Colin Chapman, “Hancock: King of the Pilbara,” Sunday Australian, June 27, 1971, pp. 13-14, filled with Lang Hancock’s own words.
“My outspokenness has made a lot of enemies for me,” says Lang Hancock, 61, King of the Pilbara and Australia’s biggest taxpayer, “but I think I might have got some results. I have disturbed so many people who are content to go into their offices and fill in their forms and then go home at night. I have made it so bloody uncomfortable for them. If you come across one of those professional buck passers and force him to make a decision, then, by the holy Jesus, he resents it!”
Even in his most extravagant moments of self-expression, Langley George Hancock would not claim for himself the role of a towering figure in Australian history — and yet that is what he is. Hancock’s importance to Australia overshadows by far that of any contemporary politician or business leader. For the simple fact is that but for Hancock, the vast Pilbara province of iron ore would almost certainly neither have been discovered nor developed, and Australia’s economy, sapped by the plunder of public funds to support ailing wool, wheat and other primary industries, could conceivably have been fighting for survival.
Hancock first found ore where previously nobody believed it existed. The story of the find in itself is a legend. Hancock, then a grazier and part-owner of an asbestos mine and his wife, Hope, were flying south from their Wittenoom property in November 1952 — but by the time they crossed the Hamersley ranges a thick bank of clouds had formed and the ceiling got lower and lower. Hancock, a skilled pilot known for his regular feat of landing in the main street at Wittenoom before it had a runway, decided to follow the Turner River. He missed his way, and in passing through a gorge noticed that the rust-coloured walls appeared to be solid iron.
“I came back some time later, and found the same spot,” Hancock recalled last week. “I flew along and traced it for about 70 miles. At that stage I did not know whether it was low grade or high grade, I nosed around and essentially found some pretty rough sort of place to land, picked around and took some chip samples.”
“Back in Perth I got it assayed privately, and to my surprise it was about 2 per cent better quality than the standard blast furnace feed of the United States. I was elated. The greatest industrial might in the world was built around the Lake Superior deposits, and here was a deposit bigger and better. I told my wife, but the significance of it did not mean anything to her — she was not interested in mining.”
“The only other person I told was Peter Wright, my partner, and we agreed all we could do was keep quiet about it until the embargo on iron ore exports was lifted.”
In a sense, finding the ore was the least of Hancock’s achievements. His real value to Australia has been his brute force drive and his restless energy in getting both Federal and State embargoes on ore exports lifted and in scouring the world for someone prepared to mine and develop it.
What has driven this man to such extremes of effort and energy? What is all the striving and pushing and shoving and dealing in aid of? There is no simple answer: it cannot simply be personal ambition. Perhaps the closest to the truth is his obvious desire to develop a richer, safer Australia for his only daughter, Georgina, an attractive, boisterous and perky teenager who will ultimately inherit the Hancock millions and already today is probably Australia’s leading heiress.
It is because of Georgina that Hancock has decided to hold on to his cattle and wool properties near Wittenoom, WA, although he says they are losing money. “She likes the life, and I’m keeping them going until she is older and until she knows what she wants to do,” he says. “Every holiday she gets, even long weekends, I’m flogged to death till I take her up there. She regards them as home; school is just a nasty interlude she has to put up with. All her interests are up north. She rides, drives the Jeeps and the Land Rovers, and generally runs free with nature.”
When Lang Hancock first discovered the Pilbara riches, the Menzies era was limping languidly to its end. Industrial companies were in a period of comfortable stagnation. Hancock and Wright searched the capitals of the world for someone prepared to develop the Pilbara. All they had to offer were what they thought were the world’s largest iron ore deposits, sight unseen, no title, no right to mine. Finally they found sympathy in Melbourne from the British-owned company that was to become Rio Tinto Zinc with its Australian offshoot, Conzinc Rio Tinto. Land was staked out, the only remaining problem was raising money and persuading the West Australian Government to assign mining rights.
