A series of interesting buildings followed the construction of our house. Some of them were large and built in mud brick. The Barden house was a good example of this renewed development in earth. It was a three acre site sloping to the west. The lower half of the land was covered with secondary growth scrub. It was the second time of building for the Bardens. The other house I designed for them was when they were first married. It was close to our property and it was therefore easy to give it good supervision. A variety of young men and boys appeared to make the large quantity of bricks that would be needed for the job.
The soil was powder yellow clay and the golden light of Eltham rose once again in the Yarra Valley in the late afternoons. It was sad that Dorian Le Gallienne, who had died a few years earlier, was not able to see it. I think he understood that quality better than anybody else.
I had to start all over again to get materials and develop a team of professional amateurs. Lionel, who was foreman on my own house, was now a subcontractor who was in charge of the carpentering. He knew what to do, but the new mud brick men were. called 'Hairys' by the other tradesmen. They were the sons of mud brick-making fathers and one or two rebels from commercially successful families in the district. They mostly wore long hair and wanted to wear no boots but I had to insist on footwear. It was quite a struggle for them to dispense with that sign that they were the 'new men'.
We had the usual problem of verticality of the walls hut I supported practically the whole structure on solid timber posts and window walls so that the brick work had really only to support itself. There were three levels and a large-ish northern courtyard with a series of verandahs that opened onto the different levels. The bedroom wing on the east was on the highest level, and the entry gallery gave access to them and also to the main courtyard room which in itself was thirty-six by twenty-four feet and some sixteen feet high. A great chimney fireplace formed a large part of the southern end of the building, and a minstrel gallery was cantilevered out six feet at some eight feet above the main floor level and about the same distance below the ceiling. This was a case of fluid planning, and it was not until the chimney was rising that it became obvious that it could take a gallery with the dynamic interest for the whole building. It was doubly attractive because the pattern of clerestories was so placed that it allowed a new set of outside views. It also created vertical dimensions within when you stood looking down from the gallery into the great livingroom. It was entered by the tiniest circular stair.
The floor of the main room was once again secondhand squared slates, some of which were retrieved from old switchboards that were used in electric substations in the streets close to Melbourne. Even after they were polished, one could faintly discern some of the names, particularly Little Gore Street in Fitzroy, which once had a notorious reputation for crime and prostitution. It gave the lie to the quotation, 'Out of evil, good cannot come.' What a treasure store old Melbourne has proved for the environmental builder! It had not been the richest colony in the world for nothing.
The roof was covered with coloured ribbed iron. Its gentle sweeping curves were three dimensional and sculptured. Three twelve-inch square red ironbark columns supported the roof where the living room joined the bedroom gallery wing. These were adzed and each became a sculpting in its own right. They came from some anonymous 19th century building, probably a warehouse, where their unbelievably powerful fibres had been united in supporting prodigious loads. They are quite indestructible in every way and we may never look on their like again. They will, if this building is removed in centuries to come, be just as good for their next use as timeless material and a true expression of the environmental vernacular of Australian building.
The Barden house is one of those buildings which seemed to improve the land itself, which is a rare feat. There were some fifteen thousand sand stock bricks from an early Melbourne church used in the building as well as several solid timber walls. The result helped reset the course of environmental construction to where it was in the late forties. But now, with a generation of experience behind it, it had become acceptable to a new class of people - the managing director class. It was no longer mere artistic 'exhibitionism'.
We found ourselves designing for a wider spectrum of people influenced by the environment, who wanted to express themselves in the houses they built. When Mal Hastie, who had purchased a beautiful property called 'Laughing Waters' on the Yarra, wanted his building planned, I showed him Barden's and we agreed to do something of the same character.
Mal stood about six feet eight inches in height and was built to suit. It was evident that the house should be of a dimension proportionate to his great athletic bulk. It was built in earth and bluestone with slate roof and big posts. Piers of bluestone were used to support the heavy timber roof structure. All the doors inside and out were eight feet high so that he would not crack his skull on the lintels. One of the natural Eltham tradesmen, Jack Fabbro, erected a colossal bluestone fireplace in a central position. The whole exercise reflected the strength and character of the owner.
