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Lang Hancock, “The Logic of the Pilbara-Queensland Railway,”
Free Market, vol 1, no 2, June 1979, pp. 21-25.

On the morning of Sunday June 11th, passengers aboard Lang Hancock’s 70th Birthday “Wake Up Australia!” jumbo-jet flight will be flying due east from the Pilbara towards Alice Springs over some of the most desolate country in the world. Below them will be the proposed route of the Pilbara-Queensland Railway — the visionary scheme which may within a decade forge a link of steel across the north of Australia. Here Lang Hancock puts a compelling case for a project which can do at least as much for Australia as the Snowy River Scheme; and without soaking the taxpayer.

The fall of Iran (world’s third largest oil producer) to Russian domination has had a chain reaction on the rest of the world, which is not yet understood by the governments, press and people of the countries which will be mainly affected.

Iran was supplying 80% of South Africa’s oil needs.

South Africa supplies most of Europe’s vital mineral needs.

If you add the rest of Africa, into which Russian domination is filtering with the use of Cuban troops and various terrorist organisation etc., then Russia will have under its control the mineral resources Europe currently relies so heavily on. No modern nation can exist without steel, aluminium, glass, electricity, heat, power or water; all of which, in the first instance, come out of the ground.

Mankind Must “Dig or Die”
With Saudi Arabia (the world’s number one oil exporter by far) being threatened by Russian-controlled Cuban troops from South Yemen, any thinking person should indeed feel worried, particularly in view of the apathy of western governments generally.

If events continue to head in the above direction Australia is in a particularly vulnerable position. For instance, our oil supplies are quickly running out (see graph), and with every form of government disincentive applied to see that fresh discoveries are not made (e.g. 12 rigs working in Australia compared with 2,500 working in the USA, which is a territory of equal size), it is time to take our heads out of the clouds and get to work seriously to overcome our energy and productivity problems.

Primarily we should be making full use of nuclear power and even tidal power, but in this regard we have our heads well and truly in the sand. How do we dig them out?

With Apologies — I Told You So
It was once claimed by officialdom that Australia would be importing iron ore by the year 1965, instead of which we are now supply half of the Japanese market following my discovery of the Hamersley Iron Field in November 1952.

In attempting to attract risk capital to develop this major field I wrote on January 9, 1960 in the following terms to the head of what is now the parent company of Hamersley Iron:

This deposit looks bigger than the Lake Superior published reserves upon which the might of the world’s greatest industrial nation was built. Profit potential is quite probably in excess of say 1,000 million pounds sterling.

In May 1958 Prime Minister Menzies visited Wittenoom. In my speech of welcome I stressed the need for northern development and went on to say: — Despite the “knockers” who say, “Yes! but what are you going to develop?” — I said: “I am not backward in pointing out that the Pilbara is one of the most highly mineralised areas in the world. We have large deposits of iron, as well as a host of other minerals.”

Today, despite all the ridicule that was heaped on me and my discoveries, Australia is not an importer, but the largest exporter of iron ore in the world.

In 1961 I was told by the so-called doyens of Australia’s mining industry: “Go away and find a deposit on the coast, there are no sizeable ports and no railways in the north-west and none can ever be built in such dreadful blackfellow country.”

Today there are two ports in the Pilbara with a throughput three times that of Sydney Harbour.

In 1962 I was told they had finally condescended to undertake a study to see if it was feasible to build a 1.5-2 million ton per year railway in the Pilbara. I said it needed to be a 10-20 million ton per year railway, to which they replied that I was an impractical dreamer.

Today the two bigger railways in the region are each capable of carrying 40 million tons per year.

Why Brazil? — Not Australia
On August 20, 1972 I published an article headed “Why Brazil? Why Not Australia?”. Here’s why …

Sales contracts follow capital, and the development arising from the investment of capital and loans, in the eyes of the world’s bankers, who finance these big multinational companies in their development projects, Brazil is the country they recommend.

Unfortunately Australia is no longer “the favoured nation”. It no longer has “a special position”.

