The $18bn family feud that is a real-life Australian soap opera

A messy court case has shed light on Australia's richest and most secretive family.

Sydney

Already Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart has been tipped to overtake Carlos Slim and Bill Gates as the world's wealthiest person in years to come. But her billions – the proceeds of vast iron ore deposits – have not brought her happiness, judging by a bitter family feud that was exposed this week.

Ms Rinehart, 57, is being sued by three of her children – John Hancock, 35, Bianca Rinehart, 31, and Hope Welker, 26 – who want her removed as head of the family trust. Details of the dispute remain sketchy, thanks to a court order but the latest twist of the legal battle has led to the release of emails in which the mining magnate's daughters beg her for money, bodyguards and domestic staff, with one complaining of being "down to my last A$60,000 [£40,770]".

Dubbed the "Iron Lady", Ms Rinehart – whose fortune was estimated by Forbes magazine this week to have doubled to US$18bn (£11.38bn) in the past year – has a reputation for penny-pinching. Hope, Bianca and John are said to have grown tired of waiting for their inheritance. Her youngest daughter, Ginia, 25, who has sided with her, has reportedly been anointed to take over the vast minerals empire.

The emails – which date from July and August last year, just before the legal action was launched – were submitted to the New South Wales Supreme Court, to support Ms Rinehart's claim that publicity about the dispute would jeopardise her family's safety. However, the judge was unimpressed and released the material which gives a rare insight into the life of the Perth-based tycoon.

The judge also disclosed a security report commissioned by Ms Rinehart, which concluded that the family would be at risk of abduction, robbery and harassment by "criminals, deranged individuals and issue-motivated groups" if the court order was lifted. The report likened their plight to that of celebrities such as David Beckham, David Letterman and the singer Joss Stone.

In the emails, Ms Welker and Bianca Rinehart voiced fears about their security. "I don't think you understand what it means now that the whole world thinks you're going to be wealthier than Bill Gates – it means we all need bodyguards and very safe homes," Bianca, who lives in Vancouver with her husband, Sasha, and son, Nicholas, told her mother. "I don't have the money to protect myself or my children and it scares me."

But Ms Welker, who lives in New York with her husband, Ryan, and two small children, also had more prosaic concerns. As well as a bodyguard, she wanted a chef – "so you can be sure April [her daughter] is fed right" – and a housekeeper "that is good [with] kids so if I need to go out I can". She told her mother: "Even my friends who have nothing compared with your wealth have more staff." What about Ms Rinehart paying those three salaries as a birthday present, she suggested.

While Ms Rinehart's responses were not recorded, she is bound to have been mortified by publication of the emails. Despite her prominent role in Australia's booming mining industry, she has never given an interview, and is said to shun friends indiscreet enough to talk about her. Exceedingly litigious, she has, reportedly, few interests outside work.

During a flight to India last year, she talked about coal non-stop, according to a profile of her in Good Weekend, a magazine published by Australia's Fairfax Media group. This week, the profile subject became Fairfax's biggest shareholder, apparently aiming to increase her political and media influence.

She already owns a stake in television network Channel Ten. Some fear she will use those interests to promote her views, which include a push to import cheap labour from overseas.

The sole heir of Lang Hancock, who spotted iron ore deposits in Western Australia's Pilbara region while flying low to avoid a storm, Ms Rinehart is said to have worshipped her father. The pair fell out when, after her mother's death, he married his much younger housekeeper, Rose Porteous. Ms Rinehart called her stepmother a "Filipina whore", and after Hancock's death hired private detectives to try to prove that Ms Porteous was to blame.

She herself married young, had John and Bianca, got divorced, then married an American corporate lawyer nearly 40 years older than her. Frank Rinehart, with whom she had Hope and Ginia, died in 1990.

In 1997 local media reported that Ms Rinehart had reached an out-of-court settlement with her former security guard, Bob Thompson, who had accused her of sexual harassment. Mr Thompson later told Woman's Day magazine that she had been besotted with him and wanted to marry him. "I told her over and over I wasn't interested, but she wouldn't take no for an answer," he said.

Details of her dispute with her children are likely to emerge in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, her wealth continues to grow, fuelled by China's demand for iron ore. She could soon overtake Christy Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress who is the world's wealthiest woman, and after that – some believe – she could knock Mr Slim, the Mexican telecommunications mogul off the top perch.

Iron Lady: The rich life

Gina Rinehart's fortune doubled to $18bn last month after her mining company signed a deal with South Korean steel giant Posco, which will take a 15 per cent stake in in Western Australian iron ore mine.

Earlier this week, her company Hancock Prospecting became the biggest shareholder in Sydney publisher Fairfax Media. She increased her stake from 5 per cent to 13 per cent. She also owns a 10 per cent stake in Australian broadcaster Ten Network Holdings Ltd.

In the next few years she plans to expand her iron ore operations and develop two coal projects. If commodity prices hold up, Forbes magazine tips her to become the world's richest woman.

Jenny stevens

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS2 Teacher

£105 - £120 per day + Expenses: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randstad Educat...

German & French Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are curren...

Experienced Cover Supervisors Needed

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education have cover s...

**** Calling All NQT's ****

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a Newly Qualified Teac...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week