Harold Holt’s grandson has dismissed the idea the former prime minister was captured by a Chinese submarine in the rough surf off Victoria’s Cheviot Beach.
Robert Holt quoted his grandmother Zara to debunk the wild conspiracy theory the Liberal PM was a secret Communist agent, as he marked the 50th anniversary of Harold Holt disappearing, after going for a swim.
‘Zara used to say he didn’t even like Chinese food so why would he want to defect to China?,’ he told Nine News on Sunday.
Liberal PM Harold Holt was swept out to sea off Victoria’s Cheviot Beach on December 17, 1967
Mr Holt went for a swim near the mouth of Port Phillip Bay, south of Melbourne, on December 17, 1967 and was never seen again.
The 59-year-old Liberal Party leader had been in the job for less than two years, after taking over from Sir Robert Menzies, when a heavy swell swept his body out to sea.
Robert Holt said Cheviot Beach was too shallow for such a vessel to get in.
‘Every year there are people who drown in Australian waters and we never find the body,’ he said.
Zara Holt (pictured with her husband Harold Holt in January 1966 a few days before he became prime minister) said the Liberal PM didn’t even like Chinese food
Harold Holt’s grandson Robert Holt (pictured) debunked the idea a Chinese submarine took his grandfather away
Harold Holt loved the taste of fish but he wasn’t so into the taste of Chinese food, family says
‘If you look at the beach here and how shallow it is, the idea that a submarine could have got in here is absolute madness.’
Robert hoped his grandfather, who held the Melbourne seat of Higgins, would be remembered for his achievements rather than the way he vanished, and the massive air search that followed.
Mr Holt began the dismantling of the White Australia policy and drove the historic referendum to ensure indigenous people were included in the census.
The former federal treasurer and PM also introduced decimal currency and the child endowment scheme, which was the first time mothers were paid a benefit for raising children.
The helicopter search for Harold Holt in 1967 was Australia’s biggest ever sea search mission
Harold Holt’s biological son Sam Holt lays a wreath on the 50th anniversary of his father’s disappearance
Health Minister Greg Hunt (third from the right standing) and Speaker Tony Smith (fourth from the right) join a memorial ceremony for Harold Holt at Cheviot Beach on Sunday
‘He was very progressive in his thinking,’ Robert said at Cheviot Beach.
‘So we are very keen that he is remembered for his achievements, not just the last few minutes of his passing.’
Robert and other family members attended a memorial service for Mr Holt on Sunday at Point Nepean, overlooking Cheviot Beach.
That included his biological son Sam, who Harold Holt had pretended was his adopted son because he was born when Zara was still married to her first husband James Heywood Fell.
Harold Holt’s son Sam Holt remembers his father on the 50th anniversary of his disappearance
Health Minister Greg Hunt, who is the member for the local area of Flinders, and federal Speaker Tony Smith spoke at the 50th anniversary event.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull led tributes in Canberra’s lower house earlier this month, calling Mr Holt’s disappearance one of the most ‘confounding’ events in the country’s history.
‘He ushered in many of the reforms that we now consider so crucial, such watersheds in our evolution to the modern nation that we are today,’ Mr Turnbull said.
Mr Holt also ramped up Australia’s commitment to the Vietnam War, famously telling the American president Lyndon Johnson it was ‘all the way with LBJ’.