Victoria’s Great Ocean Road

Coastal Victoria, south and west of Melbourne, was home in the late 1800s and early 1900s to many isolated farmsteads, all more or less cut off from each other and from Melbourne or regional hubs like Geelong by the ruggedness of the coastline and the lack of any good connecting road along the coast. Farmers near the coast rode north/inland, then along the main road, then back down to the coast to visit their neighbors. In the wake of World War I, in many of whose most brutal battles young men from Australia and New Zealand suffered extremely heavy losses on the front lines struggling to defend British-controlled positions (non-Aussie/Kiwis who haven’t seen the great movie Gallipoli should absolutely rent it to learn more of this aspect of history), there were strong feelings that the returning soldiers deserved both honor and jobs in a newly down global economy (we’re talking about the 1920s, not 2009), and that a good coastal road in Victoria would stimulate the local economy by increasing regional tourism and developing more interconnection between coastal farms. A private initiative was formed to provide the jobs only to returning veterans and build the Great Ocean Road both in honor and in support of those veterans of what was then still simply The Great War. In the 1930s the road was acquired by the government and stopped being a private toll road, and now it’s one of the key tourist attractions in Victoria, with views and drive-feel rather similar to California Highway 1 through the Big Sur coastline. On my day’s bus trip along this route, I saw koalas in the trees, a koala running by the side of the road at high noon (no joke — poor thing must have been very freaked out), and a lot of gorgeous coastal views.

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