RICH PICKINGS: To the mother who has it all

Buying a Mother's Day gift can be a difficult task at the best of times; so spare a thought – or perhaps not – for the children of these 10 wealthy matriarchs as they set out to find a present for Sunday morning.

Each year, Mother’s Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on how the wonderful women who brought us into the world have shaped us, guided us and provided for us.
In most Australian houses, mums will be presented with a modest token of our esteem. Breakfast in bed, a homemade card, maybe a new pair of slippers.

But in at least a few houses, something a bit more impressive might be in order.

Australia is home to a number of wealthy matriarchs, mums who control big fortunes and lead their empires – often in male-dominated sectors.

It’s a list lead by Mary Fairfax, whose fortune is worth more than $400 million, Marylyn New, the Perth-based property with more than $260 million and of course Gina Rinehart, whose is unlikely to win a prize as mother of the year any time soon.

Overseas, a group of wealthy mothers control fortunes in the billions, and vast empires spreading across media and retail.

Let’s take a look at a few of these women for our list of the world’s richest mums.

Christy Walton

With a fortune of more than $25 billion, Christy Walton is the richest woman in the world, and the richest member of the Walton family, founders of the retail giant Wal-Mart. Walton, who has one child, is an active philanthropist but has little involvement in the family firm.

Liliane Bettencourt

The 15th wealthiest women in the world, Liliane Bettencourt, has some similarities with Australia’s own Gina Rinehart in that in recent years she has fought a pitched legal battle with her offspring. Bettencourt’s daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, fought a three-year battle for control of the family L’Oreal empire, eventually getting a French court to declare late last year that Liliane was suffering from dementia and the fortune should be under Francoise’s guardianship. Liliane left the L’Oreal board in February.

Gina Rinehart

With a $20 billion fortune to her name, Rinehart stands out as Australia’s wealthiest matriarch thanks to her vast mining empire. Rinehart is currently involved in a brutal legal battle with three of her four children, with only her youngest daughter Ginia standing by her. Rinehart has fought and reconciled with her children before, but it remains to be seen whether any mother/child relationships withstand this pitched battle.

Iris Fontbona

Chilean billionaire Iris Fontbona controls a fortune worth almost $18 billion according to Forbes, thanks mainly to her ownership of Antofagasta, one of the world's largest copper miners. She is the widow of Andronico Luksic, who died of cancer in 2005, leaving an empire stretching across hospitality, packaging and beverages.

Birgit Rausing

Low-profile Swedish billionaire Birgit Rausing is the woman behind packaging giant Tetra Laval, which invented the world famous Tetra Pak found on supermarket shelves around the world. Rausing and her three children inherited the business from husband Gad Rausing, who died in 2000. The company has $12 billion in sales and is the cornerstone of Rausing’s $14 billion fortune.

Jacqueline Mars

Jacqueline Mars and her two brothers own food giant Mars, which was started by their grandfather Frank Mars in 1911. The 72-year-old, who has three children, is notoriously secretive but is a big supporter of the US equestrian team.

Susanne Klatten

Mother of three Susanne Klatten controls a vast empire that includes a large stake in car maker BMW (which she inherited from late father Herbert Quandt), chemical manufacturer Altana, a wind power company called Nordex and the carbon and graphite producer SGL. Klatten sits on the supervisory boards of both BMW and Altana, but is perhaps best known as the victim of a blackmail plot that saw a former suitor sent to jail for six years.

Anne Cox Chambers

With a fortune of $12.5 billion, Cox Chambers is one of the richest women in the world’s media sector. And she’s still very much the media baron – at the age of 92, she still sits on the board of Cox Enterprises, the US media giant founded by her father. Cox Chambers has enjoyed an incredible career. In addition to her media roles, she was also the US ambassador to Belgium under President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

Lady Mary Fairfax

While not in the league of the women above, octogenarian Mary Fairfax boosted her wealth from $335 million to $418 million on last year’s BRW Rich 200 list, thanks to ongoing sales at her Harrington Park property development in south-western Sydney. The matriarch of the Fairfax family is the widow of publishing magnate Warwick Fairfax and remains an active philanthropist.

Marylyn New

Perth property developer Marylyn New pocketed an impressive $90 million in April when she sold Fremantle’s Esplanade Hotel to Singaporean interests. The daughter of late building materials magnate Ric New, Marylyn bought the hotel for $12.75 million and reaped a tidy profit. She is divorced and has four children.