Lang Hancock isn’t the first of his family to pioneer new horizons.
Almost a century after one John Hancock in the United States signed the Declaration of Independence another John Hancock was sailing north from Fremantle in the three-masted schooner Sea Ripple, 187 tons.
Also on board were:
- Emma Withnell (Hancock’s sister), her husband and two sons. (Emma was expecting another child. The baby, another son, was born a few months later — the first white child born in the north-west.)
- Fanny Hancock, another sister.
- Robert Withnell, Emma’s brother-in-law.
Their destination was Cossack (then called Port Tientsin), near Roebourne and 1,000 miles north of Perth. And the Withnell-Hancock family’s protection in the north-west was hardly calculated to make them feel at home.
First they were becalmed two days out of Cossack. Then a storm drove them 120 miles past their destination and the schooner ran aground on a small reef.
In the next few days, with the schooner aground and listing so badly that many of the sheep in the holds were smothered, the men made repairs. They refloated the ship, reached Cossack and John Withnell went up the Harding River to find a place for a homestead. The place he found, and on which they rested their tents, was later to become the site of Roebourne.
Langley George Hancock was born in Perth on June 10, 1909 — but he is very much part of the north-west. His father was manager of Mulga Downs, a run-down property not far from Wittenoom Gorge. He changed the station from a liability to a flourishing sheep property of which he eventually became owner.
Lang Hancock went to Hale School in Perth, and it was there that he met Peter Wright, later to become his business partner. Hancock’s father would have liked him to enter one of the professions, but Lang wanted to get back to the land.
Sir Valston Hancock, former Air Marshal in the R.A.A.F. and a close relation of Lang Hancock, believes that this decision had much to do with shaping Hancock’s character.
Sir Valston says:
His virtual isolation in the great empty north west during his early manhood is a factor which shaped his character and bred intolerance of prevarication.
Unlike most of us in society who are constantly exposed to the foibles of human nature with its mixture of selfishness and sacrifice, greed and generosity, laziness and energy and so on, Lang sees problems starkly in black or white.
The grey areas he either does not see, or brushes aside as diversions from the central issue.
He cannot compromise on issues of principle, nor can he understand others who do. Many of his reactions and attitudes seem to stem from a puritanical streak and intolerance for weakness.
This uncompromising attitude is so very obvious in the many interviews given to the Press and yet in his personal relations he exhibits an amused tolerance of those who have fallen from grace.
He is essentially a man of action who wants to get things done speedily. This obsessive drive may lead him into error, but it is also the source of his achievements.
A life spent mainly in the field has endowed him with a great respect for people who are practical and effective — the antithesis of those who theorise with little regard for the realities of life.
The image which seems to emerge from the media predominantly is that of a ruthless, uncouth, greedy, intolerant, obstinate character softened somewhat by a keen sense of humour and a capacity of friendliness. This is not the real Lang Hancock.
The real Lang Hancock is pretty hard to find. He’s not gregarious by nature, yet he doesn’t shun company and talks and laughs easily. He has, of course, a vast number of acquaintances. His friendships are few — but they’re deep and lasting. He and Peter Wright have been friends since their school days, and business associates since.
He has firm friendships with some of his employees, too. Bill Newman, the gnarled prospector who, in the early days, sweated on the ground helping to test and peg areas discovered from the air. Ken McCamey, who has worked for Hancock for about 20 years and has learned all that Hancock could teach him — and more — about aerial prospecting.
Thousands of words have been written about him in newspapers and magazines in Australia and overseas. And perhaps too much attention has been paid to the fact that he doesn’t look, or act, or even spend as a millionaire is popularly supposed to.
He dresses for comfort — a legacy, no doubt, from long hot days at Mulga Downs. It’s frequently said that he “looks uncomfortable” in a suit and, even if this is journalistic licence, it is probably true that he prefers not to wear one.
At home, and in his office, he favours a suede jacket or, on hotter says, a safari jacket. Almost inevitably he wears comfortable half-Wellington boots.
He neither smokes nor drinks, but this doesn’t stop him dispensing “hospitality” at home. Mulga Downs was a long way from the nearest pub — black tea was much more readily available.