On the contrary, because of Canberra’s growing interference, Australia has not been able to get a single major new coal, iron, or uranium project under way, over the last decade.

What Australia now has is a large number of iron ore contracts whose expiry dates over the next few years virtually coincide with Brazilian and Russian contracts coming on stream. The hard, unpalatable fact for Australia is that because of the Canberra attitude to Japan, it would appear that for delivery of iron ore to Japan in the mid-1980s, Brazil has and is getting contracts for three times as much as Australia.

The Ruhr of South East Asia
This is now 1979 and in view of the above history of events, I would ask you to listen to me now and before discarding my suggestions as impractical, see if you can come up with a better scheme.

Modern technology has made it possible for even small nations to have their own fully integrated steel industry; provided they have the following ingredients:

(a) A cheap source of power;
(b) High-grade iron ore;
(c) Money; and
(d) The resolve to do something.

This is the position that could apply to Australia where we have the world’s largest iron ore field on its western side in the Pilbara, and fantastic deposits of coal on its eastern side in Queensland, with the missing link a space of some 1,200 miles (largely flat desert) between the railway system of the Pilbara and that of Central Queensland.

East-West Railway
In order to have a second steel complex in Australia we should consider completing the Australian railway system by joining the Pilbara to the Northern Territory gas and the mineral and coalfields of Queensland with its rail system.

If this were done it would be possible for a start to put one or two mini steel mills at either end; Ronsard and Townsville — say one or two modules of half a million tons a year each — and bring the coal to the iron ore and the iron ore to the coal, as a basis for enormous secondary industry development.

The two modules in Pilbara would cost approx. $200 million. The railway linking the coal to the iron would cost approx. $600 million. Two modules in Queensland would cost approx. $200 million.

Added to this would need to be funds for the building of the central Pilbara downhill rail system that we have in mind, and the setting up of a port at Ronsard so as to bring in the European market as well as the Japanese market, cost $800 million.

On the Queensland side there would need to be an equal expenditure to modernise and build a port structure to handle equal sized vessels at a cost of $1,000 million.

A total of $2,800 million.

We already have (a) and (b) above; the missing ingredients are (c) and (d).

Let’s look at money.

Seeing that it would take some five years to build this complex, the yearly programme of expenditure in total would amount to no more than the annual amount spent by the Australian Government on the dole, which is inflationary expenditure producing neither goods nor assets.

I am sure thousands of Australians genuinely unemployed would be only too glad to work on such a project. However, it would be quite useless to ask Canberra to fund such a proposition or even to understand it.

I believe that every inducement and encouragement should be given to have these national necessities financed by private funds and kept entirely out of government hands. Given a proper investment climate by the Australian Government, I believe capital could be found. Where is the money to come from?

My suggestion is that the governments of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland allow the investors in the above project to be given first rights to any mineral that they may discover within 50 miles on either side of the railway line for the full length of the railway line.

Remember that Australia’s richest goldmine has opened up in the desert just north of the route.

In other words, follow the example of American development. They gave a free grant of land to the railway builders right across the continent. This developed the nation at no cost to the taxpayer.

I would not propose giving away any of Australia — not even the central deserts — but I would suggest — as a means of opening up the desert and bringing this much-needed transport system into being, for the benefit of the whole of Australia, that it may be possible to attract private money to build these railroads by granting to subscribers mineral rights for 50 miles or so each side of the proposed railway.

There would also need to be an additional bait in the form of granting to the investors areas known to Hancock and estimated by him to contain 2,000 million tons of high grade iron ore suitable for steelmaking, but as yet not held by anyone.

Virgin open ground from the Queensland Government estimated to contain a minimum of 1,000 million tons of steaming coal and 500 million tons of coking coal (also known to Hancock).

“D” Our missing resolve
“Knockers” in Canberra are loud in exclaiming that linking such giant resources together with a railway is an idle, foolish, impractical dream, yet they never suggest an alternative scheme.