More and more we discovered that the person was part of the landscape, and the planning expressed an instinctive combination of these elements. Environmental architecture in many ways is a matter of social anthropology and not a series of useless monuments for wealthy clients and designers with megalomaniacal tendencies.
The whole of Eltham, comprising an area of more than 100 square miles, varies from dormitory suburban conditions in the south to the Australian Dividing Ranges in the north - in many places unchanged from time immemorial. The Shire's emotive landscape concommitants centralise somewhere in Kangaroo Ground, the earliest area to be settled. It was an ordered community of Scottish immigrants with a place of worship and a school by about 1850. The nearer rolling hillscape surrounded by the higher mountains gave a broader understanding of the Eastern Australian countryside than the intimate inner bushscape of the Yarra Valley areas. Only a handful of houses were visible at anyone time in the local area of several square miles, although the lights of Melbourne dominated the south western skyline at night and a series of settlements could be seen in the valley below the Dandenong Ranges at all times. The lookout tower, erected as a First World War stone memorial, in the form of a Scottish border tower and sited on the crown of an extinct volcano, emphasised the history and character of this superlative place.
Dan Chable was a farmer of thirty years' standing whose property was situated immediately to the east of the lookout. In the 1960s he elected to retire to a hilltop location about a mile further north that had merged into bushland dominated by great stands of ironbark (eucalyptus sideroxylon) whose grey leaves and black trunks of plaited bark created the ultimate in antideluvian mystery.
Dan had at one time been a sergeant in the Swiss army. He was now in his sixties and had a natural dignity of character still tinged somewhere with a systematic spirit one would anticipate his early career should have produced. For some time a large sign appeared on his property which stated 'A view for sale with 130 acres' as if he were ordering 'Boots for the use of'. He asked me to design and construct his new house. When he visited the site he talked in quiet reverence about the surrounding ironbarks which in many places had suffered a year earlier from a bad bushfire. Most of the other trees on the hill had gone altogether, but fire had only made the remaining trunks of the iron barks blacker and the leaf regrowth more abundant. 'Alistair', he said, 'I want you to design me a true house'. Daniel was ahead of his time and was one of the earliest to understand what was meant by that remark.
The building was located near the top of the hill looking east, and for several years until the bush regenerated and obscured it, it looked like an. enormous eagle poised immediately prior to taking wing. Its roof was shaped like an elongated diamond with the ridge running the shorter way and the 'wings' sloped out and down. They were supported on their extremities by large red gum posts leaning at an angle of about twenty degrees from the vertical. The interior was full of natural and in some ways eccentric elements that made it true and appropriate indeed. After it reached completion I called out on several occasions to enjoy the peerless landscape. It was cold weather and Dan had gleaned the dry twigs from the whole of his land and had tied them into faggot-like bundles. When I arrived, he would light the fire with one of these and, within ten minutes, the blaze would spread a pink effulgence over the polished slate flagged floor, the walls and everywhere else in the room to create an aura of unforgettable mystique.
I have never understood why Sydney people, who appear so much more cosmopolitan and casual, have never taken to the medium which is the heart of the creative building scene. Is it that no good thing can come out of Melbourne, or that underneath it all they are really more conservative when it comes to the point? It is always curious comparing these two great twin urban settlements, possibly in dimensional terms the premier pair of urban living places in the world.
I was discussing this matter with George Clarke, the strategic planner for Sydney, and we agreed it was all in the climate. 'Will the prospect of some six or seven new urban city developments, the first of which has just begun, be based on climate and people also? Or will they be ruled by planners' pencils getting to work too soon to emphasise high technology and commerce before creative living? We have our Canberra. It's got something. However, one of those rather over-planned cities is enough for any country. Let's have some laughter in the next one.