“We used to try desperately to get Rio Tinto to try to do a deal with the State Government and get those rights,” Hancock claims, “and that meant that they would have had to put something on the line. But every time you’d get them in the door, they’d waffle on and say it was a courtesy visit, and every time you’d push them further and suggest a visit to London they’d say, ‘Look, we’re fully autonomous.'”
Hancock’s account of what went on in these negotiations is fascinating, because it provides an insight into his sceptical view of the corporation man — and also illustrates the roots of his long, bitter and personal feud with Western Australia’s former Minister for Industrial Relations, the ebullient Charles Court.
Court, says Hancock, is his biggest enemy; Hancock, says Court, just a shade more charitably, is a bouncing and breezy fellow, pushing and shoving all the time, but adding colour and character to the mining industry.
Hancock says that Rio Tinto Zinc blew alternatively hot and cold about the Pilbara scheme. “They fiddled and fooled around, and would not go to the State Government with anything promising. It required being downright rude, telling them what schoolboys there were, by shocking them right to their boots and shaming ’em, by telling ’em we were going to expose ’em by saying they had not got the guts to do the job they were paid to do.”
“After about 12 months of this and 14 trips to Melbourne to hold these fellers’ hands — they’d get up a bit of courage and then they’d back away again — we found out that they could not lick a stamp without the permission of a feller in London called Duncan (Sir Vale Duncan, chairman of RTZ and the world’s leading figure in mining).”
“Finally we got Duncan to make his first ever trip to Western Australia. When I heard he was coming, I went to Charles Court and I said: ‘What is it you want that will do the most good for Western Australia in your eyes?’ He said: ‘Oh, a steel mill.’ If he’d wanted gold knobs on three coffins I’d have got gold knobs on three coffins, if he’d said he wanted a refrigerator down the South Pole I’d have got him a refrigerator down the South Pole, but he said he wanted a steel works.”
“Anyway Duncan turned up, I met him at the airport, took him to the hotel and sat him down, and he said: ‘What’s all the noise about, what’s the details, what are you kicking up all the fuss about?’ So I told him what it all was, and he said, ‘Do you mean to say you haven’t got a title to this?’ I said: ‘The thing is you have got to put something on the line. This thing has gone on for so long that the Government has got its mouth open wider and wider.’ He said: ‘What have we got to do, what do we have to promise them?’ and I said: ‘You’ve got to promise them a steel mill.’ He said: ‘Don’t be a bloody fool, we are not in the steel business.'”
“I told him it could be done quite simply, by forming two companies, an iron-exporting company and a steel-making company. I told him there was so much iron ore there that if he did as I said and got a title for it, and then put a levy of about 0.001 of a penny for every ton of iron ore exported and put it on one side, he could build a bloody steel mill and it would never matter a bugger if it never turned a wheel, he’d still come out on the right side of the ledges.”
From this meeting, and subsequent talks with the West Australian Government, came the birth of Hamersley Iron, formed between Conzinc Rio Tinto and the American giant Kaiser Steel. Also born was the Mt Newman enterprise, a consortium headed by Broken Hill Proprietary and including Amax, Mitstil and Selection Trust (London).”
Hanwright’s 1.5 per cent royalties in Hamersley Iron have enabled the two men to explore four other major iron projects in the Pilbara region, Wittenoom, Rhodes Ridge, the Angelas and McCamey’s Monster.
Each of them has the potential to become a major producer of iron by world standards — Hancock claims that at least three of them have potential greater than Mt Tom Price and Mt Whaleback combined. He says he wants to develop them through an Australian public company in association with international giants like Texas Gulf Sulphur, MIM Holdings and Mt Goldsworthy.
Hancock’s present income from the tons of iron ore being hacked from the mountain sides is already more than $30,000 a day; if all his schemes come to fruition the way he wants, with a steel complex in the Pilbara, another in Jervis Bay, NSW, and with a unified railway system in the region he could earn more than 10 times this amount.
