In today’s Australian Bishop Tom Frame has comprehensively dismantled the wholly mean spirited claim by Doug Anthony that Harold Holt’s death might have been at his own hand and not by misadventure. Tom Frame is the author of the only comprehensive biography on Holt, The Life and Death of Harold Holt, published last year.

While researching the book, Bishop Frame rang me and asked me if I knew anyone who was close to Harold Holt. I immediately nominated my good friend Sir James Killen, and arranged for Bishop Frame to meet with him soon after.

Jim Killen was not a Minister in the Holt Government but he was very close to Holt personally. They shared a common interest in horse racing and a late night drink, or three. After Holt’s death Jim kept up a friendship with Holt’s sons. When Tom Frame met with him, Jim gave him access to folders of hand written notes between Holt and himself – the latest exchange occurring not long before his death.

Over lunch that day, Tom Frame remarked how extraordinarily frank their friendship had been – as evidenced by the hundreds of letters and notes, and the numerous anecdotes Jim was able to recount. In our hundreds of discussions over the years Jim Killen and I discussed Harold Holt many times, and I probed him frequently on reports that he had taken his own life.

Killen dismissed the claims out of hand. His last conversation with Holt, not long before his death, did not reveal the “depression” Anthony has kept secret for forty years. Indeed, he thought Holt was in a very optimistic frame of mind. But Jim Killen dismissed the suicide theory for another reason. He reminded me several times that, even though Holt had been in politics for over a quarter of a century, he did not allow it to dominate his life.

He used to remind Killen frequently that he needed “a life outside politics”. Holt’s life outside politics centred around the surf and the turf! He was as avid a punter as Killen, and, as the latter used to remind me, a significantly more successful one.

In one of our last conversations, Jim Killen made the point that Holt would have had no difficulty walking away from politics, a comment he made in the context of the inability or unwillingness of contemporary leaders to do so.

As Jim Killen would have said, Anthony has not offered a “scintilla of evidence” to support his claim. And he would have been on the phone at first light yesterday giving Anthony the serious “touch up” he deserved.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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