If we look overseas, however, we see an even more extravagant dream being turned into reality. We see huge Russian and Japanese investment and co-operation in the building of 2,000 mile long railway into Siberia to obtain coal and iron at a cost of some $15,000 million.

The Russian Baikal-Amur Railway project is built in wasteland, the temperature 50°F below zero. On even chillier days the cold becomes literally audible; the moisture of exhaled breath freezes instantly and the colliding crystals make a rustling sound. The Jeep-like vehicles used by the construction crews have quilts on their hoods; at bridge construction sites the workers are busy cooking concrete in warm elevated shacks before pouring it into foundations. It traverses mountainous routes where there have been earthquakes; and broad areas of permafrost, innumerable bogs where the ground heaves during the short summer thaw. Some 3,700 bridges and culverts must be built across rivers and streams. There are numerous tunnels through seven mountainous ranges, one of them 9.5 miles long. The natural hazards include swarms of mosquitoes and gnats in summer and frostbite and conjunctivitis caused by the glare of the sun on snow in winter. Food must be flow in, mail service is irregular.

Despite all these difficulties, this project is about one-third completed as a result of inducements to the Japanese.

We who have more to offer the Japanese than the Russians could surely make an inducement which would enable them (if we don’t do it ourselves) to build a railway linking Australia’s two richest regions — namely the world’s largest iron ore region of the Pilbara to the giant coal resources of Queensland at a cost of something like $600 million.

In Australia’s case the terrain is virtually flat over which a railway could be built at the rate of 1.5 miles per day for an expenditure of $120 million or so per year.

In support of this contention, it may prove interesting to read an account of the first crossing of this route made by a motor vehicle in 1966 by journalist Lloyd Marshall. He says:

It is part of the traditional role of a newspaper to point the way of progress and demonstrate that it is a practical way.

That is what led us into the wilderness last winter to cut down the myth about the impenetrability of the desert that ranges from north to south through the so-called dead heart of Australia.

Photographer Max Holten and I set out on this journey with two objects, they were:

(i) To prove the possibility of direct access from the Australian industrial east to the booming Pilbara, cutting out the coastal hauls.
(ii) To show that the defence of the north was possible by direct access from the east; was possible through the “impenetrable” deserts.

Soon after we have proved the point rather resoundingly, Canberra asked us for every bit of information we could supply on the crossing. It was given at once.

The chance to carry out this journey — from Port Hedland by the most direct way through Alice Springs to Brisbane — came when it was decided to run an oil search supplement in Weekend News.

West Australian Petroleum had built a first-class gravel road 600 miles north-east of Port Hedland.

It was resolved to use this road as a springboard for the leap to Alice Springs. The Commonwealth was making available 1:250,000 maps of the interior. The series was incomplete, but it was good enough to show where a Weapons Research Establishment survey team had cut a line with a grader over some of this desert.

The grader line was marked “position approximate”. In stretches of 50 miles or so it vanished. Some of the vital maps were not available. As a wartime navigator, I felt confident I could fill the gaps using sextant and compass.

We used a short-wheelbase Land Rover. We cooked, ate and slept where we stopped.

Early in the planning we made a study of the journals of the early explorers. Here are some of their remarks:

Col. Peter Egerton-Warbuton (1827): “My party, at least, are now in that state that unless it please God to save us we cannot live more than 24 hours. We are at our last drop of water … God have mercy upon us for we are brought very low.

Allen Laurence Wells (1869): “We found the two men — dead. G.L. Jones’s body was partly covered with drift-sand. Where Charles Wells lay, half-clothed and dried like a mummy …”

The Hon. David Wynford Carnegie (1897): “If a man declines to die and fights for life, he is hard to kill.”

Light-hearted, self-financing playboy adverturer David Carnegie, the son of the Earl of Southesk, died a few years later from a wound in the thigh from a poisoned dart shot by a hidden native in Northern Nigeria.

Carnegie had read the 1876 journal of explorer Ernest Giles, who described the area as “a region so desolate it is horrifying to describe”. Carnegie said it was “a howling wilderness”.