It was really the building of our own house that re-established my financial stability and opportunity. The acceptance of mud as a legitimate material in the eyes of the economic world, shed light over all that we did from that time on. The series of houses and landscapes that flowed out of our office required the employment of architectural students as well as my old confederate, Peter Glass, an artist-cum-designer, draughtsman and landscape architect, who had shared the burden of the turbulent years.
There was always a fair amount of publicity about our work. Right from the beginning I was generally referred to by the term 'architect'. It was not at my devising nor desire, but it always aroused the wrath of that group of people whose business it is to protect and perpetuate a professional heirarchical structure. They would write to the offending publication, and also to me, advising that the word 'architect' could only be used by those who had received a piece of paper from universities stating that the holder was qualified to practise as an architect. I'm not against education or degrees, but I am perplexed that architects need this sort of protection. Is it not the quality of the body of the work that makes the distinction? Has our society lost its visual and cultural discretion to such an extent that it can only believe in the letter of the law which kills, and not in the spirit which gives life? We 'strain at the gnat and swallow the camel'. It took a lot of self-control not to write back to the Architects' Registration Board and say that I too shared their horror of being called an architect.
These were the days when there seemed no viable alternative to the corporate state. The motor vehicle was paramount and public transport neglected. Freeways were the answer, and Australia with its natural environment, the rightful preserve of any form of exploitation. Pollution and Ecology were not yet public words. It was still considered important for Australia to 'populate or perish', and the struggle to preserve any natural landscape in or out of an Australian city an 'un-Australian activity'. The gross national product must go on. The political climate was profit making and the inference was if some got very rich, we should all feel better for it.
There was no need to put up with local films and plays, or any other local art forms. Being rich, we could have the hest. And the best could not reasonably be expected to be found in a country that was literally being disembowelled in the cause of high technology. It was better to import foreign culture and export natural resources. The Premier of Victoria of that time said 'he wanted Victoria to become the quarry of the world'.
When yet another conservative government was returned in the 1966 national elections with an increased majority, the most ardent environmentalist could not be blamed if he gave up hope. It was during this season of specialisation that there were stirrings to set up an Institute of Landscape Architecture. Preliminary talks had been going on for some years but at the Australian Planning Conference in 1966 it eventually became a reality. There was the usual struggle to get into it and secure professional status. The whole structure and being of the Institute revolved around academic qualifications.
Two or three weeks before the Institute was to be launched a letter was circulated setting out a list of proposed foundation members. It was noticeable that the most experienced were excluded in favour of those who had gained the academic qualifications in other countries, plus a brace of assorted professors from various disciplines to give it an official flavour.
I persuaded landscapers who had been browbeaten by the heirarchy to attend the Conference. They included men like Bruce McKenzie, who is now Australia's most successful professional landscape architect. By a narrow margin, it was decided at this crucial meeting to form the Institute, but to give those who believed they had ability the opportunity to submit evidence of their work so that they might form part of the original corporate membership. This was how Gordon Ford, Ellis Stones, Peter Glass and I became members. This qualification is the only one I have ever had or am ever likely to have. I don't use it, except that it does open occasional doors that would otherwise remain closed.
If there is going to be any sanity in future education, it revolves more around ability than academic qualifications. Information learning is necessary but it rarely produces true creativity of itself. In the end time is the only real measure of quality.
Men like Nervi, the Italian genius of concrete design and construction, prove this. Some of his buildings cannot be computed technically and he has to build models to evidence that they will stand up. He is the world president of the instinctive inventors association! Our need is a return to the relationship between daily learning and instinctive learning so that once more the spirit may stimulate the technicalities.
A major problem that springs from the exact specifying of landscape work, in a city like Canberra, is that it leads to eclecticism or the Canberra-isation of society. It becomes a matter of commissions and privileges and an ever-widening division between design and reality. It is the cosmetics of the international building scene instead of the re-creation of the Australian environment which should be its real test. Management turns into manicuring.
A change of attitude began to occur by slow degrees in Canberra as the planners felt the resistance of the community to the over-simplified answers they had offered for so long.
