The autobiographical Lang Hancock chapter in Neil Lawrence & Steve Bunk’s collection, The Stump Jumpers (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1985), pp. 41-51. Reprinted as: “Lang Hancock’s mighty dreams,” The Weekend Australian Magazine, November 23-24, 1985, p. 3.
My grandson is a seventh generation Western Australian, so that makes this family as West Australian as you can get. My father was one of the very first white children born in the north-west, in a stone hut his parents had built and called “Woodstock”. My mother was also from the west, but I’m not sure how far she goes back. The Hancocks pioneered the north-west, going up there with a few sheep and settling on a lot of ground at a place called Cossack, where there is still a monument to them, although that’s now a ghost town.
I came down to Perth to be educated when I was eight. Prior to that, I’d spent my entire young life on a very isolated station. One neighbour was 80 kilometres away and the nearest on the eastern side was almost 200 kilometres away, so there wasn’t much communication. There were no white children, of course. I played with the blacks. Then I came to Perth and went to Howell’s School before going back to our station, “Mulga Downs”, which was where I stayed until I became interested in minerals.
I was better than average at school and I made the first teams at cricket and football. My father wanted me to go on to university and become a mathematics professor, but luckily I elected to go back to the bush. For a few packets of lollies you can buy a professor to work for you, so I’m glad I didn’t waste my time at university.
When I was 26 my father retired and I took over management of the station, where we had up to 40,000 sheep. It was during this period that I found blue asbestos near our property and sent a sample down to the mines department in Perth. They said it was worth about 18 pounds a tonne and the freight was about 30, so you couldn’t make much money that way. I used a block of it as a doorstop at “Mulga Downs” and had given up on the idea of making any money out of it, even though I knew there were huge deposits in the gorges right through the Hamersley Ranges. Then a fellow from an asbestos company in England passed through the station — I don’t remember why now — and he expressed great interest in the doorstop. I told him the sad story and he shook his head and said, “It’s worth 70 pounds a tonne”. I suggested to him that he was talking rubbish, and the he said he’d pay me 70 pounds a tonne! Of course, I pegged out the best of it and went into asbestos mining.
At the time, the only known commercial blue asbestos deposits outside of Russia were in South Africa and here. The South Africans had an army of black fellows who would chip away at the stuff with hammers and put it in bags — very painstaking work indeed — and this was the recognised method of mining asbestos, and the way it started in Western Australia. It was rather like a gold rush, with men chipping away for so much a bag, but I could see that we weren’t going to get very far that way, so I managed to construct a sort of Heath Robinson affair in the workshop at Mulga Downs. It could crush, screen and bag the asbestos, which was a much better arrangement, but I still could sell only about 960 pounds worth each month. Of course, I thought that was a fortune at the time, but I felt that if I involved a company with some capital, things would move much faster. CSR, the sugar company, came in and formed a new company called Australian Blue Asbestos, of which they owned 51 per cent. I was foolish enough to believe that gave them 51 per cent of the say and me 49 per cent, but of course they had 100 per cent. I was disillusioned, so I got out. As it turned out they ran the mine at a loss for many years, then closed it and moved into iron ore.
I then became interested in various minerals. I started up a white asbestos mine and used that as a headquarters, and I was overseeing a copper operation and a lead mine, all of which were several hundred kilometres apart. The drives between the sites took days, so I became interested in flying to overcome the problem. The old fellow who founded WA airlines had a single-engine plane for sale, so I made a deal to buy it provided he taught me how to fly. Since then I’ve owned more aeroplanes than motor cars, and without planes I doubt that I would have found iron ore. Flying changed everything around.
In 1937, Peter Wright, whom I had known for some time, came up to Mulga Downs for a holiday. He was run down and asked if he could come up and rest for a few weeks. Well, he saw this Heath Robinson affair of mine and the way it was churning out money and he wanted to be my partner by hook or by crook. We went into white asbestos together, and later into copper, tin and lead. We put managers into all of these operations and I would fly around in my little plane and supervise them.
The white asbestos mine was in a very narrow gorge and, if you stayed there until the height of the rainy season, you’d never get out, so I used to close the mine down and the workers would go off until the wet ended. We’d pay them all off, then a few weeks later my wife and I would hop in the plane and come down to Perth.
