The current issue of Quadrant magazine has a review by Trevor Sykes of Peter Yule's new book, William Lawrence Baillieu: Founder of Australia's Greatest Business Empire*. The title is based on the fact that the numerous Collins House enterprises (including the zinc plant at Risdon and the lead smelter at Port Pirie) were built on profits from Broken Hill, and WLB had interests in many of them.
The book is apparently the first published biography of WLB (although there are apparently two unpublished biographies). I must try and get hold of a copy of it.
Of course, WLB is important in the context of the history of mining in Australia. For example, he's mentioned in W. S. Robinson's fascinating memoirs
(which WSR himself wrote but which were edited by Geoffrey Blainey after his
death), entitled If I Remember Rightly (published in 1967), as well as in Geoffrey Blainey's important work, The Rush that Never Ended. Both of these works refer to WLB's involvement in the development of the floatation process which was a significant metallurgical break-through in the early 1900s, enabling the great dumps of tailings at Broken Hill to be treated. These were rich in zinc but defied the traditional treatment processes. As well as being involved with mines, WLB was involved in syndicates that bought up tailings dumps cheaply and then processed them, which enabled him to make a fortune.
WLB entered Victorian state politics and rose to
become Minister of Public Works and Health. He continued to foster his
business and media interests throughout his life, and by the time he
retired, WLB was director of the Herald and Weekly Times, the
Electrolytic Zinc Company, the Dunlop Rubber Company, and Carlton and
United Breweries. He was also involved in banking and in the early formation of Victoria's electricity industry. He died in 1936.
Although he was a philanthropist, he was not always noble-hearted. Apparently he withheld substantial assets from his creditors when he had to settle with them following the land bust in the 1890s, and was in a position to buy properties at distressed prices when the market bottomed. His broking firm E L & C Baillieu was a market maker in shares of the Collins House companies, supporting the prices when they were low and unloading them when they were high. Such action today would give rise to suggestions of insider trading. And it is said that his shares in the Outtrim coal mine in New South Wales benefited from glowing reports in the Melbourne Herald, where he was a director. Standards were different in those days!
Nevertheless, the mines with which he was involved and the downstream industries that they spawned under WLB's leadership contributed greatly to Australia's economic well-being. Comparisons (if any) with Gina Rinehart had best wait for another day.
* - this is the title given in Quadrant. I notice that a slightly different title is mentioned on the internet.