Free for educational use
A Successor for Harold Holt
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 3min 18sec
Tags - Australian History, change and continuity, civics and citizenship, documentary, historical representations, leadership, Prime Ministers, see all tags
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About the Video Cliptop
A Successor for Harold Holt is an excerpt from the documentary The Prime Minister is Missing produced in 2008.
The Prime Minister is Missing
With Australia at war in Vietnam in 1967, suddenly Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared without a trace—an event unparalleled in the history of western democracy. Four decades after Harold Holt’s bizarre disappearance at Cheviot Beach, a coronial inquiry confirmed that he had accidentally drowned.
A Screen Australia Making History Production in association with Blackwattle Films. Developed and produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
With Australia at war in Vietnam in 1967, suddenly Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared without a trace—an event unparalleled in the history of western democracy. The nation was in shock and disbelief at the shattering news, hoping for a miracle for the man who famously declared it was ‘all the way with LBJ’.
Police led a ‘softly softly’ investigation and concluded accidental drowning. But at the height of Cold War paranoia, persistent doubts about his disappearance fuelled rumour and wild speculation.
Why did Holt go into such violent surf that day? Had he chosen a bizarre way out of a difficult situation? Why were police withholding crucial facts? What had they overlooked? Holt himself left tantalising clues that challenged the official explanation.
With the country not having a leader because of the Prime Minister’s definitive disappearance a new leader had to be appointed. John McEwan was sworn in as Prime Minister by the Governor General on December 19, 1967 on the understanding that he would have this role until the Liberal party appointed its new leader.
The clip opens highlighting the likely candidates for the Prime Minister’s office – the Treasurer, William McMahon and the leader of the Country Party, John McEwan. Even though the government was formed by the Country-Liberal party coalition, there were ideological rifts between the two mainly because McMahon had favoured free trade reform whereas McEwan did not. The video clip explains how McEwan created extreme tensions within the Liberal-Country Party coalition by claiming that the Country Party would not be supporting the government if McMahon were appointed as its leader. With this threat hanging over the Liberal Party’s opportunity to govern the country, McMahon had to withdraw from the leadership race. John Gorton was put forward by the Liberal Party to be its leader and on 10 January, 1968 he was sworn in as Australia’s 19th Prime Minister.
Work with a group of two or three students to investigate, respond to and discuss the questions and points that follow.
- What is meant by the term Coalition?
- The Liberal-Country Coalition had governed, federally since 1949 and remained in power until 1972, the longest unbroken length of time a political party or coalition of parties had remained in power in Australian history. How long had the Liberal-Country Party Coalition been in government federally when Prime Minister Holt disappeared?
- Was Holt elected unopposed by the federal members of the Coalition? Find out if there were there other leaders who may have been in the running to become leader?
- Write two or three short biographical paragraphs about each of the following Australian federal politicians who had prominent careers within the Liberal-Country Party Coalition:
– Harold Holt (Liberal Party)
– William (Billy) McMahon (Liberal Party)
– John McEwan (Country Party – later renamed National Party)
- Examine the clip carefully for evidence of change and continuity since the 1960s in Australian social and political life. Consider politicians’ contact with media, proximity of citizens to politicians, levels of security, vehicles, media equipment, other technology, clothing, office décor, staff. Consider the accuracy of different representations of the period through archival footage, reconstructed scenes and more recent interviews with commentators.
Tom Frame, The Life and Death of Harold Holt, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005
Australia’s Prime Ministers – A National Archives of Australia Project (use the site search tools and the research map to find information on prime ministers)