With yesterday’s recovery of Victorian Water Minister Tim Holding from the summit of Mt Feathertop, we can close another, brighter than most, chapter in the annals of disappearing politicians.
Over the past three centuries those holding civic office have had a distinct tendency to wander off into parts unknown. Is it a consequence of the power that one wields while in office? Does power drive a man (or woman) into the yonder?
Could it in fact be some kind of Gypsy curse? In an effort to explain, I have examined many cases of disappearing pollies over the years and have classified them, in an incredibly academically rigid fashion, into three distinct groups — the Slain, the Shaggers and the Silly Buggers.
The Slain: Fairly self-explanatory. They are those who were silenced and quickly stuffed somewhere never to be found, usually due to their beliefs. Recent African and Latin-American history fairly drips with such cases — consider General Augusto Pinochet’s “disappearances” following his 1973 coup against the Chilean government.
However, the slain and vanished political figure to resonate most strongly in our popular culture is Jimmy Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Mother (or Father) Of All Union Bosses. A stubborn, loudmouth bull of a man, he’d built the Teamsters into a nationwide force, controlling all trucking and was preparing to take on the airlines when he went AWOL.
He disappeared from a Detroit restaurant one snowy day in 1971. Some might call this a rookie mistake — meeting with organised crime figures is usually not considered best practice should you want to enjoy a long and successful career — but Hoffa was trying to restart his political career following jail time for bribery and the only way was up.
There are a number of theories as to what happened to him following this meeting and most involve dismemberment with a garden implement and the swift burial of body parts soon afterwards (maybe under Giants stadium). Remains, however, have yet to be recovered. Several ex-cons have also come forward to claim responsibility for the murder, but they have yet to provide any substantial evidence. We will probably never know what became of him.
The Shagger: also fairly self-explanatory. They are those politicians who disappear because they want to do something that the spotlight usually doesn’t allow them to do. This usually involves sexual activity with a man or woman who is distinctly not their spouse. The most recent and spectacular trainwreck-y example of a “Shagger” can be found in South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who recently sparked a minor freakout among his government and security detail when he suddenly disappeared for four days, not answering his phone or talking to his family.
Before leaving, he had informed a few staffers he was going to be hiking the Appalachian Trail. Of course, he was doing no such thing.
He was, in reality, in Buenos Aires, exploring the magnificent peaks and valleys of one María Belén Chapur, a middle-aged divorcee who Sanford sheepishly claimed was his soul mate, when forced to hold a press conference on his return. The good Governor is currently embroiled in an impeachment battle with the state House of Representatives and the outcome of his political career is, at the time of publication, unknown.
The Silly Bugger: a select cadre that Mr Holding might have found himself in, were he not as well-equipped. The “Silly Buggers” are those who venture into the wild unknown with little thought or expertise. Luckily, I’m able to give the rabidly pro-Australian commenter-brigade the content they so strongly desire with this final category, rather than a foreign ring-in. Serving Prime Minister Harold Holt was one of these proud “Silly Buggers” who disappeared during a swim at Cheviot Beach, Portsea on December 17, 1967.
Cheviot Beach was, and still is a very, very dangerous spot full of riptides and despite the rabid Cold War fantasies that the Chinese picked him up in a submarine moored off the coast, it’s most likely that he drowned, despite his strong ability as a swimmer. Those wishing to honour his memory may like to visit the Harold Holt Swim Centre.
I have yet to fully discover the reasons behind disappearing politicians. I suspect it may be a side-effect of the near-constant scrutiny that many civic officials face on a daily basis, but there is plenty more study to be done and I suspect some field trials.
Meanwhile, I would urge those seeking political office to make sure they pack adequate food and shelter, at least for a week and for the love of God, let someone know where they’re going!
Mike Stuchbery works with cultural institutions to make their collections accessible to students, teachers and the general public. He is also the Editor of Macabre Melbourne.