Chapter 16.    Nanna Cuthbert

After Roger left, Cherry and Greg wanted to tell the others about their day at Nanna Cuthbert's. "Wait'll you hear what we learned about Nanna today," said Cherry, when she had an opportunity to switch the conversation away from Roger Seeker.

"Yes, tell us about how it went," said Dave.

"Well, as usual, she wouldn't even let us get started until she had fed us full of jam pikelets," said Cherry. "She had some special ones with faces on them for Sean. He liked that, and he made a big show of biting off the parts of the face bit by bit."

Sean pulled a silly face when the others looked at him.

"Then she showed us her latest project. She's making plywood toys to sell at the school fete next week. She needed help cutting out the shapes, so that's what Greg spent most of his day doing."

"And I've got blisters to prove it," said Greg. "Nanna already had ten or twelve cut out and glued together when we got there. I don't know how she manages to do so much at her age."

"I helped too," said Sean. "I painted stacks!"

Greg explained. "Sean was a really big help today, wasn't he, Cherry? He did a very good job of painting some of the finished toys." He emphasised very good job for Sean's benefit.

"Of course, he made a mess of himself with the paint; but you had a lot of fun, didn't you, Sean?" Sean nodded enthusiastically. "Then, when he got tired of painting, we cleaned him up and sent him in to help Cherry in the kitchen."

"We did eight dozen lamingtons," said Cherry. "We could have done more if we had had a second oven."

"So what did you learn about Nanna?" asked Dave.

"I was talking to her about her interest in children. It seems her whole life has been spent helping out other people's children, even though she never had any herself. Yesterday would have been her sixtieth wedding anniverary, and thinking about it got her talking about her husband, Bernie. We had always assumed that they weren't able to have children. But lo and behold, she and Bernie chose not to have kids. The best bit is why they did it."

"Go on," said Dave, who had his chin back on the reversed chair, as he listened intently.

"It seems her husband was a pretty keen Christian," said Cherry. "Nanna never says much about her faith, and we haven't pushed her. But Bernie had this idea that God wanted them not to have children, so that they could do more to help other people's children. They didn't have birth control back in those days, so the two of them almost went off sex altogether in order not to have children. They knew others wouldn't see things the way they did, so they let people think they weren't able to have children. I don't imagine she's told very many people about it even now. So it was pretty good of her to open up to me like she did. Don't ever let on that I've told you about it."

"That is interesting," said Dave.

"For someone who loves children as much as she does, it must have been a terrific sacrifice," Cherry said. "You never know who the most committed Christians are, because they're usually the quietest ones."

"Think she'd ever consider working with us?"

"Nah," said Cherry. "She's too old to make such a big change. Besides, she's happy with what she's doing. I reckon, in her own way, she already is working with us."

"Did she read any poetry?" asked Juan.

"Wouldn't be a day at Nanna's if she didn't," said Greg. "She read the one 'bout her day at the beach again. It's the first time I ever heard it. Didn't say much 'bout the beach, just 'bout all the people she saw, and what she was 'maginin' about each of them.

"The other one was about Mr. Eternity... you know, that chap who used to go 'round chalking Eternity all over Sydney for thirty or forty years. I liked that one best."

Greg turned to Dave. "Do you think it would work if we did the same thing today?" he asked. "What? Chalk Eternity all over Sydney?"


"It could," said Dave. "But do we have thirty or forty years to find out?" He smiled kindly. "Not thirty or forty years. I mean, maybe if we had more people, we could do the same thing faster."

There was a quick show of interest from the others, and soon they were in a full-scale huddle to discuss what was to become their next project. They wanted to resurrect the memory of Arthur Stace, known as "Mr. Eternity", who got hundreds of thousands of Sydney people thinking about where their lives were going; and he did it by chalking faultlessly the word Eternity half a million times on the footpaths of Sydney.

Day after day he would walk the streets, chalking the word in beautiful script every hundred metres or so. The first sign of rain would wash it all away. But even that was a testimony to the brevity of life. Then Arthur would go right back and start writing it all again. His faithfulnes was a classic illustration of the relentless love of God.

He lived a quiet life for most of that time. It was only in his final years that the media learned who he was, as he was careful to do his chalking without being spotted.

His friends were the street people, just like the bin raiders. But one significant difference between Mr. Eternity and the Sydney branch of the bin raiders was Dave's willingness to use the media. It was more than willingness; it was unabashed exploitation, something that the media themselves often found offensive. They didn't like being "used" to preach the gospel, and yet Dave would set out deliberately to do just that; and more often than not, he succeeded.

"One report in the Herald or in the Tele could reach more people than Arthur Stace reached in his entire life," Dave remarked, as they continued to discuss their latest brainstorm.

"Maybe we should start the chalking near the newspaper offices," suggested Juan, who was already starting a mental list of points to include in the campaign.

"That would be cheating," said Dave. "The papers want real news, not some cheap gimmick; so we have to really saturate Sydney before we can expect them to take notice."

"What do we want the papers to say when they do get around to writing about it?" asked Cherry. "Good question." Dave thought for a moment. "The beauty of the word Eternity is that people fill in the rest for themselves. There really isn't a lot more that is needed. But what the media can do is to reach a lot of people who might not see the chalking."

Juan agreed to research Mr. Eternity's writing style, and Anna said she would check into someplace where they could get chalk in bulk for such a project.

"Good ole Nanna," said Cherry. "She's got us going again." Nanna's poem about people at the beach had played a part in their original decision to use Bondi for their graffiti campaign.

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