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This is the chapter, “Remembering Lang Hancock,” from Ron Manners, Heroic Misadventures: Four Decades – Full Circle (West Perth, Australia: Mannwest Group, 2009), pp. 215-229.
The 18MB bookmarked PDF version can be downloaded here. The website for the book is HeroicMisadventures.com. More on Ron Manners at Mannkal.org and RonManners.info. More on Lang Hancock at LangHancock.info.

Gina Rinehart, daughter of the late Lang Hancock (who is credited with being Australia’s iron ore pioneer), phoned me to explain that she was inviting a few friends on November 22, 2002 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Lang’s iron ore “discovery flight”.

“Ron, as you had a special friendship with my father, could you give a little talk to the guests please?” she asked.

Like most things in my life, I left my preparation a little late and expecting a dinner party for ten or so people, thought I could get away with some impromptu comments.

To my amazement, a gathering of 700 guests were assembled for this celebration and what follows is a transcript from my impromptu attempt to cover so much in such limited time.

Remembering Lang Hancock

Thank you Michael (Darby), you’re very kind and I respond well to kindness. Michael has given me a great list of the dignitaries here tonight and I will simply say that I welcome you all.

Tonight is called “Remembering Lang Hancock”. Where does one start? I thought about this around midnight last night and I came to the conclusion I could only fit in five points. They are:

  1. The time in 1963 when Lang probably saved my life without his knowing that this was the case.
  2. Eventually meeting Lang personally some years later.
  3. Everyone has a “Lang Hancock story” to tell.
  4. So who is the real Lang Hancock?
  5. Concluding remarks.

Going back to 1963, life was very simple, as I recall, and I’ll have to give you the background to this so you can understand Lang’s involvement in this incident.

Then based in Kalgoorlie, two mates and I wanted to sell some mining equipment to a copper mine at Thaduna, way up north, somewhere between Meekathara and Darwin. We then wanted to call into Wittenoom to look at the asbestos mine. The first thing we did was get a map. Finding it was too far to drive in a couple of days we said, “Let’s hire an aircraft.” So we did. The plane’s owner looked at the three of us and said, “Do any of you know what you’re doing?” One of us had a pilot’s licence and I said, “That’s okay, he can fly the thing and I’ve just bought a new map, so we’ll be okay.”

So away we went. We found Thaduna, no trouble at all. We had a good tour of the mine. Rodney Fletcher and Malcolm Scott were running the Thaduna copper mine at the time. They were mining copper and concentrating it on-site before shipping it off to Japan in 44 gallon drums. Pretty pioneering stuff back then in 1963. We finished the tour and asked, “Now, how do we get to Wittenoom from here?” “Well that’s easy,” Rod said. “You just need to go west and look out for Mt Bruce, it’s the highest mountain in the State. Once you get to Mt Bruce, just circle around in ever increasing circles and you can’t miss Wittenoom.”

A few hours later we saw a couple of high mountains on the horizon. We had a guessing game about which was the highest of the two and it was unanimous that one was higher than the other, so off we went to Mt Bruce. However, we picked the wrong one (see page 221 [the first section with the yellowy background below]).

We got there, circled around and around in increasing circles, but there was no sign of anything. Nothing at all. We did this for a couple of hours and then we heard the plane’s engine go “cough, cough” and we said, “Well the fuel gauge is working ok”. By this time we turned the radio on, hoping we could talk to somebody. We got the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), (I think it’s changed its name since then). We explained to the fellow that we weren’t travelling very well and he could hear the “coughing” of the engine. He said the best thing to do was to, “Try and set down somewhere”.

We looked out the window and saw that we were hopelessly lost in the middle of the Hamersley Ranges. It was rugged stuff and we replied, “Well, that’s a pretty good idea”. He said, “Now, if you get down, radio us again, but as you go down, take note of any landmarks so you can describe where you landed.”

We flew around a bit more, glided actually, and saw an area where an aircraft may have landed some years before. There were some scratchings, but there were a few trees in the way.

We landed there and took a few markings as we went down. There was no “black box” or anything on the plane so I took a few movies thinking this might be as good as a “black box” if anyone ever found us.

We got down and re-established contact by radio. It was getting dark and they said, “First of all, light a fire.” So we lit a fire and within minutes we had about a thousand hectares of burning spinifex. We reckoned this would be clearly visible from the moon. At the least, any planes in the southern hemisphere were bound to see us. (In fact they did, and many reported seeing a serious fire, but they didn’t fly close enough to see us.)

-=-=-=-

How to Get Lost by Following Instructions?

On page 220 I explained how we got lost in the Pilbara by using “Western Australia’s highest mountain” as a reference point.