On one of these occasions, in November 1952, I’d left it later than usual to get out and I had to fly over the Hamersley Ranges in thick cloud in a single-engined aircraft. This is some of the roughest country on earth, and the clouds got lower and lower. I didn’t have the instruments or the power to get up through the top of them, so I had to follow them down and I found a creek flowing through one of the gorges. I was about 25 feet above the treetops, but well below the walls of the gorge. Still, I knew if water could get out, I could. It was then that I noticed the walls looked to be solid iron ore, but I also knew that Australia was supposed to have very little worthwhile iron, so I assumed it was low grade and of no use. But next winter I went back for a look. I found the same spot and I followed the ore along for about 70 miles. and there was so much of it, I thought that even if it was very low grade, you had to be able to upgrade the stuff with metallurgy.
I landed in the spinifex, walked around and took some samples, which I had assayed. To my great surprise, the stuff was two per cent higher than the standard blast furnace feed of the greatest industrial nation on earth, the United States. I thought, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. I knew then that the find was not only but but also valuable.
At the time, as I said, iron ore was thought to be very scarce in Australia. The Australian government had an embargo on exporting it and the Western Australian government was refusing titles to it, so we had to sit on the find for a number of years. When the embargo was lifted in 1960, our next move was to try to get capital into the project.
This wasn’t easy, because I still didn’t have title to the site. You’d approach big international companies like the United States Steel Corporation and they’d say, “Well, where is it?” I couldn’t tell them, because I didn’t have title. They all thought it was fairy tale stuff. The way I got them involved in the end was to tell them I didn’t want their money, I didn’t want shares, all I wanted was a royalty on what they mined. That meant if they didn’t make money, I didn’t make money.
But before I got a deal, I tried to interest many people. I tried the Australian firms first and, when they weren’t interested, I went to 30 different overseas concerns. Eventually I got the risk capital involved, on the strength of orders from the Japanese. I brought a Japanese fellow out to Hamersley Station, which was my headquarters at the time, flew him around and showed him the iron ore. He got very excited and wanted me to fly him all the way to Port Headland immediately, so he could head for home. I asked what the hurry was, and he said he didn’t want anyone else to see it before his people had a chance to buy! He was the chap who induced the first Japanese steel mission to come out here. The steel companies there all banded together so as not to compete price-wise, and they sent out this mission. I flew them around and showed them everything, and from there they issued their orders and Hamersley Iron got the first.
Riotinto in London has been the first people to take me up on the iron and, through their Australian company, they formed an offshoot called Hamersley Iron. So it was Riotinto who got the orders from the Japanese and passed them down the line. Then in came the banks, but of course they never would have come in on their own.
That’s a problem in this country. Australia is not a land of entrepreneurs. Socialism is embedded right through the school system and there seems to be an attitude that “the world owes me a living”. When people talk about things they believe are wrong in our society, they always say “the government ought to do this or that”. They don’t seem to realise that they’re the ones who have got to make things happen. There’s also this idea that all people are equal. When they say that to me I say, “Yes, socialism makes them equally poor”. The idea seems to be that all people should be cut down to the same financial level. Anyone with any brains can see where that would lead.
Anyway, this had been the case, this lack of spirit, when we tried to get the iron ore moving, but once it began everything changed. Australia went from being a theoretical importer of iron ore to becoming the world’s number one exporter, capturing 47 per cent of the Japanese market. The effect on the Australian economy was quite staggering because, prior to that, we had been a one-industry economy, living on the sheep’s back.
For me, the iron ore industry in the Pilbara meant that as Hamersley grew, so did the size of my royalty cheque, and it enabled me to spend time chasing around the area discovering other large deposits. With those I was able, after four special acts of parliament had been introduced, to secure prospector’s rights to some billions of tonnes which I’d discovered. Then, of course, it was a matter of trying to exploit the sites and get them into production. In this I haven’t been very successful up to now, even though I’ve involved some very big people.
Before C.R.A. became involved, before any of the iron ore mines, ports or railways were built in the Pilbara and when they were having trouble nailing the contracts down, I got the world’s richest man, D.K. Ludwig, to come out. I flew him around and sold him on the idea of one central railway and one giant port. He took this up with the Western Australian government and put a proposal to them. The deal was that he would build and finance one railway and a port which was capable of servicing ships three times the size of the iron ships in existence at that time. In fact he had on order the Iron Trader, which could move 166,000 tonnes, whereas the next biggest capacity was 50,000 tonnes. That would have lowered transport costs to such an extent that Europe and America would have been able to import iron ore at much the same price as Japan. So, instead of just having 47 per cent of the Japanese market, we could have had 40 to 50 per cent of the world market, which is about eight times what we had.
Well, the Western Australian government turned him down. We’ve never known why — due to Cabinet solidarity — and, in my opinion, that was the greatest opportunity this country has ever had. Ludwig’s money went into Brazil, which is now the world’s leading exporter of iron ore.
