Eltham is one of the 'green wedge' areas that provide relatively undeveloped, accessible environments within the Melbourne suburban region. These green wedge areas are under constant pressure from developments such as road and freeway expansions, but Eltham has managed to retain many tree-lined streets and leafy reserves. However, the character of the suburb is changing rapidly, with increased road traffic and higher-density housing becoming more common.
Eltham's tourist attractions include the artists colony Montsalvat and the Diamond Valley Railway, the largest ridable miniature railway in Australia.
Eltham developed around what is now Main Road from the 1840s. A reserve for a village at the junction of the Diamond Creek and Yarra River is shown on maps around 1848. By 1851 the first Crown allotments were being subdivided and sold, along with a private subdivision developed by T. M. Holloway, known as Little Eltham. At this time, the town's centre was located around the intersection of Pitt Street and Main Road.
Eltham Post Office opened on 1 February 1854.
The arrival of the railway line in 1902 drew business further north along Main Road to the current town centre.
Eltham is famous for the Montsalvat artist community, which built a rustic set of medieval-style buildings in the 1930s.
Aside from the Montsalvat artist community, Eltham has also been home to artists such as Walter Withers and Neil Douglas, as well as to writers such as Alan Marshall and Mervyn Skipper.
Montsalvat was the largest and most accessible. Jorgie (Justus Jorgensen) welcomed newcomers as they could help construct his ever expanding building collection or help finance it. It was a vibrant and exciting place to be.
A number of those initially attracted to Montsalvat decided to move there and build a house for themselves, often from mud brick. This wider community tended to centre around the Eltham pub.
In those days the pub was owned by Joe Blow and his wife. Joe was once famously called Humpty Dumpty by a thirsty patron - he had an oval, hairless head. They ruthlessy exploited the monopoly position conferred on them by Victoria's licensong laws while profiting from the strictures of 6 o'clock closing.
But, that's where everyone met.
The hostility of the outside world the village feel of Eltham and its ability to pull like minded people bred a strong sense of community. It was of course incestious and the incessant parties and consumption of generous amounts of beer tended to cause friction and marital problems but for all that it was warm welcoming environment for creative people.
Alistair Knox moved to Eltham in 1950. He had spent some time at Montsalvat and met other Elthamites at city watering holes and at Matcham Skipper's studio behind the Russell St Police Station.
These contacts drew him to this semi-rural setting. He was also attracted by the lax implementation of building regulations and the ability to build in mud brick - essential in this time of building material shortage.