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Video clip synopsis – One of the hardest working of Australia’s Cabinet ministers and after 32 years as a parliamentarian, Harold Holt reached the prime ministerial office in 1966.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 0min 50sec
Tags - Australian History, change and continuity, civics and citizenship, documentary, historical representations, leadership, Prime Ministers, see all tags


Harold Holt becomes Prime Minister

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About the Video Clip


Harold Holt Becomes Prime Minister 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.

Background Information


The disappearance of our seventeenth Prime Minister, Harold Holt, at Cheviot Beach in 1966 during a beach holiday sparked countless conspiracy theories and ultimately overshadowed his political accomplishments.

At the height of the Cold War, with the Vietnam War escalating, Holt moved Australia’s focus away from Britain and more towards America — substantially increasing Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. His impromptu speech on the White House lawn declaring himself ‘All the way with LBJ’ cemented his support for US President Johnson.

Holt’s prime ministership represented a major social shift from the tradition and conservatism of the Menzies era, to that of the ‘swinging sixties’.

Holt’s first prime ministerial statement announced the relaxation of restrictions that had blocked the entry of non-European migrants for 65 years. The Migration Act 1966 increased access to migrants other than those from Europe, including refugees fleeing Vietnam. This was the beginning of the dismantling of the ‘White Australia’ Policy. In 1966 he brought in Australia’s conversion to decimal currency. The following year on 27 May 1967 Australians overwhelmingly answered ‘yes’ to removing the discriminatory clause in Australia’s Constitution under which Aboriginal people were not counted in the census, and in changing the Constitution so that the Commonwealth parliament was empowered to legislate for Indigenous people.

Holt also brought Australia into the ‘space race’ with the construction of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, and the joint US-Australian communications station at North West Cape, Western Australia.

In September 2005, the Victorian State Coroner found that Holt had drowned while swimming. The Coroner had previously been unable to investigate a death where a body was never found. Harold Holt was the third prime minister to die in office after Joe Lyons (1939) and John Curtin (1945).

Classroom Activities


Work with a group of two or three students to investigate, respond to and discuss the questions and points that follow.

  1. The clip comprises dramatic reconstruction and archival footage accompanied by a voiceover by a female narrator:
    1. Make a list of the content and the type of shots you see in this short clip, for example, reconstruction: long shot of the Prime Minister’s car, archival: long shot of old Parliament house, archival: close-ups of Holt’s face as he walks up the steps of Old Parliament House.
    2. How would you describe the tone of the clip? Consider the images, narrator’s voice and music.
    3. Explain how the choice of images in both the reconstructed and archival scenes, the voice of the female narrator and the music work together to make the words you hear sound convincing. What ideas does the clip present to you about the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967?
  2. What questions are raised about the disappearance of Prime Minister Holt in the clip? Find out what conclusion police reached about Holt’s disappearance at the time.
  3. Investigate and write a brief overview of key social and political events that occurred in the two or three years prior to Harold Holt’s disappearance.
  4. The clip explains that Harold Holt was Australia’s 17th Prime Minister:
    1. Create a timeline to show the terms of office of each Australian Prime Minister.
    2. Find out the circumstances surrounding Harold Holt becoming Prime Minister in January 1966. Who did he assume the leadership from, and why?
  5. Old Parliament House is shown in the clip:
    1. Find out the location of Old Parliament House and how long it was home to Australia’s Federal Parliament. How is it used now?
    2. Parliament House is currently situated on Capital Hill just south of Lake Burley Griffin. Find out who designed the new building, when it was built and how much it cost to build. What is interesting about its design?

Further Resources



Tom Frame, The Life and Death of Harold Holt, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005


Screen Australia Digital Learning – Harold Holt’s Briefcase

Australian Dictionary of Biography – Holt, Harold Edward

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)

Australian War Memorial – Australia’s Prime Ministers

The University of Melbourne, History of the Melbourne Law School