Long before Zara the Spanish clothing shops opened, there was another Zara in the lives of
Australians of a certain age.
I just remember Prime Minister Menzies, or Pig Iron Bob as he was known. I wouldn't dare refer to him like that when I was a kid. I could not be so disrespectful. I do recall my father lambasting him for the early 1960s credit squeeze, which slowed the construction of housing, my father's business. Menzies received his nickname because he authorised the sale of iron to Japan before WWII, which the Japanese turned into guns and bullets to shoot back at us a year or so later.
Menzies retired in 1966 and was succeeded by Harold Holt.
Harold wife's name was Zara and the first I remember about her was she owned a dress shop in Toorak Road called Magg. Zara was a larger than life figure and certainly not a retiring Prime Minister's wife.
She was educated at posh private schools as her family, Dickens, were very comfortably off with their chain of grocers, S. E. Dickens. I remember Dickens grocers. Dusty timber floored and narrow aisles with groceries stacked on shelves either side. There was a certain smell about such grocery stores. I would know it straight away if I smelt it. It wasn't unpleasant, but very distinctive. I've just been reading about Dickens. Coles launched their food stores by buying Dickens in 1958.
Zara married Colonel James Fell but after having three children, one set of twins, they divorced. She then married Federal politician Harold Holt in 1947, who turned out to be the real father of her twins.
Harold Holt became Prime Minister in '66 and ye shall reap what ye sows. Harold was not very faithful to Zara, but she tolerated his dalliances.
One such woman with whom he dallied was a Portsea neighbour and in December '67 he was in her company with a couple of friends when he went for a swim in the sea at Cheviot Beach, Point Nepean. The water was very rough and he was not a good swimmer and he soon disappeared, either drowned, eaten by a shark or taken by a Chinese submarine*. Initially the public were told he was on his own at the beach, but it did not take long for that to be found out to be untrue. His funeral was attended Prince Charles and English Prime Minister Wilson, and United States President Johnston among other world leaders.
Zara was now a widow and two years later she married Jeff Bate, a farmer. My grandmother was quite critical of her forming such a quick relationship after the death of her husband. Zara did not retire from public life to the farm. She remained in the news in her own right. She had received a Damehood in the late sixties, but that didn't stop her from being in tv ads for Maxwell House coffee in the 1970s
After her third husband Bate drank himself to death, she retired to the Gold Coast where she died at the age of eighty in 1989.
I've done a bit of reading for this post and Zara doesn't sound like she was a bad sort at all. She was quoted on Harold:
"There were dozens of women in his life". "I loved him. I don't think he loved me. But I suited him. I ran my business well. I looked tidy and neat. I was a good public speaker."
Here is an anecdote I came across. Did anyone actually like President Johnson? Australian students of the time certainly did not. LBJ and Prince Charles met at Harold's funeral.
"Oh your Highness", gushed LBJ, "I thank you for coming so far to honour the death of my friend Harold Holt".
"On the contrary", said Charles, "It is I who should thank you. And indeed I do so on behalf of my mother who is Queen of Australia". Marvellous!
I am advised this photo is circa 1950. I doubt it. Her outfit looks very Hyacinth Bucket.
Talking to the authorities at Cheviot Beach as they searched the seas for her husband.
* The Chinese sub was of course nonsense, but the theory certainly received a good run in the media.