The Garden of the Wilderness

Author: Alistair Knox
Unpublished article

landscape Photo Alistair Knox

Three years spent with Royal Australian Navy in small ships in the wide waters during the Second World War generated in me a sense of eternity and restless wonder that I believed would never be assuaged. In 1948 I moved to Eltham, where the wonder of the bush provided a god-created mystery to replace the one I had lost from the sea.

I was experiencing the unique heritage available to every Australian - the distance, silence, colour and immutability of a eucalypt-scented landscape. It was a whole world apart from the magnificent man-evolved garden vistas of Europe and the pine-clad slopes and mighty rivers of North America. There 1s a conscious sense of survival that can be sensed and observed and which distinguishes the Australian landscape from all others.

An Australian garden should not, to my mind, be merely a well-ordered selection of native trees and plants arranged in careful masses and voids, so much as an overall segment of the natural environment which expresses the power of sunlight, water hunger and survival consciousness. It should remind us that we occupy this continent by permission and not by right.

Adam Lindsay Gordon's lament that the bush was full of 'bright scentless flowers and songless bright birds,' indicates how hard it is for even the most sensitive foreigner to comprehend it. D.H. Lawrence saw it correctly when he called it "the morning of the world." It is this quality of untouched creation that eludes many who are seeking to discover in it some sort of counterpart to the wonderful man-made landscapes of the northern hemisphere.

The Australian continent is the largest desert island in the world, set between the three great oceans, the Pacific, the Southern and the Indian. The flora over the whole land mass expresses an extraordinary unity of common birth that occurs nowhere else. At the same time there is a subtle variety that is breathtaking. England, the land of poetry and beauty, boasts over 1,600 varieties of flowers. Australia has more than 18,000.

When constructing landscape, I merely aim to replace what was originally there on a modified scale, so that the end result is a sun-bleached and primeval confusion which expresses the sense of red-gold colour and light that bewildered the continents discoverers and has been the source of inspiration of its artists ever since.

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