New impetus for an ocean road came towards the end of World War I. The chairman of the Country Roads Board contacted the State War Council with a proposal that funds be provided for re-employment of returned soldiers on roads in sparsely populated areas. A plan was soon submitted for a South Coast Road to be built by returned soldiers as a memorial to all those who were killed in the Great War. It suggested starting at Barwon Heads, following the coast west around Cape Otway and ending near Warrnambool. By May 1918 the Great Ocean Road Trust had been formed. It decided the first stage would be built from Lorne to Cape Patton, a distance of 28.9 km (18 mi). Construction work officially began on September 19, 1919, when the Premier of Victoria detonated an explosive charge near Lorne. Nearly 3,000 returned soldiers worked on the Great Ocean Road’s construction over 13 years, living in camps set up in the bush along the route. At times, the workforce numbered in the tens; at others it was in the hundreds. Often it was dangerous – a few workers were killed on the job. In November 1932, the coast roared into life for a weekend of festivities, with residents coming out in droves to celebrate the final link-up of the seaside towns. Victoria’s Lieutenant-Governor declared the road officially open at a ceremony near Lorne’s Grand Pacific Hotel, the site where the project’s first survey peg had been hammered into the ground 14 years before. During the early years, travellers along the road paid a toll at Eastern View. This was abolished when the Trust handed the road over to the State Government in October 1936.
The modern road offers outstanding views of Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean – simply one of the most photogenic coastlines in the world, with striking and dramatic natural rock formations. These formations include Loch Ard Gorge, the Grotto, London Bridge (renamed London Arch in recent years after the ‘bridge’ partially collapsed) and, most famously, the Twelve Apostles (also now reduced in number).
A visitors’ centre was recently built near Peterborough to provide some basic facilities for the thousands of tourists who visit each year. The building of this centre was controversial, with many people concerned that it would cause excess traffic congestion and spoil the natural environment.