At that time (1963) all the maps showed Mt Bruce as being our highest mountain (1235.4 metres) and our colleague, Les Harrison, as a licensed pilot, was required to attend an inquiry as to the reasons for our becoming lost.

Our “error” was that we had “mistaken” Mt Meharry as being higher than Mt Bruce.

Four years after the inquiry (in 1977) following a re-survey it was discovered that Mt Meharry was in fact 13.5 metres higher than Mt Bruce and subsequent maps have been modified to show this.

-=-=-=-

So we got back on the radio and the operator said, “Well done!”

We described what we had seen as we came down and he said, “Look, there’s only one person in Western Australia that can really give us any idea as to where you may be, so what we’ll do is put you on hold and we’ll ring him.” So they rang through to Mr Lang Hancock. Lang was not at home at the time. However, a lady answered the phone and said, “No, Mr and Mrs Hancock have just gone to the movies.”

The DCA person said, “What we’ll do, if you don’t mind, is ring back at 11 pm on the dot.”

He said to us, “To conserve the battery on the radio, contact us every two hours and then particularly at 11 o’clock.”

Well, we had no other plans for the night!

They rang Lang Hancock’s home, Lang answered the phone, they explained the problem and he asked a few more questions. Yes, there was a creek across one corner of what had been an abandoned strip.

Lang said, “Hold on, I don’t know how you got down there but that was my strip but I haven’t used it for years and years. If you want to take off tomorrow, whatever you do, clear a few trees out of the way, because the strip is in pretty bad shape.”

Lang told them exactly where we were.

They arranged for the Flying Doctor to come out the next morning and he had a bit of trouble landing even after we removed the trees, but he got down. The first question he asked was, “Have you got a jerrycan so we can shuffle some petrol across from my plane to yours?” Actually, when we took off from Kalgoorlie, the last thing on our minds was to take along a jerrycan! Who takes a jerrycan on a flight? The only possible container available was the doctor’s little stainless steel urinal. You know, the one with the handle you see in hospitals. It took half a day to transfer enough fuel across to get us to Wittenoom.

I have a very clear memory of that night which we spent, lost in the Pilbara, huddled around that campfire. One of us commented, “Isn’t it remarkable, that in a State of this size, there’s only one person who knows where things are up here in the Pilbara?”

We all agreed and then one of us said, “Well I hope Lang makes it home from the movies okay.”

We were lucky.

-=-=-=-

“Three In Aircraft All Safe,” West Australian, August 14, 1963.

A Piper Cherokee aircraft, off course and forced down in the Hamersley Ranges last night, was found early today.

A Flying Doctor Cessna aircraft from Port Hedland landed beside the missing aircraft at 7.15 a.m. and reported that the pilot and two passengers were safe.

The aircraft was found on an iron ore exploration strip, at Mt. Pyrton, about 70 miles off course.

Its location was pin-pointed by a Department of Civil Aviation course plotting crew who worked all night on the missing pilot’s information.

The aircraft had been bound for Wittenoom from Thaduna, a distance of 245 miles.

It became lost late yesterday afternoon and after following suggested courses by DCA, decided to land on an unidentified airstrip.

DCA advised the pilot to conserve his radio battery and to call base with information every two hours.

He was told to light a fire so that the smoke could be spotted from the air.

Late last night the Flying Doctor aircraft was told to stand by to take off in a search early today. At midnight a preliminary search area was radioed to Port Hedland.

The Flying Doctor aircraft found the Piper Cherokee on the suggested course 110 miles inland from Port Hedland.

Meanwhile, a chartered DC3 aircraft, heading for another search area, was recalled to Perth.

The grounded aircraft was refuelled from the Flying Doctor aircraft and it continued on its planned flight towards Wittenoom.

-=-=-=-

Can I just mention one more thing about that flight we had in 1963?

I just thought, this is a classic example of when you really don’t want to believe everything in the newspapers. The West reported it this way:

Three In Aircraft, All Safe: Its location was pinpointed by a Department of Civil Aviation course plotting crew, who worked all night on the missing pilot’s information.

Eventually meeting Lang personally some years later

I skip forward now, about seven years to 1970, when there was a “nickel boom” happening in Kalgoorlie which took me out of the country a fair bit. Every time I travelled anywhere overseas, and people knew I was from Western Australia, they’d say, “Oh, you must know Lang Hancock.” I was very embarrassed and I said, “No, I don’t.” They’d say, “But you must.” They assumed there were only about ten people in Western Australia.

I put up with this for a few years. However, I was so embarrassed about this that one day I rang Lang from Kalgoorlie and said, “Mr Hancock, I’d like to meet you.”

