Family fortunes holding firm

Australia's wealthiest families are continuing to hold their own in the face of a chaotic global economy, with the Smorgon clan once again claiming the title as the most prosperous, according to a new list compiled by .

Just one new family debuts on the this year. The Brisbane-based Hutchinson family joins the list in 47th spot with a $260 million fortune built on the back of Hutchinson Builders, which will turn over about $1.3 billion this year from its residential and commercial construction projects.

Jack Hutchinson founded the business in 1912 and the company is now in the hands of its fourth generation of Hutchinson owners, with Scott Hutchinson as chairman.

Rejoining the Rich Families list this year after an absence of at least one year are the White, Chan, Pellicano, Farrell, Young, Schwartz and Mitchell families.

The Hutchinsons join the list as demographic shifts and an ageing population are making it harder for family wealth managers to spread the proceeds of a fortune across generations, each with their own motives and aspirations.

Regardless, the richest families in the country have continued to grow their collective fortunes in 2013, avoiding the high levels of volatility that have plagued the fortunes held by members of the BRW Rich 200 in recent times.

Top place getter on the Rich Families list, the Smorgon family, is a case in point. Most of its $2.64 billion fortune has been split across many family members. The 2007 sale of Smorgon Steel helped dismantle the traditional family structure and distribute the collective fortune.

But while the wealth might be spread more widely, Australia's richest families have remained adept at hanging onto their money. The other members of this year's top five are the Besen, Liberman, Myer and Wilson families, all of which are long-time fixtures on the Rich Families list.

For 2013, the total wealth of the Rich Families is $35.6 billion and the average wealth of each family is $712 million. The top 10 all have billion-dollar fortunes.

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In a difficult year, the average wealth of the returning members of the Rich Families list is up 1.5 per cent.

This is the first year BRW has run a stand-alone issue dedicated to family wealth. The families of individuals on the Rich 200 are not eligible for inclusion on the Rich Families list.

BRW Rich Families top 5

1. Smorgon family $2.64 billion (2012: 1st, $2.63 billion)

2. Besen family $2.10 billion (3rd, $2.15 billion)

3. Liberman family $2.10 billion (2nd, $2.2 billion)

4. Myer family $2.01 billion (5th, $1.94 billion)

5. Wilson family $1.83 billion (7th, $1.44 billion)