Nathan Tinkler: the downfall of Young King Coal

Once Australia's youngest billionaire, Nathan Tinkler has become the most high-profile casualty of the global mining bust.


Nathan Tinkler: "Just one more coal miner out of work"

Nathan Tinkler was once Australia's Young King Coal a self-styled "pit leco" (mining electrician) from Port Macquarie, New South Wales who, through a series of audacious deals, became the country's youngest billionaire, says the Financial Times. Last week, he became one of the "most high-profile casualties of the global mining bust" after being declared bankrupt.

Fittingly for a man nicknamed "the boganaire" by the Australian press ("bogan" is an Australian put-down for someone deemed uncultured), Tinkler's formal bankruptcy order was triggered by his failure to pay off his bill for a private jet. But while it was the A$2.25m owed on a Dassault Falcon 900C that tipped him over the edge in the federal court, the writing had been on the wall since 2012, when Tinkler "crashed out of the industry" after a sharp drop in coal prices left him heavily exposed to creditors. Several subsequent attempts at a comeback came to nothing.

Tinkler, 40, is "an inveterate gambler a double-or-nothing type of guy", said his biographer, Paddy Manning. His rags-to-riches tale, and subsequent downfall, were "bookended by two major flips in world coal markets". While Tinkler was quick to spot the boom that China unleashed upon Australian producers a decade ago, "he was slow to appreciate the implications" for the market of the unconventional gas boom unleashed in America. "And his incredible spending spree left such a trail of destruction that he couldn't escape."

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Tinkler a "prickly" character who, according to one horse-racing buddy, often behaved badly was born in 1976, and had a "less-than-promising" record with money long before he began making pots of it, says The Observer. During his first job at BHP's Bayswater open-cut mine, he was often in debt and notoriously slow to pay back his creditors. He ended up losing the family house over missed mortgage payments, and was once served with a seizure order for his clothes dryer and television set.

At 26, Tinkler started his own mine machinery maintenance business, later branching out into recruitment. But his big break came in 2006 when he borrowed against everything he owned to pull together a A$1m deposit to buy a rundown coal mine at Middlemount in central Queensland. Within two years, he'd sold it on for $442m.

Tinkler wasted no time in plunging his money into planes, mansions, cars and a racehorse enterprise, Patinack Farm, on which he spent an estimated $150m. His fortune was further dented by the 2009 global financial crash. But that same year he scraped the cash together for "a second big coal venture" buying the Maules Creek coal deposit from Rio Tinto for A$480m. Two years later, buoyed by rising coal prices, he floated his investment vehicle, Aston Resources later merging it to form the A$5bn company, Whitehaven Coal.

By 2011, at the age of just 35, Tinkler became Australia's youngest billionaire, and began spending heavily again, buying up football and rugby teams. But with the coal industry on the slide, the highly leveraged coal baron had soon blown his paper fortune and began the "slow-motion car crash" towards bankruptcy.

Tinkler has left many of his creditors out of pocket. "To be honest, there aren't that many assets to chase any more," notes his bankruptcy trustee. But as far as Tinkler is concerned, his downfall is entirely down to external forces. "The [anti-coal] activists are winning, he told the Australian last week. "I'm just one more coal miner out of work."