He said, “Why?”

I couldn’t tell him the truth, so I said, “We may have some things in common, I’d like to meet you so we can discuss them.”

He said, “I’ll give you ten minutes and don’t be late, 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.”

I jumped on a plane and there I was. He said again, “I’ll give you just ten minutes.”

Well, I remember walking out of his office five hours later.

We found out that we did have a lot in common. I think it must have been something to do with Milton Friedman, his favourite economist, and F.A. Hayek my favourite economist, and Lang getting his secretary to photocopy things from book after book and from many magazines. I walked out of his office five hours later with a great big carton containing almost a photocopied library of magnificent “stuff”.

So we got to be good friends.

However, he was appalled at my ignorance of the Pilbara. I knew little of what was going on up there and what was about to happen.

He cured that. He took me up there a few times and gave me personally conducted tours, giving me some insight into what was happening and, more importantly, what tremendous potential the great State of Western Australia had for those who are prepared to take a few risks and “have a go!”

I felt he’d given me several comprehensive Pilbara briefings so I later brought him to Kalgoorlie and showed him what was going on there. I thought he might like to be part of the “nickel boom” but he said, “I’m a bit busy.”

We had several visits north together and I could tell you lots of stories about those visits but I’ll just move on to the next point, which is:

Everyone Has a Lang Hancock Story

Now, everyone has a story about Lang Hancock but I’ll just tell you four.

1. How did Lang Hancock get the nickname “Pedal Faster”?

I didn’t know. I had to ask. It goes back to his early days on Mulga Downs station when he phoned up on the pedal radio. He sent a lot of messages back, took a lot of notes and he was pretty active on the radio in those days.

After a little while though, his voice used to trail off and listeners on the other end used to yell out “Lang, speak up! Speak up!” Lang used to yell back, “Pedal faster! Pedal faster!”

Now I’d better explain, so you can get a mental picture. The “Flying Doctor” radio was a “pedal wireless” in those days with electricity generated from what looked like a stationary exercise bike.

Lang just wanted to use the microphone and do the writing so he called in one of his Aboriginal field-hands to go on the pedals. This poor guy, after about 20 minutes, absolutely exhausted, started slowing down, resulting in Lang’s voice trailing off on the reduced voltage. “Lang speak up!” “Pedal faster!” Lang would call to his assistant and so they all knew him as “Pedal Faster”.

2. Another story involved Denis O’Meara. He was the Mining Registrar in Marble Bar during the ’60s and he had a lot to do with Lang and his business partner, Peter Wright.

Denis saw Lang more as a tin miner because Lang and Peter were mining tin at Cooglegong, which wasn’t far from Marble Bar.

While at a Warden’s Court “hearing” one day for some proceedings Lang was talking to Denis. Lang reached into his satchel and brought out an air photo of Depuch Island and some overlays he had done himself showing how, with the provision of suitable infrastructure, the roads and the railway lines could bring the iron-ore down for export. All these things have since happened.

Very visionary stuff and Denis, who you can ask tonight yourself, saw the future. He saw the future of Western Australia through Lang’s eyes and so many of us have had our eyes opened because of Lang’s early vision.

3. The third story is about the “phantom pilot” but I’m not going to tell you that story because you’ll have to buy the book. John McRobert has almost finished the official book of Lang Hancock and the story of the famous “phantom pilot” will be there in great detail. It’s a fantastic story.

4. I will tell you one final story I have about Lang though.

It was one day in 1976 when I got a bright idea, again. I’d read an editorial in the American Mining Engineering magazine by the editor of that magazine, Eugene Guccione. His editorial was really promoting the benefits of mining and how, if we encouraged more mining now, we’d get more prosperity, more jobs and everyone would be better-off as a result of us being able to just get on with it.

He was addressing an American audience because, for those of you who can remember, in America mining came under attack many years before the “enemies of industry” moved to Australia. That battle was just starting in the US and Guccione saw all these signs. His article explained how this was going to affect us all.

I showed this article to Lang and said, “Lang, we’ve just got to have this guy, Eugene Guccione, here in Australia. Take him around. You can spend a bit of quality time with him, I can spend a bit of quality time with him. We’ll take him to Norseman, Kalgoorlie, up to the Pilbara and Darwin. (Pan Continental had some very interesting things happening up there at that time.) We’ll take him over to Mt Isa, down through Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. I’ll take him along to Canberra and introduce him to Malcolm Fraser because, as our new Prime Minister, he needs a bit of help to understand how mining could benefit Australia.”

Lang said, “How much?”

