Identifying Australia’s richest people may seem to be a simple task. The Business Review Weekly has compiled a list of the richest Australians annually since the 1980s. But what about the richest Australian ever? With inflation, currency changes and sketchy records, how can the wealth of today be compared with the wealth of 200 years ago?
In The All-Time Australian Rich List researcher and author William D. Rubinstein compiles a list of the richest-ever Australians from the time of European settlement until today. He compares people from different eras using a formula that relates their wealth to Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP) at the time that they lived. So, William Mansel, whose wealth was worth £5000 when he died in 1816 is considered richer than Kerry Packer whose current wealth is estimated at $6.5 billion, because Mansel’s wealth was 1.009 % of GDP, whilst Packer’s is ).918 %. (Incidentally, neither of these men is number one on the list – that person is revealed in the book.) Whilst the formula may be considered controversial to some, it is a simple way to make such comparisons and the list provides interesting reading and insight into the life and times of 233 of Australia’s richest ever people.
Rubenstein, who was formerly Professor of Social and Economic History at Deakin University, places current perceptions of wealth into a much wider historical context and compares the rich of Australia with the rich of Britain and the USA, to provide a more relative understanding of the wealth of Australia’s richest people.
This is an intriguing offering for anyone with an interest in wealth, studies of society, Australian history or biography.
The All-Time Australian Rich List, by William D. Rubinstein
Allen & Unwin, 2004