Two navy divers search for the missing prime minister, Harold Holt, along the Victorian coastline

Harold Holt's disappearance

The prime minister vanished 50 years ago
 Adam Blackshaw

Prime Minister Harold Holt entered the surf at Cheviot Beach, Victoria on the afternoon of 17 December 1967 and was never seen again.

No body or other evidence was found, despite an exhaustive search. There were no clues to explain his vanishing. The allegations, rumours, insinuations and conspiracy theories quickly emerged and continue to this day. 

Is Harold Holt still alive? Did he commit suicide? Was he drunk or drugged? Did he secretly belong to a crime syndicate? Was he a Chinese Communist spy?

The clip below combines the first news reports of his disappearance with footage of the search that quickly got underway.

The Harold Holt Mystery, 1985. Courtesy: TEN Network. NFSA title: 311683

A stunned nation struggled to make sense of the tragedy. A memorial service was held for Holt on 22 December 1967, only five days after his disappearance, which attracted royalty, world leaders, political powerbrokers and the grieving public. Holt's disappearance changed the face of Australian politics and how Australians saw themselves.

Our curated collection Harold Holt: the Missing Prime Minister includes Channel Nine television news footage from December 1967 and extracts from the comprehensive documentary The Harold Holt Mystery (Ten Network, 1985). It also features clips of Holt hosting Australia's first US Presidential visit in 1966 and, as Treasurer, introducing the new decimal coin designs.

Main image: Two navy divers search for the missing prime minister along the Victorian coastline.