Who’s on top of the Australian wealth tree?

Billionaires

Mining magnates have dominated this year’s Australia’s 50 Richest list and a surprising number of them stem from only two families.
Mining magnates have dominated this year’s rich list. Illustration by Bill Hope

Mining has continued to dominate the top of Australia’s wealth, according to this year’s Australia’s 50 Richest list. However, even after a less-than-stellar year, billionaires in the tech sector still hold four of the top 10 positions. 

Three of the top four positions on the list are taken by fortunes built on Pilbara iron ore. You have to go down to numbers six, seven and eight to find a tech billionaire Atlassian founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar coming in ahead of Canva founders Cliff Obrecht and Melanie Perkins. 

Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart, owner of Hancock Prospecting and founder of the Roy Hill mine, has more than doubled her wealth, since the last Forbes list in 2019, from US$14.8 billion to US$30.6 billion. In that time, Fortescue Metals’ Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has moved up from seventh place at US$4.3 billion to second place and US$21.7 billion. 

Six people on this year’s list trace their wealth back to two families, where most of the money is controlled by women.  

Gina Rinehart, Lang Hancock’s daughter, built Hancock Prospecting into today’s global mining  
powerhouse. Her children, John Hancock, Bianca Rinehart, Hope Welker and Ginia Rinehart, sit in fourth place, having tripled their collective wealth, held in trust, to US$12.5 billion.  

The List

At number 34 on the list is Angela Bennett, the doyen of the West Australian mining family, the Wrights, and Peter Wright’s daughter. Bennett’s two nieces, Alexandra Burt and Leonie Baldock, are Australian-dollar billionaires but are sitting just outside the Forbes 50 with a valuation of US$850 million each.  

The Wright descendants’ prospects may rise in the coming years after their company, Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd, refreshed a 50-year-old joint venture deal with Rio Tinto, which could generate up to $1 billion annually for the family, pushing Angela Bennett’s valuation to more than $10 billion. 

Peter Wright was a school friend of Lang Hancock. Wright, a Perth accountant, visited Hancock on his Pilbara cattle property in the 1930s, and the two young men went into business together to tap into the wealth contained in the hills around them. 

The partner’s first mining venture was to launch a mine at Wittenoom, which they sold in 1948. Wright negotiated the details of an agreement with Rio Tinto in 1959 that saw them receive 2.5% of gross sales on all minerals, except manganese, extracted from their mining titles. 

In 1982, the two men, then in their 70s, started to think about dividing the partnership to prepare for their deaths. Wright died in 1985 and Hancock in 1992. 

The combined wealth of the Wright/Hancock families is thought to be around US$50 billion. 

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