Nathan TinklerNATHAN Tinkler has a much firmer grip on his billion-dollar fortune after a $5billion tie-up between his Aston Resources and its Gunnedah neighbour Whitehaven Coal.

The experienced Whitehaven team, led by mining veteran Tony Haggarty, will take control of Aston’s Maules Creek proposal and a string of smaller coal assets owned by a Tinkler private company, Boardwalk Resources.

In turn, Mr Tinkler will become the expanded Whitehaven’s biggest single shareholder with a stake of 19.9per cent.

The deal also positions Mr Tinkler for another speculative play – he retains substantial property and business interests, including the Hunter Ports proposal for a Newcastle coal-loader – and appears to ease the debt issues that have frequently cropped up in market speculation about his financial status.

The merger was announced to the market yesterday morning after days of speculation.

While Mr Tinkler’s deputy chairman at Aston, former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile, will be chairman of the expanded Whitehaven, Mr Tinkler will have no official role beyond being its biggest shareholder.

In a phone hook-up with analysts yesterday, Whitehaven and Aston executives defended the $490million paid for Mr Tinkler’s private company, Boardwalk Resources.

Although Boardwalk must put $150million in cash back into the deal, Mr Tinkler stands to get another $200million or so – depending on Whitehaven’s share price – if any two of Boardwalk’s five exploration areas receive mining approval.

The complex nature of the deal – and Mr Tinkler’s decision to let Mr Vaile and Aston interim chief executive Peter Kane do most of the talking yesterday – makes it hard to gain definitive answers on his intentions.

Late yesterday, Mr Tinkler’s main spokesman, Tim Allerton, said the entrepeneur was ‘‘very busy as the chairman of the Tinkler Group.

‘‘…the Tinkler Group, which has interests across a diverse portfolio of industries including resources, ports and rail, construction, property development, corporate investment advice, sports, horse breeding and philanthropy,’’ Mr Allerton said.

‘‘As Whitehaven’s largest shareholder, he will obviously take a keen interest in the business.’’

At the weekend, the Australian Financial Review published details of Mr Tinkler’s borrowings, saying ‘‘very little of his empire is not mortgaged’’.

Documents obtained by the AFR showed Mr Tinkler’s Merewether house had a $5.9million mortgage, while his takeover of the Newcastle Knights was financed by a loan of more than $23million.

Sources close to the Tinkler camp question the AFR figures.

Regardless, it is obvious that Mr Tinkler and his companies do have substantial borrowings, but there is no getting away from the fact that he has amassed a business empire very quickly, and from humble beginnings.


1.89 Whitehaven Coal shares for every Aston Resources share, plus Whitehaven buys Tinkler’s private company Boardwalk Resources.

Tinkler’s 31.6% of Aston worth $710m.

Tinkler gets $490m to $680m for Boardwalk but puts in $150m.

Tinkler starts with Boardwalk and 31.6 per cent of Aston, walks out with 19.9% of Whitehaven.

Earns up to $1.24bn minus borrowings.