Zara Bate

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Dame Zara Bate

Dame Zara Holt 1950.jpg
Dame Zara Holt in 1950
Spouse of the Prime Minister of Australia
In office
26 January 1966 – 17 September 1967
Preceded byDame Pattie Menzies
Succeeded byLady Gorton
Personal details
Zara Kate Dickins

(1909-03-10)10 March 1909
Kew, Victoria
Died14 June 1989(1989-06-14) (aged 80)
Gold Coast, Queensland
Resting placeSorrento Cemetery
James Fell (m. 1935–1946)

Harold Holt (m. 1946–1967)

Jeff Bate (m. 1969–1984)

Dame Zara Kate Bate DBE (née Dickins, previously Fell and Holt; 10 March 1909 – 14 June 1989) was an Australian fashion designer and socialite who was best known as the wife of Harold Holt, the 17th Prime Minister of Australia. She grew up in Melbourne, attending Ruyton Girls' School and Toorak College. Going into the dressmaking business, she opened a shop in 1930 and eventually expanded into a chain of boutiques. Zara's first marriage to James Fell was short-lived, although they had three children together, she remarried to Harold Holt – a Liberal Party politician – in 1946, although they had known each other for many years previously. She became the prime minister's wife in 1966, and was known for her energy and flamboyance, she was widowed in December 1967, when her husband disappeared while swimming at Cheviot Beach, Victoria. Zara published her autobiography in 1968, and the following year remarried to Jeff Bate, another politician, she was widowed for a second time in 1984, and subsequently retired to the Gold Coast.

Early life and career[edit]

She was born in Kew, Victoria as Zara Kate Dickins. She was educated at Ruyton Girls' School and Toorak College; in 1930, she and her friend Bettine 'Betty' James (later the wife of Sir Roy Grounds) established a dress shop in Little Collins Street. With another friend, she later opened a salon, called Magg, in Toorak Village. In 1961 a Magg dress won the Australian Gown of the Year award.[1]

Her first husband was Colonel James Fell, by whom she had three sons, Nicholas (1937) and twins Sam and Andrew (1939). Their marriage broke down soon after the birth of the twins. They divorced, and in 1946 she married Harold Holt, a Liberal Party politician, he legally adopted her children and gave them his surname. Tom Frame's biography The Life and Death of Harold Holt reveals that Holt was the twins' biological father.

The Holts meeting with Prime Minister of the U.K Harold Wilson and Mrs Wilson in 1967.

Harold Holt was a member of Robert Menzies' Cabinet continuously from 1949, becoming deputy Liberal leader in 1956 and Treasurer in 1958. When Menzies retired in January 1966, Holt became Prime Minister. Zara brought a new style and prominence to the role of prime minister's wife.[2] According to Diane Langmore, the author of Prime Ministers' Wives (published 1992), Zara Holt "was the only one of the prime ministers' wives to have been a successful businesswoman. No intellectual, and not particularly introspective, she had common sense and a lack of pretension which endeared her to many. [...] The tragedies of life did not make her bitter or cynical; she retained an openness and warmth until her death."[3]

In December 1967, Harold Holt disappeared while swimming near Portsea, Victoria; his body was never recovered. Zara was informed of her husband's disappearance by one of his secretaries, Peter Bailey.[4]

Zara Holt was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours of June 1968, for "devotion to the public interest".[5] In 1968 Dame Zara published My Life and Harry: An autobiography.[6]

Later life[edit]

On 19 February 1969, Dame Zara Holt married Jeff Bate, a farmer, Liberal politician and member of the Bate family of Tilba, New South Wales, she then became known as Dame Zara Bate. It was the third marriage for both of them; in the early 1970s, Dame Zara promoted Maxwell House instant coffee and Amana microwave ovens and refrigerators in television commercials. After Jeff Bate's death in 1984, Dame Zara retired to the Gold Coast, where she died in 1989 at age 80.

Dame Zara was buried at Sorrento Cemetery, Victoria in the seaside suburb of the same name. Sorrento Cemetery is the closest cemetery to the site her second husband disappeared from, Cheviot Beach.


  1. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography Volume 17 by PA Pemberton
  2. ^ Hawkins, John. "Harold Holt: urbane treasurer". Economic Roundup Issue 1, 2012. The Treasury. p. 63. Archived from the original on 12 February 2014.
  3. ^ Frame, Tom (2005). The Life and Death of Harold Holt. Allen & Unwin. p. 305. ISBN 1-74114-672-0.
  4. ^ Frame (2005), p. 252.
  5. ^ It's an Honour
  6. ^ Dame Zara Holt (1968), My Life and Harry. An Autobiography, Herald and Weekly Times, Melbourne


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