By Matt Dawson
If you have travelled across Sydney Harbour Bridge in a car, on a bus or on a train in the last 15 years, the chances are you have seen it. It is visible throughout the day and illuminated at night.
The sign, ‘One Way! Jesus’, is clearly visible to Harbour Bridge commuters. Its constant presence has crept into the psyche of thousands of commuters.
The city’s streetscape is littered with signs. Signs are a vital part of our lives. They direct us, educate us, persuade us, inform us, cajole us, bully us. They offer us a sense of place and routine – and sometimes even comfort. Most are official signs erected by the agencies of authority.
But “One Way! Jesus’ is a private sign. It sits in the window of No.74, a top floor apartment in the Sirius apartment building in Cumberland Street, Millers Point. The occupant proves to be as elusive as the message delivered by the sign itself.
It is my fourth visit to Sirius to meet the man behind the sign. Despite a letter, a note via a friendly neighbour, dozens of calls on the external intercom and persistent door knocking, an eerie silence emanates from No. 74.
I have strategically spread my visits across different times of the day – early morning, late morning, mid-afternoon, late afternoon — in the hope of meeting him.
My expectations of uncovering an exceptional subject to interview are low. The prospect of receiving a refusal to talk does not faze me. But being ignored, that irks me. I complimented his dedication to ‘spreading the word’ in my letter. I pointed out that his sign has been seen by hundreds of thousands of Sydneysiders. Surely his Christian faith compels him to acknowledge my correspondence? Isn’t it hypocritical to promote your message to the world-at-large but eschew human contact?
Maybe I am reading too much into this. Maybe he has moved out or is sick in hospital? Is it all an elaborate hoax? Could it be that he does not exist? After all, his neighbours offer me only scant detail about him and his movements.
Monday, 10 am. A small woman wearing a yellow beanie and oversized navy sweater walks out of the building. She is carrying green calico bags. She has lived in the building since it opened in 1980, but seems only vaguely aware of the Jesus sign.
Wednesday, 3 pm. Kelly, another resident who has lived at Sirius since 1999, knows the man in No. 74.
“He is a committed Christian just trying to get his message across. So many people I meet say to me, ‘Oh, you live in that building with the Jesus sign at the top? Yes, I know the one’.” But that’s all I get from Kelly.
Thursday, 9.30 am. An elderly woman with a walking frame recalls him doing her a good deed. Recently she left a set of keys in the mailbox downstairs and he took them up to her apartment.
Monday, 10 am. I meet a male resident who isn’t so congenial.
“That nitwit with the Jesus thing in his window? Yeah, I see him around a bit. He doesn’t say much, he’s a bit of a recluse,” he says.
Monday, 10.45 am. Finally, a breakthrough. Great-grandfather Johnny, 86, dressed in a white polo shirt tucked into brown corduroy pants, is engaged in lively conversation with a female postal worker. He is in exceptional shape for his 86 years, given that just five months ago he had open heart surgery.
Johnny knows the man in No. 74 well. He even knows his name.
In 2010, the two had a disagreement about visitor access to the prized Heritage Room, overlooking the Opera House and Circular Quay. As a result, they agreed to a mediation session at the Sydney Community Justice Centre and have now committed to treat one another with neighbourly respect.
While I now know the identity of the man in No. 74, he remains unseen and his purpose a mystery. The only insight to be gleaned is that he is learning to love thy neighbour.