In the 1870’s these words were doubtless true, and have stifled exploration since. But we had good equipment, communications, and the benefit of an air survey.

We felt confident as we turned east from Wallal and headed towards Brisbane. Ahead of us was a 1,200 mile stretch to Alice Springs, but of this about 600 miles would be along the road Wapet has built into the Great Sandy Desert.

We left Port Hedland in the afternoon. Our first objective was the Wapet resthouse at Radi Hills. We found it in the night despite the fact that it had been caught by a cyclone and was distributed far and wide. We camped in the wreckage. Tuning into Radio Australia on our receiver, we got a time check and shot Rigel Kent, Spica, Arcturus and Altair with the sextant. Plotted, this gave us a “cocked hat” or area of uncertainty of two miles. We knew where we were.

These four stars were our companions every night until we reached Alice, and invariably told us our position within two miles. The sextant had been lent to us by periodicals division manager Jack Tillet and it really worked its passage.

The Wapet road was excellent. By noon the next day we reached the first dunes cut by Wapet and stabilised with snow fences.

We reached Swindells Field, where Wapet had drilled Sahara N01, loaded two drums of fuel dumped for us by a contractor and, with about 150 gallons of fuel to play with, sailed along the Wapet road towards Kidson Field. We passed through the Percival Lakes and stopped at night in a dry lake. Our four stars told us we were in Lake Woolcoomber.

Early next day we were at Kidson Field. Eight weeks before, this area was completely inaccessible because the Wapet road had not reached it. We paused a few hours for a wash and rest and to fill up with water at the geophysical camp, and in the afternoon drove on, picked up the north-south Everard Track, followed it for about 22 miles north, then turned east again to attack the real crossing to Alice Springs.

It is interesting that in the Great Sandy Desert Wapet has found abundant water at places where explorers perished or nearly perished. It was 50 feet below them.

By the time we reached the turn-off at Gary Junction, marked with a whitewashed tyre and a drum, it was night. We pressed on, jarred by the bases of old anthills eroded down to desert level, and crawling through sand. In all we would find about 160 miles of sand. The trailer was a dead weight. If we had not been hauling it we would have skimmed through — as long as our fuel lasted.

When we dragged down to a halt, we unhitched the trailer, got the vehicle onto boards sideways to the trailer, hitched the trailer on again and eventually, in the dusty blood-red glare of the headlights, extricated ourselves. We were heading for a helicopter camp, and found it about five miles farther on.

Next day, with heavy going and a lot of pictures to take, we made about 100 miles and camped in a true parkland of desert oaks, on a carpet of needles from the trees and completely surrounded by dunes. We suspected that we were near a place called Jupiter Well. Our good friends Rigel Kent, Spica, Arcturus and Altair confirmed this.

We still had not encountered anything dreadful. We had been through worse on previous occasions. Everything was working and the radio kept us up-to-date with news on the home front.

But the next day, when we faced the dunes again we ran into four that defied us. There is a trick about crossing these dunes. You must understand the capabilities of your vehicle and not flog it beyond what is reasonable. You are relying on your transmission holding up. It just can’t be replaced out there.

We had a broken spring on the trailer and replaced it with a “spring” made of folded inner tube, a shock absorber of rope wound around the trailer axle, and a steel cable centring the axle under the trailer.

We charged the dunes in third gear, low range, again and again. Then we unhitched the trailer, got boards under the wheels of the Land Rover and, once on the dunes’ downslopes, towed the trailer over using our long steel cable.

Between the dunes the way is solid gravel — excellent travelling. With small cuttings through these four dunes and gravel (it is close by) laid over about 80 miles of sand, and water points every 100 miles (there is underground water) the way would be clear for trucks and cars to travel the Alice Springs-Port Hedland road, direct.

This night we spent on the W.A. border, heading next day for Sandy Blight Junction to drop off a drum of fuel to help us on our way back. It was all plain sailing, uneventful, even boring. We just drove solidly for Alice, and camped that night about 50 miles out.

