December 18, 2017

50 years ago yesterday: "It was a quintessential Australian death. On 17 December 1967, Australia’s 17th prime minister, Harold Edward Holt..."

"... waded into the churning surf at Victoria’s Cheviot Beach, defying a swift current and a strong under-tow that left others in his party refusing to enter. Within minutes Holt was swept up and out, 'like a leaf … so quick, so final,' and never seen again.... It was an ordinary death, a shockingly banal one that still befalls dozens every summer. That it happened to a prime minister, swimming alone in dangerous conditions without bodyguards, made it extraordinary. Photos of Holt in snorkel gear, surrounded by his bikini-clad daughters-in-law, only propelled the sense of intrigue and the view of him as a carefree, careless playboy... The failure to find his body fuelled conspiracy theories for decades – his judgment was dulled by opiates he was taking for a shoulder injury; he was a Chinese spy and had been taken by a Chinese submarine; he was depressed, driven to the point of suicide by Liberal party factional battles; his personal life was in turmoil and equally driving him to insouciance and danger...."

From "Harold Holt: the legacy is evident, 50 years after his disappearance" (The Guardian).

Can you take a little time to care about Australia or are you already working on a comment speculating that others will comment about the potential for Trump to go swimming?

I used Google Street View to visit Cheviot Beach and got an aptly ghostly, disconnected picture:



Imagine being driven to insouciance.

32 comments:

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

I was working on a comment about the ghostly photo. But someone else beat me to it.

Yah, I don't care about some ex-politician dying because stupid, hubris, depression, drunk etc.

Bob Boyd said...

Made me think of this guy who's lifesize bronze likeness sits on horse holding a sword in front of the state capital building in Helena Montana.

"Thomas Francis Meagher (/ˈmɑːr/; 3 August 1823 – 1 July 1867) was an Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. After being convicted of sedition, he was first sentenced to death, but received transportation for life to Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) in Australia.

In 1852 he escaped and made his way to the United States, where he settled in New York City, where he studied law, worked as a journalist, and traveled to present lectures on the Irish cause. He married for a second time in New York. At the beginning of the American Civil War, Meagher joined the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of brigadier general. He was most notable for recruiting and leading the Irish Brigade, and encouraging support among Irish immigrants for the Union. By his first marriage in Ireland, he had one surviving son; the two never met.

Following the Civil War, Meagher was appointed acting governor of the Montana Territory. In 1867, Meagher drowned in the swift-running Missouri River after falling from a steamboat at Fort Benton. Timothy Egan, author of a 2016 biography on Meagher, suggested Meagher may have been murdered by Montana political opponents, a theory which has found little support."

EDH said...

His initials were... heh.

sodal ye said...

A couple of years ago I spent seven months exploring Australia. It’s a beautiful country if you have time and are willing to step out into the wildness. Maybe the best in some ways, I think, having made a point of seeing most of the world slowly. I can’t wait to go back to the Northern Territory for a month or two.

But the east coast, the peopled part, is frustrating. I’m from Vancouver and by comparison they’re barbarians. Stubborn, technologically inefficient, almost Luddite. They’re pre-modern and pissed me off.

mockturtle said...

Imagine being driven to insouciance.

Perhaps it was insoucicide.

tcrosse said...

Insouciance to the point of je-m'en-foutisme.

Michael K said...

There was another ex-PM who vanished on a beach. I don' think it was the same one. His clothing was found and it was assumed a shark got him.

FIDO said...

I am disappointed there are no bikini pictures. That is a failure of marketing, Ms. Althouse.

james james said...

There is a younger guy at the bar who has talked lately of moving to Australia. The idea of getting up root and branch and moving somewhere else is still in the American Psyche. And in the psyche of the immigrants that come to America. So the American Psyche is found in other lands and identified by the decision to leave for America. There is a name for that kind of reasoning.

In a far but recent past, such people would strike out from the East and move West. And as the East caught up with them they would move farther West. Some still do: they move to California. For many, the California Dream is bigger than the American Dream. Some even dream of going further West: these people dream of Hawaii and a land of relaxation and beauty and pleasing weather, exotic, but exotic in a way where the English language can get you by comfortably. Hawaii: America, but not too much America.

Some of these Westward people made it to Seattle. By which point you are pretty much running out of land to go west, because: ocean. And, as such, Seattle has become a refuge from the East, and from the South: a lot of Californians move north to Seattle. Some from the south stop a little shorter, and stay in Oregon, usually Portland. Which at least takes a few more new arrivals off the congested roads.

Anyway, the younger guy at the bar who has talked lately of moving to Australia. Australia can have an Old West vibe, at least from several thousand miles away. Rough and tumble, still. And they speak English, which is always good when you only speak English. Again: see Hawaii.

But Australia: the dream of moving ever Westward now takes you halfway around the world. And they have the Aborigine History of sketchy actions, just like America and the Native Americans. So, again: Old West.

There is supposed to be good surfing there, too. But the younger guy at the bar who has talked lately of moving to Australia doesn't surf. But it does make the California and Hawaii similarities a bit more cohesive. When talking about Australia in English.

