One of a number of literary/intellectual journals established during the early years of the Cold War and Australian Labor Party split (Southerly, 1939; Meanjin, 1940; the short-lived Angry Penguins, 1944; Quadrant and Westerly, 1956), Overland was established in Melbourne in 1954 by Stephen Murray-Smith (1922-88). Major literary figures welcomed its publication, anticipating a further enrichment of Australian cultural life. Established to publish poetry and short stories, articles and criticism by new and by established writers, it also included essays on contemporary Australian writers, film and later television. Much of the writing in Overland contests the view of the 1950s as an intellectual desert.
Overland's 1954 motto 'Temper Democratic, Bias Australian' neatly summarised its political and cultural stance, marking the high point of radical nationalism in Australia. When first published, it incorporated The Realist Writer, the journal of the Melbourne Realist Writers' Group, closely affiliated with the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). The early issues included articles by Frank Hardy, Judah Waten and Brian Fitzpatrick and Arthur Phillips' seminal essay on 'The Democratic Tradition' in Australian literature. Initially, women were less evident, although by 1961 Kylie Tennant and Nancy Cato were interstate editors. During his editorship (1954-88) Murray-Smith, who left the CPA in 1958, tried to attract a broad readership, but the journal remained identified with the left. Apart from redressing the gender imbalance among contributors, subsequent editors have followed Murray-Smith's lead. Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in 2004 in a climate of political correctness, Overland upheld its established philosophy by continuing to publish controversial literary and political comment.