And yet his life is simple, almost frugal, and with few of the extravagances of a millionaire. His clothes are comfortable rather than stylish; he owns a Mercedez Benz, but it is neither the latest model nor the most expensive in the range; he does not have a chauffeur and drives himself the four miles to and from his offices, if he wants a driver he calls on his one secretary, who also types his letters, files his appointments, makes the tea, and acts as projectionist for the films about Hamersley Province he likes to show the stream of visitors.
When in Perth Hancock starts work at four in the morning, working at home on papers, studying reports, and dictating into a tape recorder. He gets into his office at nine for appointments, and tries to leave early. “I never indulge in social life,” he says, “I never go out on my own, and if I go anywhere I take my wife and daughter with me. Part of the beauty of my life is that I never do another day’s business when I get home. My wife does not know what is involved in a business like this, and it is a complete change to go home. I try to get to bed early — I’m often in bed by eight o’clock. Quite often I then wake up, around midnight, thirsty, then I might get a couple of hours work done and go to bed again.”
His favourite meal is a bread roll and a cup of tea; he stuns American restaurants by demanding a pot of tea before ordering. In the school holidays the Hancocks go north, always travelling together in the same plane, “I make a point of that so that if we go we go together. After all at Georgina’s age it would be terrible for her if she were left to cope with things now; it would be different in a few years’ time. No, we’re not like those firms like CRA which insist on executives travelling separately; can’t think why they should be worried in a sleepy hollow like that.”
His home in Pert is at the fashionable end of Victoria Avenue, Claremont, and overlooks the Swan River, but one wing is subdivided and it is not the burglar’s dream one would expect it to be. The office is just a converted cottage with a red tin roof in Subiaco, you open the front door, turn sharp left, open the door, and there, like the caretaker, is Hancock.
Across the corridor is Peter Wright, who, apart from being Hancock’s partner, is the man who looks after the fine print. The two men have been close friends since their teenage days at Hain School, Perth. When Hancock began mining asbestos at Wittenoom Gorge in 1938 he offered a half share in the project to Wright, and the partnership has been in existence ever since.
“As for the Japanese, I’ve not had much dealing with them; I’ve left that to my partner. I know only the technical men who I take around in the field, and in some respects they are frightening. The degree of intensity with which they go into these things. And the Japanese acts and speaks and works as if he owns the damn company. This seems to be something that goes right through the system from the president to the junior clerk. It is one reason they have got to where they are.”
He has little warmth for public servants and government enterprises. “I’d sell Qantas to anyone that would buy it,” he says. “As for a lot of them, they just take their money and run rather than do anything, no one is compelled to make a decision, so why risk it when you might make a mistake. On the other hand the man who never made a mistake never made anything. I believe, bad an all as it is, that the greed of capitalism is the only driving force there is.”
On the other hand Hancock is equally scornful of the large Australian corporations. When I suggested that a major Japanese steel corporation might form a partnership with BHP, he retorted: “I can’t see that happening. I don’t think the Japanese would tie themselves to the retarded BHP technology where they are the world leaders. They’d sooner go into a group more advanced to their technological thinking and who would accept the methods the Japanese have used. I can’t see them allying themselves with a dead fish like BHP.”
Hancock’s political views put him in a position on the extreme right, yet he has little in common with those who share and espouse these views. He tends to find more friends among those who find his attitude abhorrent. Those who have the same opinions as he — the Perth social set, the Cultured Freedom intelligentsia, the establishment luncheon chaps — regard him as too brash and blunt, too dangerous, fearing he might at any time explode with a verbal grenade in their midst.
He hasn’t got much time for William McMahon and has even less for Billy Snedden; you sense he is sorry that John Gorton had to go. He is gloomy about the political future of Australia, because he believes Robert J. Hawke will inevitably be Prime Minister.
“I think there will be a trade union dictatorship in Australia. I think it is inevitable, the way things are going at the moment. I can’t see anyone standing up against it at the moment simply because there are no men of stature to stand up against it. It will decay, of course, as all dictatorships decay, I don’t know how long it will last. But the capital now coming in to Australia will go elsewhere. Rhodesia, South Africa, they will be the last bastions of stable government.”