It was so cold the waterbags froze, and we had a bonfire going all night. Before the townspeople were awake we rolled into Alice.

The remainder of this story is not eventful. We took the shortest possible route direct to Brisbane to prove the whole crossing. We were the first people to have driven across the centre of Australia from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific.

We named our route the Capricorn Highway because it was so close to the tropic. We foresee a defence and commercial highway along this track just as the U.S. has its Route 66 and Canada the Trans Canada Highway.

We returned from Brisbane along the conventional route to Alice Springs. Thence we went to Sandy Blight Junction, picked up our drum of fuel and dune-jumped out way south to Giles, to the Warburton Mission, and from the Mission to Southern Cross in one day.

The job is done. We felt we had to alert Australia to the fact that the deepwater ports being constructed on the Pilbara coast are an entrance for an invader to the Eastern States, that there is a direct route for the defence of our north from the east, and that the north is directly accessible to commercial traffic from the east.

The readers expect a newspaper to show the way in these things. We feel this had been done.
— from “Weekend News” (The West Australian)

The benefits, to Australia, of the Pilbara-Queensland railway are numerous. Imported oil is increasing in price and scarcity, Hamersley Iron’s pellet plant has closed and Robe River must follow, as 50% of its total cost is oil. The rail link will provide unlimited coal. It will greatly expand the coal and iron trade. At the moment most of these exports go to Japan and the railway will meet the pressing need to diversify. The railway, too, will provide harbour facilities for 250,000 ton ships instead of the present 120,000 tons (adequate for Japan, but not world, trade).

At present there is no secondary processing, the central desert is unexplored and central oil and gas unusable. The railway will provide steel mills in Pilbara and Queensland, increase development in these areas, and provide access to areas in Central Australia containing gas, oil, uranium and base metals. A standard gauge transcontinental railway will open up the country, like the Canadian-Pacific Railway. This will remedy the lack of a North Continental Australian bulk transport system, particularly since Torres Strait will only permit small ships. A developed Pilbara would attract the protection of friendly world powers dependent upon resources. As it stands, unworked ore in the ground would be a magnet for foreign predators (as Africa succumbs to Russian influence) and the reserves could not be defended by troops from the Eastern States of Australia. Obviously, unless the ore is extracted there will be no royalties, taxes, or foreign exchange. The commercial exploitation of these resources will create jobs, industry (in North Australia), assist tourism, facilitate stock shifting in drought times and improve trade/transport between Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

By adopting this scheme, what has the government got to lose? The tax on nothing is nothing. By not adopting it we could lose Australia.

[Below is a photo of the graph that accompanied the article in Free Market magazine.]

