Who built the Great Ocean Road? It was a project that took many years to complete and employed thousands of returned servicemen. 

The fascinating history of the Great Ocean Road is waiting to be discovered. A day trip from Melbourne will therefore reveal many insights into this incredible coastline. It’s not only a day for sightseeing– however there is a lot of sightseeing to be done! But it’s also a day for learning about the history of Victoria and of how the Great Ocean Road was constructed.

If you want to learn about how the Great Ocean Road was built, and experience it for yourself, join us on a Day Tour or Sunset Tour of this iconic location. However, in the meantime, check out some of the road’s interesting history below. 

Who built the Great Ocean Road?

To answer the question of ‘Who built the Great Ocean Road’ is quite simple – it was thousands of returned servicemen who were employed to do the job. However, to really understand the history of this coastline, it’s important to look deeper. 

Indigenous History

The Great Ocean Road overlies the traditional country of the Wadawurrung (Wathaurong), Gadubanud, and Kirrae Whurrong (Girai-Wurrung) language groups of the Kulin nation.

The coastline, hills, clifftops, and forest echo with the voices and spirits of the traditional owners of the land. For thousands of years, the Indigenous Australians hunted, gathered food, and connected for ceremonies, marriages, festivals, settlement disputes and trade. There was – and still is today – an abundance of food along the Great Ocean Road area, including kangaroos, wallabies, emus, fish, eels, fruits, and vegetables.

European Settlers

European settlers came to the area in the 1800’s for farming and for logging in the forests. But the coastal area was covered in thick bushland and large rocks, making travelling to the coastal towns quite difficult. There were bushland tracks through forests and down to the coast that were difficult to navigate and difficult to maintain. However, the easiest way to connect these towns with Melbourne at the time was by boat. 

A Plan for a Road

Geelong Mayor, Alderman Howard Hitchcock formed a Great Ocean Road Trust in 1918. This group made plans for the road and raised money for its development. In building a road, the Trust wanted to create a better connection between Melbourne and the coastal communities. But they also wanted to employ the soldiers returning from World War I, as there was not much work available for them at the time. However, they also had the idea that this road could be a new tourist attraction – a scenic drive through bushland and long the coast. 

Construction of the Great Ocean Road

Construction of the road began in 1918 and took over a decade to complete. Because the mean carved a road into the coast, it was back-breaking work. They removed trees, built bridges and carved stone cliff tops into a narrow ledge. There was no heavy machinery used, only picks, shovels and horse-drawn carts. Out of the 3000 men who worked on the road, around 2300 of them were returned soldiers.

When the Road was Complete

The entire length of the road was officially opened on 26 November 1932. Afterwards, a Memorial Arch was built as a tribute to the World War I servicemen. You can still visit the Memorial Arch these days, however it is actually the third one that has been built. At the site there is also a plaque commemorating both the World War I soldiers who built the road as well as those who sacrificed their lives during the war.

Learn more about the Construction of the Great Ocean Road

Learn more about the history of the road by visiting the area. There are a couple of ways to do this.

The best way is to come on a tour with Go West. Because our guides love to share stories of the history of the road. From the First Nations people living along the coast, to the current summer holiday vibe that fills the seaside towns. You will learn and experience the road all in an easy one day tour from Melbourne. 

However, you are driving yourself along the Great Ocean Road, you can stop in at the Great Ocean Road Heritage Centre. It is located in Lorne’s Visitor Complex. It’s here that you can experience the Great Ocean Road story in a purpose-built permanent exhibition. Indeed, after visiting the centre you will see this iconic road in an entirely different light.

Join us on tour to discover the Great Ocean Road

Take a day tour from Melbourne

The Great Ocean Road is the place to explore natural landscapes, stunning beaches, wild koalas and the incredible 12 Apostle rock formations.

 Our Great Ocean Road Day Tour itinerary includes the following: 

  • Scenic drive along the Great Ocean Road
  • Morning tea on the Surf Coast
  • Visit to the Twelve Apostles in Port Campbell National Park
  • Visit to Loch Ard Gorge, the site of the Loch Ard shipwreck
  • A short walk through lush rainforest at Maits Rest
  • Viewing koalas in their natural habitat at Kennett River
  • Lunch break in the charming coastal township of Apollo Bay

Our Sunset Tour of the Great Ocean Road itinerary includes:

  • Visit the beaches of Victoria’s famous Surf Coast
  • Spot wild koalas a tKennett River
  • Drive through the Great Otway National Park
  • Marvel at the natural beauty of Loch Ard Gorge
  • Visit the charming coastal township of Apollo Bay
  • End the tour by visiting the 12 Apostles at Sunset


Written by: Leah Furey – Digital Content Coordinator @gowest.com.au