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After office

On 17 December 1967, Harold Holt became the third Australian Prime Minister to die in office. His death was subsequently the subject of controversy. The Prime Minister was presumed dead two days after he disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach near Portsea in Melbourne. After an extensive search failed to find him, at 10 pm on 18 December 1967, the Governor-General Lord Casey announced he would terminate Holt’s commission. The following day John McEwen was sworn in as Prime Minister. The circumstances of Harold Holt’s death were the subject of an official inquiry, and of intensive media coverage.

Harold Holt's memorial service, 1967

Prime Minister John McEwen with world leaders at Harold Holt's memorial service, 22 December 1967.

NAA: A1200, L68558

On 22 December a memorial service was held at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne. It was the largest gathering of world leaders in Australia's history. Among the heads of government who converged on Melbourne for the service were British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and US President Lyndon Johnson, as well as many of the Asian leaders the Holts had visited in the previous two years. Services for Holt were held around the world – at Australian diplomatic missions, in New York and Washington and, early in 1968, at Westminster Abbey.

Among the memorials to Harold Holt were a US destroyer escort, the renamed US North West Cape facility, a metal plaque bolted to the sea floor at Cheviot Beach on the first anniversary of his disappearance, and a marine reserve on the southern shores of Port Phillip Bay dedicated on the tenth anniversary. There are also two Harold Holt memorial swimming pools, one in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern, and the other in Vung Tau, Vietnam.


Hancock, Ian, ‘Harold Edward Holt’, in Michelle Grattan (ed.), Australian Prime Ministers, New Holland, Sydney, 2000.

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