The Federal Government export embargo on iron ore was lifted in 1960 — a partial relaxation which, the Government hoped, would encourage people to look for new deposits. But as far as Western Australia was concerned the Commonwealth’s hopes were quite naive because there was a long-standing State blanket on iron which precluded the prospector or discoverer from having any rights to his discovery.
Though Hancock welcomed the Federal Government decision as being the first step in stimulating exploration, he could not announce his 1952 ore discovery. Under the State laws he had no right to do it.
But the writing was on the wall and he knew that it could not be long before the W.A. Government would have to encourage people to go out into isolated country and to find iron ore with the prospect of their efforts being rewarded. Hancock and Wright knew the size of the ore body they had found. They wanted a partner big enough to handle it.
There was still need for caution because the State blanket remained. The partners attempted to canvass the proposition inside Australia, but they found that the local response was very cool. They wrote to 30 of the world’s largest mining companies, and again the answer was “No”.
The best response came from Rio Tinto, and Hancock and Wright welcomed the response for two reasons. One was that Rio Tinto was one of the world’s largest mining companies, and the other reason was that the partners had some protection of their rights under a letter from Rio Tinto dated December 1, 1959.
So with the Federal embargo relaxed and the prospect of a fairly speedy removal of the State blanket, Hancock and Wright opened talks with Rio Tinto.
The partners were back to square one, where they’d been with C.S.R. over the blue asbestos mine. They had, they believed, a viable asset. But they had no capital to prove it. And so they could only negotiate on one basis — the basis of result. No result, no payment.
The C.S.R. deal had taught them the lesson of not selling their assets, and so they sought (and received) a royalty. The same royalty they had negotiated in their agreement with Rio Tinto over asbestos and other minerals — 2.5 percent of the f.o.b. value of the ore.
In the dying days of 1960 Hancock rang the Managing Director of Rio Tinto (Mr Pat Robinson) in Melbourne, and it was agreed that Hancock and Wright would arrange to send vehicles and land parties into the field to peg out the principal areas of interest pending the lifting of the State blanket. Hancock himself went north, and on January 4, 1961, he received a telegram from Rio Tinto:
DR CAMPANA LEAVING MELBOURNE 1/25 4TH ARRIVING WITTENOOM 12/25 THURSDAY 5TH STAYING UNTIL TUESDAY
Bruno Campana, a Swiss geologist, had joined Rio Tinto in Australia in 1957 and had worked on the west coast of Tasmania and then at Mary Kathleen. Rio Tinto had a lot of faith in his ability.
Robinson called Campana to his office and asked if he’d ever heard of a station owner and prospector in Western Australia named Langley Hancock. Campana hadn’t — but over the next few years he was to know the name, and the man, very well.
It was 120 degrees at Wittenoom when Campana landed, and the small room at the hotel to which Hancock took him was not much cooler despite the air conditioning. They began to talk and Hancock told him, briefly but convincingly, of the discovery he had made in November 1952.
Campana asked him if he would draw a sketch map indicating the distribution of the suspected deposits. Hancock drew the map and then, at Campana’s request, a typical cross-section of the deposits.
“I’m not much of an artist,” Hancock said. “But in profile it’s like a flat-topped tent and on top of it there’s an iron slab.”
Campana understood immediately. What Hancock had discovered and pictured with simple accuracy, was a type of ore body known as a superficial limonitic table.
“We call the tent with the iron slab on top a mesa,” Campana said. “When can we go and have a look at it?”
“Let’s fly there tomorrow,” Hancock said. “I’ll be ready to take off at dawn.”
The early sunlight and morning shadows threw the iron ore tables into magnificent relief. They were like huge slabs paving the bottom of the broad valley along the Turner River, Duck Creek and Boolgeeda Creek.
Hancock flew about a hundred feet from the cliffs which formed the edge of the deposits — a 60-mile long belt of flat-topped hills, each one up to three miles long.
Campana was eager to get down and examine the ore on the ground. He’d only spent a few hours with Hancock but already he’d summed him up as a man whose passion for minerals was equalled by his passion for flying.
“Can you land down there?” he asked and Hancock nodded.
The plane flew low along the dry valley floor and then Hancock put it down in a small patch clear of the dry scrub, rock splinters and ant hills.
Campana scrambled from the plane and waited. In 25 years of field research he’d become accustomed to prospectors and he’d never found one who would leave him alone to study a prospect. But Hancock was different.
“I’ll boil a billy and we can have some tea for breakfast,” he said. “You go and look around and get whatever samples you need.”
