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Harold Holt

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Rt Hon Harold Holt
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Rt Hon Harold Holt

Harold Edward Holt (August 5 1908 - presumed dead December 19 1967) was an Australian politician and the 17th Prime Minister of Australia from 1966 - 1967, now best remembered for the bizarre circumstances of his death.

He was born in Sydney, the son of Tom Holt, a well-known theatre director, but he was educated at schools in Melbourne and at the University of Melbourne, where he graduated in law. He practised briefly as a solicitor before being elected to the House of Representatives for the United Australia Party in 1935.

At 27 Holt was one of the youngest members of the House, but his obvious ability brought him rapid promotion to the ministry in 1939. In 1940 he joined the Army, without resigning his seat. Shortly afterwards three Cabinet ministers were killed in an air disaster at Canberra, and the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, recalled Holt from the Army to become Minister for Labour and National Service. This earned him the ironic nickname "Gunner Holt."

Holt had a reputation as a high-living playboy, but in 1947 he married Zara Fell, a fashion designer, and adopted her three young children from a previous marriage. After eight years in opposition from 1941 to 1949, Holt returned to office in Menzies's new Liberal government in 1949 as Minister for Labour and National Service and Minister for Immigration. In this position he continued and expanded the massive immigration program begun by his Labor predecessor, Arthur Calwell.

In 1956 Holt became Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and thus Menzies's heir apparent. In 1958, when Sir Arthur Fadden retired, Holt succeeded him as Treasurer. His career was nearly derailed in 1961 when his economic policies caused a recession which came close to losing the 1961 election for the Liberals. But his stocks, like the economy, soon recovered, and in January 1966 he finally succeeded Menzies as Prime Minister. He had been an MP for 30 years - the longest wait of any non-caretaker Australian Prime Minister.

Holt's major challenge in office was the Vietnam War, to which Menzies had committed Australian troops in support of the United States. In October 1966 US President Lyndon B. Johnson toured Australia at Holt's invitation, and in December he called an election on the slogan "All the Way with LBJ." Holt had an enormous victory over Labor, whose leader, Calwell, bitterly opposed the war.

In 1967, however, Gough Whitlam succeeded Calwell as Labor leader, and proved a much more effective opponent. At the 1967 Senate elections the Liberals lost a number of seats. Some Liberals, free of the strict discipline of the Menzies years, began to plot against what they saw as Holt's weak leadership.

On 17 December 1967, Holt went swimming at Cheviot Beach on Point Nepean near the holiday resort of Portsea, south of Melbourne. Apparently seeking to impress his friends, Holt, who was 59 and had had a recent shoulder injury, plunged into the surf. He disappeared from view and was never seen again. Despite an extensive search, his remains were never found. He was officially presumed dead on 19 December.

Holt was an affable and well-liked figure in politics, and Australians of all political views were saddened by his death. President Johnson returned to Melbourne for his memorial service.

There were many rumours about Holt's death, such as that he had committed suicide or faked his own death in order to run away with his mistress. In 1983 the British journalist Anthony Grey published an apparently serious book in which he claimed that Holt had been an agent for the People's Republic of China and had been picked up by a Chinese submarine off Portsea and taken to China. The most likely explanation is that Holt was caught in the strong undertow off the surf beach and swept out to sea.

No inquest was held because Victorian law at the time did not provide any mechanism for reporting presumed or suspected deaths to the Coroner. The law was changed in 1985, and in 2003 the Victoria Police Missing Persons Unit formally reopened 161 pre-1985 cases where drowning was suspected but no body was found. An inquest will be held in early 2005 into 82 of those cases, including Holt's, but the inquest is likely to be a formality. [1] (http://www.theage.com.au/news/National/Holt-inquest-to-be-held-next-years/2004/11/15/1100384477118.html). Holt's stepson Nicholas Holt said that after 37 years there were few surviving witnesses and no new evidence would be presented.

Holt is commemorated by an unusual memorial, considering the manner of his death: the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre, a swimming pool in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern.

See also

External links

  • Harold Holt (http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=17) - Australia's Prime Ministers / National Archives of Australia


Preceded by:
Sir Arthur Fadden
Treasurer of Australia
1958-1966
Succeeded by:
William McMahon

Template:Succession box one to two Template:End box

Template:AustraliaPMde:Harold Holt

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