Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunburned Series: Unsolved Mysteries (1)

Way back in December, I mentioned that I picked up Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country to read. True to form, I finished the book within a few days, but I haven't really had a chance to report on any interesting findings. I've decided to use this as an opportunity for a series of posts: The Sunburned Series.

There will be eight installments, as there a total of six states and two territories that make up Australia (Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, Northern Territory, and the Australian Capital Territory... incase you were wondering).

The first few pages of Bryson's book discuss how all things Australia are generally unknown to the rest of the world (as I have blogged about in the past). This, I believe, adds to the allure and mystery surrounding the continent. Bryson opens his travel essay listing some news items that, had they been from a more connected country, would (presumably) have gotten media coverage. The headline that most grabbed my attention was the unsolved disappearance of a prime minister. What?

In 1967, Harold Holt (PM) took a stroll along the shore in Victoria, plunged into the sea, and was never seen again. I feel like I should have heard about that before, even though it was well before my time. It was reported in the December 18, 1967 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald that "Mr. Holt, 59, disappeared while swimming in a very heavy surf off Cheviot beach, on the ocean side of Portsea on the Mornington Peninsula, 59 miles from Melbourne." No body was ever found.

According to a 2003 article in the Aussie publication The Age, any notion of foul play is largely unsupported by evidence, rather by those with active imaginations:
Dark rumours that he was depressed by the mounting opposition to Australia's Vietnam involvement or committed suicide or was assassinated by the CIA have never been seriously entertained. The most absurd scenario - fostered by English author (and now publisher of tracts for the Raelian cult) Anthony Grey in his 1983 book The Prime Minister was a Spy - had Mr Holt swimming out to rendezvous with a Chinese submarine. The most likely explanation is that he, like so many others, misjudged the conditions and his own abilities and drowned.

Though the disappearance of Mr. Holt remains unsolved, the case is "one of 103 suspected drownings between 1961 and 1985 that the Victorian coroner intends to review." It's amazing to me that only now, fourty years later, there is going to be an inquest into the disappearance! Can you imagine a US president vanishing into the Atlantic without an investigation? Didn't think so.

So there you have it: anyone can get lost in Australia, even the Prime Minister. Stay tuned for future Sunburned posts about deadly creatures, three-day railroad rides, and the unique Aussie sporting culture.

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