The Overland: What would happen if Graeme's only option disappeared

Melbourne-born Nhill residents Graeme and Melanie Ruse have a number of reasons for wanting the Overland to continue.
Melbourne-born Nhill residents Graeme and Melanie Ruse have a number of reasons for wanting the Overland to continue.

Though he is free of it, throat cancer continues to define Graeme Ruse's life.

Having had a full laryngectomy, meaning his voice box was removed, just over three years ago, the Nhill resident can not talk loudly.

Every three months, he heads to Melbourne's Alfred Hospital for checks to see if the cancer has returned. He also has chronic arthritis, haemophilia, speech pathology and physio appointments, meaning he needs to go down more often.

It is in this regard that the Overland train, due to be discontinued after Tuesday, has been critical, as his partner Melanie explained.

"For us, it's a major source of transport to get to and from (Melbourne)," she said. "Sometimes I can't go with him and find the Overland is the only way to make it easy for Graeme to get there and back,"

"When the midweek service was cut a few years ago, it meant you had to wait a few days before you could get back and so there were added expenses for accommodation. When we go down we try and combine appointments, but even if he clear of cancer after five years there will be an ongoing need to travel to Melbourne."

Melanie works at a medical practice in the town, and the couple have children James, aged nine, Charlotte, five, and Graeme's father Michael, 84, living at their property.

"We moved from Melbourne to Nhill just over 12 years ago, and prior to the cancer he was using the Overland too," she said. "We moved for a better lifestyle and transport we didn't feel was going to be an issue, but it's been our number one thing.

Mrs Ruse said her partner's arthritis meant he could not bend one of his legs. This meant bus travel was not a suitable alternative to the train.

"Getting up and down stairs is a major issue and obviously getting in and out of seats becomes a problem, and on buses air conditioning and that creates issues trying to keep his stoma clean," she said. "With the Overland, you can move around and can move the seats for more leg room, and obviously getting on and off is easier too."

Mrs Ruse said if the Overland did not return after June 30, she and her children would feel the effects along with Graeme.

"Graeme gets very fatigued driving long distances, because he had chemoradiation prior to the cancer operation," she said. "It will mean I will have to take time off work so we can share the driving down to Melbourne. We will also have to travel down as a family and pull our kids out of school for basically three days.

WIMMERA BUSINESSES ADAPTING: Morrow motor group

"Because we have young children you can't travel up and travel back home. or it means finding someone who can take him or he will have to suffer and try to get onto a bus, which is a lot of organising."

In April, the Victorian government pledged to financially support the Overland until June 30, having previously done the same in December 2019 and December 2018 after South Australia pulled out of a joint funding arrangement.

Private company Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions, which operates the twice-weekly Melbourne to Adelaide service, has suspended all its trips during the pandemic.

Plans for promotion blitz if service gets a lifeline

The Ruses have told their story following an online summit convened by Horsham mayor Mark Radford on June 19, which residents and councillors from both sides of the border attended.

Cr Radford said the meeting resolved to encourage people to write to their transport ministers if they had an interest in retaining the service.

"The second resolution was an agreement that if the service were to be retained, then we would set up a friends of the Overland support group to promote the service," she said.

"One of the things that came out very clearly on Friday was the under-promotion of the service, an the tourism opportunities untapped."

This story The Overland: What would happen if Graeme's only option disappeared first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.