In the first few days of November 1966 some 100 guests flew into Perth from Europe, the United State and Japan. About 150 flew in from all parts of Australia.
They’d arrived for what the Perth Press described as a “millionaires’ party” and “the most expensive bun-fight the West has ever seen”.
They sat down to dinner at the Adelphi where they ate (and drank) smoked salmon (with sherry), iced Spanish soup, lobster thermidor (with French wines), Bombe Vesuvius (with chapagne) and cheese, biscuits and greens (with coffee, liquers and, later, port).
The following day the 250 guests flew north to the Hamersley port of Dampier. Three Friendships and two Skymasters had been chartered to supplement Consolidated Zinc’s own Gulf Stream, and the airstrip had been specially reinforced to support the aerial armada.
The gathering of the giants was for the official opening of the Hamersley Iron project — a public relations exercise which cost “something in excess of $200,000”. And why not? As one Hamersley official told the Press: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking an egg”.
The Australian Press was, of course, well represented. But, to ensure that the message of the might of Hamersley was heard overseas, representatives of influential overseas publications were flown in for the occasion. Among the overseas representatives was John Lawrence from The Wall Street Journal. He wrote:
As the speeches droned on, extolling engineering and financial genius, it became apparent to a few American visitors that one man sat in surprising obscurity, never called on to speak.
It was the man who made it all possible — the fellow who found the ore …
It’s not that this forgotten soul isn’t getting something for his trouble. Thanks largely to his own negotiating ability and a good sense of timing, he’ll clear some $10 million or so in royalties, possibly much more, in the next 16 years. His long-time business partner (E.A. “Peter” Wright) will get an equal share.
But despite the fact that he may be responsible for Australia’s most important industrial development to date, hefty, muscular Lang Hancock is actively ignored, even despised, by many of the Australians now involved in the mining venture. It will be surprising if his name survives in the history books.
(Perhaps Lawrence’s doubt about the name of Hancock appearing in history books was inspired by the formidable commemorative book Hamersley produced to mark the official opening. Lang Hancock rated fewer than a dozen lines.)
Lawrence began asking questions — and reported the answer.
“Hancock had nothing to do with our project; anybody could have found that ore,” snaps one of the top Australian officials of Hamersley Iron …
It seems that the second week of November 1966 had some fairly healthy backing as “Bury Hancock Week”.
Officials of C.R.A. (60% owner of Hamersley) were already claiming that their geologists had, in fact, discovered Mount Tom Price (a claim which, on the evidence of Hancock, Rio Tinto geologist Bruno Campana, and Rio Tinto’s own records will be shown to be palpably false).
Western Australian Premier Brand, in his speech at the opening of the project, side-stepped the delicate question of who discovered what (and of mentioning Hancock’s name on such an occasion) by saying: “Of the 40 significant mineral discoveries in Australia during the last 20 years, 36 were made by company and government geological teams.”
This statement, too, seems to be quite incapable of proof. But it did, at least, give “private” prospectors credit for four discoveries and the Premier wasn’t going to go into any detail such as naming any of these four.
“Bury Hancock Week” ended on the Sunday with the publication of a 16-page Hamersley project supplement in the Perth Sunday Times.
Lang Hancock’s name did not appear even on a full page devoted to a list of guests. It seemed to be a fairly comprehensive list, too. It included the names of at least three Shire Clerks.
But “Bury Hancock Week” hasn’t been entirely successful. Lang Hancock is alive and well and has his office in Lombard House in Perth. His company (Hanwright) and Lombard are the only tenants in the 16-storey building — Hanwright on the 14th floor, Lombard on the first.
Maybe there’s something symbolic about this, too. Here’s a fine new building — one of many built and building in Perth since the mining boom began — and it is almost empty. Except for Hanwright.
Hancock, it seems, has spent half a lifetime of being first in — and being surrounded by pessimism, apathy and lack of vision.
From 1952 almost to 1960 he had known of the huge iron ore deposits which, on their own, would more than treble Australia’s known iron ore resources. But, because of government export ban on ore, he could do nothing with it.
When it seemed likely that the ban would be lifted he tried to interest Australian institutions and companies to provide finance for developing the field. But no-one was interested.
He began writing to the world’s steel-making giants — in Pittsburg, Chicago and elsewhere — telling them, in guarded terms, what he had found and seeking financial and technical support.
