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Harold Holt: Disappearance of Australia’s Prime Minister

by Shelly Barclay

Harold Holt was the 17th Prime Minister of Australia. Born on August 5, 1908, he would grow up to become a member of Parliament, in which he spent 32 years. On January 26, 1966, he became the prime minister. It would not last long. He was in office for roughly 22 months before he disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach in Victoria.

Harold Holt at the beach

Harold Holt loved the ocean and was an avid swimmer when he disappeared in 1967. Source: The Australian.

Holt was known for advocating a military presence in Vietnam and seeing the war through with the United States. While that was about as much of an impression as he could make in the time he was in office, he managed to make his exit very memorable. His disappearance on December 17, 1967, gripped the country and was international news. Speculation abounded about his death.

A Day at the Beach

That morning, Harold Holt was going to see Alec Rose as he made a stopover during his sailing trip around the world. Holt was with three friends and two bodyguards. They went to see the big moment as Alec passed through and then decided to go to Cheviot Beach around midday. The Prime Minister was a frequent swimmer and had swum at Cheviot in the past, despite the fact that the beach is known for having a strong current.

In the months prior to this day trip, Harold Holt had been going through some physical issues. He had collapsed due to what doctors said was a vitamin deficiency. Others speculated it was a heart condition. He was around 60 years old and on pain medication for his shoulder, as it was giving him a lot of trouble around this time. Thus, he was reportedly told to lay off the swimming for a while. Nonetheless, Holt was an avid and able swimmer. The dragging waters of Cheviot did not seem to intimidate him that day. He decided to dive in and go swimming on his own.

Harold Holt at the beach

Harold Holt often spent time at the beach and in the water. Source: The Australian.

None of Harold’s companions wanted to accompany him into the water. That could be perceived as odd, given that it was a group outing. It could also go to show that Holt was being a little nutty by deciding to go in. Either way, they kept an eye out and soon lost their visuals of him. Harold was gone and those who had watched him disappear were the last to see him. His group quickly called for a search and rescue. Despite a massive search that included the Australian Royal Navy and Air Force, Harold was never found.

Unanswered Questions 

By December 19, Harold Holt was presumed dead and Australia was without a prime minister. Deputy Prime Minister John McEwen was sworn in to act as prime minister until a new one was chosen. The police issued a report, outlining the events and the testimony of all the witnesses, but saw nothing suspicious to suggest that an investigation was the next logical step. The report was the closest thing to an official inquiry at the time. It was not until September 2, 2005, that Harold Holt’s death was officially ruled an accidental drowning.

In spite of appearances, the story was never as neat and clean as it could have been. Given the status of the victim and the fact that a body was never found, it was not likely that this case would end without questions. People soon wondered what else could have led to such a sudden disappearance. Some say it was suicide, though Holt’s own son has come out and said that is not the case. The initial report showed nothing strange about Holt’s behavior. Furthermore, there is the question of whether a skilled swimmer would choose to try to drown himself.

Theories About Harold Holt

A more sordid theory is that Harold Holt was cheating on his wife and wanted to get away unscathed. Therefore, he faked his own death and made off with his mistress. No media scandal. No divorce. All he had to do was vanish into the ocean.

It is also possible that Holt suffered a natural injury and drowned. Another possibility is that he was pulled out by the current and went under before rescuers could reach him. Yet another is that he was eaten or pulled under by an ocean predator. The list goes on. Without a body, it is all just conjecture. It could be that no one is right. It could also be that he was abducted by aliens. Yes, there is a camp that supports that theory. Who knows?

You may also like to read:
Murder of Roberto Calvi: Vatican, Mafia, or Secret Society?

Herald Sun, retrieved 8/27/12.
National Archive of Australia, retrieved 8/27/12.

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