- james james

Anonymous said...


Aquatic dingoes ate my prime minister.

I am disappointed there are no bikini pictures.

buwaya said...

I like Australians. Most of the family is actually in Australia these days. I once worked for an Australian VC firm; and had I not stayed in the US my next gig back in the 80s would have been with an Aussie venture in Papua New Guinea. Or ended up in Australia.

But you lot got me. Lucky you.

The thing about Australians is they drink. Been drunk under the table by these guys, several times, because I have never drunk much and never got in practice I guess.

buwaya said...

Australia is rather expensive as a retirement destination.
Property is not cheap, we are talking Seattle prices. Which seems curious given how big and blank it is.

Hawaii (big Island) is much cheaper to buy in. A bargain really. My wife was there @9 months ago and was looking into it. The cost of living is high though, groceries, gas, electricity.

james james said...

"insouciance and danger" makes me think of Austin Powers.

Which sometimes makes me think of Beyonce wearing a wetsuit.

Not sure if Holt ver wore a wetsuit in his swimming excursions. Maybe it would've helped him not die.

Hindsight.

Hindsight can also be a Beyonce joke, maybe.

- james james

Paco Wové said...

My favorite bit of the Harold Holt story is this: "His death was commemorated in a number of ways, most famously by the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre."

Paul said...

Stupid is as stupid does!

Does not matter how rich, famous, or 'important' you are. Play stupid games, get stupid prizes.... or just die.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Althouse PLEASE tell me you've read In A Sunburned Country. No Bryson fan can talk about Australia until she's read it.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Australia is a fun place. Only been once but hoping to make it back.

Oso Negro said...

I’ve been driven to insouciance, but. It wasn’t that interesting so we just kept going.

CWJ said...

"But you lot got me. Lucky you."

Yes.

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse PLEASE tell me you've read In A Sunburned Country. No Bryson fan can talk about Australia until she's read it."

I've listened to the audiobook hundreds of times.

Big Mike said...

The Australian waters are full of things that want to eat you -- bull sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads, great whites, saltwater crocodiles -- and things that don't want to eat you, just kill you -- cone shells, box jellyfish, blue ringed octopi. Best to stay on shore.

Big Mike said...

I like the way the person in the picture fades out from the legs upwards. Talk about Google cutting someone off at the knees!

Big Mike said...

Of course if you stay on shore you can die from being bitten by one of the many species of very highly venomous spiders (like the Sydney funnelweb) or snakes (taipans, Death Adders, the Eastern Brown Snake). Even their cute little Koalas can turn vicious if provoked.

MikeD said...

I care about Oz to the extent I read Tim Blair & Andrew Bolt daily & The Quadrant on a weekly basis.

John Tuffnell said...

HEH was quite the ladies man, a lovable rogue back in the day.

In a candid interview, Dame Zara [HEH's wife] confirmed the clandestine relationship saying she was "very aware" it had been taking place.
"I felt like telling Marj about the other half dozen in the same position," Dame Zara told a documentary crew, rolling her eyes.
"He was a womaniser. He loved them. He loved them," she said.
"He was a charming man, for women. He didn't have any men friends, or many. He had friends, but he didn't have one great friend … a man, but he had a lot of women. He was a menace," she recalled affectionately with a laugh.
Dama Zara said Holt was an expert at hiding his many affairs from his wife.
"He was charming to me. He really hid them beautifully," she said. "I might know, and I saw … and I didn't see, for I knew if I saw I'd have to make a fuss and that'd be it and I'd have to leave him and have to bring up three children.
"Anyway I loved him. I had to make my mind up about that very early in my marriage and I decided alright, if that's it, I'll look the other way. Which I did."
"He was having affairs everywhere and he made a big thing of never having a guard anywhere near him. I know why. He should have had a guard with him."

Bob Boyd said...

"His clothing was found and it was assumed a shark got him."

Must have been a Butler shark. They eat you, but they leave your clothing neatly folded on the beach.

mockturtle said...

Actually, it sounds suspiciously like an insurance fraud case I read about where the guy feigned drowning and 'disappeared' but actually resurfaced quite a distance from where he fell in. He then fled to Mexico but eventually got caught when he returned for the life insurance money his wife collected.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I've listened to the audiobook hundreds of times.

Yay! I thought as much.

Jupiter said...

By modern American standards, he's assaulting at least two of his daughters-in-law. Probably harassing the third. He's lucky he's dead.

Owen said...

Holt's demise by rip current reminds me of the passage in "Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why" where the author recounts his escape from wintry Chicago to Honolulu for a vacation and, within minutes of reaching his hotel on Waikiki Beach, decides to go swimming. He just happens to chat with a lifeguard before plunging in to that lovely surf.

I say no more but it is a wonderful little story.

Howard said...

Eddie would Go
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddie_Aikau

Unknown said...

I'm not a great swimmer but in any case once got caught in a rip current that took me along the beach--absolutely helpless in it. It finally slowed and I got out. Nothing as strong as that rough surf in the photo.