It’s been 50 years since sitting Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt went for a swim off the coast of Victoria and never returned.
Former Australian prime minister Harold Holt shows Holt in his diving gear before he vanished in 1967. Photo: AFP
Friends and family members of the late Mr Holt are gathering for a private commemoration service to mark his disappearance and will remember his achievements while in Parliament.
Australia’s 17th prime minister served three decades in Parliament before becoming prime minister, only to disappear two years into his first term.
Federal Member for Flinders Greg Hunt said Mr Holt had a strong social and economic legacy including the introduction of a national child endowment scheme as part of the Menzies government.
Decades of conspiracy theories
But for most Australians he will always be known for his abrupt disappearance on 17 December, 1967.
Harold Holt before his disappearance. Photo: AFP
Under the law at the time of Mr Holt’s disappearance, an inquest could not be held because there was no body found, but the ruling changed and in 2005 the Victorian coroner found Mr Holt had drowned and his death was accidental.
But the most powerful man in the country does not go missing in the middle of the Cold War without a mountain of conspiracy theories, ranging from suicide to abduction by a Chinese submarine.
Ten years ago, the National Archives released some of the best letters written to authorities in the aftermath of Mr Holt’s disappearance.
There was a letter from an American lawyer, apparently written the day after his disappearance, speculating there was a better than 50 per cent chance his death “resulted from expert sabotage, probably foreign”.
They might have used “some delayed-effect drug, which he might have got in refreshments on his way to the beach,” the letter writer said.
“This would be revealed by expert autopsy, unless it’s one of the new disappearing ones.”
Others suggested the prime minister was still alive, believing he faked his own death to run off with an alleged mistress.
Or, in true Cold War fashion, had been abducted by Chinese communists.
“I think that Mr Holt was kidnapped and taken away by submarines, and is being brainwashed for political information,” one letter read.
“Our enemies know that Mr Holt and president [Lyndon B] Johnson were close friends. A word to the wise is enough – and I shall leave the rest to you and our government.
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