Three days later they were in Perth, and Peter Wright was waiting for them. He was anxious, full of questions. What did Campana think of the ore? How much of it was there? Was it pure or impure?
Campana told him that the deposits were undoubtedly very large — at a guess in the order of 1000 million tons. But they’d have to wait for chemical analysis because deposits of the kind he’d seen were often contaminated by impurities which made them almost worthless for making steel.
Wright pressed his question. Were Hancock’s deposits pure or impure?
“According to the text books they should be very impure,” Campana said. “But judging by what I have seen for myself they should be very clean.”
And so it proved. On February 20 Campana presented his preliminary report to Rio Tinto.
The report made four major points.
- The deposits discovered by Hancock formed an iron field of world class.
- The reserves, in the order of 1000 million tons, were much higher than the total reserves of iron ore known at that time throughout Australia.
- The limonitic had a 50%-57% iron content and low impurities (0.04-0.06 phosphorus) and therefore was suitable for steelmaking.
- That Rio Tinto should immediately secure the reserves.
But there was no way of securing the reserves. The state blanket was still in force — though not for long. On March 29 the Premier announced a new policy.
To implement the new policy, Western Australia’s iron resources had been divided into three categories, the Premier said. They were:
- The major known deposits of high-grade haematite ore not at present covered by lease agreements.
- The big number of medium and low-grade deposits.
- Now unknown deposits which were believed to exist.
The major known deposits were at Tallering Peak, Mt Goldsworthy, Wilgie Mia, Mt Halte, Mt Gould, Mt Walton and Joyner’s Find.
The government was now inviting individuals or companies to apply for an exclusive right to temporary reserves — for a permit to explore under the second and their categories. If a permit to explore led to the discovery of economic deposits, titles of mineral claims or leases would be granted.
This was the announcement Hancock and Wright had been waiting for since 1952 — almost 10 years during which they knew they had an iron ore deposit bigger than anything in Australia and they hadn’t been able to do anything about it.
But now the way was clear. Hancock had moved men into the iron belt weeks earlier. Michael Wright, Peter Wright’s son, was at the southern end where he’d been alone, isolated by floods, for three weeks.
Keith Wilkin, later manager of Hamersley Station, was in the centre and at the northern end was Jack Johnson, lonely as a lizard while he awaited the signal for action.
It came on March 29 — a rocket signal, clear against the blue sky. And the three men swiftly moved through the sixty mile long valleys, attaching dated claim forms to the three-foot pegs they’d earlier driven into the ground.
The claims were pegged in the name of Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd, whose Miners Right number was 18770 issued at Perth on June 14, 1960.
On May 29, 1961 the State Government allocated more than 100 iron ore exploration reserves. The following day the West Australian reported: “Rio Tinto, in association with Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd and Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd, has received a new search area of 650 sq miles in the Hamersley Range-Duck Creek area.”
Bruno Campana had not found much encouragment at some levels within Rio Tinto. His preliminary report was considered impetuous.
But at Board level there was greater acceptance first from Pat Robinson and then from John Hohnen, an Australian mining engineer, who succeeded Robinson as managing director.
Hohnen and John Rodd, the Vice-Chairman, visited the field in March to make a first-hand assessment of the limonitic tables.
In view of the impending visit, Hancock thought he should do something about a landing strip. He didn’t mind landing among the scrub and the ant hills, but he felt that things should be a little safer for Hohnen and Rodd.
So he sent Bill Newman, a prospector, out to cut down the mulga trees along the river beds. It took Newman four days driving, covering seven miles a day, and even after the trees had been cut down the landing ground still remained rough and cracked. But at least it gave Hancock a straight run when landing or taking off.
From March to September Campana made a number of visits to the field, flying with Hancock almost daily. They would fly out at dawn, and at sunrise the low-angle light threw the huge geological structures into sudden relief. The vast chain of mountains became a splendid array of rock layers which, Campana knew, had piled up some 2,000 million years ago in what was then the Hamersley Sea.
It was on these flights that Campana noticed what geologists now call the “Bruno Band”. Hancock, who saw it at the same time and immediately realised its significance, called it the “Campana Horizon”.
The “Bruno Band” was black, hard and prominent in the landscape. It underlay the ore-forming horizon and stood out as a marker-bed for the mineralisation throughout the Hamersley Range. Hancock and Campana followed it from the air and mapped it over a total distance of 1100 miles.
By September 30 Campana had established the presence, within the original reserves and others which had been granted, of:
- 1000 million tons of limonitic ore, mapped and sampled
- Extensive limonite deposits along the Robe River, Fortescue River and Dale Gorge areas.
