Believed to be the world’s largest war memorial, the Great Ocean Road stretches 243 kilometres along the west coast of Victoria between Torquay and Allansford. It was constructed by returned soldiers from the First World War with work officially beginning on 19 September 1919.
Up until the end of the war, Victoria’s southwest coast consisted of isolated settlements connected by rough tracks through rugged country. The Chairman of the Country Roads Board, William Calder, submitted a plan to the Victorian Government to connect these settlements with a proper road. As well as providing a lift to the State’s infrastructure, Calder also envisaged that the project would provide employment for hundreds of soldiers returning from the War.
The project was approved, although finances were generated by a private company – the Great Ocean Road Trust, directed by philanthropist and Mayor of Geelong, Howard Hitchcock, who personally contributed £3000 to the scheme. It was proposed that the construction costs would be recouped by charging a toll that would be removed once full recovery was achieved.
Construction began in September 1919 using a large labour force of some 3000 returned soldiers who lived it ‘rough’ in the bush, sleeping out in tent cities that moved along with the road.
The work was virtually all manual labour, with blasting used to remove rock from particularly rugged sections. The returned soldiers were paid ten shillings and sixpence per day – significantly more than the six shillings they received in the Army, making the project a popular one.
The road was constructed in sections, with completion finally achieved in November 1932, followed by an official opening ceremony conducted by Victoria’s Lieutenant Governor Sir William Irvine. It was declared an official War Memorial dedicated to the Australian soldiers who had died between 1914 and 1918.
The project was a great success with the build of road providing work for many ex-servicemen, as well as linking remote settlements along Victoria’s west coast. It also became the world’s largest war memorial and with subsequent improvements it is now known as one of the great scenic drives in Australia.
In 2011 the Great Ocean Road was incorporated into Australia’s National Heritage List.
Image by DAVID ILIFF: A section of The Great Ocean Road to the south of Lorne, 2012, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.