In 1975 a series of undergraduate courses were started and the applicants needed the highest standards in mathematics and physics to get a guernsey. This pre-requisite alone could exclude at least fifty per cent of the instinctive planners. Prior to that time the only qualifications that could be gained were through parttime courses, and that only to graduate members of other disciplines. This caused a proliferation of paper tigers to fill the rapidly increasing vacancies that were occurring.
When the Labor Government was returned to office after 23 years, everyone had the highest hopes. It was quite exciting when Moss Cass, who had been named Minister for the Environment, walked into my office a day or two after he had been appointed, to discuss an extension to his house which we had developed and opened up to make more environmental a few years before. 'It will be necessary for me to have a private office now', he said. As we discussed matters generally, 1 was stimulated to find his thoughts in the right direction. He hoped that a substantial part of the GNP could, in the future, be exploited to restore some of the real damage it had done to the environment. There is no country in the world with more natural landscape than Australia, and no other country that has destroyed so much so quickly.
For many years the Australian public had accepted with little opposition any proposal for development put forward at parliamentary level. The first organised rebellion occurred in 1965 when the Victorian Premier decided that there should be a restaurant of international standing on one of the islands in Melbourne's Botanic Gardens.
These gardens, designed by Guilfoyle, combine a botanic and a pleasure garden rated as one of the six best gardens in the world. Guilfoyle was a creative genius of the highest order, The islands in the lake are the essence of his creative spirit. The Premier had the power to perpetrate this aesthetic and social desecration, but in the end he lost because of public outcry, and had to compensate the proposed lessee who had already purchased all the paraphernalia for the building. His most ardent party supporters broke all the rules and picketed the gardens. Picketing and demonstrations had, till that time, been the prerogative of what they would have called 'the lower class'. It was odd to see Melbourne's social elite standing on patrol. The native birds that inhabited the ponds and the lakes had managed perfectly well without the fences and the night lighting which the restaurant would have entailed. To this day the gardens still close graciously at sunset.
An even more significant battle was the Little Desert controversy. This was a scheme to cut up some hundred square miles of unbroken and mysterious bushland near the South Australian border. Developers called it scrub and rubbish. The Cabinet decision was finally reversed and the matter was shelved, and the Minister himself was unseated at the next general election.
In the meantime, a large developer had got control of about half a square mile of land fronting the Yarra River at Templestowe. The stream and its environs are the one green wedge survival landscape in the metropolis of Melbourne. Appeals were fought for years. Eventually the developer was granted a very modified permit and the matter seemed to end in a messy truce. Out of the blue the developer offered it back to the Government at a low price in an election year, which resulted in it being bought for a Metropolitan Park. It is in this way, and only in this way, that the onslaught has been held.
In recent years there have been two important planning schemes submitted for Victoria. The first is the M.M.B.W. proposals for the planning of greater Melbourne, an area in excess of 1900 square miles. The other is the development of Westernport as a vast industrial complex. Both of these projects were conceived in the 19608 climate of gross national productivity worship. It was before conservation had reached its present significance. They were both oriented towards the international capital inflow and the exploitation of real estate by the few against the many.
Both Melbourne and Sydney's population were rising towards 3,000,000, and the effect of land values was already compressing the ordinary person into an even more conforming society. There was a credit squeeze imposed in 1974. The developers who had been making one killing after another were often caught short because they had borrowed and re-invested in further killings which did not eventuate.
The problem of rapidly inflating land prices keeps spelling out that the major Australian cities are too large, and that their continued growth reduces the quality of life. The lessons taught by Tokyo, New York and other great cities, with their crime rate and pollution content, should be warning us to limit their size. We have a land that is capable of real decentralisation. This proposal has been shelved for a generation. It is only the recent coming to power of the Labor government that offered a possibility of a new beginning.
The simplest answer for sanity in land development would involve the principles of Betterment and Compensation. Betterment is in essence a taxation at the source of increase of land values due to intensification of land use through planning ordinances. When a Town Plan is brought into being land is coloured different shades to designate zoned uses and controls. How unfair it is when an owner on one side of a road finds his values quadrupled without any effort at all on his own behalf. Betterment would dissolve part or all of this increase as the land is sold and such betterment funds would be used to compensate and purchase land whose use is required to remain unchanged. At its least effective, it is a control that ameliorate,s a completely unjust position. At its best it could control all undeveloped land values for all time.
