The Great Ocean Road was built by some 3,000 or more returned servicemen between the years of 1919 and 1932. It is mooted as the “World’s Biggest War Memorial” and was built by these ex-servicemen to honour their mates, the Australian servicemen who didn’t return from the battlefields afar.
The courage that these servicemen needed to fight in the trenches was also required to adjust to life back home and particularly so in their back breaking work on the road. A trust was set up by local businessmen to fund the project from private donations and with the aim of finding worthwhile employment for returned soldiers and sailors. The labourers lived in tented camps along the route and were paid 10 shillings and sixpence per week.
This 243 kilometre tourist route was carved out of incredibly rugged terrain encompassing coastal mountains and steep rocky cliffs and constructed with intense manual labour using picks, shovels, wheelbarrows and small machinery along with the aid of hand explosives. The soldiers did this back breaking work for 8 hours per day, five and a half days per week – often in dangerous wet weather.
Of course the original engineering feat has been expanded and modernised but we must not forget as we travel its twists and turns and take in its scene stealing settings that it’s origins lay in the Great War. The camaraderie of the men working on the Great Ocean Road proved to be a therapy of sorts as they were able to stay together after the trauma of the trenches and gradually build a positive future for themselves as well as an everlasting monument to honour their fallen comrades.
The Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch is located 5 kms west of Airey’s Inlet and a sculpture aptly named “The Diggers” is a testament to the men who built the road.
There is also The Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre in the Lorne Visitor Centre where you can experience the history of the road. It is a purpose purpose-built permanent exhibition that showcases the full historical story of the Great Ocean Road – the back breaking story that many are unfamiliar with.
Another heritage icon along the way is the Cape Otway Lightstation – which is the oldest surviving lighthouse in mainland Australia. Built atop 70 metre cliffs in one of Victoria’s most remote outposts and the region’s most southerly point, this lighthouse helped to safely guide shiploads of European settlers to Australia during the mid 1800s. The views as you would expect from such a vantage point are spectacular.
More than 180 ships met their resting places along this treacherous and rugged section of the coast line of the Great Ocean Road, most notably the Lochard in 1878, after which the Gorge is named.
There is a Shipwreck Discovery Trail which enables you to visit the many shipwreck sites along the coast. The Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village at Warnambool is another Centre that outlines the maritime heritage of the south western coastline of Victoria.
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