The Great Ocean Road, ‘the world’s best ocean drive’ is a war memorial. In 1917 a group of citizens, based in Geelong, formed the Great Ocean Road Trust to realise their long-held dream of a direct route along the coast. The Trust was chaired by Mayor Howard Hitchcock, Geelong’s leading mover and shaker.
They produced a persuasive basket of motives. The Road was to link the coastal settlements, increase land values (the real estate industry was soon involved), provide a communication route for land holders and the military and be a major tourism asset. Two motivations predominated. It was to be a memorial to all those Victorians who served in World War I and would give employment to returned servicemen in healthy, beautiful surroundings.
The Great Ocean Road Trust embodied a partnership between Government and community enterprise common in early Victorian road building. Locals knew that the Government could not do everything and were prepared to pitch in to make things happen. The aspect of the Road as a war memorial and provider of employment for ex-soldiers increased its ability to attract public support. Co-operation between Government and Trust was very close. In 1918 the Government approved of the Country Roads Board doing work on behalf of the Trust and the task of surveying and road building began. A third agency, the Repatriation Department, was closely involved in supervising and part-funding the wages of the men.
The Road was unusual for the times because it was built on a completely new alignment and did not follow any existing track or footpath. It was purpose-built as a scenic touring road, characterised by sea level crossings of rivers and inlets and elevated headlands. It is highest at Cinema Point, 103 metres above sea level, and Cape Patton, 82 metres.
Work proceeded in stages according to the availability of money and materials. Some of the sections on steep cliffs and unstable slopes were very difficult. The men worked with pick and shovel, horses and drays. They stayed in well-organised camps, complete with vegetable plots, cooks and pianos. Names such as Monash Gully, Artillery Rocks and Shrapnel Gully testify to their recent war experience.
The first section between Eastern View and Lorne opened in 1922, and the second from Lorne to Apollo Bay ten years later. A total of 3000 returned servicemen were involved. Towards the end of the project, employment was given to victims of the Great Depression beginning in 1929.
Source: The Great Ocean Road: from where to where? © Rachel Faggetter