I did a rather unacademic, part-time course in town planning early in the fifties at Melbourne University, under Neil Abercrombie, the son of Patrick of Greater London fame. The whole context seemed pretty casual. Nobody questioned the efficacy of development, and the population crisis was in reverse in Australia. It was more, not less, of everything, and the quantity rather than the quality. It Was clear, even in those far-off days, that the notion of technical town planning would never succeed. The end result could not help being worse than the beginning.
One of our exercises was to interview the residents of Beaumaris concerning the future of their district. Beaumaris was a beautiful ti-treed landscape along the shores of Port Phillip Bay, which was about to become a fashionable bayside development. I remembered it from my boyhood. I would ride my bike down there on excursions. I used to have conversations with a certain Donald McDonald, a nature writer for the daily papers, on the wonders of the universe when we met in the natural parkland. The original inhabitants, of course, did not want it to develop. They loved the sandy tracks that wound down to the beach. They weren't exactly fascinated with the idea of a civic formality that was about to take over. It is just another example of the hunger ordinary folk have for natural beauty of creation which most physical town planners seem so ready to sacrifice for theoretical planning.
In 1963 George Clarke of Urban Systems asked me to help in the landscaping of a brief he had to plan a neighbourhood unit in the Woden Valley area of Canberra. It didn't take long to discover that it was 'the Man from Snowy River country' and that the outcrops of stone and the erstwhile savannah landscapes had once been much more densely timbered and exciting. We produced our plan in which I offered an alternative system of private commons to the residential areas, instead of the standard circumlocutory roads that were the current fashion. In the end, the National Capital Development Committee, who deliberated on the proposals, accepted it in toto, except for these commons which they said required too much upkeep. Canberra is burdened by upkeep costs, and here was one place where the natural environment could restore itself without any cost to anyone. Its basic concept was no upkeep at all. We had made the mistake of being ten years ahead of our time.
Commissions are often composed of people who play it safe, pushing the final decisions around the table from one to the other until the scheme becomes an emasculated mess of planned non-planning with little hope or character. It can become more important to correctly place the street lamps and perpetuate eternal bitumen roads and concrete gutters than to express surprise, wonder, originality and personality in the landscape and the community.
Despite all this, Canberra is still probably the best man-made city that has ever occurred. Yet it is a city that most of its inhabitants don't like living in. If they can afford it, they clear out of it at weekends. There is a high delinquency rate amongst teenagers and a high suicide rate amongst adults. It is reported that one in eighteen has some mental ailment. It can't all be due to working in the Public Service!
The final key to a city of excitement and experience is found in the efforts of Sydney and Melbourne to overcome standard town planning methods. Sydney's Paddington restored itself and got rid of its freeway threat. Melbourne's Carlton is renewing itself beyond the capacity of the Housing Commission to stop it. The old Sydney that was involved with the Circular Quay as its centre that used to be seen along George Street, has disappeared with the post-war expressway and the elevated railways. Since then, many attempts have been made to establish it as a place of environment for people to enjoy its harbour and its bright colour and light. This has succeed,ed in closing Martin Place. Except for this, it is only the harbour itself which is indestructible. It still elates and inspires us at it did of old. The houses still standing in Balmain have suddenly achieved a new status. Many are bordering on structural instability but they are all being restored and rising rapidly in value.
It was while we were on the Canberra project that I went to Sydney to confer with George. I wandered down to the Quay at lunchtime and watched the smallest, most un-Sydney-like ferry pull into the adjacent wharf. It so reminded me of my naval experiences that I jumped aboard at once. A couple of minutes later we were away and passing under the Harbour Bridge, and sailing past the Rocks set in their Georgian serenity looking over the water. Behind them beckoned the tall stone tower of the observatory. The container wharves had not been built at that time.