It was a very frustrating period for me, because I’d put a lot of effort into getting Ludwig interested in our ore. When Hamersley Iron was getting off the ground and Kaiser Steel was involved, a man named Dick Barber was out here supervising Kaiser’s involvement. Well, he got a bit frustrated at the way the thing was shaping up and we got to talking one day about the other iron ore deposits I knew of and how to develop them. He suggested I talk to Ludwig, so I went to New York and arranged a meeting where I told him all about it and asked him to come out and have a look. Ludwig said, “Put it all down on paper and I’ll have a look at it”. Then he pressed a button and a guy called Cameron came in. He told Cameron to give us an office and set us to work, Wright and myself. We worked all weekend on it, because Cameron had told us, “For Christ’s sake, get it all on one page, because he won’t read more than that”. Try as we might, we couldn’t condense it beyond three pages.
On the Monday, we went in to see Ludwig again and gave him this thing. Cameron started reading it to him and his listened for about half a page, then he said he’d get a friend to have a look at it. So he got this fellow, Tom Reid, to come down. Reid was a vice president of the United States Steel Corporation, and it used to be said about him that the American President always had to ring Reid to see how much steel he could get before he got involved in a war. So Ludwig got him to come out and have a look. Well, Reid had a look and he was impressed. He said if Reid thought it was worthwhile, then he’d come out later. And that’s precisely what happened, until the Western Australian government slapped him in the face.
Since that opportunity was missed, mining has become stationary in this country. In 1964, four big new mines sprang up — Hamersley, Newman, Goldsworthy and Robe River — but very little has happened since then. This is because the government has clamped down with rules and regulations which have made development impossible. I hope that these stupid things are not going to get in my way now, with the Romanian deal.
This is a deal in which C.R.A. is my 50 per cent partner. We’re going to get Marandoo deposits, on the basis that C.R.A. takes five million tonnes to sell where I like. My five million is a private deal I’ve negotiated with the Romanian government, which works like this: three years ahead, they supply me with enough equipment to start the mine, build the railway link and expand the port. With that done, I churn out the iron ore to pay them back. This is only possible because the Romanians have built a canal from a Black Sea port to the Danube River. It is bigger than the Suez or Panama Canal and it opens up all those countries in eastern Europe that currently consume 98 million tonnes of iron ore a year, while the Japanese consume 100 to 110 million tonnes. Not one scrap of Australian iron ore has ever been sold in this market, so we have penetrated a brand new market which is almost as large as the Japanese. The other part of the deal is that I have to expand their port facilities from being able to unload 50,000-tonne ships to being able to handle 150,000-tonne ships. We have to freight it in big ships or the freight cost will be enormous.
Of course, this sort of barter agreement has been going on for some time now in Brazil, and we silly buggers have sat back and watched. The Romanians build rail carts for Brazil in return for ore and so on. I’ve been looking at eastern Europe and other markets for some time now, wondering what could be done. There’s potential in Russia, for example. There’s potential in China, although that’s a bit dicey, and there’s the Middle East market, where they have finally awakened to the fact that when the oil runs out, they’ll be left with nothing but sand. So they’ve decided to use their gas for industrial purposes and they are building steel mills, so another market opens up. There are plenty of them, but the problem is we now are competing with Brazil, whereas we could have had it on our own.
Once we get this Romanian canal going, I believe the day is not far away when we will be selling iron ore to the USSR, just as we new sell them wheat. They can’t get their iron ore quickly enough over that shonky railway from Siberia. They’re having huge problems, because they need the steel for their armament building program.
What happens to the Chinese market depends very much on whether the government of the day stays the way it is. They’ve decided to turn to free enterprise just as fast as we in Australia are turning to socialism. As a measure for security, so that one bloke can’t grab central power in a coup d’etat, they’ve diffused power into the provinces. Now there are 110 steel mills in China and if there’s not a central power handling them, you have to get around the provinces, which is not easy but can still be done.
I think one of the things that we have to do now to encourage development is to make Australia north of the 26th parallel an income tax-free zone with a compulsory reinvestment clause of 40 per cent applicable to capital only. The blokes who work up there, the engineers, surveyors and so on, would see the benefit of that in their first pay packet. The people who put the money into the projects wouldn’t see the benefit until later on, but when they did, it would flow in. The government, of course, would get its cut through indirect taxation, payroll tax and sales tax, and from the money saved on dole payments because so many more men would be in the work force. The entire area where these riches — the iron ore and uranium — are would boom, and everyone would be better off. All this would cost the taxpayer nothing, because the tax on nothing is nothing. The government would be giving away nothing and gaining a hell of a lot.