I said, “Lang, this won’t cost you very much, it’s like an underwriting. I’ve already phoned Eugene Guccione in America and he’s happy to come. He’s never been to Australia and he’d love to come. It’s going to cost $15,000 in travel and accommodation but it won’t cost you anything because you just have to underwrite it.”

Lang said, “That’s a lot of money, who’s going to pay for it if I don’t?”

I said, “All these other mining companies. We’ll go and visit them and they will all get good value out of this visit. They’ll recognise this and agree to pay a share.”

Lang said, “You won’t get a cent out of them and I’ll be stuck with the lot.”

I said, “No, no that’s alright.”

He said, “I don’t believe you but we have to have him here don’t we?”

So away we went and this guy had a great “royal Australian tour”.

Lang came and picked up Guccione and myself in Kalgoorlie and we had the Pilbara tour, then headed off to Darwin. Mt Isa Mines then sent their plane and picked up Guccione from Darwin, took him down to Mt Isa and then on to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. I then flew across and we arranged to see Malcolm Fraser. At that time I thought Malcolm Fraser could turn out to be an exceptional Prime Minister as he was using all the right words.

As we emerged from the interview, which I thought had gone very well, Guccione commented, “I’m sorry Ron, but he’s just another bloody politician with no principles. Let me play back the tape and I’ll show you what I mean.”

A couple of months after the Guccione visit, I assembled all the public relations stuff and all the newspaper and magazine articles generated by the visit and rang Lang from Kalgoorlie, once again.

I said, “Lang I’ll come down with all the ‘wash-up’ of that Guccione visit.” He said, “Oh, I know, I know, I’m ready for you.”

I showed Lang all the magazine articles and he said, “That’s terrific coverage, but now for the bad bit.”

I said, “No Lang, relax. Everyone put in and it won’t cost you a cent.”

Now that’s the first time I’ve ever seen Lang speechless.

However, I thanked Lang, because without him agreeing to “back” the visit, it just wouldn’t have happened. That’s the sort of guy he was.

He gave you that little extra courage, some fire in your belly and a realisation that you could make things happen.

(Portion of Eugene Guccione reporting is on page 230.)

So who was the real Lang Hancock?

I think he was just as human and as fallible as all of us. However, the things that marked him as being different were first, that he insisted on getting his information direct from the source. If he wanted information about economics, he’d just jump on his plane and fly over to the U.S. and spend time with Milton Friedman, one of the world’s leading economists. If he wanted information about science, he’d go and visit Dr Edward Teller. If he wanted information on mining and the environment, he’d see Dr Petr Beckmann.

He’d go anywhere, but he wanted that information first-hand, so it wasn’t recycled or reinterpreted by other parties. This was an interesting habit from which we can all learn. Just get your information first-hand; from the source.

He was also a person closer to nature than almost anyone I’d ever met. Several times, while driving me around the Hamersley Ranges, he’d get out of his 4WD and take me into a cave to show me some little bird’s nest, or some small animal’s nest, or some rock painting, or something similar.

He wanted to protect these from desecration, from tourism. He had a very strong conservationist nature. That was never featured in any of his numerous media interviews.

He also didn’t see why he should await the pleasure of bureaucrats when he knew the information he had already assembled was in most cases superior to the information the bureaucracy was getting. It annoyed him that he had to stand in line, waiting for these people to go through their endless processes.

He clearly understood the principles of capital and labour, the resultant wealth creation that can come from fusing them together and how, without getting that right first, all the “redistributionists” of the world are simply “pissing into the wind”.

But most of all, Lang was himself. He could do that, he could be himself, whereas most of us couldn’t be. Whether you are from Rio Tinto, the Labor Party or the Liberal Party, you can’t be yourself. You have to “toe the company line” or the “party line”. I think this individualism used to drive them nuts with absolute, sheer envy. They didn’t envy Lang for his money, which only came later in his life, they envied him for his free spirit. He could be himself and they couldn’t.

Concluding Thoughts

Lang and a very select few entrepreneurs set the pattern for so many of us to follow. My own company motto is “Growth Through Persistence”. Every time I use that word “persistence” I think of Lang Hancock. “Persistence” is an inspirational word that can bring success to everyone at any stage of their personal development, in every walk of life. You could also say that Lang and others like him “planted the trees” so that we could come along later and “enjoy the fruit”.

We must remember that many of our achievements and our opportunities only became possible because of the human investment made by people such as Lang Hancock and his equally admired business partner Peter Wright.

Our humility in remembering this is an essential part of tonight’s celebration.

Lang will always be a legend and an icon of Australia and I am proud to be included in tonight’s magnificent celebration of this event, the 50th anniversary of Lang Hancock’s discovery flight.

Thank you Gina and thanks, too, to the Rinehart family.

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