Next came the wharves and the unloading activities, half of which were taking place on tenders on the seaward side, and only half to the wharf, the certain sign of a maritime city. Further on, the sandstone walls that formed the boundaries of the houses were covered with barnacles at the high tide level. There were openings in these walls that must have been made for berthing small boats that would have plied around the harbour in an earlier age.
We called at little jetties for thirty-second pickups. They too were quaint reminders of the pre-car society. They had little wooden waiting rooms and were named after the streets that entered onto them.
Balmain is full of nostalgia and longing and early history which is the stuff of a true city. I returned to base in about thirty minutes and in that period I had discovered an excitement and experience that has never left me. The ferry fare was twenty cents.
The post-war society has laid over this scene buildings whose sheer weight of numbers and size are continually creating vertical and horizontal planes that cannot be inhabited by people at all, but are exclusively for traffic and commerce. Nuance and magic, mystery and nostalgia find no abiding place in them. Noone wanted to lose the human qualities in cities, but in the end it seemed always to happen because of planning for profit.
As one becomes affluent in the profession, it is possible to find a thousand reasons why things should be changed and re-planned for the future. In our heart of hearts we would have to admit it is because we have preferred wealth and acclaim, to truth. Any system which allows unbridled speculation to transcend the quality of life of big cities must lead to their decline.
The answer to Melbourne as a totality of enduring quality lies in the enhancing of the good open spaces that occur at so many points within it. It is built on easy, undulating land. It has not the physical limitations of Sydney which, at the same time, make that city so dramatic and unique, varied and intimate. Melbourne has an uneventful topography but its road systems are wide and generally good for traffic. The inner areas are a grid system laid over radial fingers formed by the creeks, rivers and gentle valleys that flow into Hobson's Bay. It may not have had Adelaide's Colonel Light, but it did develop a beautiful system of gardens around its inner centre. The Flagstaff, Exhibition, Fitzroy, Alexandra and Botanic Gardens are fine 19th century planning. Up till much later, there were squares and terraces, notably St. Vincent Place in South Melbourne, Albert and Fawkner Parks and a host of other quiet landscapes that interpolated into a gracious urban living pattern that was made for people.
In many ways, it was the post-war ring of 'development that encircled Heidelberg, Doncaster, Ringwood, Waverley and the like, that seriously damaged the Melbourne plan. They made it too big and forced it into a conforming scheme lacking human variety and surprise. It became the biggest suburb in the world.
What is required is sufficient vision to control and to clear certain areas which have denigrated close to the centre, and at selected points, all around the compass and re-establish these places with indigenous landscape character. It would also require the great majority of residents to plant likewise. There would be .some expensive land purchases, but it would save a dying city. More open space today in the planning of tomorrow. Melbourne has probably a greater possibility than any contemporary city to employ the'Je techniques and, if it did so properly, it could become an important city of the next century, because the plan would be firstly in the hands of the ordinary people who would do the planting themselves.
The City of Melbourne had more than five million square feet of unoccupied office space in 1975. Developers stand by quietly, praying for an increased population in the central business district, but each month makes this less likely. It could rebound on its perpetrators. The vehement dissent of Carlton, a 19th century district immediately north of the central business district, to the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works' proposals for cutting it to pieces by freeways, indicates the new strength that is in the hands of a united community.
If the cities must continue to grow, the proposal of a metro town system along the south-eastern corridor out of Melbourne would appear to be a much better principle, than to have corridors going out in all directions, as the present plan proposes. Existing cities could then remain relatively stable and if the developmental band was not more than four miles wide, it would be possible never to be more than two miles from natural environment. It would also allow a fast public transport system along the centre of the corridor. Health and wellbeing would be provided to the whole community of existing Melbourne if a vast replanting of native plants were undertaken in every garden, street, park and civic centre, by laying an environmental web over the whole town. Five years ago, it was impossible to conceive of such an idea, but there is a new climate towards the environment in an ever-increasing number of people, especially the young. This could make it a possibility.
