothers died derelict drunkards. 'Off and on I worked as a grog-runner from a hotel in Surry Hills to two-up schools and houses of ill-fame.' At the time of his enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 March 1916 he was a labourer, 5 ft 3 ins (160 cm) tall, with medium complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair.

Having served as a private with the 19th Battalion in France, probably as a drummer and stretcher-bearer, and at A.I.F. headquarters in England, he returned to Australia in February 1919 and was discharged medically unfit on 2 May. Falling into old ways, drunk, broke and out of work, in August 1930 Stace was inspired by a preacher at Pyrmont to give up the grog. He helped down-and-out men at R. B. S. Hammond's hostel, led open-air meetings in the city, and visited the Francis Street Methodist hostel, Callan Park mental hospital and the Lazaret. On 22 January 1942 he married Ellen Esther ('Pearl') Dawson, at St Barnabas's Anglican Church, Sydney, and described himself as a 'missioner'.

In the 1930s he had heard the evangelist John Ridley tell a congregation in Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle that he wished he could 'shout eternity through the streets of Sydney'. Stace was inspired! 'I felt a powerful call from the Lord to write “Eternity”. I had a piece of chalk in my pocket, and I bent down right there and wrote it'; 'I've been writing it at least 50 times a day ever since.'

A 'birdlike little man with wispy white hair', Stace became known as 'the Eternity Man', one of the characters of Sydney. For a while he tried writing 'Obey God', but 'it wasn't as good. Eternity makes 'em think'. His cryptic precept in yellow, waterproof chalk, written in copperplate hand, was inscribed on pavements from Martin Place to Parramatta, although he preferred the invitingly black surface of the pavements at King's Cross. 'Some of them concrete paths won't take it', he complained. 'Too light to show up.' It cost him 'six bob a day in chalk' when he was 'running hot'. His one-word message could weather three to six months; one in Surry Hills, he was told, lasted twelve.

Pearl died in 1961 and in 1965 Stace moved from Pyrmont into the Hammondville homes. He died there on 30 July 1967, having bequeathed his body to the University of Sydney medical school and his savings to Baptist missions. In 1977 a brass inscription was unveiled in a paving stone near the Sydney Square waterfall. In the familiar copperplate hand it reads:

Eternity

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May 1958, 28 May 1959, 1, 5 Aug 1967, 23 Aug 1969, 13 July 1977, 12 July 1978
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 July 1963, 16 June 1965.

Citation details

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 in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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