The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most scenic drives. Winding its way along 243 kilometres of Victoria’s rugged south-west coast, it attracts millions of visitors each year.
But what many do not realise is that the road was built as a permanent memorial to those who died during the First World War.
Carved from wild and windswept cliffs overlooking the Southern Ocean, the Great Ocean road was built by 3,000 returned servicemen fresh from the trenches of the Western Front in memory of their fallen comrades.
“It was just an idea that was floated by a couple of men,” said Dr Meleah Hampton, an historian at the Australian War Memorial.
“They had long wanted a road to connect all of these coastal towns in southern Victoria so they floated it as an idea for using the manpower of these returned servicemen, and then they decided: ‘If we are going to do it, let’s make it a memorial.’
“It was a huge endeavour.”
At the time of the First World War, the remote south-west coast of Victoria was accessible only by sea or rough tracks through dense bush.
“The whole focus has been on sending men away to fight, and suddenly we’ve got 350,000 men overseas,” Dr Hampton said.
“That’s an entire workforce, and as time goes by it dawns on people that these men are going to have to integrate back into society.
“What are they going to do with them? How are they going to avoid civil unrest? How are they going to avoid having dissatisfied men roaming the streets? And how are they going to avoid all sorts of other social problems?
“So people start turning their thoughts to how they are going to manage this and the Great Ocean Road is born out of that situation of fear and worry about what civil Australian society is going to look like after the war.”