Eltham, a deceptively somnolent, semi-rural community 16 miles from Melbourne, today sees the flowering of an architectural ideal that is exerting a profound influence on Australian domestic architecture.
It is the maturing of a 20-year endeavour by a man who, holding no architectural degree or diploma (he has had no formal training in the art) is yet widely, if tacitly, acknowledged in the profession to be Australia's leading exponent of environmental design and building.
The man is Alistair Knox. His emergence as a force in Australian architecture comes at a time when many of the country's leading designer, are reaching towards a genuinely Australian character in their houses.
What sets Alistair Knox in the forefront of the movement is the fact that he started so much earlier than the others and - through necessity - gained wide practical experience by building the houses he designed. He has now produced some 400 houses and is the only leading designer to have thoroughly mastered the technique of building with adobe blocks.
But, above all, he has had the incalculable advantage of living and working in the stimulating, artistic climate of Eltham, rubbing shoulder daily with some of this country's greatest artists, sculptors, potters, writers an( musicians.
He has been able, too to draw upon the services of outstanding landscape artists, such as Ellis Stones, Gordon Ford, and Peter Glass, in producing whole communities of houses that seem to grow naturally from the soil in a still unspoiled bushland setting.
Lately, Mr Knox has formed a construction company with Mr Peter Hellemons, and in this he has been able to devote himself mainly to the role of designer.
An uncompromising, highly articulate and somewhat visionary person, Alistair Knox talks with great sincerity and persuasiveness of the type of architecture he believes best expresses the spirit and temperament of Australia and its people.
His basic philosophy is simple: All great architecture is timeless. Australia is a timeless land. What more natural than that the best Australian architecture will be timeless?
If this involves a rejection of many of the accepted modern ideas in architecture, Alistair Knox is unrepentant and unyielding.
Modem "international" architecture, of the type now most commonly seen in Australian cities and suburbs, he regards as "the triumph of technicality over feeling," owing more to engineering than to architectural principles.
His own house, recently completed in Mt Pleasant Rd., Eltham, is one that appeals to the instinct as much as to the intellect.
The sophisticated suburban house-watcher may seek parallels and inspirations for it in the work of other architects in other lands. But such a quest would be fruitless and invalid.
It is fairer, simpler and more downright satisfying to succumb to the moods that this house induces and to accept it for what it is ... an honest structure, designed for its environment and for the character and way of life of the people who live in it, and built of honest earthy materials, selected and used with meticulous regard for harmony in scale, tone and texture.
It is probably the most distinctively Australian house yet built in Australia.
It expresses in earth blocks, bricks, slate and timber all that Alistair Knox knows and feels about the land and its people.
The land he sees as "timeless ... survival conscious ... at once immense and fragile ... a contrast of strong sunshine and dark shadow ... bushland that has a mystery, that doesn't occur in any other forest.
The true Australians he sees as "men with leathery laces and faraway eyes ... outward looking ... equally survival-conscious as the land", In them he sees the action of the environment on their lives and characters - and it is the quality of their reaction, he says, that produces the character of the environmental building he now practises.
Externally, the Knox house, with its brick and timber panels and robust adobe piers repeating the strong verticals of the gum trees, conveys the designer's image of the Australian landscape as a "horizontal country with vertical rhythms."
In the rhythmical placing of his piers, Mr Knox deliberately set out to simulate Nature's own bushland patterns. Just as the bush has no finality - there's always the suggestion of new experiences and vistas around every corner - so the piers dissolve the definition of boundary ("the final art in landscape - or house-design") and extend an invitation to enter.
A veranda - in this case represented principally by a pergola of off-sawn timber - stretches right around the house, typifying the Australian's outward-looking nature. The veranda, says Mr Knox, is this country's greatest contribution to architecture, and certainly here it gives a wonderful sense of being and having and belonging to be able to walk right around the house in its shade.
Inside, the house exercises the observer's powers of imagination to the full.
A low-ceilinged, slate-floored entrance lobby, flanked by two small rooms, opens out with startling impact into a classically-proportioned central "courtyard". The immediate effect is of suddenly coming upon a forest clearing, the cool blues, greys and greens of the slate floor merging and harmonising perfectly with the warmer tones of the adobe walls, the bricks of the immense fireplaces and the strong ceiling timbers.
There's a fascinating contrast, too, as of a baronial hall alongside the humble cottage atmosphere of the two small rooms at the entrance.
Again there's the pervasive suggestion of the limitless bush as the rest of the house opens out from this huge (36ft. by 24ft.) room in a series of horizontal and vertical planes that overlap and fold into each other, still with that air of mystery and surprise hiding behind a corner.
Mr Knox believes a house must have a sense of experience and not be merely a technical tour de force; it's essentially for people to live in, not just a status symbol.
Freed from convention and the need to keep up with the Joneses, then, his own house unapologetically shows different qualities of workmanship, uses voids to show wall thickness, undressed panels to suggest split tree-trunks and adzed tables and benches to express the hewn character of timber.
But probably the most powerful influence underlying the appeal to the emotions that this house makes is its sure sense of proportion.
"Proportion is the essential ingredient of all timeless architecture," Mr Knox says. "Without it, no matter how good the finish, detail and material, a building is merely construction, not architecture."
To those who might say his home appears "unfinished," he would reply:
"Proportion in environmental building is that indefinable balance of masses and voids, which, when correctly related, give a sense of completeness".
And he'll offer a favourite quotation from Goya: "A painting, the effect of which is true, is finished."