The migration patterns of Overland are well-established in my household. Released from the mailbox and torn free of its plastic sheath, the journal begins life pristine on the breakfast table. Articles that provoke the strongest reactions are soon identified by a spattering of crumbs, oats and spit; evidence that talking about the writing has proved more urgent than the breakfaster swallowing their food. As we often eat at different times in the morning, each quarterly, sticky edition becomes its own encoded missive – I might note how Joe has turned down a corner on an article about animals, how Somaya has run a buttered finger under a line about digital-rights management, how Bird has dwelled so long on a poem that the spine, bent, causes the journal to fall open there. Mim reads the essays first, and I head straight for the stories. Marked up by coffee-cup stains and squashed blueberries, Overland eventually roams towards the back-room, where it may dwell for months, being picked over by guests and revisited by housemates. Sometimes it is propped up on the piano, as if you might play music from its pages. Finally, Overland is conveyed to rest with its peers – editions from years past, incompletely arranged – in the magazine stand in the bathroom. A copy might occasionally be found hanging off the edge of the bathtub, soaked plump and pulpy.
In this digital age it is too readily assumed that ‘thingness’ (paperiness, objectness) stands in the way of building a community of ideas. But we pass Overland around just as eagerly as forwarding a link or joining an electronic group. One of the advantages of the medium is that Overland is capable of retaining the trace of its readership, of underlining and question marks scribbled lightly in the margins. Which is to say, Overland is more than a journal, and probably also more than a community: it is one of the few devices through which we might imagine the world other than it is. And this is no ‘softly-lit’ imagination either – Overland doesn’t inveigle or offer wheedling impressions. What you’ll find between the covers is a kind of wildstyle, eyes-wide ratbag writing. One that takes seriously a heterodox engagement with social dynamics – be that feminism, environmentalism, human rights, capitalism or the state of creativity itself.
Overland is one of the last journals in this country with leasehold large enough to pen the creative nonfiction essay. Here some of my favourite Australian writers pursue their arguments at length, and even critics have space enough to stretch their legs. Graphic artists domesticate complex political events to personal narratives, and poets may work with forms unbounded. Initiatives such as the Judith Wright Poetry Prize and the Victoria University Short Story Prize (both administered by Overland) bring new voices into the debate – and Overland has always been a supporter of those speaking from the edges. But when the journal arrives what I first see is a patch of slower time; a chance to deliberate, to ruminate, to focus. Ultimately, what Overland provides the impetus to go deeply into a public sphere of literature, and to find your mind ablaze there.