A Farewell Note. - Poem by Michael Walker
I worked so long in the shadow of Bob Menzies,
that I was surprised when he did step down.
After a caucus vote, I stepped up to become
the seventeenth Prime Minister of Australia.
I knew I was certainly ready for the top job.
At Immigration, I changed 'White Australia'.
As Treasurer, I knew all about the high notes,
and balanced the budget in decimal currency.
As Prime Minister, I sponsored a referendum
that recognized the Aboriginal people as citizens,
giving them the census, the vote and equal rights
I kept unemployment down, while wages went up.
I travelled the world more than ever before.
In Washington I said, 'All the way with LBJ',
when I sent our troops to that futile war in Vietnam.
In London, I criticized neutral countries.
My popularity was soaring in the opinion polls;
the Liberals won the 1966 election on a roll,
so that I no longer felt lonely and insecure.
It was late in 1967 that the tide turned.
My party lost seats in the Senate to Labor.
I was blamed for the loss, high inflation
and retaining under-achieving cabinet ministers.
Why not? I was a conservative by instinct after all.
No, I was not ruthless with dismissals, like Menzies..
Why did I allow a second inquiry into the 'Voyager? '
I was eventually proved right about that sinking.
Then the doctor diagnosed the depression I dreaded,
but carefully concealed behind a ready smile.
It was a Sunday morning in mid-December that I drove
with friends from my Portsea home to Point Nepean,
Port Phillip Bay, to see a round-the-world yacht race.
At noon, we drove on to the secluded Cheviot Beach,
which was well-known for its high waves and rip currents.
I decided to swim there, with a shoulder injury,
although my friends begged me not to risk it.
I waded into the shallows, then swam into the deep,
letting the current decide my fate, not sure
if I even wanted to return to the far-off shore.
I was alone in the water I had always loved
and when I saw high waves about to embrace me,
I knew it was all over.
(Harold Holt, Liberal Party Prime Minister of Australia, January 1966-December,1967) .
Poet's Notes about The Poem
Holt was recognized as a decent, honorable man, possibly too much so for top-level politics.
Before writing this, I read the biography: 'The Life and Death of Harold Holt', by Tom Frame. Three of Holt's friends that day were: Chris Anderson, Jan Lee, and George Illson. They saw everything. Frame treats Holt's disappearance as an inexplicable drowning, although he does mention suicide as a possibility.
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