Throughout history, innocent women have been accused of being witches by the church and a prime example of this is the Salem Witch trials where puritans incited mass hysteria in a small US town. As a result of this, a total of 19 innocent women were executed for nothing more than the bias and fear-driven accusations of the community. In the middle ages the book “Malleus Maleficarum” or translated “the Hammer of the Witches” was published in Europe by a catholic clergyman, which endorsed the extermination of witches. The witches described as “deserving to be punished” in the book were persecuted for little more than not living by the standards of society and religion deemed acceptable at the time. Many witches in Europe were punished and burned at the stake, this practice was a barbaric public execution where a woman would be burned alive in front of an audience. You may think society has moved on from this way of thinking, however, groupthink and rumours can be a very dangerous thing. This is a sad story about a modern-day witch trial that occurred in none other than little old Adelaide, a trial of harassment and accusations that has lasted from the ’60s to the present day. I have slightly changed the names to protect the identity of people I will be writing about, so they can live out the rest of their life in peace. This is the story about the Witch of Port Adelaide.
Bryan grew up in Port Adelaide in the early ’90s and got into all kinds of mischief with his friends riding their bikes and skateboards around the neighbourhood. When he first moved to Queenstown in 1996 he was riding down the street; getting the lay of the land and adjusting to his new sleepy suburban neighbourhood. Bryan rode past all the normal houses, with perfectly mown lawns and manicured garden beds until he reached the end of the street, next to the local church – looming in front of him was what looked like a “stereotypical haunted house”. Huge, out of control trees and shrubs hung over the property, shrouding it in darkness, overgrowth spilling out over the fence and onto the footpath. From the street it looked like somebody had dug out a perfect square of forest and dropped it into the suburbs with only a rusted tin roof with 2 red brick chimneys poking out of the canopy. As Bryan approached the house he could see a small clearing with a rusty bespoke fence, this led down a short dirt path of overhanging trees to a large weatherboard Victorian-era house. A local boy rode up to Bryan on his bike and told him “A witch lives there, whatever you do DON’T go past at night”. Weeks went by, Bryan had settled into his new neighbourhood and made friends at school, but he still couldn’t stop his growing curiosity about the house. One day he was hanging out with a local friend and his dad decided to try and scare them by telling them a story “A witch lives in that house up the street, if she sees you and comes outside, she will curse you. Kids have disappeared and people have been chased”.
A few years have passed, that’s when Bryan and his brother started to sneak out late at night to roam the neighbourhood. Once they snuck out at about 1 am to meet with three of their friends, they were hanging out across the road from the Witch’s house. Up to this point he had never seen anyone enter or leave the house, now his friend perked up and said “Bryan, I just saw a dark shadow moving around in the garden of the witches house”. They all laughed and said “nothing is there, you’re just scared because of the story your dad told us”. One of Bryan’s friends wanted to prove that nothing was there, so he picked up a stone and threw it on the roof of the house. The next minute they heard a blood-curdling scream and a car came tearing down the road at them, all the boys scattered in different directions but the car continued in the same direction as Bryan’s Brother. Luckily it passed and they escaped without any consequences, but now they were convinced. The witch was real.
When Bryan was 15 things really came to a head, he and one of his friends decided to break into the witch’s house. They jumped the fence and pushed their way through the overgrowth. Bryan’s friend attempted to get through a window, but to no avail. Bryan tried the front door and to his surprise, it easily opened and they walked inside. He described it as being “dark and dirty so they didn’t want to touch anything” until they came across a dead cat with no hair. They turned around and saw that a figure with long grey hair was standing and watching them. Bryan and his friend took off out the front door onto the street, when a car turned the corner and struck his friend. He lay crumpled on the ground with a broken leg but no other serious injuries, at this point they decided to stop fucking with the witch – they didn’t want to die.
Margaret Harlow was the matriarch of the family, she married Don Emmet who fought in World War 1. They bought a house in Queenstown to live closer to Don’s family who all grew up in the area. Don passed away in the 60’s, leaving Margaret to look after all 6 of her children, she ended up outliving her husband for 35 years. Margaret had been living without her husband for several years and struggling to keep her home in order – it began, rumours started circulating in the community about her being a witch. A local boy called Serge who grew up on the street would go and throw rocks and sticks on her roof with his brother and friends. Margaret would have to run outside and yell at them to go away because she didn’t have her husband to defend her. Although the harassment and rumours started in the 60s and 70s, it would only get worse.
