Informant: R.P. Italian-Australian Male, 28 years old
Location: Sydney, Australia
Told to me by a 2nd generation Italian male, whose family immigrated to Australia from Italy and Naples a generation earlier. R.P. was born and raised in Australia and learned of this legend as a young boy playing with friends. The main piece/urban legend itself is based on an event that actually occured in the late sixties, however the legend deviated from the official telling of Harold Holt’s fate by speculating why he may have disappeared. I have summarized the legend below:
In the sixties, there was a Prime Minister, Harold Holt, that was known for being athletic, but a little outlandish. He had been the Prime Minster of Australia for a short time and people were generally okay with him, from what R.P. remembers in the story. At some point, the Prime Minster was swimming in the sea in the region of Victoria. He called out to the press and reporters that had gathered to photograph him “watch how deep I can go!” He then swam directly way from the shore where the reporters were waiting, he kept swimming until everyone lost sight of him. He never came back. He mysteriously vanished into thin air. They sent out search parties to look for him but never found him or any remains. It stunned the country because no one could understand how this man went missing when there were so many witnesses. Some speculate that he was kidnapped while in the open ocean by communists. Some say that he was caught in a riptide and couldn’t escape. Others say that he purposefully went missing to avoid the responsibilities of being Prime Minster. In the end, no one knows what happened, and his body was never found.
When asked about his opinion on why the Prime Minister went missing, R.P. replied that though it’s unlikely, he thinks that the Prime Minster purposefully went missing for some unexplained reason. From his perspective, and based on what he’s heard from members in his family, it may not have been an incredibly unexpected thing for Harold Holt to do. We discussed why some people may believe that Holt was actually kidnapped. R.P. posited that it was likely due to the political tension of the times. There were many reasons in that time period for controversies to spread, and due to the nature of the disappearance, it was easy for people to create conjecture and rumors about the situation. R.P. also offered clarification about the cultural reasons for why this was a particularly popular topic of debate. Because Australia is a relatively removed, yet developed country, certain types of stories will dominated the media cycle for an extended period of time. Because overall, it is a safer country when compared to America, stories about disappearances or other mysteries capture the public and become massive points of discussion, news is often privy to “overreaction” from the public in R.P.’s opinion. It is interesting to me, that in times of political tension, there are often public reactions to events that play on the perception of the event, rather than the practical elements. I liken the debate around Holt’s disappearance to some of the conspiracy theories of the sixties in America, in which distrust infused daily life to the point where people developed many controversial explanations for certain occurrences.