Overland's future may be uncertain, but its past is clearer than ever

A new railway history book by John Wilson sheds light on the Adelaide to Melbourne express.

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The future of the Overland train service may be uncertain, but its past has never been clearer.

A book being launched this weekend tells the story of the Adelaide to Melbourne express in unrivalled detail.

The book author John Wilson set out to write two years ago was to be called The Overland: An Obituary.

But as a series of last-minute funding extensions from the Victorian government kept the service operating – at least until South Australia's borders closed on March 24 – he renamed it A Social History instead.

"It is about people, and how the Intercolonial Express connected the populations of Victoria and South Australia, and thus became a significant catalyst of Australian Federation," he said.

"It is about football, coffins, and potable water."

It was also about cross-border squabbling, he said: "the two colonies were at odds when the service began, to the extent that ... they could not agree to have a formal opening ceremony".

Like the train, its story passes through Murray Bridge – pictured in 1887, the year the Overland first ran – at points.

Included is the 1860s debate about whether a bridge should be built at Edwards Crossing or Wellington.

The former refreshment rooms at Murray Bridge Railway Station, where travellers took meals during a 25-minute stopover, are remembered fondly.

"One can linger over a meal at Murray Bridge and look back to it with regret," says the writer of a letter in The Argus, a Melbourne newspaper, in 1889.

"In after-years ... the memory of that pleasant half-hour by the waters of the Murray comes back like an unreal vision of paradise.

"Amongst wild duck and luscious Murray cod, with succulent yabbies and tempting fruit, flanked by moderate charges and plenty of time for a comfortable meal, the traveller feels truly that he is in the Elysium of refreshment rooms."

Also included is the story of the 1923 crash which destroyed the verandah which once faced the station's platform.

The rest of the 196-page book is filled with anecdotes, memories and railway minutiae.

It was to have been launched at the National Railway Museum on June 28, but current restrictions forced that plan to be cancelled.

Instead, ABC Adelaide presenter Deb Tribe will launch it over the airwaves during her Saturday morning program on 891AM.

Photos: State Library of South Australia (B-4599 and B-10191), Pat Wilson. Disclosure: Murray Bridge News received a copy of The Overland: A Social History from the author.