“History is much more the product of chaos than of conspiracy,” says former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
But, if you’re a believer in conspiracy theories, that’s probably exactly what you’d expect him to say.
While most conspiracy theories originate in the US – JFK’s assassination, Elvis is alive, the Roswell incident – Australia has its own out-there ideas.
1. Australia’s Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle isn’t the only place where planes and ships go down. Believers say disappearances in the Bass Strait Triangle are caused by just about everything, from sea monsters and giant squid to alien abductions and alternate dimensions.
The first reported disappearance over what’s known as the Bass Strait Triangle occurred in 1920 when a military Airco DH. 9A went down while searching for a missing ship.
On 19 October 1934, the Miss Hobart airliner went missing on a flight from Launceston to Melbourne. The aircraft, carrying nine passengers and two pilots, was last heard from at 10.20am near Wilson’s Promontory. During World War Two, several aircraft were lost during low-level bombing practice in the Bass Strait.
[Image: Jim Wilson & Lloyds Maritime Atlas]
One of the most controversial disappearances was that of Brenda Hean in September 1972. Hean, a well-known environmentalist, had taken off from Canberra in a 1930s Tiger Moth to lobby against the flooding of Lake Pedder. She and her pilot were never seen again.
Aviation investigators found no evidence of what happened, but determined the plane likely crashed between Flinders Island and Tasmania.
The truth is likely a combination of less far-fetched causes including human error, treacherous weather, and plain bad luck.
Scientists argue that the triangle is no more or less dangerous than any other stretch of water. No one has been able to prove that mysterious disappearances occur more frequently there than in other heavily-used sections of the ocean.
Australia’s Area 51
The Joint Defence Facility Pine Gap is a secretive facility near Alice Springs that’s run by both the U.S. and Australian governments.
The government’s unwillingness to reveal any details about the facility has led to a variety of ideas about what exactly goes on there.
Theories include building an underground city for the elites when the world is destroyed, researching alien technology and creating a death ray. Some even claim the site exists in the third, fourth and fifth dimensions.
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Warning sign on the road to Pine Gap [Image: Creative Commons]
It’s difficult to know the truth, when such secrecy surrounds the facility, but we can probably rule out the most extreme theories using basic common sense. Pine Gap’s dome-like structures and remote location suggest it’s essentially a satellite tracking station.
In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that Pine Gap is one of the key facilities used for U.S. surveillance.
Pakistani lawyer and rights campaigner Shahzad Akbar has gone on record as saying the facility tracks communications from Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, enabling the US to target them with drone strikes.
An aerial view of Pine Gap [Image: Flickr/Skyring]
Canberra’s Occult Design
In the early 1900s, a competition was held to design a city plan for the Australia’s new capital city, Canberra. The winner was Walter Burley Griffin, an American architect and town planner.
At the time Parliament House was designed, Burley Griffin was associating with people in the theosophical movement, an occult society started in the 19th century that sought divine wisdom through contact with God and other spiritual beings.
His unique geometric designs and links to mysterious groups have led to speculation that the city plan is filled with occult symbols and messages linked to everything from Freemasonry to Kabbalah.
Believers say Parliament House represents the all-seeing eye pyramid of the Illuminati and the double ring around Capital Hill mark the area as a consecrated temple
Scholar Peter Proudfoot, has suggested there was a “secret plan of Canberra”, based on the “cosmic canon of the ancients”.
An aerial view of Canberra [Image: CSIRO]
James Weirick, an expert on the work of the Burley Griffin and his wife, says their background may have given them a spiritual awareness, but their work was not consciously occult-related.
The fundamental idea I think was that the ultimate authority of spiritual development was the soul itself,” he told ABC’s Compass program.
“And this idea that there is an inner quality and inner mystery is something which lies at the heart of everything that the Griffins do.”
Our Missing Prime Minister
Almost fifty years later, conspiracy theories are still swirling about the disappearance of Harold Holt. The Prime Minister disappears without a trace while swimming at a remote beach in Victoria on 17 December 1967. No body or evidence of any kind was found.
With both Cold War paranoia and civil unrest over the Vietnam War at their peak, conspiracy theories quickly began to take hold.
One of the more outlandish theories, popularised by a British novelist, is that Holt had been a spy for the Chinese for more than 30 years, was picked up by a submarine and taken back to China. Holt’s wife countered this particularly wild theory by noting that he “didn’t even like Chinese cooking.”
Prime Minister Harold Holt with US Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara [Image: Creative Commons]
Just the previous year, the leader of the Labor opposition Arthur Calwell had survived an assassination attempt by a student who disagreed with his anti-war stance. After Holt’s death, the police found what looked like a bullet hole in a window of the Prime Minister’s office, bolstering the theory that he may have been murdered.
A book by Scott Cooper claims that Holt was killed accidentally in a botched kidnapping that was prompted by his plan to increase troops to Vietnam. Other outlandish theories suggest Holt faked his death or was taken by a UFO.
In 2005, authorities determined that Holt died from drowning. The Victorian state coroner Graeme Johnstone says, “Mr Holt took an unnecessary risk and drowned in rough water off Cheviot Beach. Perhaps, in hindsight, there should have been an enquiry as it may have avoided the development of some of the unsubstantiated rumours and unusual theories.”
Holt’s wife dismissed the Chinese spy theory, noting that he “didn’t even like Chinese cooking.”
Harold Holt’s former press secretary Tony Eggleton maintains that the PM’s demise was nothing more than a tragic accident.
"Basically, I think that people just find it very hard to accept that a prime minister can go for a swim on a Sunday afternoon, like anyone else, and end up misjudging the situation and drowning.”