Australia, as with many countries, has had a rocky political history. Its now-famous war against emus in the early 1930s has become the subject of countless memes and YouTube videos. The country faced a historic constitutional crisis in 1975, when Queen Elizabeth II’s Governor General removed the Prime Minister and imposed his preferred government, in what some have labeled a soft coup d’état.
Perhaps the country’s most bizarre political chapter, however, came on December 17, 1967, when then-Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming in the sea nearby Portsea, Victoria. Holt had been swimming with an individual named Alan Stewart, and chose to venture out into deeper water. Soon, the waves overwhelmed the Prime Minister, dragging him from the shore. Present company, including Stewart, called out to Holt, but he was unresponsive. The Prime Minister’s body was never recovered, in spite of a considerable search and rescue effort.
Theories abound regarding Holt’s death. Some accept the narrative that rugged waters were to blame. Others think that he may have suffered a heart attack, or been stung by a jellyfish. There are even suggestions that Holt committed suicide. Beyond these less fanciful theories, there are some that are conspiratorial in nature. One such conspiracy theory is related to the Vietnam War. Holt was a major backer of US President Lyndon B. Johnson as well as the war. The theory suggests that Holt had begun to have reservations about Australia’s role in the protracted conflict, resulting in a CIA assassination of Australia’s leader. Another theory is that the Prime Minister was a secret Chinese agent, and faked his death in order to defect to the communist country. His wife later dismissed this theory in part by stating that her husband “didn’t even like Chinese food.”
Regardless of the true nature of Holt’s death, it is undoubtedly true that the disappearance left a lasting impression. Some say that it was a watershed moment that contributed to the Australian political instability of the 1970s, culminating with its aforementioned constitutional meltdown in 1975.
Frame. T. (2005). The Life and Death of Harold Holt. Allen & Unwin.
Westcott, B. (2017, December 17). How Australia’s PM went swimming 50 years ago and vanished forever. CNN. Retrieved October 24, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2017/12/16/asia/australia-harold-holt-missing-anniversary-intl/index.html.