An old rail cart in the Great Otway National Park6

A Long Time Ago....

Going back 106 million years, the Otway coastline was within the Antarctic circle. It was one of the coldest places on earth and home to some fascinating dinosaurs including the Leaellynasaura amicagraphica and Timimus hermani. Fossils of the dinosaur have been recovered from Dinosaur Cove near Cape Otway, the largest of which was a 43cm long femur discovered in 1991.

Moving forward millions and millions of years, the local Gudabanud Aborigines hunted in the coastal bushland and the area is littered with middens where bones and the remains of shellfish have built up at popular campsites.

By the 1830's Bass Strait became an important part of the sea route between Europe and New South Wales. Cape Otway, where the Southern Ocean meets Bass Straight proved to be particularly hazardous, claiming many ships and lives. The Cape Otway Lightstation was built in 1848, later becoming Australia's longest serving beacon.

In the 1880's, European settlers began clearing the Otway forest. Transport and access was limited so a narrow gauge railway was built from Colac to Beech Forest in 1902 and then to Crowes in 1911. Sawmills were established in the forest and timber tramways were built to carry logs and timber to the railway line. There were over 30mills in the area. The Old Beechy Rail Trail is now a 45km walking and cycling path following the original narrow gauge railway called the 'Beechy'. This train used to bring timber from the forests and ran from 1902 until 1962.

Aboriginal Heritage

The Cape Otway area is part of the traditional lands of the Gadubanud Aboriginal People. The coastline and hinterland supplied the indigenous people fish, shellfish and other resources of food, implements and spiritual meaning over many thousands of years.  

Archaeological surveys reported numerous midden and tool making sites around Cape Otway, containing shells, fishbones and remanence of tools. Some of these artefacts are on display at the Mia Mia Indigenous Culture Centre located at the Cape Otway Lightstation. Indigenous guides stationed at the Mia Mia share stories and knowledge of their people as well as teaching kids about bush tucker.

Descendants of the Gadubanud people are represented today in local communities. These communities retain close links with their traditional lands and coasts, and further west are involved in managing Tower Hill Reserve near Warrnambool and Deen Maar near Portland.

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Mia Mia Indigenous Cultural Centre2
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The Tale Of William Buckley

William Buckley was an escaped convict who was discovered by the Wathaurang people, and lived with them for many years until Bateman's party came across him in 1835.

"You've got 2 chances, Buckley's and none!"

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Volcanic Plains

The Red Rock Volcanic Complex is on the eastern of the Kanawinka, Australia’s first Global Geopark. Earths distant fiery past has strewn its landscape with worn cones, volcanic craters & numerous salt lakes. Warrian hill is home to the Guligjan people. King Co-Co Coine was the last of their warriors. Stone walling still divides dairy and crop farmers.

The Red Rock lookout, 12 km from Colac, is one of Australia’s youngest volcanoes. Forty separate eruption points have been found, and many of the craters are now full of water. The area is the third largest volcanic plain in the world and estimated to be 8,000 years old. The volcanic complex consists of overlapping maars, scoria cones and small lava flows. From the lookout, the magnificent 360 degree views include the topography of the volcanic plain and the 25,000 hectare Lake Corangamite.

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Surrounding Stone Walls

The most impressive and important network of dry stone walls in Australia is located in the western district of Victoria. The volcanic activity in the district has shaped the landscape and formed stones covering the plains. Dry stone walling was a skilful craft, often handed down from father to son. Most of the substantial walls were built after the gold rush and after the introduction of the rabbit, although there is evidence they were in existence from the late 1840’s.

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Great Ocean Road History

The building of the Great Ocean Road is a story of resolve and conquest over adversity, and a triumph of great Aussie spirit and mateship.The road was built by returned soldiers, constructed as a permanent memorial to those who died while fighting in the First World War. It was a huge engineering feat with Blood, sweat and anguish, resulting in a faster access for vehicles via a coastal route from Barwon Heads to Warrnambool. The Ocean provided the first connections with coastal settlements that mostly sprang up for commercial reasons.

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P1201 Opening of Great Ocean Road arch on Wild Dog Rd 1932 267 x 181
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Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch

Built as a tribute to the soldiers from the First World War who were engaged in the construction of the Great Ocean Road. The Memorial Arch is made out of wood, with the sides being made out of stone and cement for support. The first arch was erected in 1939, and was replaced a few more times over the decades, including a time when a truck ran into the side of the arch, and another was created in 1983 when it was destroyed in the Ash Wednesday Bushfires. With all of the rebuilds and tear downs, the original sign still sits on the top of the arch, for all to see.Alongside the arch is a sculpture also commemorating the returned servicemen, which was commissioned and placed during the 75th anniversary of the road constructions.  These historical plaques can also be found all along the Great Ocean Road.

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Shipwrecked Coast

By the 1830's Bass Strait became an important part of the sea route between Europe and New South Wales, with many ships passing Cape Otway. The Cape Otway Lighthouse was built in 1848, commissioned by the New South Wales government to help ships cross the hazardous entrance of Bass Straight from the Southern Ocean.

Many ships were wrecked along the coast of Cape Otway including SS Casino (1932), SS Shomberg (1855), Marie Gabrielle (1869), Loch Ard (1878), Eric the Red (1880) and Fiji (1891).

Anchors from the Marie Gabrielle and Fiji are embedded in the rocks at Wreck beach and can be seen on low tide.

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Heritage Walks

Explore the rich agricultural, railway and timber heritage at a raft of historical societies, heritage walks and discovery trails at Colac, Apollo Bay and the Otways villages of Birregurra, Forrest, Wye River, Red Rock, Cressy and Beeac.

Discovery more about the Heritage Trails of the Otways here

Historical Museums

Interested in discovering more about the history of the Great Ocean Road & Otways, be sure to visit one of the regions Historical Centre's;

 - Apollo Bay Museum

- Cape Otway Lightstation

- Colac History Centre

060B Otway Focus Comp 08 Robyn White 4