- 350 million tons of high grade haematitic ore (58-62%) in the Hamersley Station area, Mt Brockman syncline and Mt Pyrton and Mt Lockyer areas.
Campana could also infer that the reserves of bedded haematite were many times greater than those recognised so far because only about a sixth of the marker bed has been explored.
And what about Mount Tom Price? Who really discovered it?
There are, and no doubt always will be, conflicting claims and the evidence is pretty clear that the conflict arises from a combination of jealousy and the definition of the word “discovered”.
Hancock says that he first saw the area in 1958, and certainly it does seem to be included in the first list of temporary reserves for which Hancock asked Rio Tinto to make application. Hancock was seeking some 40 TRs, but when the Rio Tinto executives arrived in Perth only 24 hours before the deadline for applications Hancock found they had cut the number down to four.
There was quite an argument! The outcome was that Rio Tinto agreed to increase the number to 13 or 14. But the area including what is now Mount Tom Price was left out.
At this stage, certainly, Hancock had no idea that Mount Tom Price was the bonanza it had proved to be. Neither had anybody else. But Hancock did not forget it, and in June 1962 he flew Dr Campana over the area. Campana was impressed, mapped the area roughly in the plane and later transferred his rough map to the “master” map in the company’s headquarters at Bulgeeda.
Campana says he included a recommendation that the area by investigated immediately on the ground because BHP had temporary reserves a few miles east. Two geologists from CRA (the company formed in July 1962 by the merger of Rio Tinto and Consolidation Zinc) reached the deposit in September.
So who “discovered” Mount Tom Price? The man who first saw in 1958, recognised it as iron, and sought to persuade Rio Tinto to apply for a Temporary Reserve over the area? That was Lang Hancock.
The men who flew over it in June 1962, mapped it and recommended it be investigated on the ground? Dr Campana and Lang Hancock.
Or the two CRA geologists who arrived on the ground in September 1962 and confirmed that it was an iron ore deposit?
Depends on the definition of “discoverer”, doesn’t it?
There seems also to be more than a trace of jealousy on the part of CRA directed at both Campana and Hancock. They had both been associated with Rio Tinto and, in Australia, Rio Tinto people seemed to become very much poor relations after the merger with Consolidated Zinc.
The Annual Report of CRA for 1962 reported:
During the year Messrs F. Byers, R.H. Harding, J.H. Hohnen and R.W. Wright (former Directors of Rio Tinto Australia) retired as Directors of the Company. Sir Maurice Mawby and Messrs F.S. Anderson, R.C. Atherton, C.A. Byrne, D.J. Hibbert, R. Pitman Hooper and A.J. Rew (former Directors of Zinc Corporation) were appointed additional Directors. … Mr B.R. Pelly retired as Chairman and Mr J.M. Rodd retired as Vice-chairman.
Zinc Corporation was firmly in the saddle.
It’s not surprising that Campana left the field soon after CRA took over. He returned to Melbourne to find that Rio Tinto had moved into the CRA glasshouse in Collins Street.
There they fed him cups of tea (“It was delicious — a special Ceylon drop”) and files containing old technical magazines. Sir Maurice Mawby gave him a silver plate with clouds of engraving around the name “Bruno Campana”. And Campana decided to go back to Switzerland.
He’d been employed by Rio Tinto. He’d been guided by Hancock to the original discovery and he’d done the detailed work which led to the discovery of 4,850 million tons of commercial iron ore. But CRA, it seemed, didn’t want him any more.
While Hancock was busy flying Dr Campana over the deposits for aerial mapping he was equally industrious in other directions. His talks with Campana, and the first assays, had convinced him that his discovery was not only a major one, but that the ore was of a grade and purity which made it suitable for steel making.
He was impatient and he was enthusiastic. He wanted to make sure Rio Tinto was equally so. Early in February 1961, before the State Government had lifted its blanket, he wrote to Robinson to give him a comparison of the U.S. Steel deposit in Canada and the figures compiled by Campana for the Hamersley deposits — a comparison which favoured Hancock’s discovery. He added:
I think we can confidently look for some action (from the government on lifting the blanket) in the next day or so and, at the risk of repeating myself, I would like to emphasise that as I see it we must leave no stone unturned to make certain that we get title to these areas without any further delay.
He was to write many similar letters during the next 12 months.
John Hohnen took over from Robinson as Managing Director a few weeks later, and Hancock urged him to apply for Temporary Reserves covering about 650 square miles.
