We all lose our car keys, wallets, and many other things; that is routine human nature. But what isn’t normal is a country losing its Prime Minister, literally!
“Australia’s Prime Minister Is Missing” – these words echoed amongst all the Australian government and media circles on 17 December 1967, when the then Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went missing.
The Beloved PM
Harold Holt became Australia’s 17th Prime Minister in January 1966 and served two years in the position before he vanished. Holt was a favorite amongst many Australians and had won the election with a large support base. In his brief tenure as PM, he set in motion some landmark policies that shaped the next 50 years of Australian politics.
Holt’s administration was praised for dismantling the White Australia policy and amending the constitution to give the federal government the responsibility for indigenous affairs.
While Holt had many achievements on his part, they didn’t come spot-free. He was allegedly at the center of many controversies, most widely criticized for his expansion of Australia’s intervention in the Vietnam War. He openly gave full Australian support to the US in the war, proclaiming that he was “with LBJ” (President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States), a remark which was poorly received at home.
But the one thing that he is most associated with today is his sudden disappearance on 17 December 1967. To date, 50 years after his disappearance, the prime minister remains missing. Even his body has not been found.
On 17 December 1967, Holt went swimming in the sea near Portsea, Victoria. He disappeared while swimming. An extensive search was conducted in and around Cheviot Beach, but his body was not found.
Holt was believed to have died, and five days later, his memorial service was attended by many world leaders. Although his disappearance is generally accepted as a mere accidental sinking, many conspiracy theories around his sudden disappearance have emerged, the most famous of which is the proposal that a Chinese submarine discreetly captured him.
The thought that a sitting PM just drowned out while swimming and was never found again was unable for many to digest. A book titled The Prime Minister Was A Spy by British journalist Anthony Grey alleged Holt had been a Chinese spy and had been evacuated by a Chinese submarine, a widespread belief.
Some also believed that the CIA had been assassinated, supposedly because he had plans to pull Australia out of the ongoing war in Vietnam. There were also suggestions that Holt had been killed by the North Vietnamese or that he had faked his death to be with his love and fructify an alleged affair of his.
Many also doubted why Holt had always refused any protection while on holiday. It was true that Holt never liked to be covered by security and regarded it as a ‘violation of his privacy.’
He grudgingly accepted a single bodyguard for his official duties only after two incidents in mid-1966 when a window in his office was shattered by a sniper, followed by an assassination attempt on Arthur Calwell, the Leader of the Opposition.
More than fifty years after his disappearance, the mystery hasn’t been solved. Many still believe that Harold Holt is alive and is having a good time in Beijing.