The time Australia lost its Prime Minister – literally
Running a country can be a dangerous job. For national leaders, it’s a fairly common occurrence to be killed or die while still in power. In some counties, leaders are deposed though violent revolutions and in others leaders are assassinated and mourned for years to come. Unfortunately, life in Australia isn’t nearly as exciting as most places and running the country isn’t such a dangerous job. Nobody cares enough to try and to kill our Prime Ministers although somebody did throw a shoe at one, once.
However, Australia does understand what it is like to lose a beloved leader – and when I say “lose” I mean lose.
The person is question is Australia’s infamous Prime Minister Harold Holt. Holt rose to power in 1966 and never achieved much worthy of note during his short time in office. While Holt’s time as Prime Minister was largely unmemorable, the way he resigned from the position would be remembered for years to come. You can’t really blame Holt for not achieving much during his time; he was a little…out of his depth. Holt was in office for roughly 22 months before he simply vanished.
On 17 December 1967, Harold Holt, Prime Minister of Australia, went for a swim near his holiday home at Portsea in Victoria. Not long after, Harold’s companions noticed that he was missing and soon the raised the alarm.
What resulted was one of the largest search and rescue operations Australia has ever witnessed. Unfortunately, despite everyone’s best efforts, Harold Holt was nowhere to be seen. His body had just…disappeared! Australia had just become the proud nation that had somehow misplaced its own leader.
The bizarre and sudden disappearance of old Harold – and the fact that no trace of him was ever found – leant a real air of conspiracy to the event. There were various claims that Holt was murdered by the US army for being opposed to US army bases being on Australian soil. Another more outlandish claim was that he was abducted by aliens.
As strange as these theories might sound, Australia was just so confused by Holt’s sudden disappearance that they just sounded like the most plausible option. How does the most powerful person in the country just vanish?
The most famous and widely believed conspiracy was that Harold Holt was a Chinese spy. The story goes that Holt was not actually going for a leisurely swim at the time but instead was having a secret rendezvous with the Chinese on a submarine. Holt was then whisked away as he had clearly accomplished his mission of proving that even a moron is capable of becoming the Prime Minister of Australia.
Although, sadly this conspiracy was dismissed by his widow years later when she said:
“Harry? Chinese submarine? He didn’t even like Chinese cooking.”
The Harold Holt Memorial
In all seriousness, the loss of a beloved leader was a tragic event for Australians. As an attempt to somehow mend the gaping hole that Holt’s disappearance had left in the Australian psyche, the nation decided to immortalise its fallen leader in such a way that he would be properly remembered for generations to come. After what was surely a very long and solemn deliberation process, it was eventually decided that the most appropriate way to memorialise Harold Holt would be to build a swimming pool in his honour. Seriously!
Yes, some genius actually decided that they only way to properly remember our fallen leader would be to put his name onto the very thing that killed him. This is essentially the equivalent of building a JFK memorial shooting range in Texas
Laying the story to rest
In reality, there is no real mystery surrounding Holt’s disappearance. The most likely truth is that he went swimming in a very stupid place and drowned. His body was washed away by strong currents and he was long dead before the Chinese government could extract any information from him. I hope this story serves as a lesson to Australians: we need to take better care of our Prime Ministers in future and try not to lose too many more.