September 19, 1919
Construction officially began on a major road along Australia’s southeastern coast. At the time, this region of the Australian state of Victoria was mostly accessible to the outside world only by sea. The building of the Great Ocean Road was seen as an opportunity to better connect isolated settlements in the area and provide a strong surface transportation link for both industry and tourism.
Along with fulfilling those aims, this ambitious construction project was also undertaken to create a road in memory of Australian servicemen who had recently lost their lives during World War I. Thousands of servicemen who had survived that global conflict made themselves available to help build the road honoring their fallen comrades.
Those on hand for the Friday-afternoon launch of construction on the Great Ocean Road at the seaside town of Lorne included Harry Lawson, Victoria’s premier. He was given a detonation device for setting off explosives that had been placed at a few points along the planned route. After making his way inside a dugout for safety, Lawson pressed a button on the device and soon several tons of rock were successfully blasted apart in the vicinity. The Melbourne-based Argus newspaper succinctly noted the following day, “Thus, the work was officially begun.” The following week, an article about the Great Ocean Road that had been written by Australian Army Captain-Chaplain C. Neville appeared in the Geelong Advertiser newspaper.
Neville asserted, “None of us who went to Lorne and saw for ourselves have returned with any other feeling than that the vision, enterprise, faith and public spirit of those promoting this great national undertaking should receive the patriotic cooperation, whole-hearted support and the generous benefactions of those who wish to develop our resources; to make available to everybody the magnificent coastal scenery of our southern coastal line; to help in the repatriation in a large percentage of our returning brave men; and to make the tremendous hardships of those deserving forest settlers a little bit easier.”
Construction on the Great Ocean Road was completed in 1932. The road, spanning 151 miles (243 kilometers) between the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford, is considered to be the world’s largest war memorial. The road has also become a popular tourist attraction. The Great Ocean Road was added to the Australian National Heritage List in 2011.
For more information on the Great Ocean Road, please check out https://www.visitvictoria.com/regions/great-ocean-road/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/building-the-great-ocean-road and https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/portal/system/files/engineering-heritage-australia/nomination-title/Great%20Ocean%20Road%20-%20Nomination.pdf