Travelling from Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road is first reached by driving along a typically Australian almost dead straight highway to Geelong at the entrance to Port Phillip.
The Great Ocean Road officially starts at Torquay, some 28 kilometres from Geelong, and mainly hugs the high cliffs and beautiful bays of the coast of the Bass Strait for 243 kilometres (151miles) until it reaches the small town of Allansford. The views along the road are spectacular and one can only marvel at the sheer audacity of its conception and construction.
In 1918 William Calder asked the State War Council for funds to be provided for soldiers returning from the First World War who became unemployed when the war was over. Work began on 19th September 1919 and when completed in 1932 the road became the world’s largest war memorial. Built by hand using picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, explosives and some small machinery, 3,000 ex-servicemen worked on its construction. Some unemployed civilians were also drafted. The salary for all was 10 shillings and 6 pence (52p) per day, also working half days on Saturdays.
After building approximately 70 kilometres of the road, the workers had a break in 1924 when the steamship ‘Casino’ went aground at Cape Patton and was forced to jettison some 500 barrels of beer and 120 cases of spirits. Work stopped completely for two weeks as the workers salvaged the jettisoned cargo!
In more recent years the road has suffered natural calamities. In 1960 parts of it were washed away during storms, landslides in 1964 and 1971 caused road closures and in 1962 and 1964 bush fires devastated the areas adjacent to the road. On this latter occasion many homes built along the road were completely destroyed with the memorable exception of one. This house was built on the inland side of the cliff, jutting out on huge steel beams, so was saved from the fires.
Fortunately, we encountered none of these difficulties as we rode in the minibus along its twisting route. We stopped at various places, one being in Koala Grove, on a tree lined track just off the road where Koalas huddled in the trees, and brightly coloured wild birds landed on our heads and shoulders to beg for the titbits thoughtfully provided by the coach captain, Kaitie. Then for a walk in a rain forest where the silence was only broken by trickling streams and water dripping from the trees. We stopped for lunch at Apollo Bay where we had our first taste of shark and chips. Delicious!
Towards the end of the road we stopped and took a memorable ride on a very small helicopter, over a beautiful stretch of beach named the Twelve Apostles, where huge rocks reared up along the beach. There are only eight apostles left due to the ravages of the sea.
We returned to Melbourne on an inland road through beautiful farming country and considered that the name, Great Ocean Road, was well deserved.
by Terry Took © 2013
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.