“Payment,” he wrote, “would be by way of result i.e. no result, no payment to me.”
Almost every day for a month the replies came back: “Not interested.” “Area too remote.” “You appear to have access to a very good grade of ore, but …” The words were different but the message was always the same: “No.”
Eventually, when he did succeed in interesting Rio Tinto he spent days flying their geologists over the area. In nine months they had established the presence of more than 1,000 million tons of limonitic ore and 350 tons of high-grade hematitic ore, with inferred reserves many times greater.
But Hancock did not feel things were moving fast enough.
“I don’t think Melbourne realised just how big the thing was. So I wrote to Val Duncan (Chairman of Rio Tinto) and he came out to see me.”
This was not, of course, calculated to engender any great love for Hancock by some of the people in Rio Tinto. He had gone to Duncan over their heads.
There is no doubt that, in the last 10 years Hancock has done a lot of wheeling and dealing — but there’s also plenty of evidence that he didn’t have the field to himself. He has learned the hard way and in a pretty tough school.
He has seen his partner, Peter Wright, shake hands on an agreement with the head of one of Australia’s largest companies — and then see the agreement denied.
He has seen a Mines Minister write to Japanese steel mills a letter which said, in effect, “Don’t deal with Hanwright.”
He has seen temporary reserves, on which Hanwright had spent thousands of dollars in road-building and drilling, taking from him so fast that they were given to a company with a paid capital of only $2 and which was formed to manufacture cosmetics.
He has seen Robe River — rejected by BHP, rejected by Ludwig — spend only $35,000 on drilling over a period of 8 years and still get extraordinary favouritism from the government. Extraordinary because the government hasn’t just promised them temporary reserves in which they can prospect for high-grade ore. It has promised actual iron ore deposits.
He has seen Industrial Development Minister Charles Court go round the world on a “don’t talk to Hanwright” mission — a mission which took in (according to Mr Court’s Cabinet Minute of August 28, 1970) Armco, August Thyssen-Hutte and Texas Gulf Sulphur. Closer to home, Mr Court had “talks” with BHP and CSR.
Hancock persuaded Val Duncan to include a proposal for a steel works in the Hamersley offer to the WA Government. And he heard Brand and Court deny in Parliament that the offer was ever made (despite the fact that the present Premier, Mr Tonkin, has since said that he found the proposal in the Premier’s office and that “this was definitely a proposal for a steel works”).
Hancock and Wright have seen a lot of things and heard a lot of things. They’ve learned a lot, too. The international steel business is the big league — a league in which even the kind of money they’re getting in royalties is petty cash. Especially when they, and their associates, have ploughed back $5.7 million of it in the last few years on trying to prove up temporary reserves — some of which have already been confiscated to give to the “big boys”. And others which may still be taken away.
But to return to the Hamersley opening in 1966. Lawrence of The Wall Street Journal found that the “hate Hancock” campaign was confined to Australia — and the Australians in Hamersley Iron. A superficial view, I think. The Melbourne Establishment could hardly be called Australian — in fact I doubt if its members would like it.
Lawrence did, however, report some American reaction. He quoted an American “close to mining operations here” as saying: “The more we see of Hancock the more realise that in an American venture he’d be on the board of directors. He’s a man of real vision.”
And an official of Kaiser Steel Corporation, which owns 40% of Hamersley: “He’s the type who built our West.”
The Americans, of course, weren’t claiming they’d discovered Mount Tom Price. They weren’t claiming, like the Hamersley official, that “anybody could have found the ore”. They weren’t concerned with petty jealousies, with Hancock going direct to the Boss because he felt he wasn’t getting enough action locally.
The Americans weren’t, like the West Australian Government, concerned that Hancock was moving too fast for Court’s ever-coming never-coming “Pilbara Plan”. And perhaps they weren’t quite so sensitive to Hancock’s bluntness when he was trying to get something done.
Like his letter to Deputy Premier Watts in February 1961 which said, in part:
I don’t want to bring the Managing Director of Rio Tinto over to Perth on another wild goose chase as these schoolboy fiascos do not do the State any good when dealing with international firms.
Or a later letter to the members of the Iron Committee which began:
This letter is meant to be informative, not offensive. So, if at times the language may appear to be a little blunt in an effort to maintain clarity, we hope you will be fair-minded enough to consider the contents without taking offence, because none is intended.
