“Now, on this road trip, my mind seemed to uncrinkle, to breathe, to present to itself a cure for a disease it had not, until now, known it had.”
Elizabeth Berg, The Year of Pleasures
Towards the end of my house sit in Jan Juc, I took the opportunity for a short drive along the Great Ocean Road. I first visited the area three years ago and was struck by both its beauty and the magnificent feat of construction that is the famous road which twists and turns on the edge of the Victorian coastline from Torquay to Warnambool. On this visit I came to a new appreciation; it’s the ocean which is great, as much or more so than the road. The wild weather made me a cautious driver who set her destination for the tourist town of Lorne, a moderate and achievable distance .
Every journey is singular and this one reinforced that the greatness in the title belongs to the natural world of the wild seas of the Southern ocean of Bass strait and not the concrete construction which transports us along the coast. What is it with we humans? We tend to celebrate the things we fabricate rather than those of the natural world which surround and sustain us in such beauty. A road, no matter how great, is still just a means to get somewhere isn’t it?.
The weather was different on this trip, with at least five seasons from morning to afternoon. My mind wandered as I reflected on the amazing scenery of high cliffs, white foam and barrelling waves. The ocean is great in its capacity for change, it never endures untouched, a quality which we humans so admire and try without success to emulate. On this morning the wind displayed its full transparent power. Like a master of marionettes, it stirred up the versatile moods of the ocean. I turned a corner and experienced a sylph like whisper in a shaded spot.
Moving on, I saw the waves line up like an army in chaos, erratic in their advances towards shore. By the time I arrived at Aireys Inlet, a tiny town with a few shops and a famous lighthouse, the air had stilled, the rain stopped and the sun reclaimed his throne in the sky. The heavenly blue was reflected in the puddles on the road giving a bright entrance to the Lighthouse which used to guide errant ships in stormy weather. I took advantage of the pleasant break, to do some exploring. Beneath the cliff of the commanding structure known colloquially as ‘The White Lady’ stands a chunk of land prosaically called Spilt Rock. It lies adjacent to the coast in a messy formation like the last piece of a Christmas day plum pudding surrounded by drizzled and creamy foam. Looking at the stilled landscape, it was hard to believe it held any relationship to the argy-bargy of wind, rain and surf just around the corner. Foolishly hoping that the weather was improving, I continued driving and stopped at the next little town called Fairhaven. With a few houses dotting the high cliffs, I could imagine it being a haven from the increasingly fast tempo of the city of Melbourne. A place to disconnect and watch the infinite variety of ocean moods. For me landscape is not just a linear concept, a horizon but also a vertical one. I looked up from the ragged sand dunes which had been created as a buffer to the ocean in her more land grabbing moods, and saw a square house perched on a pillar high on the hill on the other side of the road. Amazing though it was to look at from the ground, I couldn’t imagine visiting, let alone living there. A perfect eagle’s eyrie, but what would become of it in those powerful winds? Perhaps it doubles as a ship as well.
The beach at Fairhaven is a treacherous one, full of rips and currents so powerful even the most adept surfer would find challenging. I returned to my car and continued the drive to Lorne, the road becoming increasingly curvaceous offering snatches of lacy wave formations covering then exposing blonde sands. Just before turning the last corner to Lorne, the traffic was stopped by council workers whose fearless colleagues were engaged in the high risk tasks of tending to the steel nets covering the cliffs. Like adept abseilers, they dangled from high cranes, swinging back and forth to ensure the vital job of preventing rock falls. The pause gave me another opportunity to reflect on the everyday courage of people who help make our journeys in life safe and smooth. In a modern society we insist on such work but do we fully appreciate the skills and qualities of these workers? Serendipity had provided me with an understanding of why the creation of the road was a great achievement.
Built between 1919 and 1932 in various stages, it was principally considered as a tribute to the Anzacs of the Great War, a memorial to those who didn’t make it home by those who did. The creators’ vision of affording accessible and safe travel to and through an area of wild beauty to rival any in the world, has been achieved.
After lunch, the wild weather accompanied me on the return journey from Lorne, as did a new appreciation of the harmonious partnership between human ingenuity, earth sea and wind.