Roads Of Australia Series - Great Ocean Road is the world’s most spectacular war memorial

Roadside memorials are common enough in Australia, but did you know that one of Australia’s most famous roads is a memorial in itself?

Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, which stretches for a spectacular 243 kilometres from Torquay to Allansford, was built by returned World War 1 soldiers as a permanent memorial to those who died in the conflict.

The idea for a road along the coast linking the remote coastal settlements to Geelong was raised as far back as the 1880s. Until then the only link to the outside world was by sea or a bone-jarring coach ride through the bush to the Winchelsea railway station.

But it wasn’t until the war was coming to an end that the idea really took root. William Calder, chairman of the Country Roads Board, laid the foundations when he presented the State War Council with a plan to employ ex-servicemen to build the “South Coast Road” from Barwon round the Cape Otway coast to Warrnambool.

Geelong mayor, Alderman Howard Hitchcock, took things a step further by forming the Great Ocean Road Trust, with a vision of employing returned soldiers on a road that would be a memorial to their fallen comrades.

Work commenced in 1919 on the first 29 km stretch between Lorne and Cape Patten. From the start it was an extraordinary engineering challenge met with nothing more than explosives, picks, shovels and horse-drawn carts as the men cut into steep cliffs. Torrential rain and rockslides blocking the road were a frequent problem.

Fatalities during the construction of Great Ocean Road

Having survived the horrors of the First World War, it’s a tragic irony that several returned soldiers died in the difficult and dangerous conditions building the world’s biggest memorial to their dead comrades.

Construction took 3000 men 13 years to complete, with a high turnover as the backbreaking work took its toll. Men lived in rugged bush camps near the work in crews of dozens or at times hundreds. They were paid 10 shillings and sixpence ($1.05) for an eight-hour day and worked a half-day on Saturday.

What caused the unexpected break to the Great Ocean Road construction?

One unexpected and protracted work break occurred in 1924 when an old steam ship, the Casino, stranded on a reef. To free itself the crew threw its cargo of 500 barrels of beer and 120 cases of spirits overboard. The diggers tucked into the booty with gusto with no work completed during the unscheduled and unofficial two-week drinks break.

Opening stages of Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road was opened in stages, with the Lorne to Eastern View section officially opened with great fanfare and celebration on Saturday March 18 1922. It was an instant tourist attraction, with 80 cars full of tourists travelling to Lorne for the official reception. Originally a toll road, an impressive 250 pounds was raised in the first month to offset the construction costs.

When was Great Ocean Road completed?

Work continued for another 10 years until the road extended all the way to Warrnambool. A week of festivities including concerts, fireworks, balls and sporting events kicked off on Saturday November 26 1932 to mark the official opening. From the start it was a “must see” tourist magnet.

With attractions including the Twelve Apostles, rainforests and waterfalls, the Great Ocean Road remains one of the most spectacular ocean drives in the world and a major tourist drawcard on a par with the Big Sur, in California and The Grande Corniche, in France. But its status as the world’s biggest war memorial, honouring the lives of those who died in the “war to end all wars” may never be equalled.

 
Length
Runs from
Year
completed
Interesting fact
Great Ocean Road
243km
Torquay to Allansford
1932
The road is the world's biggest memorial
 
Great Ocean Road
Length
243km
Runs from…
Torquay to Allansford
Year completed
1932
Interesting fact
The road is the world's biggest memorial

Check out our other blogs in the series, Roads of Australia series - Gibb River Road Is A Spectacular Northern AdventureRoads of Australia series - Hume Highway's History Reaches Back To Governor MacquarieRoads of Australia series - Stuart Highway a journey through Australia and Roads of Australia series - Eyre Highway a long and not-so-winding road.

Back to previous page Back to main blog
Categories: Australia
Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.
Leave comment



 
 
 Security code