American industry’s opinion — and, after all, they put up 40 per cent of the money — is perhaps best expressed by one of Kaiser Steel’s top engineers and a man who played a vital role in the development of the Hamersley project.
In a letter to an associate, about the time of the Hamersley opening, he wrote:
More than any one man, Lang Hancock is responsible for the Hamersley iron development …
At times his efforts on behalf of his State and country cost him personal popularity.
He and his energetic partner, Peter Wright, encouraged participation of Australian mining companies in these Australian ore developments. They took their message and potential to Rio Tinto in Melbourne. An agreement aimed at developing these mineral resources, brought to light by Hancock, was signed.
This agreement is the foundation of what is now Hamersley Iron and had much to do with the subsequent merger of Rio Tinto and Consolidated Zinc into what is now CRA of Australia, a far stronger company than either of the two individually.
This alone was a tremendous contribution to Australia.
Hancock and Wright also encouraged participation by overseas firms such as our own. Kaiser Steel has never had stronger or more steadfast friends.
Lang took Tom Price in hand when he went over to examine the ore deposits. He flew him about, showing him the ore, and talked to him.
A great deal of Lang’s contagious enthusiasm and appreciation of the potentials rubbed off on Tom. Lang exerted himself in every way to help Kaiser fit into the picture. Our company owes him a deep debt of gratitude.
The personal relationship established by Lang Hancock and Peter Wright with Val Duncan, Rio Tinto’s chairman in the United Kingdom, was invaluable insomuch as it kept alive Mr Duncan’s very active interest and gave him a better understanding of what was needed.
Without Lang Hancock there would be no Hamersley Iron.
“Bury Hancock Week” in November 1966 had some influential sponsors, but it failed.
A second “Bury Hancock Week” begins on February 18, when applications close for tenders for temporary reserves formerly held by Hancock and Wright and on which they’ve spent a considerable sum of money.
Only time will tell whether the sponsors on this occasion will be influential enough to have the Labor Government abandon its pre-election stand.
Here, just for the record, is what Premier Tonkin said a week prior to his election:
The next subject about which I wish to talk this evening is that of the Pilbara regional development programme of the Hon. Charles Court which was referred to in last Saturday’s The West Australian by a correspondent — a supporter of the present Government — as a “socialist Pilbara plan of confiscation“.
The plain is built around low grade deposits at Robe River which cannot be economically exploited unless the company has access to considerable quantities of high grade ore.
In the area Hancock and Wright have temporary reserves granted under the Mining Act in which, after the expenditure of a very large amount of money, they have discovered and proved large quantities of high-grade ore at Rhodes Ridge and McCamey’s Monster …
Hancock and Wright have discovered on their reserve iron ore in payable quantities are entitled to enter into negotiations leading to a grant of mining tenements.
As the Hon. Charles Court is in the way of any negotiations taking place with Hancock and Wright, no offer of mining tenements can be made to them and in the absence of this requirement it does not appear possible for the Hon. Charles Court to make the ore bodies discovered by Hancock and Wright available to Robe River for that company’s benefit with complete disregard for the law.
Sir David Brand either is unaware of the provisions of the Mining Act in relation to temporary reserves, or like Mr Court has no regard for them, because when delivering his policy speech he said: “We will not surrender our mineral policy to suit anyone’s personal interests, no matter what the pressure.”
The Government’s mineral policy for the Pilbara involves the deprivation of the rights under the law of an occupant of a temporary reserve who has spent a large sum in discovering a payable ore body.
Such a policy strikes at the very root of mineral exploitation and savours of bushranging.
It must make every occupant of a temporary reserve fearful that he may find himself in a similar position to that of Hancock and Wright and be deprived of the fruits of his labour.
There is one company, however, that need have no worries about Mr Court’s mineral policy, and that is Broken Hill Pty. Ltd.
In November 1964 the Government provided the company with a guarantee that temporary reserve 3358H in the Pilbara was granted to it for a period of 50 years.
Labor will not have any favourites but will administer the Mining Act impartially and observe the spirit and the letter of the law.
For fair and good government, vote Labor on Saturday next.
The people of Western Australia did vote Labor. The next few weeks will decide whether they voted for a “fair and good government”.
- 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