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Exclusive_ Legendary Sydney figure 'Mr Eternity' brought back to life

The Eternity symbol on the Harbor Bridge – recreated at the Sydney 2000 Olympics opening ceremony. Courtesy: Getty

He’s the diminutive Sydney figure whose one-word mantra went on to inspire the world.The late Arthur Stace chalked the word ‘Eternity’ on to tens of thousands of Sydney’s pavements over 40 years.

The word went on to become a symbol of the city, and was emblazoned on Sydney Harbour Bridge to celebrate the year 2000.

Now, a filmmaker is hoping the re-release of an award-winning documentary will bring his story to a new generation of Sydneysiders.

The National Film and Sound archive in Canberra has restored the 1990s film Eternity, and it’s being shown this week as part of Sydney Film Festival, with further screenings planned.

Director Lawrence Johnston, told Stace remains one of the city’s most colourful historical residents.

“I think younger people would be interested in him because he was one of our early graffiti artists, he said.

He’s one of the more eccentric characters that made up the city. Everybody knows Sydney as being very glitzy, and modern, but like all Australian cities it has its history, and one of the kooky and crazy things was, he chose to write ‘Eternity’ across the sidewalks for 40 years.”

Stace was born in Redfern in 1885, and followed much of the rest of his family into alcoholism.
He enlisted to fight overseas in the early 1900s – despite being only 160cm tall.

But he later changed his life after turning to the church.

It’s believed a sermon titled “echoes of eternity” inspired his feat, which was carried out in a distinctive script with yellow chalk.

It’s said Stace, who lived in Pyrmont, wrote the word over half a million times between the 1930s and his death in 1967- mostly before dawn and after dark.

Council bosses tried to have him arrested numerous times for defacing pavements, and for years his identity remained a mystery to Sydneysiders who saw the message beneath their feet.

He was finally unmasked in the 1950s by a newspaper, which told his story.

Mr Johnston, said: “It’s the story of a survivor, and someone who basically came from a working class background, and ended up nearly dying, before finding a very unusual way to live.”

The film was shot by Oscar winner Dion Beebe, who went on to make Hollywood hits Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha and new movie, I Am Woman.

There’s a memorial to Stace, who married but had no children, at Town Hall Station,
The Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst is named after him, and a new café at Central Station also bears the name.

What Eternity means though, is open to interpretation.
“I don’t really have an interpretation that’s solid, other than just proposing to dream about maybe there is life after in some form,” Johnston said.

National Film and Sound Archive Chief Curator Gayle Lake, said:‘A number of factors were considered before we decided to restore Eternity. It tells the story of the legendary Arthur Stace using a variety of voices, and combining re-enactments, interviews and archival footage.

Eternity is of social, historical and artistic relevance and it will find new audiences through this digital restoration and upcoming screening at the Sydney Film Festival.

“The most important reason is the NFSA’s remit to digitise and preserve our collection, and so Eternity and its digitally restored print is now preserved for future generations.”

Eternity is being screened at Event Cinemas George Street tomorrow (wed) at 6.30pm and at The State Theatre, Sydney on Thursday at 10am.