The five richest families you know nothing about

Five of Australia's richest families took risks, made mistakes and won big but not many know their stories.

Australia’s 10 wealthiest families have a combined wealth of close to $17.5 billion, covering sectors that include retail, property, construction, resources and manufacturing. The 10 in the BRW rich families list are the Smorgons ($2.64 billion), the Besens ($2.1 billion), the Libermans ($2.1 billion), the Myers ($2.01 billion), the Wilsons ($1.83 billion), the Roberts family ($1.82 billion), the Wright family ($1.53 billion), the Salteris ($1.17 billion) and the Tiecks ($1.07 billion).

They receive lots of media but there are many others on the list who deserve our attention. Their stories are extraordinary tales of courage, risk-taking and, well, chutzpah in setting up their family business.

The names on the list are different from the ones identified on the normal BRW Rich List, which is more about individuals such as Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest, Kerry Stokes and Harry Triguboff. That said, there is family wealth in that particular rich list including Frank Lowy ($6.84 billion), Anthony Pratt and Family ($5.95 billion) and David Hains and Family ($2.320). So there is overlap between the two lists.

But unlike the names on the BRW Rich List, the families on the other list seldom get much attention from the media. Still, their businesses have been spectacularly successful.


One example is the Darling family ($650 million), one of the oldest families on the list. John Darling arrived in Adelaide from Edinburgh on board the Achilles in 1855 with his wife Isabella and two sons. After working in a general store and then a bakery, he tried setting himself up as a contractor. When that business failed, he joined the Adelaide firm of grain and flour merchants Giles & Smith. After rising through the ranks to become manager, he went off to work at a competing outlet which, he subsequently purchased. Travelling overseas extensively, he was soon shipping cargoes to European ports and became known as the biggest shipper of grain in Australia. In addition to serving in the South Australian parliament, he was an early investor in The Broken Hill Proprietary Company. The last family member to sit on the board was Gordon Darling. The family’s wealth is handled by Caledonia Investments which also runs $2 billion of global, small cap and mining-focused funds. 


The Spooner family ($600 million) are involved in property development and boat building. The family’s big break came during World War II when the late Archie Spooner bought a 120-hectare property in Scoresby on the outskirts of Melbourne for £29 an acre. He built Caribbean Gardens on the property, which remains in the family today. It has 27 industrial and warehouse buildings. It also houses small technology companies. Archie’s son, Rod Spooner, is the CEO. Ever the entrepreneur, Archie hit on the idea of using fibreglass to build boats while he was overseas in 1958. He set up International Marine with six employees and Caribbean Garden’s lake was originally built to test the company’s boats. The family also developed the St Kilda Marina in 1969 and holds a lease on it.


The Baiada family ($490 million) draws its wealth from chickens. Celestino Baiada, who migrated from Malta at 14, started the business during World War II, processing 30 chickens a day. Now one of Australia’s biggest poultry farms and processors after merging with major rival Steggles in 2009, it processes about 1.5 million chickens a week. Baiada Poultry is a major supplier to Coles, Woolworths and KFC and sells Lilydale free range chickens. It is run by third-generation poultry farmer Simon Camilleri, grandson of the company founder. Based in Pendle Hill west of Sydney, it employs 2200 people.


The Menegazzo family ($445 million) made its fortune from humble beginnings. Peter Menegazzo, whose family came from Italy in 1925 to settle near Melbourne, helped build the family's fruit and vegetable merchant business. After becoming the largest grower of potatoes in the country, he decided to branch out into beef in 1987 and purchased several cattle stations, including Van Rook, Glen Ore and Warren Vale. In 2003, he was part of a consortium with Jack Cowin, founder of Hungry Jack's, and Queensland grazier Peter Hughes, which bought the Stanbroke Pastoral Company from AMP for $491 million. At the time it was said to be the largest rural transaction in Australian history. Eight months after the sale, the consortium split over the management of the properties, and Menegazzo bought out his partners for a rumoured $340 million. On 2 December 2005, Menegazzo and his wife Angela were killed in a light plane crash in New South Wales. Their four children Brendan, Mark, Deborah and David, now operate the business which runs 200,000 head of cattle on 1.6 million hectares. It remains one of Australia’s biggest beef businesses. A long way from fruit and vegetables.


The Richards family ($390 million) are the majority owners of Australia’s biggest privately owned waste management company, JJ Richards & Sons, which was established by Joseph John Richards in 1932 when he won his first refuse and sanitary collection contract in Murwillumbah Shire. With a fleet of over 1200 vehicles and employing over 1600 people, the company now has operations throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand. It not only picks up garbage, it also runs a water treatment service and does environmental consulting. The business is still entirely owned and managed by the family and is run by John Richards, the grandson of the founder.

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