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Rich Men:Lang Hancock and His Dynasty

Updated on July 1, 2013

The Lang Hancock story of immense personal wealth and power begins in 1952, when Hancock, the son of West Australian graziers and former asbestos mine owner, was flying over the Pilbara region of WA on his way to Perth, when bad weather caused a fortuitous change in direction and led to the discovery of the richest iron deposit in the world.

At the time, the Australian government was apparently under the misconception that iron ore was in short supply in the country and so had put an embargo on iron ore exports. Thus it wasn't until 1962 that Lang and his business partner Peter Wright began mining the ore, after entering into a deal with mining giants Rio Tinto Group. Rio would set up and run the mine and Hancock would collect the massive royalites.Hancock named the mine Hope Downs, after his second wife.

At least that is the legend and it's hard to know what is Hancock embellishment and what is not. It does however, seem that Hancock was not the first to discover iron ore in the Pilbara; State geologist Harry Page Woodward, had already noted rich deposits in a geological report 60 years earlier:

This is essentially an iron country, for one cannot travel a mile in the parts where the older rocks appear at the surface, without encountering a lode.~Annual General Report of the Government, 1890

If so, it seems the government of the day chose to do nothing about it. In the light of the above, why did the government believe that iron ore was in short supply? More information on this can be found in the following article: Holes In The Fabric Of The Hancock Legend

Langley Frederick George "Lang" Hancock
Langley Frederick George "Lang" Hancock
Location of Hope Downs iron ore mine in Western Australia. Named after Lang Hancock's second wife
Location of Hope Downs iron ore mine in Western Australia. Named after Lang Hancock's second wife

1971 Political Forum with Lang Hancock

A Conservative

The best way to help the poor is not to become one of them~Lang Hancock

Lang Hancock held famously staunch conservative, right-wing political and social views and had little sympathy or sensitivity for the indigenous population who inhabited the Pilbara and once said:

"Mining in Australia occupies less than one-fifth of one percent of the total surface of our continent and yet it supports 14 million people. Nothing should be sacred from mining whether it’s your ground, my ground, the blackfellow’s ground or anybody else’s. So the question of Aboriginal Land Rights and things of this nature shouldn’t exist."

There was much criticism of Hancock's views, with some arguing that in that case why should Lang Hancocks land rights matter?...and that the rich iron ore resources of the country should belong to the people of Australia and not to an individual who happened to spot ithe massive deposit accidentally from a plane.

Although he never had any ambitions to enter political arena, Hancock was nonetheless fond of vocalising his political views -campaigning against restrictions on iron ore ming and donating large sums of money to political parties who shared his views. He was also a firm friend of controversial right-wing former Queensland Premier, Joh Bjeke Peterson. Both Peterson and Hancock typified a cerain ilk of Australian men who had come into positions of power in the boom period of Australian history - rugged, maverick individuals who had strong, vocal personalities and opinions and tended to run rough-shod over any opposing forces to their desires, wants and political agendas.

Rare interview with Lang Hancock and comedian Dave Allen

Rose. Photo from Pertth Now
Rose. Photo from Pertth Now

The Third Wife: Rose Porteous

Hancock was married three times - first in 1935 to a reputedly very attractive socialite Susette Malley, who became bored with remote WA living and returned to an urban environment in Perth. In 1947, Hancock married his second wife Hope Margaret Nicholas, with whom he had a daughter, Gina and they remained married until Hope's death in 1983. His third and most famous (infamous?) marriage was to Philipina, Rose Lacson (now Porteous), whom he married in the same year as his wife's death.

Loud, outspoken, skittish, garish and dolled up to the nines, Rose Lacson was the antithesis of the pragmatic Gina. Described, unfairly, as "the gold-digging mail order bride from Hell", Rose's arrival in Australia created a dust storm of controversy. "What was he thinking?" was the gist of the media stories, as well as the general reaction from the Australian public. . "There's no fool like an old fool" seemed the appropriate maxim.

Yet Rose was not a mail order bride; she had been hired as a maid in Lang Hancocks house and romance between the iron ore magnate and the twice divorced Philippina, 39 years his senior, had blossomed over a period of months.Hancock it seemed was well and truy smitten, offering his new love money and real estate investments in Sydney.