An oil and power shortage that started with the second Israeli war came in with a bang instead of a whimper and populations have tended to leave cities and return to the country. Two factors which are sacrosanct to physical planning are first, a rapidly increasing population and second, belief that big cities would continue to grow and denude all other areas.
During the last twelve months Victoria has come surprisingly close to a zero population growth and for the first time for many years the drift from the country has been entirely halted. If the trend continues, the population of Melbourne will be about 3 million instead of the forecast 4.6 million by the year 2000. It was gullible to assume that an upward trend once established would continue indefinitely.
The violence of the western suburbs is now spreading right across Melbourne.
As Jane Jacobs stated in her book The Life and Death of Great American Cities, "When fear stalks the streets a city begins to die". Fear is now stalking much of Sydney and Melbourne, and they are beginning to erode. Their hope lies in a more static population, as many people are thinking very deeply about an alternative life style in country towns or on small farms. Among the younger generation, there is a real movement in this direction. Different types of community living are taking place in areas like Nimben in New South Wales and the gold towns in Victoria. It may well be that this contributing factor will react quicker than many believe possible. There could be a downturn in the Gross National Product on a global scale which would be difficult for the population in the short term, but survivalistic in the long view.
A new breed of planners would be required, a group who are capable of conveying ideas and proposals in language physical, oral and written to describe such proposals in a way that ordinary men may understand. They will have to correctly evaluate the limitations of human patience and encourage human faith in their proposals.
To assume that only a certain percentage of the community is interested in planning is a convenient method of evading the fact that planners do not transmit the inner intentions of plans because they are working through the systems of vested interests rather than individuals.
Why should a town planner be given a qualification until he proves he haS a compassion for total society with its sufferings, shortcomings and desires? Should he not be an individual touched with their feelings, if he is going to find answers that are true, answers that develop identity, community, mystery, magic, wonder, longing and nostalgia?
The second enemy of real town planning is the City Councillor-Alderman type of mind. The fact that they are not elected by an adult franchise, hobbles them from the outset. So does the method of finance that enables their actions. I would like to see planning at a civic level, equally balanced between a group of men for stability, an equal group of women for the family, and an equal group of young people for the future. If their combined ideas were fed into planning, there would be a reaction to the present taxi-driver psychology that haunts suburban Melbourne - the type of thinking that refuses to get involved in its community.
The new society in a surviving Australia will be much nearer to the original pioneer-living than the one we have today. If you scratch an Australian, you will find a pioneer. There was a spatial relationship in the early days between man and nature that needs restoring. Towns are not only a matter of landscape, buildings, industry, economic and social integration. They are also the corporate heart of the nation. Paris, London and New York could not be transferred from one country to another. They are the spirit of those countries. Canberra, however, is not the heart of Australia. It is the work of the National Capital Development Commission. It has taken Griffin's landscape plan for Canberra and handled it competently because of his lake system. But they are still planting eucalypts as orchards as they once planted pines and cedars. Why do the new suburban houses find themselves in seas of paling fences where there is liberty of land available? People like privacy, to be sure, but not when it constitutes a negation to life. The standardisation of the ticky-tacky house design is soul-destroying and the city will find it doubly hard to grow up if these conforming standards continue to apply. Is this the sort of Australia that anyone really believes in except as a computer system for industry and economics?
The architectural critic, J. M. Richards, speaks of the difference between New York and Los Angeles. 'To fly over them', he said, 'New York looks tremendous and exciting and Los Angeles a smoggy mess. But to drive through them at ground level, one finds New York dirty and forbidding, while the by-ways and sprawling suburbs of Los Angeles are full of subtle areas and rich in the quality of living'. Melbourne has similar density to Los Angeles but it has not yet reached the intensity of Los Angeles' freeway pollution problems. It is to be hoped that we will wisely reject in principle not only the inner freeways, but the outer ones as well. Freeways are for the country and not for the city. What if there is some frustration on the roads? Freeways won't cure it. The increasing fuel shortage may force us back to build an efficient public transport system.
