Monday 11 September 2023

Harold Holt


Well here we are at another cold Monday, I have just seen Sam off to school while we are waiting for his transport to arrive I am shown some weird and funny clips on his phone from YouTube or Tic Tok and it does feel good to have a laugh but now it is time for another well know/famous Aussie that you may have or more likely never heard off till now. This week have Harold Holt.

Harold Edward Holt CH was an Australian politician and lawyer who served as the 17th prime minister of Australia, from 1966 until his disappearance and presumed death in 1967, holding office as leader of the Liberal Party of Australia.

He was born on the 5 August 1908, seven months after his parents marriage in January 1908, he had a younger brother Clifford born in 1910.

Born in a suburb of Sydney in 1914 his parents moved to Adelaide while him and his brother remained in NSW with an uncle but it 1916 he went to live with his grandparents in country for about a year before returning to Sydney. Around that time his parents split up and he went to a boarding school.

He was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1932 and set up his own legal practice in 1933, however, due to the depression things were hard and he relied on the hospitality of friends to get by. 1933 was the year he joined the Young Nationalist the youth wing of the United Australia Party.

Drawing on his family connections in show business, he eventually accepted an offer to become secretary of the Victorian Cinematograph Exhibitors' Association, a film industry lobby group. In this capacity he appeared several times before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation of Arbitration. This had a positive effect on his own practice, and he eventually took on two partners, first Jack Graham and later James Newman. The firm of Holt, Graham, & Newman was dissolved in 1963, following a financial dispute and subsequently reconstituted as Holt, Newman, & Holt, with Holt's son Sam as the new addition. Holt's involvement in the practice declined once he entered politics and ceased altogether in 1949, although he did not formally retire until assuming the prime ministership.

Holt was twenty-seven years old when he entered parliament, making him its youngest member. He kept a relatively low profile in his first few years, but spoke on a wide range of topics. When Robert Menzies became prime minister in April 1939, he made Holt one of four ministers without a portfolio. His inclusion was made possible by the collapse of the coalition with the Country Party previously a certain number of positions had been reserved for Country MPs, but the new ministry was composed solely of UAP members. Although Holt officially had no portfolio, he effectively was an assistant minister to Richard Casey, who headed the Department of Supply and Development. He was given responsibility for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research(CSIR),and also acted for periods as Minister for Trade and Customs and Minister for Civil Aviation and Air, while the incumbents were overseas. Holt's first stint as a government minister came to an end in March 1940, when the coalition with the Country Party was reinstituted. His replacement was Arthur Fadden, another future prime minister.

He enlisted in the Militia in February 1939, joining a part-time artillery unit for businessmen and professionals. He was given indefinite leave during his ministerial service. In May 1940, without resigning his seat, Holt enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force with the intent of becoming a full-time soldier.

Several of his parliamentary colleagues did likewise at various points in the war. In a press statement, Holt said "as the youngest member of the House, I could not feel happy in my position if I were not prepared to make some sacrifice and take an active part". He was sent to Puckapunval for training, and expected to be posted to North Africa or Palestine.

More could be said about his early political career but I don't want to bore you too much so let's move on to his role as Prime Minister.

He was sworn in as prime minister on 26 January 1966, following the retirement of Robert Menzies six days earlier. He won the leadership election unopposed, with William McMahon elected as his deputy. He was the first Australian prime minister born in the 20th century and the first born after federation. He was almost fourteen years younger than his predecessor, but, at the age of 57, was still the fourth-oldest man to assume the office.

He had been an MP for over 30 years before becoming prime minister, still the longest wait for any non-caretaker Prime Minister. Stylistically, he was more informal and contemporary than Menzies, and his wife accompanied him into the political spotlight. He gave the media an unprecedented level of access, and was the first prime minister to conduct regular press conferences and grant regular television interviews. His press secretary, Tony Eggleton, accompanied him virtually every time he travelled.

He loved the ocean, particularly spearishing, and had holiday homes in Victoria and Queensland. On 17 December 1967, while he was spending the weekend with four companions decided to stop at remote Cheviot Beach for a swim before lunch– he had spearfished there on many previous occasions, and claimed to "know this beach like the back of my hand". Because of the rough conditions, only one other person, Alan Stewart, joined Holt in the water. Stewart kept close to shore, but he swam out into deeper water and was seemingly caught up in a rip eventually disappearing from view. One of the witnesses, Marjorie Gillespie, described it as "like a leaf being taken out [...] so quick and final".

Holt's disappearance sparked "one of the largest search operations in Australian history", but no trace of his body was ever found. At 10 p.m. on 18 December, Governor-General Lord Casey announced he had terminated Holt's commission as prime minister upon his presumed death.

A police report released in early 1968 made no definitive findings about Holt's death, while a colonial inquest in 2005 returned a verdict of accidental drowning. It is generally accepted that Holt overestimated his swimming ability. Some have alleged that he committed suicide, but those close to him rejected this as uncharacteristic of his personality. Conspiracy theories have included suggestions that he faked his own death, was assassinated by the CIA or was collected by a submarine so that he could defect to China.

A memorial service for Holt was held at St Paul's Cathedral Melbourne on 22 December, and attended by numerous world leaders. Aged 59 at the time of his death, Holt became the third Australian prime minister to die in office.


  1. Isn't it strange that we remember every detail about his disappearance, including where we were when his death was announced publicly. Yet I don't remember much about his political successes or failures.

    1. I was thinking about that when I was writing this up

  2. "...or was collected by a submarine so that he could defect to China."

    Would it be possible to enter a submarine under water? On the TV show The Man From Atlantis, it was. He entered from a hatch under the sub. But that was TV.

    What a sad story.

    1. When I read that bit I thought what a stupid thing to think

  3. Such a tragic end for a man who showed such promise in leadership, Jo-Anne. Thanks for this history lesson today!

  4. Never heard of him but what a mysterious end! Wow!

  5. Always interesting to learn these things. Collected by a sub, lol? What people won't come up with to trash someone better than themselves.


Aussie Slang

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