Not surprisingly, he supports White Australia. “There needs to be a continuation of the migrant scheme, but the emphasis needs to be on quality not quantity. And I don’t think we should import any trouble. We should only import those people whose upbringing and outlook is not contrary to what the British race is. We’ve seen what troubles there are in other parts of the world, and we have not got them here yet. I can’t see any advantage in bringing trouble to our shores.”
“I think that coloured people would have to prove that they could adapt to the British way of life. Individuals yes, but if you get blocks of people here they form colonies within the country and that is bad. Now people say that White Australia has a bad effect in Asia. I don’t think it has any effect at all. Half of them cannot read, they have never damn well heard of Australia.”
“What does have an effect in Asia, and a very bad one too, is for the Australian government to promote schemes like the Ord River project, which is going to produce by machinery cash crops in competition with the Asian, who depends for his very life on tilling this stuff with a plough.”
Hancock has given no thought to retirement, doubts whether he ever will. His main preoccupation is completing his Pilbara plan and getting the region developed, with international capital.
“All the big industrial nations of the world have got to get raw materials. We’ve got these tremendous riches of iron ore, and if we don’t develop them some predatory nation will come and take them. You hear a lot of talk about minerals belonging to the crown, but they only ever belong through right of conquest.”
“Just because we speak the same language, Britain, would not come and defend us, neither would America. But if their vital interest were involved, if we built their dependence on us to the point where their very existence was at stake, they would come faster than you could poke a stick. If Britain, America, Japan, Germany were all dependent on us, what better defence could you have?”
Hancock says development capital is only being held up because of Federal Government taxation policy, particularly the 47.5 per cent company tax, about the highest in the world. Through articles in his newspaper, The Independent, and through speeches and interviews, he persists with his solution — a tax-free zone in the north of Western Australia which, he argues, would permit the Pilbara to be fully developed at no cost to Australians and enable the country to rebuild itself round the export industries.
Conscious that this idea does not commend itself to Mr McMahon, Hancock mischievously urges secession for Western Australia and runs a publicity campaign against the Federal Government which, he says, is “too remote, too incompetent and too top-heavy.”
Tracing his biography, from a boyhood spent hunting dingoes and playing bushrangers, through the early developments of blue asbestos mines, to the discovery of the world’s richest deposits of iron ore and the subsequent political battles, it is hard to pinpoint any one person who shaped Lang Hancock’s life and curious collection of ideas and ideals.
I asked him if there had been such a person. “I am not in the habit of looking back,” he replied. “I could not tell what happened 10 or even three years ago. But I suppose one of the most thought-provoking men I have ever met is Dr Teller with his invention of the H-bomb. It has confirmed a lot of my thinking about the human race, I suppose because here is the most peaceful docile, decent sort of man you could ever encounter and yet one who has been subjected to so much denigration and abuse.”
“Fellers like Teller who have contributed something to the world — the numbers of Tellers, Ludwigs, Edisons, Henry Fords — there are not too many of them. But you have got to have them, because they create jobs for millions. But from this point of view of contributing something to the general welfare of the human race — well, the average run-of-the-mill bloke would not make much difference if he were on the earth or not, now would he?”
- Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures
- Hancock's Australia
- Hancock on Government Help
- Wake Up Australia: Excerpts Part 1
- Wake Up Australia: Excerpts Part 2
- Lang Hancock's Five Point Plan to Cripple Australia
- Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
- Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
- Jump on the Joh bandwagon
- John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
- Governments — like a red rag to a Rogue Bull
- Lang Hancock's Pilbara-Queensland Railway Proposal
- Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
- Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
- New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
- Small and Big Business Should Oppose Government, says Lang Hancock
- A Condensed Case for Secession
- Hancock gets tough over uranium mining
- Hancock's threat to secede and faith in Whitlam
- PM's sky-high promise to Lang
- Lang Hancock: "a catherine-wheel of novel suggestions"
- Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
- The spread of Canberra-ism
- Govt should sell the ABC, says Lang Hancock
- 1971 Monday Conference transcript featuring Lang Hancock
- Aborigines, Bjelke and the freedom of the press
- The code of Lang Hancock
- Why not starve the taxation monster?
- Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
- Party Promises to Abolish Tax
- Right-wing plot
- "The best way to help the poor is not to become one of them." - Lang Hancock
- WA's NCP commits suicide
- "You can't live off a sacred site"
- Hancock: King of the Pilbara
- Bludgers need not apply
- New party formed "to slash controls"
- Workers Party Reunion Intro
- Workers Party is born as foe of government
- Government seen by new party as evil
- Ron Manners on Lang Hancock
- Does Canberra leave us any alternative to secession?
- Bury Hancock Week
- Ron Manners on the Workers Party
- Lang Hancock on Australia Today
- Hancock and Wright
- Lang Hancock on Environmentalists
- Friends of free enterprise treated to financial tete-a-tete: Lang does the talking but Gina pulls the strings
- Lang Hancock, Stump Jumper
- Lang Hancock: giant of the western iron age
- The Treasury needs a hatchet man
- We Mine to Live
- Get the "econuts" off our backs
- 1971 Lang Hancock-Jonathan Aitken interview for Land of Fortune (short)
- Gina Rinehart, Secessionist
- 1982 NYT Lang Hancock profile
- Enter Rio Tinto
- Hamersley and Tom Price
- News in the West
- Positive review of Hancock speech
- Lang Hancock International Press Institute General Assembly speech, Canberra, 1978
- Australia's slide to socialism
- The Great Claim Robbery
- Why WA must go it alone
- Lang Hancock in 1976 on Public Picnics and Human Blights
- MILLIONAIRE PUTS MONEY BEHIND SECESSIONISTS
- Resource Management in Australia: Is it possible?
- The gospel of WA secession according to Lang Hancock
- Crystal Balls Need Polishing
- Minerals - politicians' playthings?
- John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
- Boston Tea Party 1986 style, hosted by Lang Hancock and Bob Ansett
- Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
- Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
- Tactics change by Hancock
- Lang Hancock complains to Margaret Thatcher about Malcolm Fraser
- 'Phony crisis' seen as 'child of politics'
- Lang Hancock on nuclear energy
- Lang Hancock beats the left at their own game on civil liberties
- Lang Hancock's Favourite Books
- 1977 Lang Hancock Canberoo poem
- Hancock's playing very hard to get
- Hancock proposes a free-trade zone
- An Open Letter to Sir Charles Court
- John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
- Lang Hancock in 1984 solves Australian politics
- Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
- Lang Hancock asks what happened to Australia's rugged individualism?
- Precis of Ludwig Plan for North-West
- Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
- Lang Hancock's March 1983 attempt to enlist "former presidents of nations and heads of giant companies" to save Australia
- Lang Hancock asks us to think how easily environmentalists are manipulated for political purposes
- Invest in free enterprise
- Democracy is dead in Australia and Lang Hancock's education
- Lang Hancock Incites Civil Disobedience
- Hancock sounds call to battle Canberra
- Mining policy a threat
- Over Whitlam's head
- Lang Hancock suggests that newspapers don't give space to politicians unconditionally
- Lang Hancock on saving Australia from socialism
- Secede or sink
- Australia can learn from Thatcher
- John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
- How Lang Hancock would fix the economy
- Lang Hancock: victim of retrospective legislation
- Lang Hancock supports Joh for PM
- Hancock seeks miners' tax haven in the north
- The Ord River Dam
- Why Lang Hancock invested in Australia's film industry
- Lang Hancock's 1983 letters to The Australian: Lang's precedent for Steve Jobs, renaming the Lucky Country to the Constipated Country, and more
- Australia's biggest newspaper insider on manipulating the media
- 1980 Lang Hancock-Australian Penthouse Interview
- Canberra: bastion of bureaucracy
- Pilbara can be the Ruhr for South-East Asia
- 1982 Lang Hancock-John Harper Nelson Interview
- Australian elections are one of the greatest con games in history
- Our leaders are powerless