I believe a strong, populated north of Australia is essential for our survival and also the key to our defence because, at the moment, Australia is defenceless. If you put the army, navy and air force together, they could defend a total of 12 miles of coast and Western Australia has 4,400 miles of it. There is no way 15 million people can defend a coastline like ours, but I believe the solution lies in our mineral wealth. The western superpowers need to be reminded that they are sitting on a minerals bubble that could burst at any moment. They are all reliant on South Africa for their strategic minerals. If South Africa goes, western civilisation goes, so wouldn’t it be wise for them to develop an alternative supply? As it is, Japan is dependent on Australia for iron ore and wheat and many other things, so they can’t afford to see us go down. If we were just as indispensable to other major nations, our defence position would be secure.
Australia and the United States, linked together, have total defence. Some years ago the Americans took my daughter and me out in a nuclear submarine observation vessel, and they explained how it was capable of firing missiles which had a range of 2,000 miles, accuracy within a few yards, and could unleash more destructive power in two hours than was unleashed by both side in World War II. They had 55 of those subs, so I suggested to them that they consider the north-west of Australia as an alternative mineral source to South Africa. I said that they should lend us just three of these submarines in exchange for us supplying all the strategic minerals they needed. As I told them, you can have all the armies in the world, but they’re no good to you unless you have the minerals to make the equipment they need to fight. Everything comes from the earth. You either grow it or you mine it, and you can’t even till the soil until you’ve made the plough. It all gets back to these holes in the ground that people so despise.
Now, if we get these subs from the Americans, they would patrol around North West Cape and, with a range of 2,000 miles, we’d have a complete defence umbrella. But of course people are very funny about the word “nuclear”.
I don’t know anyone of even average intelligence who is anti-nuclear. That’s a lot of claptrap put about by the press and by these people who wouldn’t even be able to feed themselves if the government didn’t hand it to them. Anything constructive seems to be unpopular these days. You get a whole lot of people howling like hell if a cocky knocks over a tree to grow a bit of corn to feed some people. It’s quite ridiculous.
I’ve never had any pre-determined ambitions in my life, I take things as they come. If there’s an opportunity to do something, I’ll do my best to take it. Of course, I’ve developed plenty of ambitions as I’ve gone along. Things like a tax-free north and its industrial development, as well as the downhill railway, which I hope one day will take iron ore out of the Pilbara to a huge port facility at Cape Ronsard, where it will be loaded onto huge ships and sent at competitive freight costs to Europe. That, to me, is an absolute must.
I’d like to see Australia nuclear-dependent so that it could be entirely self-sufficient and have the cheapest and safest power in the world. I’d like to see an east-west railway linking the Queensland coalfields and the Pilbara ore mines, with a heavy steel industry at both ends. I’d like to try to harness the tidal power in the Kimberley region. With one installation there, you could generate six time the power currently generated in Australia by all other means. The power is just sitting there and it will be with us as long as the moon lasts. To me, it’s remarkable that all these things just sit there and nothing is done with them.
Most of my life people have regarded me as an idiot. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t know. But more than anything, success has meant that people now have to listen to me.
Of course, I’ve had my share of setbacks. The biggest, no doubt, would be the trouble I’ve had trying to get this giant port going since 1964. Seeing Ludwig turned away was a huge setback, because he then went across to the eastern states and bought up a coal mine and became the largest producer of coal in Australia. Then he turned around and sold that to BP for around $460 million and then invested a billion dollars in Brazil which could have come here. If you add it all up, it was a pretty shocking mistake. But you can’t stop a wheel when it’s spinning, and I’ve always bounced back from setbacks.
I think there is a recipe for success in the world today. I’d take a little bit of character from Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, I’d take a pinch of Lee Kuan Yew for political effectiveness, a bit of commercial nouse from D.K. Ludwig, and the scientific brain of Dr Edward Teller. Then you’d have the cream of the world.
I think Australia is heading downhill fast, and there seems to be no way of stopping it. We’ve gone from being the country with the fourth highest standard of living on earth to the 24th. We are becoming the poor relation of the Pacific Basin. It wouldn’t do any harm for people to realise that the elected representatives of the people are not really the government. A lot of money is spent on elections and they are completely ineffective. The real government has four arms. The first and most powerful is the bureaucracy, which expands according to Parkinson’s Law; the second is the trade union movement; the third is the press in all its forms, because no parliamentarian will do anything until he’s read all the newspapers; and the fourth is the people with their hands in the till, the ones collecting handouts and subsidies and so on.
Before anything changes in this country, people have to realise that this is the mess we’re in.
- 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