Safe As Houses: O’Meara farm, Pittong

Adam Smith 5 May 2017 NEWS

Safe as houses omeara farm feature image

A rural property’s very recent notoriety does little to dampen buyer demand.

  • WARNING: The following article contains descriptions of violent crimes that some may find disturbing.

The usual method of our weekly Safe As Houses column is to examine whether or not a grisly murder in a home had a material impact on its price many years after the event. But what if people were willing to spend big on a property just months after two people were bashed to death there? That’s precisely what happened in Pittong, Victoria, in 1953.

On the evening of September 12, 1953, Geoffrey Hooper was driving the Glenelg Highway outside Ballarat when he saw a bloodstained man standing by the side of the road. Hooper, a reverend, stopped to help.

Not far off the road, beneath some trees. An old man lay face down, struggling to rise. Near him lay an elderly woman, also struggling to get to her feet. Hooper could see her head was drenched in blood.

omeara farm2

The O'Meara property

As the old man managed to get to his feet and stagger towards the house, the man standing by the roadside approached Hooper’s car.

“There has been a murder here, father,” the bloodstained man said as the elderly man and woman writhed on the ground. “Are you a priest? He attacked me with a piece of wood.”

The bloodstained man Hooper stopped for was Owen Meredith, an employee on the farm of the mortally wounded elderly man, 73-year-old James O’Meara. While James would succumb to his injuries at the scene, it would take more than two weeks for the woman, his sister Martha, to die from the blows Meredith had inflicted on her.

Meredith took little responsibility for the murders. In his mind, it seems, he was pushed to violence. He told the constable attending the scene that he was “a victim of circumstance, living with stinking relations”.

It appears James and Owen had argued at lunchtime that day, and Owen had retreated to his room to temper his frustrations with half a bottle of brandy. Rather than quell his anger, the alcohol seems to have stirred it. He rose later and went back to confront James O’Meara.

“I saw the old chap sitting on a chair. I got stuck into him and knocked him off the chair,” he told police.

Though Owen Meredith struck the first blow, he seems to have considered the events that unfolded next some form of self-defence. He told police that O’Meara fought back, and that O’Meara’s sister Martha rushed to his aide. Meredith then bludgeoned James O’Meara with a fireplace poker. When Martha tried to call the police, he beat her with an axe.

Given Owen Meredith’s tendency to cast himself as the victim, it must have been genuinely surprising to him when a jury found him guilty of both murders and sentenced him to death.

The O’Meara property’s notoriety doesn’t seem to have deterred buyers one bit. A little less than four months after the murders, a crowd of people gathered for the property’s auction. The 989 acre property, which had belonged to the O’Meara family for 100 years, sold for £28,848, or more than $1.2 million in today’s currency.

Stigmatised properties often suffer a decline in value. The grisly events that brought the properties their fame can make many would-be buyers squeamish. But it seems for a prime piece of agricultural land like the O’Meara farm, people were more than willing to overlook the property’s very recent history.

Each week, Safe as Houses looks at some of Australia's most notorious murders and the effect those killings have had on real estate values.

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