The Great Ocean Road is recognised as one of the world’s most scenic coastal drives, and I feel I’ve been drawn to it all my life. Although its reputation extends well beyond our shores, how this beautiful, but inhospitable landscape was opened up for all to enjoy is not so well known.
Since moving to Torquay, I’ve always enjoyed sunrise at Point Danger where you can really soak up the rugged natural beauty of the coastline. As you walk along the cliff tops admiring the blue of the water and the crashing surf below, you pass by the Torquay Surf Club before reaching the mouth of Spring Creek. It is here that you get a glimpse of how the people of Torquay embarked on the trip down the coast to Anglesea in the 1880’s, well before the Great Ocean Road was dreamt of.
Geelong, with its port and wool stores along the shores of Corio Bay, was established in 1827, and became gateway to the Western District of Victoria. The gold rush of the 1850’s also ensured the region prospered. In 1854, Cobb & Co started coaching services between Melbourne, Mt. Alexander and Bendigo using Concord coaches made in the USA. The body was suspended on leather straps to enable the coach to work on rough tracks. English coaches with steel springs failed.
Railway lines ran from Geelong to Drysdale and Queenscliff to the east, and to Moriac, Winchelsea and Birregurra to the west. By the 1880’s, Cobb & Co coaches ran services from these train stations to towns along the Surf Coast, opening up the area. James Follett made day trips by coach from Torquay to Anglesea. He crossed Spring Creek at the mouth and went along the top of the cliffs for about 2.4 kilometres, then followed the contours inland to join the Bellbrae to Anglesea path. Today you can still see Follett’s track climbing the steep slope on the west bank of the mouth of Spring Creek and part of the track adjacent to the walking path along the cliff top in Jan Juc. After the 1939-1945 War, surfers used the remains of the track to reach Bells Beach, home of the world’s longest running surfing competition – the Rip Curl Pro.
From Follett’s track in the 1880’s, many years were to pass until the Great Ocean Road was constructed by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932. It is the world’s largest war memorial dedicated to casualties of World War I.
Back to Torquay – Point Danger is the setting for one of the most moving ANZAC day services. As the Last Post is played, two tiger moths can be heard flying in from the sea. They pass directly overhead before turning back to sea creating a dramatic and uplifting experience. Perhaps it reminds us of the coastline in Galipoli making the service even more poignant. This year, despite blustery winds and horizontal rain, over 6,000 people braved the conditions to pay their respect – Lest We Forget.
ANZAC day is on April 25th and if you are planning your Great Ocean Road trip around this time, the dawn service is well worth the effort. However, you will probably need to stay in Torquay the night before as it is an early morning start. You need to be at the point by around 5.30 a.m. for the service, the wreath laying is at 6 a.m.
The ANZAC Day service in Torquay has been fostered and guided by the Torquay & District Ex-Servicemen’s club, more commonly known in town as “the Heroes”. The club was originally in a house in Beale Street, which could have passed for any other Torquay house except that it had a cannon in the front yard! Members had a key which enabled them to enter through a back door and into the clubhouse where many a cold beer was served, and tales of AIF engagements were told (and perhaps embellished). You could recognise the heroes as they walked down the quiet street with key in hand eager to share the spirit with their mates.
From the windswept Point Danger, you can enjoy wonderful views of the coastline, with Point Lonsdale to the east, and the rugged coastline stretching out to the west which you can explore as you start down the Great Ocean Road. Since the 1960’s, the surf beaches have drawn people to the area. The surfing culture is everywhere, with people catching a wave before they go to work, even in the middle of winter! You don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy the beach though. There are people like me, who just like to have a dip and bodysurf in summer, or windsurf, or enjoy the rock pools, or just walk along the beach. Fisherman’s Beach is perfect for a long walk, with flat, firm sand to walk on. It is also good for fishing as the name implies.
You can walk along the banks of Spring Creek and enjoy a more sheltered path for those windy days. Follow the wooden ramp across Spring Creek from Follet’s track for a peaceful bushwalk away from the roar of the surf. After all this sand, surf and bush, there are a host of restaurants and coffee shops to recharge. There is also the Sands golf course, with its Peppers resort, and at the Torquay golf club where the new RACV resort is being built.
Back to Point Danger at sunrise – with the colour of the red sun on the yellow sandstone cliffs and the beauty of the blue ocean, it is not hard to see why so many people are drawn to this rugged coastline.
About the author
Bill Ferguson was brought up in Geelong. His parents moved to Torquay in the 70’s, where his father, Jim, was a local historian and past president of the Torquay Ex-Servicemen’s club. Bill lived in Sydney for 25 years before being drawn back to Torquay to live in 2010.