Free for educational use
The Death of Harold Holt
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 3min 38sec
Tags - Australian History, change and continuity, civics and citizenship, documentary, historical representations, leadership, media influence, Prime Ministers, Vietnam War, see all tags
For copyright reasons this clip is not available as a download.
About the Video Cliptop
The Death of 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.
Work with a group of two or three students to investigate, respond to and discuss the questions and points that follow.
- List theories about Prime Minster Harold Holt’s disappearance based on the clip.
- Beside each theory, note evidence the clip provides and the name and description of any person who comments about its likelihood.
- Discuss the relevance and reliability of evidence or comments in terms of being able to draw a conclusion about the cause of Prime Minister Holt’s disappearance.
- One theory suggests Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War might be relevant to Holt’s disappearance. Investigate Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
- Explain why the documentary filmmakers might have included numerous sources to convey ideas in this clip—ranging from memories of people from the period including eyewitnesses, a detective and parliamentary colleagues, along with footage from a TV current affairs program, newspaper clippings, a political historian, archival footage and reconstructed scenes?.
- Comment on the likely accuracy of memories about events that occurred more than 40 years ago.
- Examine and compare archival scenes of the beach, reconstructed beach scenes and other ocean image in the clip. How is the ocean presented? Why do you think the filmmakers included each shot? What impression does it give about the ocean in which Prime Minister Holt was swimming? Is it accurate? How do you know?
- Investigate the reputation of this beach in relation to drownings around the time of Holt’s disappearance.
- The clip finishes with comments by Alan Stewart, an eyewitness and Ian Hancock, a Political Historian. How does the tone of their opinions affect your view about the theory that Harold Holt was a spy who had swum to a waiting submarine. Why might the filmmakers have included their comments?
- Discuss the impression this clip leaves upon you. What do you think happened to Harold Holt? Why do you think this?
- What security related to the Prime Minister’s safety is evident in the clip? How is this similar to or different from the level of security surrounding Australia’s Prime Minister today?
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)