The sorrows of Gina Rinehart

Sixty-year-old Gina Rinehart is the richest Australian who has ever lived. She’s also the richest woman in the entire world. She has a fortune of around 20 billion AUD. And she might soon become even wealthier. She owns the mining rights to vast tracts of barren Australian territory that haven’t yet been fully developed but will be over the coming years. This could be just the start of her fortune.

But Gina has many sorrows – though no one much cares. However, these sorrows may be worth considering nevertheless – for the light they shed on Rinehart and, more importantly, on us:

1. She thinks you won’t like her

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Gina gives off every sign of not giving a damn about what anyone thinks. She is notoriously rude. She tells the less well-off it’s all their fault: “If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself – spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working.” This has proved as offensive as one could have predicted. She has twice been voted the most unpopular person in Australia.

Gina takes a perverse pride in making no attempt with her appearance. She doesn’t have the groomed look we naturally associate with the rich and powerful. Her clothes are utilitarian in the extreme, many are decades old. She hates ‘fancy shops.’ Her handbag is a worn canvas thing you might use to put the swimming stuff in. She can’t bear women who ‘fuss’ about their appearance (instead of working). Wandering round her offices, you might think she was a catering contractor about to head off to her niece’s wedding.

Gina is evidently making no efforts to win us over. Her favourite insult is to call anyone who raises any complaint about pretty much anything ‘a whinger.’

Yet arguably Rinehart doesn’t refuse to please out of sheer arrogance; she’s doing so out of extreme, bullet-proof defensiveness, and beneath that, fear. So afraid is she that others will dislike her, so intolerable is the anxiety of wondering whether or not the world will approve of her, she has responded by making entirely sure there will be no conceivable opportunity for any stranger to do anything but be averse to her. She has preferred to be in control of disappointing herself, rather than let the world do so at a time of its own choosing. Yet she can’t have escaped the natural urge to be liked. She has merely surrendered it out of acute anxiety.

2. She had a disadvantaged past

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Typically, we suppose that if someone’s parents had a lot of money, they can’t possibly be disadvantaged. We call them ‘privileged’. And yet the only childhood which truly deserves the word ‘privileged’ is one marked by a reliable degree of love from a sane person.

Gina didn’t have that. She adored her father, an extremely wealthy man in his own right, but he was mad: opinionated, stubborn, demanding, paranoid, constantly furious and only very intermittently interested in Gina. He was at war with the government, believed troublemakers should be sterilised and felt that he had personally saved the nation by discovering almost unlimited iron-ore reserves.

It might have been better if Gina could have broken with her father, but unfortunately, she loved him obsessively (as children often do when the parent blows hot and cold). The children of unreliable, deranged or violent parents may be impelled to be loyal to an appalling legacy – which can mean repeating cycles of abuse (her own children barely speak to her). Gina’s loyalty to her father has come at a huge cost to her own development. She is a case study in how a child, out of a natural and touching love for a damaged parent, can themselves grow into a deeply damaged adult.

Dad built a very big, very ugly house

3. People laughed at her poem

Last year she wrote a poem – which a major Australian paper rated the worst ever written. Her key idea is summed up in rhyming couplet:

Some envious unthinking people have been conned
To think prosperity is created by waving a magic wand

The economics professors at Chicago University believe basically the same. They just say it in more complicated ways.

It’s almost poignant, and rather revealing, that Gina put her thoughts into poetry. She could have written a memo. But one side of her must want to do things that are thoughtful and in a way convincing. She’s just not sure how, as yet.

Large sections of Australian society have – understandably enough – responded extremely negatively to Gina. They see her as a barbarian, with deeply sinister motives; she’s wrong about everything and very dangerous. To be ‘nice’ to her feels inconceivable. Yet if we’re ever to understand what she represents, why she is successful and how we might effectively oppose her in certain areas, a degree of patient humane civility is going to be key.

Listening carefully to what someone says, trying to see the world through their eyes, this has nothing at all to do with agreement. If you start with a determined intent to humiliate someone, there can be no insight. Being mean to Gina isn’t just impolite. It’s a huge strategic error. If we feel inclined to call Gina a heartless bitch, we may think we triumph over her – but only in our imaginations. In reality, all that’s happened is that an exceptionally powerful person is confirmed in their belief that no one understands them. And their huge potential to serve Australia is wasted.