A History of the Construction of the Great Ocean Road

Today, the Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most famous and visited areas. With stunning beaches, amazing national parks, charming towns and an almost limitless number of activities to enjoy, it is easy to understand why Victoria’s Great Ocean Road is such a popular attraction, and why Great Ocean Road tours and Melbourne tours are a ‘must do’ for so many people who visit Australia.

Here we take a look at the history and construction of the Great Ocean Road, including why it was developed and the progress made to create the stretch of road that enables access to a number of Australia’s most incredible features.

History

The end of Word War 1 saw the first stages of planning for the Great Ocean Road. Prior to 1918, the south-west coast of Victoria was rugged and access to the area was only possible by sea or through a rough bush track. At the end of the First World War, William Calder, Chairman of the Country Roads Board, requested that money be allocated for returned soldiers to work on roads in this and other sparsely populated areas.

It was envisaged that what would become the Great Ocean Road would connect isolated coastal settlements, create a link that would serve the timber and tourist industries and be dedicated as a memorial.

The Great Ocean Road was originally titled the ‘South Coast Road’ and surveying began in 1918. Early in the development of the road it was recommended that the road travel from Barwon Heads, along the coast in a westerly direction around Cape Otway, ending close to Warrnambool.

Construction

September 10, 1919 marked the commencement of the construction of the road. An estimated 3000 returned servicemen fittingly built the road as a war memorial for fellow service men and women who had made the ultimate sacrifice in World War 1.

Construction of the road was laborious and slow by today’s standards; a survey team negotiated the dense wilderness at the rate of three kilometres per month. Explosives, pick and shovel, wheelbarrows and some small pieces of machinery were used in the construction process and work was often dangerous — several men died while working on this project.

In March 1922, the stretch of road from Eastern View to Lorne was completed and celebrations ensued. Later in 1922, tolls were charged to recover the costs of construction and the charge, which was paid at Eastern View, was two shillings per motor car or 10 shillings for a wagon pulled by more than two horses.

The road was completed in November 1932 when the distance between Lorne and Apollo Bay was opened and used. Sir William Irvine, Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, officially opened the road at a ceremony in Lorne and it was then that the Great Ocean Road was recognised as the largest war memorial in the world.

Early use

In the condition in which it was first completed, the Great Ocean Road could comfortably fit only a single vehicle at a time. Sheer cliffs are features of this road and so negotiation of these parts was dangerous, particularly as there were only a few areas in which drivers could pull over to create room for cars to pass in the opposite direction.

On October 2, 1936, the road became the responsibility of the Victorian State Government with its deed presented to the Victorian Premier. This coincided with tolls for use of the road being removed.

Later use of the Great Ocean Road

The Tourist Development Authority marked the Great Ocean Road as “…one of the world’s greatest scenic roads” in 1962 and many vehemently agree that this remains true. Sections of the road have been widened to make travelling on the road safer and more appropriate for increasing traffic together with efforts to maintain its character.

Natural elements

Given its location, the Great Ocean Road is at the mercy of natural elements and has been affected on several occasions. In 1960, storms almost washed away the section of road at Princetown and landslides caused stretches of road near Lorne to be closed in 1964 and 1971. As dense natural terrain is a feature of many parts of the road, bushfires caused sections of it to be closed in 1962 and 1964.

More recently, in January 2011, heavy rain resulted in the collapse of a section of road characterised by overhanging cliffs.

The Great Ocean Road is a national icon steeped in history and one of the world’s most beautiful tourist drives.

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