Holt briefcase subject of British TV host's 'Hidden Treasures' documentary

Media release: Thursday, 9 May 2013

Former Australian prime minister Harold Holt's stylish leather briefcase and some of its intriguing contents, on display at the National Archives of Australia, will be the subject of a program to be filmed at the Archives in Canberra by British television host Tony Robinson on Tuesday, 14 May.

It is believed the brown case was taken by Mr Holt to Portsea on the weekend he disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach on Sunday, 17 December 1967. Manufactured by the prestigious German company Seeger, the monogrammed briefcase was retained by the Holt family until May 2002, when it was transferred into archival custody.

Mr Robinson is best known for his shows Time Team, Blackadder and Worst Jobs in History. However, his new show Tony Robinson's Time Walks is currently investigating 'hidden' historical treasures in cities across Australia and New Zealand.

An Archives conservator will be on hand on 14 May to remove the treasure from its display case in the Archives' Memory of a Nation exhibition for filming. Some of the items found in the briefcase are also on permanent display. The front flap of the bag carries the metal initials HEH (Harold Edward Holt). Inside the front pocket were papers including bank statements, tax returns, notes on a defamation case from the time and other official papers.

The briefcase's contents also included correspondence that discussed the relationship between former prime ministers William McMahon and John McEwen, a paper on the author Morris West, and a Victoria Amateur Turf Club member's car pass. The zip pocket contained coins, combs, cigars and fountain pens.

'The National Archives is fortunate to have in its collection a wide range of personal items which belonged to Harold Holt, including his briefcase and film given to us by his family in 2007, as well as official documents from his time as prime minister,' said Archives Assistant Director-General Anne Lyons. 'We are very pleased to have this unique part of our collection made available, along with many records about Mr Holt's disappearance and the subsequent investigations – which give an insight into an important part of Australia's political and social history.'

The Archives also has photographs of the briefcase, as well as more personal shots of Mr Holt and his wife Zara at their holiday house in Portsea. Other records include the official report by the Commonwealth and Victorian police into the disappearance of Mr Holt. This file includes all the witness reports from those people who were with the prime minister on 17 December and watched him swim into what was described by one witness as 'boiling waves'.

There will be opportunities to photograph/film the briefcase and Mr Robinson at the Archives on 14 May from 4pm.

Contact information

  • Katrina Iffland (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3903 e katrina.iffland@naa.gov.au
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