On December 17, 1967, Australia’s sitting Prime Minister, Harold Holt, went for a swim in the ocean and never returned.
It was a warm Sunday morning and Australia’s 17th sitting Prime Minister was unwinding after wrapping up his first full year in office.
Holt had a holiday home in Portsea, Victoria, and after watching British round-the-world sailor Alec Rose arrive at Port Phillip Bay with a group of friends, Holt suggested they have a swim before lunch.
An avid swimmer, Holt waded out into the water at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, while witnesses on the shoreline watched on. The day was stormy and the water was choppy and unpredictable.
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According to the handful of witnesses, one second Holt was visible from the shoreline and the next he was gone.
Marjorie Matear Gillespie, the Toorak heiress Holt was supposedly having an affair with, reportedly said: “He’s gone, he went out to the rock and he’s gone, like a leaf on the tide, he’s gone”.
Holt was never seen again and his family and friends, and the wider Australian community still have no idea what actually happened to Holt once he entered the water that day.
It’s most likely he drowned in the choppy waters and his body was taken out to sea or eaten by marine life.
But in the 50 years since he vanished, there have been a number of conspiracy theories about what really happened to the 59-year-old. Many refuse to believe a sitting Prime Minister could disappear during the Cold War, without a sinister or calculated explanation.
Some believe Holt was actually a Chinese spy and that he swam out to a waiting submarine, which then took him back to Beijing. In 1983, a British author named Anthony Grey even published a book in support of this theory, giving it credence and earning it a lifelong place in Australian political folklore.