This week’s Wanderlust Wednesday excursion: Built by soldiers and recognized by the world, a look back at the history of how the Great Ocean Road came to be
Article & Photos by Allie Albanese
Did you know that the Great Ocean Road in Australia is the world’s largest war memorial?
Or that that returned soldiers actually helped build the road as a tribute to their fellow servicemen who died in World War I?
This stunning stretch of road is not only famous for its breathtaking views of the Southern Ocean and fascinating rock formations, it’s a significant part of the country’s history. And since we’ve been traveling down the Great Ocean Road together for a few weeks now, I thought I’d take this week to share a few significant fun facts to give you the full scope of what makes this road so special.
1. Plans for the Great Ocean Road emerged in the 1880s, but didn’t gain real momentum until the end of World War I. At the time, Victoria was only accessible by sea or a rough bush track, so a road was needed to connect isolated areas along the coast and to provide a transportation link both for the timber industry and for tourism.
2. The plan came to fruition primarily thanks to the Great Ocean Road Trust, a private trust that originally secured the loans and funding for the project. Together with the support of the Victorian State Country Roads Board and the Federal Government Repatriation Department, whose goal was to provide work for returning servicemen, road work began. These groups agreed that the trust would be repaid via the implementation of road tolls, and in 1936, the loans were repaid, the road was officially given to the State Government, and the tolls were abolished.
3. Construction of the road took 13 years! It began in September 1919, but it wasn’t fully completed until November 1932.
4. It was initially dubbed the 'South Coast Road' before officially being named the Great Ocean Road.
5. Workers including more than 3,000 returned servicemen built the road as a utilitarian memorial for soldiers who were killed during World War I. Throughout its construction, workers lived in tent camps along the road and received a modest pay of 10 shillings and sixpence (Australia’s former currency) for each 8-hour work day plus a half-day on Saturday.
6. The road was built by hand! Workers used explosives, picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and horse-drawn carts to carry materials and construct this two-lane stretch of road.
7. When the Great Ocean Road opened in 1932, it was officially acknowledged as the World’s Largest War Memorial and it remains so today.
8. In 1939, the Memorial Arch at Eastern View was erected to commemorate the work of the 3000 soldiers who built the road. This iconic attraction is considered the Gateway to the Great Ocean Road, and is the most photographed image along this stretch of coastline.
9. In 1962, the Tourists Development Authority deemed the Great Ocean Road one of the world’s Greatest Scenic Roads, and in 2011 it was added to Australia’s National Heritage List (a list of natural, historic, and indigenous places of outstanding significance to the nation).
10. The Great Ocean Road spans 151 miles (243 kilometers) between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford, and draws millions of visitors each year. Considered Australia’s most famous coastline, it was designed to follow the lines of nature. The result is a spectacular serpentine journey past beaches and through seaside towns, which highlights and preserves the natural beauty that makes this route one to behold.
Additionally, the Great Ocean Road offers heaps of ground to explore on foot. In 2004, the Great Ocean Walk opened, which connects 65 miles (104 kilometers) of walking trails along the rugged coastline from Apollo Bay to the 12 Apostles. There are also countless fascinating fun facts surrounding its archaeological, geological, and indigenous history, which you can read more about here.
The Great Ocean Road provides everything you could hope for in a road trip and more! There are heaps of sights to see and towns to explore, and while it can technically be driven in one day, I highly recommend allowing significantly more time to really enjoy and appreciate everything it has to offer.
Allie is the founder of Parched Around the World and the owner of Parched Global, LLC, a communications company based in Atlanta, GA. She's a Certified Sommelier and a foodie at heart, and is forever suffering from a severe case of wanderlust! When life allows, you can find Allie traveling around the world and photographing her adventures both domestically and abroad. Feel free to get in touch with her by email at email@example.com or to connect on Instagram at @aaalbanese and @parchedaroundtheworld.