Harold Holt does a Harry

Harold Holt in 1953. Image source: National Archives of Australia

Today marks the 104th birthday of former Prime Minister Harold Holt. Tragically on 17 December 1967 Holt went missing while swimming in rough seas at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria. After extensive searches it was presumed that he had drowned. The disappearance of a serving Prime Minister sparked much speculation in the years to follow, including the suggestion of suicide and the long-running urban myth that he had been picked up by a Chinese submarine. The circumstances surrounding Holt’s disappearance led to the creation of one of Australian English’s more recent rhyming slang terms.

The search for Harold Holt, 17 December 1967. Image source: National Archives of Australia



In sardonic reference to the sudden departure of the Prime Minister the term to do a Harold Holt is rhyming slang for ‘to bolt’ – to make a quick exit. It is first recorded in 1984. As with other established rhyming slang it is also encountered as a shortened form with the rhyming element missing: to do a Harold. (Another example, to have a Barry Crocker, rhyming slang for ‘a shocker’, often occurs as to have a Barry.) In this case we find that to do a Harold is sometimes further changed by using the familiar form Harry. So to do a Harry is to run away, to get out of a situation as quickly as possible, ‘to do a runner’.

Anu did a Harold Holt minutes after she put down her microphone, skedaddling to Melbourne airport for a flight to a secret location for channel Seven’s Popstars series. (2004 Sydney Daily Telegraph, 2 Feb.)

3 thoughts on “Harold Holt does a Harry

  1. Pingback: 15 famous people who mysteriously disappeared - SOUL:ASK | SOUL:ASK

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