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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 514

Dr STONE (Murray) (11:50): My earliest memory of the Great Ocean Road is my mother's real concern for our safety as my father swung around the bends carved into the sheer cliff faces, with the ocean crashing below. I was five or six, but I can also remember being told that the road was made, literally, by hand by the ex-WWI diggers. They were given a pick or a shovel and no doubt were grateful for the few pounds they earned each week constructing this Great Ocean Road. They had come back to a country where jobs for the unskilled were scarce. I imagine the great camps that they would have had at the end of each day that were perhaps also a healing place for the diggers to compare notes and talk about war stories, and be grateful that they were a long way from the Western Front at that time.

Today, more than seven million tourists use the Great Ocean Road every year, an incredible number, who drop into the coastal towns and end up on the beautiful beaches of Victoria's south-west coastline. The road extends along a 243-kilometre stretch. According to the Great Ocean Road Destination Management Plan of February 2012, there are some 7,000 jobs contributing more than $1 billion annually to the Victorian economy as a result of this great road link and the access it gives to tourists and locals who visit the fine national parks or other places of recreation. There are national events programmed around this great scenic route—for example, the Great Ocean Road Marathon and the Great Victorian Bike Ride.

Prior to 1918 the south-west coast of Victoria was rugged and inaccessible except by the very lonely bush track or by sea, so at the end of the First World War then chairman of the Country Roads Board, William Calder, asked for funds for soldiers to work on a number of remote roads, in particular the plan to link up the coastal area. In those days it was important to support the timber industry and the budding tourism industry, and both needed decent road access. The original road was to extend from Barwon Heads in a westerly direction around Cape Otway and end near Warrnambool. The work started on 10 September 1919. Eventually some 3,000 returned servicemen built the road, which was also to be a memorial for their fallen brothers and sisters in arms. We know 60,000 died in the First World War—the so-called Great War, the war to end all wars—and another 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. It was fitting to have their surviving brothers in arms build this great road, particularly given there was very little work when they came back from their European experience.

It is incredible to think how rugged that work was, given the survey teams could only manage three kilometres a month as they literally carved their way through the thick forests and around the cliffs. The road was created with hard labour using explosives, picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. Several lost their lives on the project. The road was finally finished, mostly a single lane, and it is amazing that in the first years, given the condition of car brakes and the horse-drawn wagons using the road, more were not lost over the cliffs. Such was the importance and significance of the project that when the road was finally completed, in 1932, the Lieutenant Governor of Victoria Sir William Irvine officially opened it announcing to all that it was the largest war memorial in the world. Three years later the road from Eastern View to Lorne was completed with much celebration. Tolls were levied to cover the cost, because it was a trust that first put together the funding to make this road a reality.

Now the government is delivering on its $25 million election commitment to upgrade the Great Ocean Road. It is fitting and appropriate that $15 million of federal funding for the road upgrade was brought forward to this financial year. This upgrade is essential for tourism and linking the towns. It is a fitting tribute to the men and the women who lost their lives shortly after the First World War. It is an iconic road, a centrepiece of the south-west Victorian tourism industry, and it supports thousands of local jobs. I commend the new member for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson, for this motion. She is a great advocate for her people, and this road will always stand as a fitting memorial to those who died.

Debate adjourned.