Local News
10.22.2021

Lest We Forget: A History Of The Great Ocean Road

Every year, millions of people make the journey along one of Australia’s most beautiful drives, the Great Ocean Road.

But while it’s renowned for its stunning scenery, the 89-year-old road is also the world’s largest war memorial.

Before the Great Ocean Road was built, a trip between Melbourne and the Otway coast was a massive undertaking. It involved catching a train to Winchelsea followed by a long cart ride on an incredibly rough track. Travel was often unsafe and problematic.

One man dreamt up a solution that was both practical and poignant.

An idea is born

Towards the end of World War I, the government began contemplating how to reintegrate and employ the hundreds of thousands of men who would soon be heading home.

William Calder, engineer and chair of Victoria’s Country Roads Board, found an answer. His plan was to employ returned servicemen to build a road along the state’s rugged southern coast. The idea to also dedicate the road to those who served in the war came soon after.

Pleased with Calder’s plan, Geelong mayor Howard Hitchcock formed the Great Ocean Road Trust in March 1918 and raised £81,000 to begin construction.

Work begins

Construction got underway in September 1919, with more than 3000 returned servicemen employed as labourers.

And labour they did. The men chipped away at the rockface using explosives, wheelbarrows, and pick and shovel. Progress was painfully slow, moving at just 3 kilometres per month. Several men died as a result of the perilous, back-breaking work. At night they returned to temporary digs dubbed Tent City, which moved as work on the road progressed.

In March 1922 the section from Eastern View to Lorne opened. Later that year, tolls were introduced – for both cars and horse-drawn carriages – to help pay for the remainder of the construction.

The Great Ocean Road was finally finished in November 1932 with the completion of the Lorne to Apollo Bay section. Sir William Irvine, Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, opened the road at a ceremony held in Lorne. The whole road was dedicated as a memorial to the soldiers of World War I and remains the largest war memorial in the world.

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The memorial arch

The memorial arch at Eastern View marks the start of the Great Ocean Road and has been the site of thousands of tourist photographs.

The first arch (it’s been replaced twice) was erected in 1939 to commemorate both those who’d built the road and William TB McCormack, who designed and oversaw its engineering and surveying.

To celebrate the road’s 75th anniversary in 2007, a bronze statue by Julie Squires was unveiled beside the arch. Titled “The Diggers”, the statue is set on a rock brought from Port Fairy and memorialises the men who worked on the road.

A series of plaques by Ross Bastiaan begins with a large plaque at the memorial arch featuring a map and brief history of the road. Other plaques in the series dot the length of the road.

The Great Ocean Road today

The heritage-listed Great Ocean Road connects communities along the Surf Coast and allows fast, easy access to Geelong and Melbourne.

The recent announcement of a $140 million government investment in upgrades to the road will ensure this historic stretch of bitumen can continue to service those residents, along with the almost 3 million tourists who visit every year.

The upgrade will also secure the future of a fitting memorial to those who built the Great Ocean Road, and those who served in World War I.

If you’re thinking of buying or selling on Victoria’s beautiful Surf Coast, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are happy to help.