It is near inconceivable to imagine a Prime Minister/President of any nation simply vanishing and never to be seen again. Yet when it is a nation as powerful of Australia, the idea becomes beyond belief. Yet in 1967, Harold Holt – the Prime Minister of Australia, went for a swim, only to never return. Despite an enormous rescue mission being launched, no body was ever found. The absence of a body has led many to speculate what happened. In this article, we take a look at the story behind this mysterious disappearance, and examine some of the theories attributed. This article is also this week’s Sunday Read.
— Australian Kitsch (@OzKitsch) January 5, 2018
Holt was elected in 1966 – it was the culmination of a successful legal and subsequent political career. Holt was largely popular in Australia, with many of his policies and views respected. He was however criticised for his supposed close ties with American President Lyndon B. Johnson, and various other controversies. By the time of his death however, Holt was mostly respected. He was a big fan of the ocean, and boasted holiday homes in several coastal areas around Australia.
On 17th December 1967, Holt and some friends were out driving when they decided to stop at the secluded Cheviot Beach for a swim before lunch. Holt claimed to know the beach ‘like the back of my hand’. Conditions were rough, meaning only one other person joined Holt in the water. Holt opted to swim deeper than his friend, and seemed to be caught in a rip current, eventually disappearing from view. The friend raises the alarm, and within minutes an enormous search had commenced, though tragically no body was ever found.
An inquest in 2005 found a verdict of accidental drowning. Most have reached the conclusion that Holt underestimated the conditions – yet overestimated his own ability, this was a toxic mix. This would be the most logical explanation. However because of the absence of a body – there have been a range of theories attributed to his disappearance. Another popular theory is that Holt could’ve committed suicide – though this has been disputed by those close to Holt – who said this would’ve been outside his character.
Other theories include that Holt faked his own death. This is a popular theory whenever a body isn’t found. Considering there haven’t ever been any sightings of Holt – whose face would be well known – this somewhat discredits this suggestion. Other suggestions are that he could have been assassinated by the CIA, or that he defected to China or Russia via submarine. Again, these theories have been questioned by many. Finally, as has been a recurrent theme throughout this series – alien abduction or other extra-terrestrial activity has been put forward as a possible explanation.
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As mentioned, Holt was presumed to have died by drowning. A memorial service was held five days later, with numerous world leaders attending. Holt is commemorated, somewhat ironically, by the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre. He was succeeded by John Gorton, and was unfortunately the third Australian Prime Minister to die while in office. In 1969, a plaque was bolted to the seafloor to commemorate Holt, with the plaque simply reading:
“In memory of Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia, who
loved the sea and disappeared hereabouts on 17 December 1967”.