“It is always possible to come down, but it would be difficult to increase the number after you had made your submission,” Hancock wrote.
On May 30 the West Australian published a list of reserves allocated by the State Government. Included was:
Rio Tinto, in association with Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd and Wright Prospecting Pty Ltd has received a new search area of 650 sq. miles in the Hamersley Range-Duck Creek area.
Six months later Hancock and Wright proposed to Rio Tinto that application should be made for 17 additional areas, including some of Mt Enid and four at Robe River.
Rio Tinto wasn’t idle, but neither were other companies. In October Rio Tinto received a report that a BHP helicopter had landed on a deposit being drilled by Rio Tinto at Hamersley and that there had also been “some visits by light aircraft which did not land”. The “spies in the skies” era, which was to reach its peak some years later during the nickel boom, had arrived.
In addition to pressing Rio Tinto to apply for additional Temporary Reserves, Hancock was urging the company desperately to secure titles to the areas they were drilling. He believed that there were two reasons for urgency. One was that, when the full extent of the deposits became known the Japanese might well seek contracts at lower prices. And the Western Australian government would extract a higher price.
Somehow, he felt, he wasn’t getting his message through. He wondered if internal jealousies had “watered down” Campana’s reports on their way up to management. He wondered if the thing was so big that the people “down the line” in Rio Tinto couldn’t comprehend it — or were frightened to indicate to the Board what it was going to cost.
So he wrote direct to Rio Tinto’s Chairman in London (Sir Val Duncan). It was a letter — in fact, the first of a number of letters — which, naturally enough, Rio Tinto in Melbourne resented strongly. Duncan probably became accustomed to the bombardment, but there was no way in the world in which he could avoid it.
Hancock was determined that Duncan would “get the message”, but he softened the attack as much as he dared. One letter, for instance, began:
Sorry Val, but here’s another burst!
In March 1962 the Hamersley area welcomed a V.I.P. — although he didn’t look or act like one. This was Tom Price, vice-president of Kaiser Steel. He brought with him Bill Donaldson, the corporation’s geological consultant, and the Australian party included John Hohnen, Campana and Hancock, who was the guide and pilot.
Price was 71, small, energetic and with tremendous drive. Hancock recalls:
He was the first one who really got this thing into perspective.
Despite his age he kept walking ahead of us, hammering the ore-bodies and asking questions. He only had time to have a look at a portion of the field, but the portion he did see was sufficient to establish the proper importance of the field in his mind.
Price asked about tonnages and grades. The tonnages were tremendous, the grades higher than those in many American mines. Price was enthusiastic.
As he was leaving he said: “Good luck to you, boys. But remember that God made man out of a bit of dust. If you can’t make money out of the mountains of iron ore I’ve seen, then God has wasted his time.”
Price died at his desk a few hours after the Hamersley agreement was signed. Mount Tom Price is his memorial in the Pilbara.
In 1962 Duncan came to Perth and Hancock insisted that he would have to offer to build a steel mill if they were going to get title to the temporary reserves. Hancock suggested that two companies should be formed — Hamersley Iron and Hamersley Steel, and pointed out that a levy of a fraction of a penny per ton on the Hamersley reserves would build a steel mill.
This undertaking to build a steel mill was part of the Duncan proposal to the West Australian Government — yet the Premier (Brand) and Industrial Development Minister (Court) both denied in Parliament that it was ever a firm proposal.
In December last year Court (now Deputy Leader of the Opposition) again denied, in a clash with Premier Tonkin, that the proposal existed.
Tonkin: Why did you deny there was a proposal originally?
Court: I denied it because there was not one.
Tonkin: I found it in the Premier’s office … This was a definitie proposal for a steel works.
Court: No it was not.
Tonkin: I will produce the document.
Court: The Premier may do so if he wishes and he may also produce all the information that goes with it.
The Government had completed the original Goldsworth agreement on February 27, 1962, and did not appear keen for any opposition to develop in the matter of iron ore contracts. CRA, now confident that they had very large deposits (although no title to them) began negotiations in Japan.
On November 30, 1962, Mines Minister Griffith wrote to Makoto Watanabe, Commission for Overseas Iron and Steel Manufacturers in Japan:
I confirm that because of undertakings already made between us and because of the ratified Acts of Parliament it is the desire that Tallering Peak and Mt Goldsworthy be given the first priority by both sides, and I would emphasise that no other iron operators than these two companies already mentioned plus Scott River (about which I have already written) have in fact received any mining leases from my Government.
It wasn’t until June 30, 1963, that the Hamersley agreement was signed.
- 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