Welcome to Overland 200.

The edition has been a long time in the making. To put this anniversary in perspective, Overland was launched in 1954. The journal has thus outlasted Robert Menzies, apartheid, the Soviet Union, White Australia, penal powers, Gough Whitlam, the Bulletin, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Communist Party of Australia and John Howard.

That’s the context for this expanded, celebratory issue, an edition that honours fifty-six years of struggle and an extraordinary collective contribution to Australian politics and letters. A rollcall of writers published in Overland since 1954 would make a thorough syllabus for a study of modern literature in this country; a compendium of Overland essays constitutes a social history of Australian progressive thought.

It has never been easy. The ‘little magazine’ is a peculiar animal. The lifecycle of the species generally follows a predictable pattern: birth (usually marked by the ritual issuing of manifestoes) and rapid growth, followed by financial crisis, paralysis and death, a cycle that typically unfolds within the span of six months or so.

Overland’s uncharacteristic survival is all the more remarkable given the inauspicious circumstances in which it was conceived. The Australia of 1954 was not, you might say, an environment conducive to literary experimentation of a leftish bent: the security agencies welcomed Overland 1 by adding a file on the journal to those they already kept on editor Stephen Murray-Smith, his associates and almost all the early contributors.

In his history of those years, former editor John McLaren identifies what he calls ‘the community of Overland’ and suggests that the journal provided the ‘location for a kind of continuing conversation between editors, writers and readers.’ It was that community that kept the journal on track, that pooled together to overcome manifold financial catastrophes and that encouraged new writers and applauded old ones; it is upon such continuing conversations that Overland still depends.

The loyalty that the journal has engendered relates, at least in part, to a second, less celebratory, list. Even after fifty years, Overland has not seen off war, racism, sexism or oppression. In many ways, the tasks of a progressive literary magazine have only become more urgent, both because of the gravity of the social problems we now face and because so many other oppositional voices have been stilled.

This edition goes to press in the midst of an election: an election in which the almost complete political unanimity between the major parties seems likely to be marred only by their determination to outdo each other in channelling chauvinism against the powerless and the dispossessed. If a progressive voice mattered in 1954, the year Australia ratified the UN Refugee Convention, it’s even more necessary in 2010, the year in which refugee bashing became bipartisan policy.

With edition 200 we pay tribute to Overland’s past with graphic novelist Bruce Mutard’s retelling of John Morrison’s ‘Nine O’Clock Finish’, a story from Overland 1. But we also look to the future, with progressive writers and thinkers explaining the biggest challenges facing the Left and their sources of optimism for the years ahead. The fiction comes from Karen Hitchcock, Christos Tsiolkas and Janette Turner Hospital; the poetry pays homage to literary collaboration in a long work collectively written by twenty poets under the auspices of Derek Motion. The essays feature some of Australia’s most provocative writers tackling an array of fraught questions, from Islamophobia to climate change, from feminism to Aboriginal rights.

We are very proud of edition 200. It is dedicated to all of Overland’s supporters: past, present and future.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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