graph from article

(in order of appearance on
  1. Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures
  2. Hancock's Australia
  3. Hancock on Government Help
  4. Wake Up Australia: Excerpts Part 1
  5. Wake Up Australia: Excerpts Part 2
  6. Lang Hancock's Five Point Plan to Cripple Australia
  7. Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
  8. Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
  9. Jump on the Joh bandwagon
  10. John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
  11. Governments — like a red rag to a Rogue Bull
  12. Lang Hancock's Pilbara-Queensland Railway Proposal
  13. Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
  14. Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
  15. New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
  16. Small and Big Business Should Oppose Government, says Lang Hancock
  17. A Condensed Case for Secession
  18. Hancock gets tough over uranium mining
  19. Hancock's threat to secede and faith in Whitlam
  20. PM's sky-high promise to Lang
  21. Lang Hancock: "a catherine-wheel of novel suggestions"
  22. Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
  23. The spread of Canberra-ism
  24. Govt should sell the ABC, says Lang Hancock
  25. 1971 Monday Conference transcript featuring Lang Hancock
  26. Aborigines, Bjelke and the freedom of the press
  27. The code of Lang Hancock
  28. Why not starve the taxation monster?
  29. Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
  30. Party Promises to Abolish Tax
  31. Right-wing plot
  32. "The best way to help the poor is not to become one of them." - Lang Hancock
  33. WA's NCP commits suicide
  34. "You can't live off a sacred site"
  35. Hancock: King of the Pilbara
  36. Bludgers need not apply
  37. New party formed "to slash controls"
  38. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  39. Workers Party is born as foe of government
  40. Government seen by new party as evil
  41. Ron Manners on Lang Hancock
  42. Does Canberra leave us any alternative to secession?
  43. Bury Hancock Week
  44. Ron Manners on the Workers Party
  45. Lang Hancock on Australia Today
  46. Hancock and Wright
  47. Lang Hancock on Environmentalists
  48. Friends of free enterprise treated to financial tete-a-tete: Lang does the talking but Gina pulls the strings
  49. Lang Hancock, Stump Jumper
  50. Lang Hancock: giant of the western iron age
  51. The Treasury needs a hatchet man
  52. We Mine to Live
  53. Get the "econuts" off our backs
  54. 1971 Lang Hancock-Jonathan Aitken interview for Land of Fortune (short)
  55. Gina Rinehart, Secessionist
  56. 1982 NYT Lang Hancock profile
  57. Enter Rio Tinto
  58. Hamersley and Tom Price
  59. News in the West
  60. Positive review of Hancock speech
  61. Lang Hancock International Press Institute General Assembly speech, Canberra, 1978
  62. Australia's slide to socialism
  63. The Great Claim Robbery
  64. Why WA must go it alone
  65. Lang Hancock in 1976 on Public Picnics and Human Blights
  67. Resource Management in Australia: Is it possible?
  68. The gospel of WA secession according to Lang Hancock
  69. Crystal Balls Need Polishing
  70. Minerals - politicians' playthings?
  71. John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
  72. Boston Tea Party 1986 style, hosted by Lang Hancock and Bob Ansett
  73. Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
  74. Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
  75. Tactics change by Hancock
  76. Lang Hancock complains to Margaret Thatcher about Malcolm Fraser
  77. 'Phony crisis' seen as 'child of politics'
  78. Lang Hancock on nuclear energy
  79. Lang Hancock beats the left at their own game on civil liberties
  80. Lang Hancock's Favourite Books
  81. 1977 Lang Hancock Canberoo poem
  82. Hancock's playing very hard to get
  83. Hancock proposes a free-trade zone
  84. An Open Letter to Sir Charles Court
  85. John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
  86. Lang Hancock in 1984 solves Australian politics
  87. Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
  88. Lang Hancock asks what happened to Australia's rugged individualism?
  89. Precis of Ludwig Plan for North-West
  90. Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
  91. Lang Hancock's March 1983 attempt to enlist "former presidents of nations and heads of giant companies" to save Australia
  92. Lang Hancock asks us to think how easily environmentalists are manipulated for political purposes
  93. Invest in free enterprise
  94. Democracy is dead in Australia and Lang Hancock's education
  95. Lang Hancock Incites Civil Disobedience
  96. Hancock sounds call to battle Canberra
  97. Mining policy a threat
  98. Over Whitlam's head
  99. Lang Hancock suggests that newspapers don't give space to politicians unconditionally
  100. Lang Hancock on saving Australia from socialism
  101. Secede or sink
  102. Australia can learn from Thatcher
  103. John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
  104. How Lang Hancock would fix the economy
  105. Lang Hancock: victim of retrospective legislation
  106. Lang Hancock supports Joh for PM
  107. Hancock seeks miners' tax haven in the north
  108. The Ord River Dam
  109. Why Lang Hancock invested in Australia's film industry
  110. Lang Hancock's 1983 letters to The Australian: Lang's precedent for Steve Jobs, renaming the Lucky Country to the Constipated Country, and more
  111. Australia's biggest newspaper insider on manipulating the media
  112. 1980 Lang Hancock-Australian Penthouse Interview
  113. Canberra: bastion of bureaucracy
  114. Pilbara can be the Ruhr for South-East Asia
  115. 1982 Lang Hancock-John Harper Nelson Interview
  116. Australian elections are one of the greatest con games in history
  117. Our leaders are powerless
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