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Hancock, Langley Frederick (Lang) (1909–1992)

by Mike Hedge

Lang Hancock, by Rennie Ellis, 1985 [detail]

Lang Hancock, by Rennie Ellis, 1985 [detail]

State Library of Victoria, 49300344

Lang Hancock was a pioneer, a visionary, and a man of contradictions.

As the father of Australia's iron ore industry he courted controversy and became a multi-millionaire.

But the man who discovered whole mountains of wealth in Western Australia, and earned $70,000 a day from them, died in the belief that he had been cheated of his dream of mining the vast tracts of iron ore he discovered.

Mr Hancock, who died yesterday aged 82, blamed the state Liberal Government of Sir Charles Court for his failure to realise his greatest ambition.

And this belief lay behind one of the more curious aspects of the character of the man known as the King of the Pilbara.

Mr Hancock was an unabashed capitalist and a right-winger of sometimes worrying dimensions – and someone who should have fitted perfectly with the autocratic leadership style of Sir Charles and his Liberals.

But the Court Government alienated Mr Hancock and when it departed the political scene in 1983, he aligned himself closely with the new Labor Premier, Brian Burke – an association which was maintained to the end.

"He can't really do anything for me," Mr Hancock said of Mr Burke in 1985.

"But what he is doing is staying out of the way and publicly supporting my ideas... that's all the co-operation I need."

Mr Burke is now on the Hancock staff as a roving emissary in Eastern Europe.

The relationship with Mr Burke, who promoted close ties between his government and business, might not be too difficult to understand, but his association at the same time with a couple of other political luminaries was.

While he supported the Burke Government to the tune of $1 million, Mr Hancock also became the biggest contributor to the "Joh for PM" campaign.

And an even stranger bedfellow emerged around the same time in the disgraced, former Romanian dictator, Nicolac Ceausescu, who became Mr Hancock's partner in deals which eventually cost the mining magnate $40 million.

For all his wealth, estimated at $85 million, it was only in recent years that Mr Hancock got close to getting an iron-ore project of his own off the ground – and it was Mr Ceausescu whom the fearless capitalist chose as a partner to help achieve his lifelong goal.

He also claimed as recently as June, 1991, that he had "projects in train with the Soviet Union, Turkey and Italy of massive developmental benefit to Australia".

Up until his death, Mr Hancock was still pursuing those projects – and still blaming Sir Charles for his failure to develop his own mining project.

"It is my belief that he or other Liberal governments dropped these ventures because they did not wish to see me become more successful," Mr Hancock said.

Through the '60s and '70s, Mr Hancock was blocked by Liberal government policies which controlled mining reserves and gave selective approval to mining developments designed to establish an integrated mining infrastructure in WA's north.

Those policies led Mr Hancock into a deal with Hamersley Iron Ltd, a subsidiary of the multinational CRA Ltd, under which he receives 2.5 per cent of the proceeds of all iron ore mined by the company in WA's Pilbara region – a cool $70,000 a day.

Among other things, Mr Hancock advocated the sterilisation of Aborigines by drugging their water and wanted to establish nuclear power plants and use hydrogen bombs to break up iron ore bodies.

Born in Perth on July 10, 1909, Langley George Hancockspent his boyhood on his father's property, Mulga Downs, at Wittenoom in the central north of WA before going to school in the country town of Toodyay and then to the exclusive Hale school in Perth where he came sec nd to the dux.

He returned to Mulga Downs to run the property and later teamed up with a friend from school, Peter Wright, to mine the huge asbestos deposits at Wittenoom.

But it was in 1952 that Hancock made his big discovery while flying out of his station.

As he flew low through a gorge because of a heavy thunderstorm he was taken by the brilliant colour of the cliffs – a reddish brown he correctly surmised was produced from rusting iron ore.

He prospected the area and found mountains of the stuff at a time when Sir Robert Menzies' Liberal Government had banned the export of iron ore to conserve Australia's reserves.

He and Mr Wright did not have the capital to embark on a major iron-ore project, instead they sold out to mining giant CRA Ltd, with a royalty agreement of 2.5 per cent a tonne of ore sold.

It formed the basis of their fortunes.

Mr Hancock was married three times.

He had one daughter, Georgina (Gina), from his second marriage to Hope Nicholas.

Hope died in 1983.

Two years later, Mr Hancock married Rose Lacson, who was 40 years his junior and born in the Philippines.

Original publication

  • Canberra Times, 28 March 1992, p 6

Additional Resources

Citation details

Mike Hedge, 'Hancock, Langley Frederick (Lang) (1909–1992)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hancock-langley-frederick-lang-17492/text30547, accessed 16 December 2018.

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