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Book details life at The Lodge

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November 17, 2017

The 17th Prime Minister of Australia, Harold Holt, held that office for just one month short of two years before his untimely and mysterious death in December 1967.

We are shortly coming up to the 50th anniversary of that almost unbelievable event, and it is worth noting.

Mysterious, because his body was never found after he took what was certainly a very rash swim in some wild water at Portsea, and disappeared.

Mad theories abounded at the time, such as one that a foreign submarine was just offshore and that’s where he went, but it was much more likely that he misjudged that always treacherous sea and was swept out, underwater, to be devoured by sharks, or that his body became wedged in the rocks which line that part of Port Phillip Bay.

His two years of office were marked by controversy, but he was generally a well-liked man who ultimately married his first love, Zara Dickins.

However that marriage did not happen until 1946, when, as a mother of three small boys, she became divorced from a British Army officer.

Twenty years later Holt was made Prime Minister.

And out of this came Dame Zara’s autobiography, published in 1968.

She virtually had carte blanche to decorate The Lodge, the official home of the Prime Minister in Canberra, and as a woman of fashion this was right up her alley.

We get a blow-by-blow description of every wall, floor, curtain, table, chair, bed, bath and ornament in the place; the colours, the fabrics, the sizes, the sources, the styles, the walls removed, the walls retained.

And we get a blow-by-blow description of the official tours taken, most particularly through Asia, with details of temples, the beautiful people and what they wore and how the palaces were decorated, and the wonderful gifts received.

Adjectives abound, repeatedly.

This reader got the feeling that one needed to be told more than once how beautiful it all was or you simply couldn’t get the picture.

At times it was hard going, and good English had to give way to repeated exaggeration.

The result of all this is a large book with nearly fifty photographs, which has assured Zara Holt a place in history.

— L. E. Stephenson

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