Australia’s Memorial: The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road is the world's largest war memorial.Built as a memorial to the Australian diggers who gave their lives in World War One, the Great Ocean Road began as a means of giving returning soldiers work.

Surveying for the project, which was then tentatively titled the South Coast Road, began in 1918. That same year the Great Ocean Road Trust was formed as a private company under philanthropist Howard Hitchcock.

Securing £81,000 in funding (as well as £3,000 from Hitchcock’s own pocket), the Trust began construction of the newly titled Great Ocean Road, with the ultimate goal of gifting the completed project to the state.

The project sought to connect isolated settlements on the coast. Over a century later, it has become a popular tourist attraction.

Construction of the Great Ocean Road saw early Australian engineers tackle the steep cliffs, rugged terrain and turbulent weather of Victoria’s western coastline.

More than 3000 returned servicemen built the road from 1919 onwards, braving the harsh terrain, only accessible by sea and rough bush track prior to the road’s construction.

Construction was undertaken through the use of explosives, picks, shovels and wheelbarrows.

Several workers were killed during the construction of the road.

It would be three years until the first section of the Great Ocean Road was officially opened. The section from East View to Lorne opened on 18 March 1922 and a road toll was put in place to recoup construction costs for the project.

Car users were charged two shillings, and wagons with more than two horses had to pay 10 shillings to use the newly built road.

Once the first section was completed, The Age reported at the time: “In the face of almost insurmountable odds, the Great Ocean Road has materialised from a dream or ‘wild-cat scheme’, as many dubbed it, into concrete reality.”

Another 13 years would pass before the section from Lorne to Apollo Bay would be finished. In November 1932, the Great Ocean Road was officially completed with a ceremony near Lorne’s Grand Pacific Hotel.

To this day, the Great Ocean Road has remained a popular tourist attraction and the story of its creation can be seen at The Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre at the Lorne Visitor Centre in the form of a purpose-built permanent exhibition space entitled The Great Ocean Road Story: Building Australia’s Most Famous Road.

The exhibition, which opened in November last year, tells the story of the Great Ocean Road’s construction through informative historical displays and interpretive exhibits.

Funded by the Victorian Government, the Surf Coast Shire Council and the Australian Government, The Great Ocean Road Story: Building Australia’s Most Famous Road is another attraction for Australians and tourists alike to experience the true story behind one of Australia’s largest feats of civil engineering.

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