Although the pair remained married until Langs death in 1992, things had deteriorated somewhat since that first flush of energising romance. Rose was flirtatious and loud and according to her step-daughter Gina, as her fathers health declined, Rose did not the offer solace and care expected of a devoted wife but rather "screeched for more money".

Lang and Rose in 1983
Lang and Rose in 1983
Gina Rinehart with her parents, Hope and Lang, first husband Greg Hayward and their son John.
Gina Rinehart with her parents, Hope and Lang, first husband Greg Hayward and their son John. | Source

The Daughter: Gina Rinehart

Not surprisingly, there was no love lost between Rose and Gina. Gina despised her new 'mother' from the first hint of the burgeoning relationship that was clearly developing between her and her father, despite the fact she had had a hand, ironically, in hiring Rose as a maid. As an only child, Gina had been used to being the apple of her father's eye and such an interloper as Rose, in the same year as her mother's death no less, must have been as a dagger to the heart. In addition, prior to Rose's arrival on the scene, Gina was sole beneficiary to the vast fortune her father had accumulated. Clearly Gina viewed Rose as a scheming gold-digger and unworthy of her fathers trust and love. She did not attend the wedding.

As for Lang's reaction to his daughter's attitude? Well, he reputedly lamented the loss of the "neat, trim, capable girl" she had been and the "slothful, vindictive, devious" woman she had, in his eyes, become. Hancock added, "I'm glad your mother can't see you now". Not long before his death, he roved Gina as director of Hancock Resources.

After Hancocks death, which an autopsy determined to be the result of heart disease, Gina accused Rose of "hastening her fathers death". The resulting inquest got very messy with claims and counter-claims.Gina accused Rose of nagging her father to death and attempting to persuade him to change his will in his final days and Gina, in turn was accused of paying witnesses to appear. Eventually, the coroner found that Lang Hancock had died of natural causes and not as a result of any behaviour on Rose's part.

Despite there being plenty of money and assets to go around, with Hancock's daughter inheriting the bulk, Gina had remained committed to fighting a 14-year legal battle over Hancock’s assets. It seemed she was as unbending, strong and determined to get her own way as her father had been.Greedy? Perhaps but it seems likely that from Gina's perspective at least, there was a principle in there, providing her with some kind of internal rationalisation. Of course, many believe Gina simply desired complete control and power over her father's wealth. From an outsider's perspective it could be argued that Rose's inheritance was part of the 'arrangement' between Hancock and a women almost 40 years his junior. Three months after Lang Hancock's death, Rose married his long-time friend William Porteous.

"Prix d'Amour", the former Perth mansion of Rose Porteous and Lang Hancock
"Prix d'Amour", the former Perth mansion of Rose Porteous and Lang Hancock | Source

The Richest Person in Australia

And the Richest Woman in the World...

In 2011 Gina Rinehart (nee Hancock) was named by Forbes Magazine as "the richest person in Australia" with a personal fortune of ten billion dollars. Since that time, her fortune has skyrocketed up to 29.7 billion, with Rinehart earning an estimated $598 dollars a second - that's around two million dollars every hour.

Miss Hancock continues to chair Hancock Prospecting and has expanded mining projects unabated in Western Australia in several states of Australia. Rhinehart also quietly funds many campaigns - among them anti-climate change groups. She has also funded lobby groups pushing for the introduction of cheap labour into Australia and has recently acquired a television network.

Gina Rinehart. Photo from
Gina Rinehart. Photo from

The Successor?

After a falling out with her son John, Gina Rinehart's daughter Bianca looked likely to one day sit in the chair at Hancock Prospecting. According to a 2010 media report; " Bianca, is involved in Hancock Prospecting and appears to be in line to take over the reins." From Perth Now.

However, more recently Gina has found herself out of favour with three of her four children over the workings of a family trust set up by Lang Hancock. It has become a rather ugly public dispute, which Gina tried and failed to have suppressed via the courts. Only Gina's youngest child, Ginia Rinehart, sided with her mother over the issue.

Gina Rinehart with her daughter, Bianca. Photo by Theo Fakos , form Perth Now
Gina Rinehart with her daughter, Bianca. Photo by Theo Fakos , form Perth Now


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