The piece was written while Lilburn was a student at the Royal College of Music, and was based on something of a challenge from his professor, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Reportedly, Vaughan Williams had begun his teaching by asking Lilburn to write fugues and part-songs; one day, though, he asked, "Isn't it time you composed something?" Lilburn responded by producing the overture.
Lilburn later reported that his score greatly upset Sir George Dyson, to whom he brought it for piano reduction. Dyson found it to be a mess; he did, however, give it a read-through with the College orchestra.
The overture is dedicated to Robert Lilburn, the composer's father. It is meant to celebrate the family farm and estate upon which Lilburn was born. In writing it, the composer once wrote that he was "left with that lovely Mark Twain image of Jim and Huckleberry drifting on their barge down that great river, looking up at the stars and wondering 'whether they was made, or only just happened'"
The Drysdale Overture has been recorded twice by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra: first under Sir William Southgate and second under Kenneth Young. Drysdale Overture was first published in 2014 by Promethean Editions; this edition was edited by Robert Hoskins and Roderick Biss.
- Lilburn, Douglas. "Drysdale Overture". SOUNZ. Retrieved 1 July 2013.
- Lilburn, Douglas (2014). Robert Hoskins (ed.). Drysdale Overture. Wellington: Promethean Editions. ISBN 978-1-877564-48-2.
- http://www.douglaslilburn.org/recording_details.html?recording_id=3. Missing or empty