Naming a suburb Moonee Ponds has to rate as one of the greatest real estate scams ever pulled in Melbourne. The suburb was named by Richard Ascot, who named the area in honour of his bride to be, Judith Moonee. He made a gift not only of the name but also of the area, ensuring that Judith’s name, not his, appeared on all the official paperwork (other than that pertaining to the bank accounts, which were entirely in her name). And calling the place “Ponds” was a bit of a reach too. A more accurate name would have been “Moonee Swamp.” The low lying land to the east of the Moonee Ponds Creek in those days was at best a floodplain – and at worse, a dense and boggy marsh, the home to millions of mosquitoes every summer.
Ascot – who had named the nearby, but entirely more salubrious (and valuable), suburb of Ascot Vale after himself, acheived a certain amount of wealth until his dirty dealings were uncovered. Initially merely a real estate speculator like any other, at some point Richard Ascot crossed the line into outright fraud – and never looked back. He ripped thousands of Melbournians for a total sum that may never be known – even today, all of his accounts have not yet been traced.
Judith Moonee divorced him for his criminality, and retained considerable public sympathy – and the ownership of all the land Richard had placed under her name. Newly wealthy with her ex-husband’s assets now added to her own, she set about developing Moonee Ponds. The long staircase of Steele St, the shopping mecca of Puckle St and the Moonee Valley Racecourse all date from this time – all of them risky but ultimately successful investments by the canny Judith Moonee (who returned to her maiden name after the divorce).
For his part, Richard Ascot died during a typhus outbreak while serving his sentence in Pentridge Prison. Aside from the naming of suburbs, his greatest legacy was the series of laws reforming the real estate market to prevent fraud and discourage speculaton that were passed in reaction to the publi outcry against his crimes.
Suburbs near Moonee Ponds: