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14 November 2020
The entire Lifestyle Wimmera Edition 6 is available online. READ IT HERE!
By Andrew Dowdell
The Overland train from Adelaide to Melbourne has been an integral part of life for communities and thousands of people since 1887 – but few have more of a connection to the historic rail line than Kaniva’s Stuart Hicks.
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Mr Hicks, 40, grew up with his father Wayne spending his working life driving trains, inspiring him to take up a position as a conductor on The Overland when he turned 18.
Over the past few years, Mr Hicks has been restoring and gathering historic items from The Overland, which feature in his growing museum at Kaniva, in the west Wimmera.
The museum, which won the imagination and financial support of Kaniva locals and fellow train enthusiasts, was slated to open in April.
But the COVID-19 crisis scuttled those hopes, leaving the bold and intensely personal project hanging in limbo.
“With the COVID crisis it has thrown everything into uncertainty, but my best hope is that we will be able to open the museum next year,” Mr Hicks said.
“People have donated money and I might be able to get a third railway carriage, but nobody really knows how long this situation will go on for.”
The train buff’s prized item is a 1919 wooden rail carriage, which he purchased in 2012 and has spent years restoring to its former glory.
He has also obtained another carriage dating back to 1951, as well as a rare headboard which marked the centenary of The Overland in 1987.
“Most of those headboards were just painted over after the centenary so I feel fortunate to have got hold of that one, it is a very unique piece of The Overland’s history,” he said.
“I also have glassware, linen, towels and coasters all from different periods and a bar from the 1960s.”
Mr Hicks said the Kaniva community and its tourism body were all keen to see the museum succeed, which they believed would provide a much-needed boost to the small town’s economy.
Last year, about 30 former conductors and Overland employees converged on Kaniva for a reunion, which Mr Hicks said he hoped could happen again when the COVID-19 crisis ended.
“That reunion brought back a lot of memories for them, some of them were current and former conductors who worked on The Overland,” he said.
In addition to paying tribute to the history of The Overland, Mr Hicks said he hoped his museum would rekindle interest for new commuters.
The journey, from the Keswick railway station in Adelaide to the heart of Melbourne, ran through the night when Mr Hicks first worked on The Overland.
While the journey took almost 13 hours, compared with just over an hour by plane or about 10 hours in a car, Mr Hicks said The Overland was a unique tourism experience.
“I actually preferred the night train to be honest, I think it’s a unique and different way to see the countryside,” he said.
“The more people who use the train, the more likely it is to be kept, and it is a lifeline for some of the people who live along the rail line,” he said.
“Once the train is gone it will probably never return, and that means there would be no railway passenger service to the Wimmera, where it’s been running since January 1887.”