Do A Harold Holt

220px-haroldholtportrait1953Karl Mamer recently invited me onto his podcast The Conspiracy Skeptic to discuss conspiracy theories from the Land Down Under. One of the cases we discussed was the disappearance of former Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt.

On December 17, 1967, Holt visited Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria, with some friends. He went into the water for a swim and vanished. The search for Holt lasted 22 days although his body was never recovered, so it was presumed that he had drowned.

Holt’s sudden disappearance led to much speculation and a number of conspiracy theories formed. One theory was that Holt was assassinated for involving Australia in the Vietnam War. (As “proof”, an Indian Swami had a vision of Holt’s body buried on the ocean floor.) Other theories include that he was abducted by a UFO, that he was suffering from depression and had committed suicide, or that Holt, a known womanizer, had faked his own death to run off with his (then) mistress Marjorie Gillespie.

An old urban legend claims that Holt was a spy for the Chinese. When the Australian government discovered his secret identity he was picked up by a Chinese submarine and whisked away to China for protection.

His widow, Zara Holt, scoffed at claims he was involved with the Chinese government. She once remarked, “He didn’t even like Chinese food”.

It wasn’t until 2005 that a coroner ruled Holt’s cause of death to be accidental drowning. His body was either swept out to sea or eaten by sharks. The sea was rough that day, there were high winds and dangerous rip currents. Of course, this hasn’t silenced the conspiracy theorists.

Whatever the cause of his tragic disappearance, Holt is still around in many pop culture references. There was a band called Harold Holt and the Chinese Submarines, and a pool complex in Melbourne is named the “Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Center”. Holt’s untimely demise also inspired some Aussie slang with the phrase to do a Harold Holt. This is rhyming slang for “to bolt”, that is, to make a quick exit.

For example:

“The dude came home from the World Cup, was rumored to join an A-League club, then literally did a Harold Holt and has just disappeared from all footballing circles.” Inside Sport

Australians love to shorten phrases, words and names, and so the saying is often reduced to to do a Harold or even to do a Harry.

Having said that, I’m going to do a Harold Holt…

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Karen Stollznow

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Stollznow is a linguist with a background in history and anthropology, and is the author of the best-selling book God Bless America. Her other titles include Hits & Mrs., Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic and Haunting America. Her forthcoming books include Missed Conceptions and Not What The Doctor Ordered.

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