Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Taphophile Tragics # 14 -From the Demon-drink to Eternity


Up to 50 times a day he wrote it: the word ‘Eternity’, in waterproof chalk, in a flowing Copperplate hand. Fifty times per day for 35 years, is a powerful message. Upwards of half a million examples, and it is typical that the one original supposed to still exist is difficult to prove. You see, it is inside the bell within the Martin Place GPO clock tower. Taken down as a precaution during WW2, the bell was cleaned and replaced in the 1960s, and THAT is when it was discovered that Stace had been there. There are two replicas: the one on the foot of his grave in Botany Cemetery, and the one beside the Cascade, within the NY Metro Cafe in the Town Hall Arcade.

What drove Arthur Stace to a life on the streets?
Poverty. Alcohol. WW1. Self-image. Finding God.
That would pretty much do it.


He was born in Redfern, lived most of his life in Bulwarra Road, Pyrmont, and died in the Hammondville Nursing Home out at Liverpool. Pretty much a flat-lined activity. He served in WW1, probably as a stretcher bearer, where, upon enlistment, his vital statistics indicated he was ‘weedy’. He hit the skids upon being demobbed, and in a highly impressionable state, came within the orbit of a fire’n’brimstone pastor at either St Barnabas’ Broadway, or the Burton Street Baptist Tabernacle in about 1930, in his mid-40s. He did not marry until he was 58.

There are four authenticated photographs of Stace in existence, all taken by Trevor Dallen from the old Sydney Sun. Stace was hard to track down, shunned publicity, and was, effectively, defacing public property. Dallen pinned him down for an interview, but after four shots, ran out of film. Of course, when he returned with more, Stace had etherised – again.


The year 2000 was shaping as massive for Sydney, what with the Olympics and all. The Y2K bug was going to shut down life as we knew it. Sydney’s NYE fireworks featured Stace’s copperplate trademark, this time writ large for all the world to see.

I hope he found it.


This is my contribution to the Taphophile Tragics community.

20 comments:

GW Bill Miller said...

You Aussies value your eccentrics.

Kay L. Davies said...

Oh, Julie, that last photo almost made me cry.
I agree with Bill Miller, most countries ignore or condemn their eccentrics. The tribute on the bridge is pure Australian. Gotta love it.
K

biebkriebels said...

What a nice story, that they made such a special tribute to him on the Harbor Bridge.

Jo said...

that is a beautiful post....

Jim said...

Great tribute post, Julie.

Ann said...

Interesting man, Stace. I didn't know about the bell on the GPO but am very familiar with the Eternity at Town Hall.

hamilton said...

He certainly knew how to make a mark on a city!

Sondra said...

I always admire someone who can keep a focus as long as a life time and it seems he did that! ME I hop from one thing to the next, so afraid Im gonna to miss something wonderful if I dont keep moving. A great Bio Julie!!

cara said...

Excellent post! I have learned something useful and interesting today.

Mark said...

Even though he wrote in water proof chalk there is still the irony of writing eternity knowing that it would vanish at some stage.
Seeing you mention St Barnabas, I have great memories of the daily chalkboard battle between the pastor on the North side of Broadway and the publican of the hotel across the road.

Julie said...

Me so too, Mark. It was a deliciously friendly rivalry and public showing-off. However, now St Barnabas has burnt to the ground and the pub is a trendy bistro.

And so time goes on until Eternity ...

diane b said...

Thanks so much for that story Julie. I have always wondered who he was after seeing his work, hearing about him and finally the Bridge lights in 2000. His wife didn't last long, poor thing.

Peter said...

A true Sydney legend, well told.

Gemma Wiseman said...

I am old enough to remember seeing his mark of Eternity on the pavement in George Street! I also remember encouraging my aunt to follow the trail of words! As a child I was fascinated! I did not know about the GPO bell! More layers in his legend! You have told his story beautifully Julie!

JM said...

What a fantastic story! Thank you, Julie, I really enjoyed reading it.

Joan Elizabeth said...

Whenever I see that sign I think of the terrible struggle people have with alcoholism, of how young men turn old before their time. I was raised in an environment reaching out with the helping hand of hope and Eternity. I guess it shaped me.

Thérèse said...

Who knows... Land Art in a way!

VioletSky said...

Such elegant handwriting he had.
And to think that, really, he was a tagger, albeit one that at least used chalk instead of spray paint.

CaT said...

how interesting!
i knew nothing about this.
50 times per day. 35 years. thats quite a lot. doing my blog once a day already is a burden, sometimes. hahahaha.

Francisca said...

I've been noticing street people lately and wondering what goes on inside them. They each have a story, for sure. Stace's routine could have been comforting to him, as obsessions, repetitive behaviour and routines often are to those with autistism or Asperger's. There's such a fine line (if any) between eccentric and outcast.

I'm behind in my blog hopping, but glad I made it to see this one of yours.

[Julie, I wish I hadn't been in such a rush to post mu Austrian cemetery blog or I would have been able to satisfy OUR greed for information. I found this very informative site for The History of the German-Russian Wrought Iron Cemetery Cross.]