Every year, there’s usually one story that dominates coverage of the BRW Rich List. Like when Ivan Glasenberg’s Australian citizenship was discovered, leading to his debut on the Rich List at second place. Or the following year, when Gina Rinehart’s wealth neared $30 billion.

The story of this year’s list is less dramatic than has been the case in the past. After appearing in all 33 Rich Lists so far compiled by Fairfax, 83-year-old apartment developer Harry Triguboff has finally topped the list, with an estimated total net worth of $10.62 billion. But his wealth hasn’t risen all that much on last year, when he had $10.23 billion to his name. The most dazzling thing has been the tumble in the wealth of Gina Rinehart, who, for the first time since 2011, is not the richest person on the list. This is hardly unexpected, with iron ore prices a fraction of what they were a year ago and a highly publicised court case breaking up part of the fortune in favour of Rinehart’s daughter Bianca (a debutante on this year’s list).

Nonetheless, even without a spectacular, unexpected story of triumph at the top of the list, it remains a snapshot of the fabric of Australia — a reflection of economic trends seen through the fortunes of Australia’s wealthiest people, many of whom enjoy their wealth in private most of the time but are dragged into the limelight once a year. Here’s some of what can be found in this year’s edition.

Controversy doesn’t hurt, but the courts do

In a development sure to raise eyebrows, Russell Withers, the owner of the 7-Eleven chain of convenience stores, was pegged at $747 million last year and $1.34 billion this year, doubling his fortune, according to BRW. This comes despite a Four Corners/Fairfax investigation on serial underpayment at his chains. He probably won’t appreciate the attention — the controversy over how to compensate his workers is still ongoing.

Another of the most dramatic shifts has been in the wealth of Clive Palmer. But his creditors are unlikely to be thrilled with the valuation. He was worth $1.4 billion last year, but BRW pegged him at only $570 million this time following “woes of his Queensland Nickel and continued legal stoush with CITIC Pacific”. His entry notes he has been “forced to sell a jet”. On ABC radio this morning he appeared unfazed. “I’ve never paid much attention the BRW lists, and they’re certainly not accurate in this occasion,” he said.

Poor little rich billionaires

Though Palmer is no longer one, Australia has more billionaires than ever. But even though four more people have joined the billionaire class, the total wealth of Australia’s billionaires has declined (from a total wealth of $126.09 billion held between 49 people to $123.52 billion held by 53 people), as the economy and the courts battered the fortunes of the nation’s wealthiest Rich Listers.

All that decline is accounted for in the falling wealth of Gina Rinehart. The total net-worth of the 200 people on the list (just under $200 billion) increased slightly but not spectacularly.

Rinehart, Packer fortunes split

Speaking of Rinehart, what a fall!

At the height of her wealth in 2012, Gina Rinehart was worth $29.17 billion and could have been the world’s richest woman (BRW said she was, but Forbes always valued her far more conservatively — at the peak of her fortune the American magazine had her only at $16 billion, well behind L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt). Whether or not she was ever the world’s richest woman, for the first time in five years she’s not even Australia’s richest person, taking a tumble to fourth place as her fortune more than halved, from$14.02 billion to $6.06 billion. It shows how brittle valuations of ore still in the ground can be — much of Rinehart’s wealth was always about the value of the deposits she owned, and commodity prices are fickle. Another factor, though a less significant one, also affected her figure — her settlement with her children, which has brought daughter Bianca Rinehart onto the list (with $905 million, as a result of her 23% ownership of Hancock Prospecting) for the first time.

Another old fortune has also been split, though in this case, far less acrimoniously. James Packer split ownership of the family business with his sister Gretel Packer this year, which has led to her debuting on the list with $739 million. That explains most of Packer’s billion-dollar fall — his valuation has gone from $6.08 billion to $5.00 billion this year. His entry on the list notes a series of setbacks that have seen the share price of Crown Resorts drop — another factor in his falling wealth.

Property still royal, but apartments are king

Like in previous years, property remains the quickest, surest way to build a fortune. Of the 200 richest Australians, 54 are primarily exposed to the property market — a new record on last year’s 53. A total of 86 richies had property listed as one of the sources of their wealth. This year’s richest Australian, Harry “High-Rise” Triguboff, makes his money on apartments. His Meriton Group builds them then sells or rents them out — a good business in Sydney’s property boom.

He’s not the only one to make money out of apartments. The youngest debut on the list is 34-year-old Tim Gurner, a developer who builds swanky apartments for hipsters in Melbourne’s inner city — he’s valued at $460 million. Paul Blackburne ($536 million) and Jonathan Hallinan ($459 million) are two more apartment developers who make their debut on this year’s list.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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