The spirit of place is not only an atmosphere created by nature arranging the entry of Man upon the stage; it must contain something of Man himself. There must be communication between rock and pool and tottering fence that makes this place the centre of inspiration and the source of a drive to direct it.
The art of Man enhances the art of nature and brings to it the knowledge accumulated by a thousand, two thousand minds concerned with a search for beauty.
That ancient Australian who left the outline of his hand on the rock of his place, the seal of his contribution to the spirit of his place, was one of the first men to proclaim his debt to the Australian earth. This was the place from which I sprang he told the unborn Australians that followed him: here is the mark of my identity.
Alistair Knox in this delightful book of reminiscences, impressions and ideas, is so much a part of Eltham and has played so significant a role in creating the Eltham of today that his influence touches each hill and valley where his houses rest. When first he looked down on Eltham, Man's influence was of little significance. He must have wondered where was the mark of the hand that tied its beauty with an artist's comprehension of it. In the beginning there was no harmony between the land and the homes of those who lived there. They merged with it since they were built of the trees that grew from its soil but they were never an extension of its character.
Then Alistair, the artist Man, the architect, came and put the image of his hand upon Eltham's landscape. Soon homes of mud and brick and huge beams nestled unobtrusively amid a laughter and a leaping of black wattle children new-born from the earth after the ravages of fire. Reaching stringy barks held back the undisciplined bush, shadowed windows peered through the wild hair of Casuarinas, and the landscape and houses became one. There was no discord.
Eltham grew, so influenced by the vision of this man that to live in an Alistair Knox house of mud bricks and broad verandahs became an accolade. This book is a record of the changes that could be traced to his influence and gives us a picture of the natural beauty of the area he has done so much to preserve.
Behind the untouched beauty of Eltham's wild places where the spirit of place manifests itself in bird calls, drifts of wildflowers, mounds of soft, damp, green moss, beneath which Helmet Orchids flower in darkness, where Spider Orchids brush the legs of exploring children, his expressive houses became extensions of these influences, and Eltham became known for homes that grew from the earth rather than constructions built upon it.
This book is the history of the place you live in; your place; your responsibility, the place of your outlined hand. This is the history of its making.
13th August, 1979.