On a Strong Swimmer

Harold had been a swimmer his entire life. Growing up in Australia, he was near the water all the time. As a successful 59 year old man, he’d developed a keen interest in spearfishing and was known to be able to hold his breath an exceptionally long time, even for a snorkeler. Harold was in decent shape and kept fit precisely to pursue his swimming interests. It was near Christmas, 1967, and in Harold’s native Australia, that meant warm weather in the southern hemisphere. In other words, perfect weather along the country’s southwest coast near Melbourne. Harold had a resort home not too far from Portsea and decided to spend the weekend before the holiday there with some friends.

It was a bright Sunday morning, and Harold was keen to swim on one particular beach. He bragged to his friends that he knew the place “like the back of my hand.” Now, the sea was rough that day, but waves never before seemed to deter Harold in his pursuit of a good day in the ocean. One of the friends who accompanied the swimmers that day, Marjorie Gillespie, said that, suddenly, it seemed that Harold was caught up in rip tide. “He was like a leaf,” Marjorie said later, a leaf that was helplessly being swept out to sea and unable to offer any resistance. She noticed that Harold’s head was seen one moment and then–gone. Alan Stewart, another swimmer with Harold that day, said he felt the strong undertow, and it scared him so much that he came out of the water.

Harold didn’t.

A massive manhunt ensued. The beach was notorious for its difficult conditions, but, again, Harold was a strong swimmer and knew the beach and its dangers. Unusually, the beach ran out just past the breakers and then suddenly dropped an astounding 60 feet straight down. Someone who would be pushed out that far could be pushed below the water’s surface and trapped below that ridge. If that happened, the body would probably never be recovered.

And that’s exactly what most people think happened to Harold. His body has indeed never been found. By the next morning, everyone knew that Harold was lost forever despite a search that would last the next several days and see the use of helicopters, divers, and patrol boats. People who knew Harold couldn’t believe it. How could someone simply vanish in the water off the coast of a known and popular beach? Marjorie told reporters that it seemed Harold didn’t realize that the current was taking him closer and closer to the breakers and the drop off point. Maybe by the time he realized that he was in trouble, it was too late. He didn’t raise an alarm or call out for help. Why should he?

After all, Harold Holt, the Prime Minister of Australia, was a strong swimmer.


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