2019 marked one hundred years since the beginning of the construction of the icon Great Ocean Road, Australia. It is an amazing road lining the southern eastern coast and offers spectacular views over the Great Southern Ocean. The Great Ocean Walk is 104km and starts in the Apollo Bay township finishing at the magnificent 12 Apostles. Without the access this road provides the Great Ocean Walk would not have been possible!
What is the difference between the Great Ocean Walk and the Great Ocean Road?
Understandably, this is where visitors to our area can sometimes get a little confused between the “Great Ocean Walk” and “the Great Ocean Road”. So just to clear this up, they are not the same thing….the Great Ocean Road gives us access to the Great Ocean Walk and in general the walk traverses along the beach and through bush to the left of the road. You can camp on the actual walk with support from Walk91, but there is no accommodation on the walk itself.
Why the Great Ocean Road was built
The Great Ocean Road was built to create an ‘international tourism and motoring icon’ and to provide jobs for the returned soldiers from WW1. The road was so important as these soldiers would have otherwise struggled to find employment due to the poor economy (which was also hindered by the outbreak of the Spanish Flu.) The plan was for the road to take 3 or 4 years to complete from Barwon Heads to Warrnambool for approximately 188kms, but the surveying of the route started in 1919 and didn’t finish until in 1932!
The Mayor of Geelong, Howard Hitchcock proposed at the time:
“A Memorial which would benefit thousands of settlers, give great pleasure to tens of thousands of tourists and motorists, and be the means of large sums of money being circulated in Victoria, which otherwise might be spent in other states”.
The road provided improved access to towns such as Apollo Bay which was surrounded by the mountains of the Otway Ranges and only reachable via steep inland roads or by ship through the dangerous ocean waters of Bass Strait. The new road helped with mail delivery, managing telephone wires, access in the case of shipwrecks and boosted the timber industry. It also most provided access for the army to improve Australia’s defenses in case of another breakout of war.
The budget for the Great Ocean Road and the introduction of the road toll
Plans for the Great Ocean Road started in the 1880’s, but it was not until WW1 finished that the chairman of the Country Roads Board, Mr W Calder, approached the State War Council with a proposal that funds be provided for re-employment for returned soldiers. The budget for the road was originally $150,000 and this was thought to be ‘low cost due to the fact that in many sections the necessary stone and material is on the route’. A financial appeal was announced by the Mayor and a toll road on the Great Ocean Road was also introduced.
A host of engineers, architects, draughtsmen, foremen and labourers were needed and it was proposed that the bulk of the $150,00 would provide wages to the discharged ANZACS, helping to offer not only employment but to give these soldiers something purposeful to do. Many of the men were suffering Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
For some men the hardest adjustments were those of the mind. In the cities there was an upsurge of violence and drunkenness in 1919 […] Men […] were trying to forget, to blot out the gruesome sights and the waste of a horrible past.
– Bill Gammage
Back breaking work for the ANZACS on the Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road proposal suggested “the congenial surroundings, such as bathing, fishing, shooting, combined with a health restoring climate,” would be great for the mental health of the soldiers, but conditions were tough and the work was back-breaking. Hundreds of soldiers dug, shoveled and blasted the rocks to form the road all along the coast. However many were shell-shocked and war-weary from Gallipoli and found this really challenging. But they did enjoy working alongside their fellow soldiers in teams, sharing tents and eating together…….and this time nobody was shooting at them. There was a real sense of comradeship.
Farmland surrounding the Great Ocean Walk and Road & Tourism
The road also provided an increase in accessible farmland and investment in farming practices. Farming and the increase of butter factories not only provided jobs but an increase in the value of all the farming land on the Great Ocean Road’s route.
Tourism was also one of the main focuses of the sales pitch for raising funds for the road,
“Carrying out of this scheme would provide the finest Ocean Road in the world. Travelers throughout the world know nothing which would compare with it. Mention might be made of ocean roads such as the Riviera (South of France); road from Ilfracombe (north coast of Devonshire); coast of Tasmania; San Francisco Road, Cape Town to suburbs; Bulli Pass (NSW) but none of these equal the Great Ocean Road for beautiful ocean, mountain, river or fern gully scenery.”
It was a visionary idea from a past era that has been amazingly successful. Nowadays up to six million people travel the Great Ocean Road annually, something the ANZACs’ would not have believed possible!
Maintaining the Great Ocean Road
The rise in popularity of the Great Ocean Road has boomed to record numbers and in the last thirty years and it has been a constant battle for the road maintenance team to stay ahead. Recent state and federal funding have allowed Regional Roads Victoria to replace bridges, resurface damaged sections of the road and complete geotechnical works to strengthen the road and stabilise the hillsides. Some discarded tools have recently been found during these works belonging to the Anzacs 100 years ago and have been lovingly stored in the Apollo Bay Museum as a tribute to the returned soldiers.
The road makes way for the Great Ocean Walk!
Unbelievably, it was not until the early 1990s that the Great Ocean Road was made bitumen beyond Apollo Bay. Then in 2005 the “Great Ocean Walk” was at last completed. What is great about the Great Ocean Walk is that for most of its 104 kilometres the trail leaves the bustle of the road and its traffic behind, traversing through a diverse mixture of forests and open beaches, offering breathtaking views along clifftop paths. It is awe inspiring to look back along the coast and imagine what it would have been like trying to ‘bush bash’ through hundreds of kilometres of dense forest to build such an major iconic road.
The road access to the Great Ocean Walk and camping
Because the Great Ocean Walk runs alongside the Great Ocean Road and the two only meet in some sections along the trail, when you start walking the Great Ocean Walk trail you cannot get picked up until you walk to a section that meets the road, so please remember to check the map carefully as there is not always vehicle access. Sometimes where there are management tracks they are only accessible by Parks Victoria Rangers or emergency services.
For hikers who want to walk and camp over six or seven days, carrying all your camping gear, staying in the hike-in campsites you can just book these sites directly with Parks Victoria online. However remember that you have to carry everything you need with you as there are no shops along the trail. You also have to carry your own water as the tanks on the tracks are not always full (depending on rainfall) and it is not drinkable water (but you can cook with it). And remember, there are no bins so all rubbish you take in must be taken out again.
Camping support and food drops on the Great Ocean Walk
Alternatively, if you are looking for a bit of camping support whilst on the Great Ocean Walk, Walk91 can organise food drops for you, or even provide a lockable trailer for you to store your gear in and so you don’t have to carry anything for most of the walk except a day pack. The trailer will be supplied with water and you can leave your rubbish in there and we can dispose of it for you.
You can choose from 3 day or 6 day options, and we recommend the best campsites along the Great Ocean Walk trail. So if this options sounds like it offers the support you need please just contact us if you have any questions. Also, keep in mind that we also offer a 6 Day Walk with 3 nights supported camping and 2 nights in accommodation, so if you feel like ending your walk in a bit of comfort with a home cooked meal, this might be the option for you!
We look forward to hearing from you 🙂
Finally, thank you to all the wonderful local staff at the Apollo Bay Museum for their great enthusiasm in keeping the history of Apollo Bay alive. Please visit the museum if you are in Apollo Bay to look at the many great photos of the Great Ocean Road and meet some wonderful locals who are more than happy to chat to you about our area’s rich history.