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Eternity: Stories from the emotional heart of Australia

Now showing in Canberra

Eternity: Stories from the Emotional Heart of Australia is a National Museum of Australia gallery examining the lives of Australians, famous and not famous, living and dead.

It is a window to some of the personal stories of the millions of people who have lived in Australia. It also encourages us to consider the significance of our experiences and stories.

A woman stands in a museum gallery, looking into a clear, ceiling height case to the left. A bright orange panel with the word 'joy' on it appears front left.
The Eternity gallery. Photo: Jason McCarthy.

Eternity is based on 10 emotional themes that speak directly to people's experiences: joy, hope, passion, mystery, thrill, loneliness, fear, devotion, separation and chance. 

Each theme features several stories, anchored by a significant object and using innovative multimedia techniques to tell a wider story.

Eternity is about happiness and hedonism and what makes Australians laugh and cry. It shows how people deal with war, discrimination, personal tragedy and triumph and it tells stories about striving for the best and appreciating the little things in life.

Share the emotion as the stories unfold. Laugh. Feel fear. Fall in love. Take a chance.

Discover more about the people featured in Eternity

audio_w15 Eternity conversation series

Eternity education resource

Arthur Stace and Eternity: an everlasting story in chalk

Arthur Stace, Photo: Trevor Dallen, Fairfax Photos
Arthur Stace
Photo: Trevor Dallen, Fairfax Photos

The name of the National Museum's Eternity gallery comes from the fascinating story of Arthur Stace, a reformed alcoholic who for 35 years was inspired to write the word 'Eternity' in perfect copperplate in chalk on the streets of Sydney.

Stace wrote 'Eternity' over half a million times between 1932 and 1967. Its appearance was a mystery until 1956 when it was revealed to be Stace's work. His simple, enduring message can still make people stop, think and feel and continues to inspire today.

The Museum holds a rare 'Eternity' sign handwritten by Stace. It was written in chalk on cardboard for a friend at the Burton Street Tabernacle Baptist church. This fragile object is one of only two in existence and is currently being rested from display.

Arthur Stace's story contains all the elements of the 10 themes in for the Eternity gallery. It is a metaphor for the exhibition as a whole. Written in ephemeral chalk, the word 'Eternity' is suggestive of the timelessness of stories, and embodies the message that all people have a story to tell, with one word or with many.

Stace described his life-changing experience at the Burton Street church in an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 1965, two years before his death:

John Ridley was a powerful preacher and he shouted, 'I wish I could shout Eternity through the streets of Sydney.' He repeated himself and kept shouting, 'Eternity, Eternity', and his words were ringing through my brain as I left the church. Suddenly I began crying and 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, and that's 30 years ago ... I think Eternity gets the message across, makes people stop and think.