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The anonymous life of Australia's most reclusive billionaire

Angela Bennett's former Mosman Park home. Picture: Google maps.Source:Supplied
Angela Bennett's former Mosman Park home. Picture: Google maps.Source:Supplied

SHE'S the fourth richest woman in Australia with a net worth of more than $1.8 billion.

But mining magnate Angela Bennett is so reclusive that her Wikipedia entry contains a photograph of her rival, Gina Rinehart.

The iron ore heiress, who like Rinehart inherited a vast swathe of mining interests from her father, is said to prize her anonymity so highly that she owns the copyright on pictures of an empty staircase at her former palatial abode on Perth's Swan River.

And in two decades of chronicling legal disputes over her family's iron ore fortune, photojournalists failed to capture a single image in which Ms Bennett could be easily identified - managing only to snatch blurry glimpses of the billionaire with her face partially or totally concealed.

Billionaire heiress Angela Bennett, left, poses for a rare photograph, with Terri Ann McLarty.
Billionaire heiress Angela Bennett, left, poses for a rare photograph, with Terri Ann McLarty.

She earned the nickname "the night parrot" of Australia's rich list, in reference to the elusive and mysterious bird thought to have been extinct for much of the last century.

Yet in December last year, she emerged from obscurity to pose for a rare photograph at Fremantle's glamorous Blue HQ marina, which is owned by an investment company run by her son Todd Bennett, The Australian revealed.

So just who is Angela Bennett?

The daughter of the late Peter Wright, the 72-year-old billionaire is Australian mining royalty.

Forbes last month named her as Australia's fourth richest woman in its annual list of the world's billionaires, behind Gina Rinehart and Visy packaging heiresses Fiona Geminder and Heloise Waislitz.

But the two women have plenty in common, including legal disputes with their offspring - and each other - over their respective family fortunes.

While Rinehart's ongoing courtroom stoush with children Bianca Rinehart and John Hancock has filled countless pages of newsprint, Bennett's financial affairs have been more tightly guarded.

When she offloaded her mansion in Perth's exclusive Mosman Park for $57.5 million in 2009, it was the biggest residential sale in Australian history.

Angela Bennett's former Mosman Park home, which broke records when it sold for $57.5 million in 2009.Source:News Limited
Angela Bennett's former Mosman Park home, which broke records when it sold for $57.5 million in 2009.Source:News Limited

Yet the media was restricted in what it could show of the awe-inspiring property, after Bennett refused to allow pictures of its interior to the published.

She reportedly "downsized" into an $8 million luxury penthouse and bought a $30 million luxury yacht.

The following year, Bennett's rich list ranking was boosted by a court decision to award her, along with her brother Michael Wright, Rinehart's $1 billion quarter share of the Rhodes Ridge iron ore deposit, to which Peter Wright had laid claim when he and Lang Hancock agreed to divide the assets of their partnership.

But Hancock died before the split could be finalised, after failing to find a buyer for their 50 per cent stake in the property - half-owned by Rio Tinto.

And the pair's hopes that their children would carry on their legacy in the same spirit of friendship went unfulfilled.

A protracted legal battle over the lucrative mining tenements and reserves ensued, with Gina Rinehart's legal team unsuccessfully arguing that Wright and Bennett were only entitled to a combined 25 per cent stake in the property, allowing her to retain the other 25 per cent.

Nine years after Bennett and her brother lodged their claim through the family company Wright Prospecting, the Supreme Court of Western Australia ruled in their favour. Rinehart lodged an unsuccessful appeal.

Meanwhile, Bennett has fought plenty of inter-family legal battles of her own.

Angela Bennett’s luxury boat Platinum. Picture: Daniel WilkinsSource:News Limited
Angela Bennett’s luxury boat Platinum. Picture: Daniel WilkinsSource:News Limited

Her adult niece and nephew sued for an 11 per cent stake in Wright Prospecting in a dispute that settled out of court for a confidential sum estimated to be as high as $65 million.

Son Grant Bennett, 47, declared himself bankrupt in 2015 after she declined to bail him out of an ill-fated deal that left him unable to secure finance to complete a $17 million farm purchase, The West reported.

More recently, her brother Julian Wright, who sold his one-third stake in the family business for $6.8 million in 1987, reportedly launched legal proceedings earlier this year alleging that he was swindled out of his birthright. The value of his former stake is now estimated in the several billions.

According to Fairfax Media, Wright accuses his sister and deceased brother Michael Wright of "fraudulently misrepresenting" the value of the family business when he took his share - an allegation Bennett's spokesman dismissed as a baseless "attempt to manufacture allegations of improper conduct" to force a financial settlement.

And Ms Bennett's niece Olivia Mead, the "secret" daughter of the late Michael Wright, could lose a large chunk of her $25 million inheritance if the executor of her father's estate wins his appeal later this year.

Executor David Lemon's legal team is set to argue that the huge slice of Wright's estate awarded by the WA Supreme Court to Ms Mead - the biggest in Australian history - was an error, and that the initial $3 million trust left to her by Wright was adequate.

 

Topics:  billionaire editors picks mining

News Corp Australia

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