There are legends, too, about his unwillingness to spend money unnecessarily and doubtless some of them are true. Sir Valston Hancock says:
There is little doubt that Lang would have created a more popular image had he publicly made large donations to charities etc. What he has done, he has done anonymously.
Hancock, in many ways, is a shy man. He seeks no publicity for himself — only for the cause to which he is dedicated. The development of Australia’s north-west. For his projects, his discoveries and his proposals for the future he tries to get as much publicity as possible.
But his gifts to certain causes are anonymous, possibly for two reasons. One is his lack of interest in personal publicity and the other is probably the fear that any announcement of a gift would inevitably turn into a torrent the stream of money-seeking letters which arrives at his office and home every week.
John Lawrence, in The Wall Street Journal, pointed out that Hancock’s name may not survive in the history books. Unless someone does something about it, there will be no “Hancock” in the geography books, either.
Hancock has named “McCamey’s Monster” and “Rhodes Ridge”. The Angelas are named after his partner’s daughter. But he has never bothered to name any of his discoveries after himself.
At school Hancock was an excellent batsman, a determined footballer and a competent swimmer. Today he prefers tennis, a game which he plays with surprising agility.
He is an excellent shot, having been accustomed to handling a rifle since the age of eight, and fine horseman although he no longer has occasion to ride. The car and the aeroplane have replaced the horse, satisfying Hancock’s demand for getting places quicker and also his love of machinery.
This mechanical aptitude enabled him to develop a new extraction process for his blue asbestos mine at Wittenoom. He also developed a revolutionary wet concentrating plant which greatly increased the recovery of minerals from beach sands.
And, faced with delays if his aircraft needed service or spare parts he studied for, and obtained, his Department of Civil Aviation certificate which entitled him to service his own planes.
He is an expert pilot, and though he uses aircraft as just another tool, one suspects that he has great affection for them.
His first plane was a Klemm Swallow, a two seater in which he learned to fly. The inadequacies of his course of instruction would horrify the Department of Civil Aviation today! But learn to fly he did — and learn well. In an area where there were no landing strips where he wanted to put his plane down, and where up and down draughts could be frighteningly sudden and severe, he had to be good.
Labour was becoming scarcer as men left the north-west. Roads were shocking and vehicles using them didn’t last long. Hancock used his plane to transport people and equipment and to fly between Mulga Downs and the recently acquired Hamersley Station.
But, flying over the Pilbara, he was impressed by the superficial signs of mineralisation. He spent hours prospecting from the air and often landing in tiny clearings to check his observation on the ground.
It was chance, and a storm, which caused the dramatic flight through the headwaters of the Turner River in 1952 … the flight on which he saw the massive deposits of iron ore. But it was not by chance that Hancock recognised the deposits for what they were. This was the result of hours of flying prospecting perfecting a technique which has led to the discovery, in the Pilbara, of more than 500 separate deposits of iron ore.
Hancock’s name has become almost synonymous with iron ore, but long before his original discovery he was pressing for a better deal for the Pilbara. He had watched the post-war boom fade into an industry with little future in the north-west.
But he was also convinced that the Pilbara was rich in minerals, and that mining would bring the people and towns that the north-west so badly needed. But it was difficult to convince others.
Hancock and Wright were mining blue asbestos at Wittenoom and white asbestos at Nunyerry. They had established Whim Creek Copper for the use of its products in the manufacture of superphosphate. They had formed Pilbara Exploration for the extration of tin near the Shaw River. And they had persuaded an Austrian firm to establish Klinger Asbestos of W.A., with a factory in Perth for processing asbestos.
But no-one else seemed interested. Hancock wrote to politicians, industrialists, financiers; he sent letters to newspapers; he tried to preach the potential of the Pilbara wherever he went. It cost him time and money.
Then he found that others were prepared to join the crusade. With some colleagues and State Government representatives, he went to Canberra in 1955 — a mission to present the case for north-west development to the Federal Government. Nothing came of it.
In May 1958 the Prime Minister visited Wittenoom at the invitation of the Northern Rehabilitation Committee, of which Hancock was a member. In his address, Hancock said:
It is indeed gratifying to the members of our committee to know that our Prime Minister has come to see for himself the enormous empty spaces of our north-west.
