NATHAN TINKLER may be one of Australia's richest men but he has left a trail of debt devastating business owners from the upper Hunter to Queensland.
Dozens of businesses, mostly small start-ups, are chasing debts totalling more than $1 million from Mr Tinkler's companies.
Some people have been forced to re-mortgage their homes, while others have had to increase overdrafts or sell their cars.
The Herald reported yesterday that Mr Tinkler, who BRW estimates is worth $915 million, had failed to meet superannuation payments for workers at his racing company, Patinack Farm, since November.
In the past 10 months, seven businesses have successfully taken court action to recoup outstanding debts from Patinack Farm and the building company Bolkm, the construction arm of Mr Tinkler's Buildev Group.
Others have employed debt collectors or negotiated to accept Tinkler-company assets in lieu of payment.
Mitch Fraser's Maitland building firm, Fraser Commercial, was placed in voluntary administration this month, with Bolkm the main debtor. At one stage Bolkm owed the company more than $200,000 but the debt is now down to $33,000.
Mr Fraser said he sold everything he could, including his car, in an effort to pay debts. ''They had us on the drip for a long time. We were barely surviving and I was at my wits' end,'' he said.
''It is unbelievable that this is happening when you look at Tinkler's high-rolling lifestyle. He bought the [Newcastle] Knights and the Jets but so many people can't get paid what they are genuinely owed.''
Recent Bolkm projects include work on Newcastle Port Corporation's $3.4 million port centre.
A spokesman for the corporation confirmed it was ''making representations'' to Bolkm after complaints from sub-contractors about ''non-payment of accounts''.
The creditors are asking how a company backed by the self-made mining magnate can be in such financial hardship that it cannot pay bills of $1200.
Nearly all the businesses the Herald spoke to were paid some money initially, with the promise of the rest later. Debts range up to almost $100,000.
Alice Russell, who runs Mudgee Chaff and Grain Milling, was owed $17,000 for supplying horse feed to Patinack Farm but the debt is now down to $3500.
''We always felt sorry for the Patinack employees; it wasn't their fault. But … I want nothing more to do with his [Tinkler's] business,'' she said.
A roofer, Rob Atherton, who is owed $50,000 for work he did for Bolkm, said he had not paid himself for more than a month to make sure his employees' entitlements were up to date.
''They just keep telling you lies that it will be paid on this day and that day, it really pisses you off,'' he said.
Last night Mr Tinkler's spokesman said: ''We pay our creditors on an ongoing basis''. He added: ''With many commercial agreements there are disagreements from time to time.''
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