By the 90’s, all of Margaret’s children had flown the nest apart from Caroline, who loved her mother more than anything in the world and was determined to help look after her. Caroline was very friendly and loved animals, she had seven cats in total, three were her own and she would also look after and feed four more from across the road. She was a very intelligent woman and worked in a Lawyers’ office to make money to support herself and her mother. Caroline’s mother Margaret was now very old at this point, so old she had received her letter from the queen for her 100th birthday. Whenever Caroline would leave her house and a neighbour would walk past, she would always wave to them and stop to talk. Unfortunately in 2003, Caroline’s mother Margaret passed away and the house was transferred to Caroline, where she would continue to live alone for many years. Caroline lived across the road from the Alberton primary school where most kids were very cruel to her, however one boy named Chris once helped her with her garden and talked to her. Chris said Caroline told him people would confuse her with her mother Margaret and that is why multiple generations thought “the Witch” never aged.
Everyone who lived in Queenstown knew the level of abuse and stress inflicted on Caroline for being a witch and this harassment only escalated over the years. Around 2000 – 2010 when I was in highschool, I remember the top result for the google search term “Haunted places in Adelaide” was “the Witches House” hosted on http://www.nissansilvia.com/. This specific forum thread gave an exact map pin to Caroline’s house and claimed that “if you were looking for a thrill, go to this house to see the Witch of Queenstown”. If you google it, even now, you can still find results. It now seemed like all the bored youths of South Australia were being sent to Caroline’s house to harass her. Groups of teenagers on car cruises would drive from Golden Grove or Victor Harbor to honk their horn outside her house at 3 am, trying to get her to come outside. Eventually things got out of hand, a neighbour mentioned Caroline kept a journal of all the harassment she has endured which included:
- People doing burnouts in front of her house
- Being screamed at out of car windows
- Having Molotov cocktails thrown at her house
- People breaking into her house and shaking her awake
- Throwing things at her house in the middle of the night
- Lighting fires in her yard
- People threatening her with guns and knives
Something had to be done, not only was Caroline being relentlessly abused and tormented – the whole neighbourhood was putting up with the carry on as well. Many locals banded together to try and protect Caroline, there was a group of “Guardians” nearby who would defend her in every way they could. Her guardians started by chasing cars away every time they would pull up to harass her, however this did not keep them away. Eventually they had to respond with violence by “smashing the cars up” or “throwing rocks at them” to keep them away. Unfortunately, this appealed to some thrillseekers who thought it would be fun to get into a car chase, so it didn’t deter everyone.
All this abuse eventually wore Caroline down, neighbors described her as being reclusive and walking around with torn and scuffed clothing. Her shoes were very old and she couldn’t wear anything else because her feet were in such bad condition. Caroline would refuse any help, and still attempt to walk from her place to Foodland on Tapleys Hill Road to get what she needed. Eventually, she stopped living in all but one room of her house; leading to vandals and squatters moving in and smashing the place. Luckily, someone intervened and Caroline has now been moved into an undisclosed nursing home where she can live out the rest of her years in peace while being cared for. Last year (2020), I had the privilege of exploring and documenting Caroline’s home when it was on the market to be sold; it ended up selling for $431,000 to Allworth homes. The developer has since completely demolished everything on the block including the forest garden and now intends to subdivide.
When I explored the house it had only been empty for 8 weeks, and it is hard to believe someone was living in those conditions. It was fairly heartbreaking to see, but I’m glad I was able to learn and tell Caroline’s story. Hopefully having the truth out there will make people think twice next time they judge a book by its cover. Caroline was not a witch, she was just an old woman with a heart of gold, who did not deserve the torment she was put through. I’m glad she was still able to make light of a bad situation; in her house I found 2 wooden witch fridge magnets and a hand written sign that said “the Witch Protection”.
To conclude, I want to tell the most important part of this story. Multiple sources have told me that when they questioned Caroline as to why everyone thought she was a witch, her answer was:
“The church behind my house wanted my land to build a car park. Because I wouldn’t sell, they made up the rumour that my mother and I are witches. They spread this rumour around to turn the community against us and scare us out of the house… it didn’t work.”
Thanks for reading,
*Edited by Hamish – cheers mate!