These spaces need NOT be empty …
As you can see for youself, Sir, the crying need of the North is capital with which to develop the country — to create jobs — to populate the area by producing wealth and material from it.
To our minds the quickest and most effective means of attracting money to the North is to declare (for a trial period of 20 years) a tax holiday for all workers and salary earners.
To make certain that the country is developed, and not exploited as the Northern Territory was, we propose a 40 per cent re-investment clause for capital, with absolutely no residential qualifications which would exclude capital from America, from Britain, from Timbuctoo and from Australia south of the 26th parallel.
To those of our critics who say, “Yes, but what are you doing to develop,” we are not backward in pointing out that the Pilbara area is one of the most highly mineralised areas in the world.
Of the 80-odd commercial minerals, 78 can be found in the Pilbara.
Just in what quantity nobody knows, but add a sufficiently attractive bait to capital and labour and you will find that discovery will follow upon discovery …
Sir, your aircraft today was not very far away from one hill which alone contains several million tons of manganese.
We have large deposits of iron, as well as a host of other minerals.
We do not say that our scheme is a cure-all for every problem of the North. But we think it is the first essential step to generate development and interest in an area which is half the size of Europe and yet contains fewer people than work in Myers store in your home city of Melbourne.
We have met criticism of our scheme in Canberra. But not one of our critics has ever come forward with a better scheme or any concrete scheme at all for that matter.
The few suggestions that have been made all involve the spending of untold millions of the taxpayers’ money. And it is extremely doubtful if after all this money has been spent that it would result in any great permanent increase in population.
The tax holiday scheme might have seemed revolutionary, but it really wasn’t. It was working successfully in Singapore, bringing in foreign capital, know-how and factories. Singapore, of course, was closer to Perth than was Canberra. The “Wittenoom Welcome” to Sir Robert Menzies was a waste of time.
Hancock may have been dishearted. But he didn’t give up. The Commonwealth Government wasn’t interested in developing the North-West. The State Government could do little — and, anyway, its pool of competent personnel was almost a mirage. Most local industrialists and financial houses looked on the Pilbara as being as remote as China or Tibet.
But Hancock had found a mountain of iron. He’d found asbestos and manganese. He knew he — and anyone who really tried — could find more.
At last he persuaded one company to look seriously at the Pilbara. Rio Tinto.
Ernest Archibald Maynard (Peter) Wright was born in Kalgoorlie in 1908 and was taken to Perth when his family moved there some four years later.
Like Hancock, he was educated at Hale School. After he passed his Junior Certificate he went into a bank for two years, then joined a firm of chartered accountants and did a night course in accountancy, passing one of the first three in Australia in his final exams.
By 1929 he had entered the family business and nine years later was appointed general manager, becoming managing director when the business floated as a public company.
Wright is married, with a daughter and two sons.
The Press has found him less of a “character” than Hancock and his name appears in the news columns less frequently than that of his partner. But, friendship apart, Hancock, makes no bones about Wright’s role in the partnership.
“He has an outstanding brain,” Hancock told The Australian Financial Review. “And he is a man of immense courage … a very strong character with an immense capacity for detail. A very honest chap, and lion-hearted.”
The Hanwright partners consult about every move, and they have a tacit agreement — if one partner says “no” then the partnership answer is “no”.
The partnership itself began in 1938 when Wright went to Mulga Downs for a holiday, soon after Hancock had begun mining blue asbestos.
“We formed a partnership in which he was the business head and was to do the financing and I was to do the field-work,” Hancock recalls. It was the beginning of a partnership which still continues.
Wright has the reputation of being a tough, but honest, negotiator who likes to get every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. In some ways the partnership is incongruous because the two men are different in so many ways. But the combination of their individual capabilities is a formidable one.
Lloyd Marshall, one of Perth’s top journalists, once likened Hancock to a bulldozer and Wright to a grader. The one batters down obstructions and the other consolidates and tidies the path thus cleared.
It’s probably as good a description as any, although there have been times when the bulldozer has failed to batter down the obstructions. Still, when this has happened, the grader has been invaluable in smoothing things over.
- 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
- 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