Andrew Forrest credits Aboriginal people as his mentors and wants to give back


Australia’s richest man explains why he’s put so much money – and emotional energy – into Indigenous employment.
Andrew Forrest | Image supplied.

“I grew up with Aboriginal people,” says Australian mining billionaire and philanthropist Andrew Forrest. “They were my mentors, my nurses, my teachers,” he says, adding that he learnt the language of the people of Yamaji Country in Western Australia’s mid-west at the same time as he learnt English.

It explains why so much of the $2.7 billion donated to charitable causes over the past 21 years by Minderoo, the philanthropic fund set up by Forrest and his wife Nicola, has been directed toward Indigenous employment.

“We’re related by blood as well as marriage to Aboriginal people and for a very long time, all my best friends were Indigenous Australians. We used to gallop up and down the riverbanks, exploring, collecting bugs, and tracking. It was just a fantastic kid’s life,” he says.

All those kids are now dead, says the 61-year-old, who is worth US$13 billion ($20 billion), according to the Forbes Rich List.

“That’s why I’ve worked so hard against drugs, alcohol and welfare, which doesn’t lead to employment, which leads to nowhere … I have been to the funerals. It’s absolutely tragic to see these young women and men no longer with us because of the scourge of welfare without direction, drugs and alcohol.”

Speaking ahead of the 15th anniversary of a vocational training centre in Port Hedland, Forrest says Fortescue has given more contracts to Indigenous businesses than the federal Government. “There is no greater program than Fortescue’s Billion Opportunities program, which has allocated $4 billion worth – several times more than the Australian government – of Indigenous employment contracts to Indigenous businesses,” he claims.