Dad's shadow looms over billionaire's book launch

JAMES REGAN
Last updated 15:05 27/11/2012
Gina Rinhart book launch
BILLIONAIRE PUBLICATION: Gina Rinehart arrives at the launch of her book in Sydney last week.

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Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart, one of the world's wealthiest people, has displayed a trait rarely revealed publicly among the super-rich: insecurity.

Rinehart's first book was eagerly awaited by an Australian public enthralled and sometimes appalled by her story of big business, family feuds and almost unimaginable wealth.

But the 58-year-old widow with a fortune estimated by Forbes at US$18 billion ($22 billion), played it safe at the launch of the book, Northern Australia and Then Some: Changes we need to make our country rich.

Media were hand-picked for events around the country and Rinehart surrounded herself with hundreds of supporters mostly from the mining fraternity, where she is revered for transforming her late father's debt-ridden iron ore business into a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

There were no advance copies of the book and no questions over a fractured family life that has left Rinehart wrestling with three of her four grown children over control of a family trust that rakes in hundreds of millions of year in royalties.

Nor was there mention of her contentious plan to hire nearly 2000 foreign workers to help build a US$10b outback iron ore mine, at a time when Australians by the thousands are losing their jobs across the sector.

"The way she went about controlling the launch of her book shows a deep insecurity on her part given these types of things are typically designed as promotional media events," said David McKnight, an associate professor in Journalism and Media at the University of New South Wales.

"This was Gina Rinehart controlling the media in order to display her over-developed sense of hero worship for her father.''

SHADOW OF LANG

Rinehart's book Northern Australia, a collection of essays, speeches, and poems, calls on politicians, environmentalists and the public to support Australia's miners, the nation's main growth engine, or face the consequences of economic decline.

The book displays Rinehart's adoration of her larger-than-life father, Lang Hancock, which can be touching, but echoes much of Hancock's famed right-wing utterings.

Rinehart has spent much of her life in the shadow of her mining magnate father, who also pressured Australian governments to better support the mining sector.

It was Hancock, a prospector and one-time jackaroo or Australian cowboy, who was credited with discovering the vast iron ore deposits of far west Australia's Pilbara  in 1952 while he was piloting his own plane though a storm.

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Anxious to exploit his find, Hancock lobbied for years to get a ban on iron exports over-turned and made a fortune when it was.

He also proposed using small nuclear bombs to help mine the Pilbara, advocated secession for Western Australia state and had business dealings with the brutal Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. His disparaging comments on the unemployed and Aborigines outraged many Australians.

A mountain range and a rail line hauling tens of millions of tonnes of iron ore across the outback, destined for Asia's steel mills, now bears the Hancock name, as does the private company Rinehart now oversees.

Hancock often referred to his softly spoken daughter, his only child, as his "right-hand man" or simply "young fella".

"I think he would probably have preferred a son," Debi Marshall quoted Rinehart as saying in her 2012 biography The House of Hancock. The Rise and Rise of Gina Rinehart.

Twenty years after Hancock's death, Rinehart heads a mining empire hundreds of times bigger than her father's, but she still appears fixated on gaining his approval.

"Thank you for doing this for Australia, Gina, and once again you have outdone your dad," wrote John Singleton, a well-known advertising executive and a family friend, in a publicity flyer for the book.

One invited guest said the book showed "her lifelong desire to meet and beat" the achievements of her late father, once Australia's richest man.

"This will prove once and for all that she listened to her father all those years ago and took his achievements a step further," said the guest, requesting anonymity.

WAKE UP AUSTRALIA

Rinehart's relationship with her father deteriorated when he married his Filipino housekeeper after the death of her mother but was reconciled before his death in 1992. Rinehart has since been engaged in a gloves-off war with three of her children over a trust set up by Hancock.

She has described them as lazy and spoiled and warned their security would be at risk if they persisted with the action. Her daughter Ginia, the only one of her four children not suing her, was seated beside her at the book launch, along with her fiance Ryan Johnston, son of Beach Boys performer Bruce Johnston.

For hours at the book launch, giant movie screens rained down recurring grainy images of a younger Rinehart courting politicians and business people in 1979 aboard a chartered Qantas 747 dubbed Wake up Australia.

The trip was an early expression of the views of father and daughter - the need for recognition of the importance of the mining industry, lower taxes and less red tape.

"We don't want to see Australia continue on a course with too many heads buried in the sand, critical investors discouraged by bad policies - even hated - too few understanding the problems while Australia moves towards being another Greece, Spain or Portugal," Rinehart said at her Sydney launch,

Rinehart's poetry in the book reinforces the message, in one verse she writes: "Through such unfortunate ignorance, too much abuse is hurled. Against miners, workers and related industries who strive to build the world."

- Reuters

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