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Australia 1994
Directed by
Lawrence Johnston
56 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4.5 stars


Eternity is a documentary on the life and influence of Arthur Stace who for 37 years walked the streets of Sydney with a piece of chalk in hand in order to write one word in perfect copperplate: 'Eternity'. For over 20 years the public was mystified as to its origin until his identity was revealed by a Sydney journalist. Inspired by a sermon at a crucial point in his life, Stace took on his evangelical mission, writing his mnemonic over half a million times on footpaths and steps and walls and buildings before his death in 1967.

This short feature doco is a beautifully made reflection on a truly enigmatic piece of contemporary Australian urban social history.  The life of Arthur Stace is interesting enough -  a child of the Depression from a poverty-stricken family who lived under a house in Redfern and a veteran of World War II who returned a scarred and damaged man addicted to alcohol and who turned to the church for help – but what followed was the stuff of legend. Stace walked out of an inspirational sermon and, although he could barely write his name, wrote down this evocative word in perfect handwriting and continued to do so, every single night for the rest of his life.

Lawrence Johnston’s film is superbly crafted with almost seamless use of both archival footage and recreations. Actor Les Foxcroft is an unassuming stand-in for Stace, composer Ross Edwards provides a suitably atmospheric soundtrack and Dion Beebe’s beautiful photography won him the 1995 AFI Award for Cinematography (the film also won the Los Angeles International Documentary Association’s Best Feature Award).

Whilst Johnston devotes the first half of the film to Stace’s life, it is in the second half that he elevates the story beyond just its narrative with a fascinating look at the continuing impact of Stace’s pursuit on art and cultural practices as a kind of early graffiti artist. Iconic writer Dorothy Hewitt and painter and cartoonist Martin Sharp (of “Oz Magazine” fame), speaking about how Stace influenced their work,  are just two of the artists who lend their voices to this documentary. There is something profound about the Arthur Stace story and it’s fitting that Johnston has made an equally profound film.




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