There is a gradual awakening in the Australian mind that our indigenous landscape is not monotonous, but varied and more powerful than any other. The movement began twenty years ago in suburban gardens. It is now a movement in the total landscape. The majority of the planting in Australian gardens is now Australian species. We were in the midst of the Japanese act of mossy boulders, gravel, little waters and smaller bonsai, when it all started.
It caused us to take another look at the great angophoras growing miraculously on sandstone outcrops, with their elephant-trunk roots finding soil up to thirty feet away. We rediscovered the heat haze and the dust in the inland river systems, lined with immutable redgums.
Before the first Great War in 1914, Burley Griffin, in far away America, had seen something of this in his original Canberra design with its lakes and hills. When he came to live at Heidelberg in the Yarra Valley, next door to the place the Impressionist painters made famous with their 'Nine by Five' exhibition, it developed into a way of life. He would sit under those primordial redgums meditating on the relationship between the eternal past and the imminent future.
The architectural results took another thirty years to infiltrate into the best universities. In the meantime, he was dead and safely buried and it was time to applaud him because he could not disturb us any longer.
As I also lived in that Heidelberg Valley and had wandered around the prophetic subdivisions he had laid out in the twenties, I had a long start on most planners on environmental opportunities. I found his influence immediate and irreversible. It was a case of 'Before and After'. I learned to consider landscape in terms of totalities. It wasn't a matter of house and land, or suburb and country, but of total time and total space, the inner spring of all things human and eternal.
I discovered a similar quality in Francis Greenway and on looking into his history, found how close he was to the great tradition of the informal landscapers of the Eighteenth Century in England. Landscape is in essence, a poetic vision of the visible creation. It may be described but not defined, because it is a work which releases the imagination and fires our spirits. It .speaks of timeless power, perfect form and the rise, fall and continual restoration of life. Australia is the one landscape that has not lost its eternal character.
The power of the axe in this country during the 19th century was of such dimension that it can really only be comprehended when one flies over the land at about two thousand feet. The remaining squares of bushland stand in lonely grandeur among the enormous treeless paddocks. It is a true saying that greed shows itself more clearly in the landscape than on the face of a man. I am old enough to have been on intimate terms with people whose parents actually pioneered Gippsland. They told me how the whole south eastern part of Victoria is like a vast fairyland, glimpses of which can now only be seen in places like the Tara Valley.
The first settlers had to hack down the enormous mountain ash trees one by one, month by month. In the Dandenong Ranges, during the 1890s depression, settlers were granted ten acre blocks in the Menzies Creek area where some of the tallest trees known to mankind existed. One such was measured on the ground as being over 360 feet. Such was the struggle to clear in these primitive times that it would take six months to open up half an acre. In the meantime the battlers lived on dripping and potatoes. Some of those who stuck it out hadn't been able to make up the Â£10 necessary to purchase their ten acre blocks twenty years later.
The landscape planner looks at this tragic panorama of life with a foreboding heart. He does not ask that the land remain unchanged. World population makes this impossible. He looks for a change in the theory that the countryside belongs to anyone in a particular or in an irrevocable way. He realises that its correct development will enable us to survive indefinitely.
My landscape associate, Peter Glass, had recently demonstrated this when commissioned to advise a young Gippsland businessman as to how he. should treat a hundred acre farm he had purchased just outside Bairnsdale. It became available because a prolonged drought had brought it to a wasteland condition. Peter advised him it would be necessary to remove all the buildings, irrigate the land and start from scratch if he intended to do a proper job. The original lands-:ape had been so abused that nothing worthwhile any longer existed and nothing could prosper unless there was a rejuvenation of the whole area.
He has designed a proposal that not only will turn the ravaged landscape into a thing of great beauty but will also make the farm self-supporting.
Landscaping is therefore the art, science and philosophy of retaining the sense of the infinite in all levels of the environment - ocean and island, valley and hill, water and bush. Its aim is to express the mystery, wonder and awe of eternity in terms of human survival. It is the stuff of painters and poets and practical men, in city and country and suburb.12