Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame Historical Profile – Lang Hancock (1909-1992)

Lang Hancock discovered and promoted  the vast iron ore deposits in the Pilbara of Western Australia

On 16 November 1952 prospector and pastoralist Lang Hancock and his wife Hope were flying over the Hamersley Range in Australia’s rugged Northwest. Bad weather forced Hancock to fly low over the headwaters of the Turner River. From the cockpit Hancock noticed large bands of red rock on the hills below and wondered if they might be iron ore. Six months later he returned to the Turner River and confirmed his discovery; a discovery that provided the impetus for the establishment of the huge iron ore mines in Australia’s Northwest. Hancock’s aerial prospecting earned him the title “The Flying Prospector”.

Langley Frederick George Hancock was born June 10 1909. He was a descendent of the pioneering Hancock family who had arrived at Cossack on the Sea Ripple in 1864. His father, George Hancock, built the homestead at Mulga Downs station and it was here that Lang Hancock spent most of his childhood, eventually becoming the station manager.

As a child, Hancock developed a keen interest in prospecting. He was only 10 years old when he discovered small pieces of asbestos in the Wittenoom Gorge Creek.

In 1934 Hancock participated in a small asbestos rush and pegged a claim at Wittenoom Gorge. He later sold a share of the tenement to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

However it was iron, not asbestos, that was to create the Hancock fortune. Although he had discovered huge belts of iron ore in the Hamersley Range there was a government imposed embargo on the export of iron ore as it was believed at the time that there was not enough in the country for local consumption. Hancock was to prove the government wrong for he believed the reserves he had found would “… last the world a multitude of centuries.”

Following the lifting of government ban on the export of iron ore in 1960, Hancock and his partner Peter Wright, set about acquiring tenements and trying to interest companies in his discoveries. Initially Hancock’s vision that massive iron ore mines would be established in the Pilbara was treated with limited interest by large companies and governments, but he persevered and was able to involve mining giant Rio Tinto in exploration. It was a move that led to the establishment of the first large iron ore mines in the Pilbara.

The sheer magnitude of the mines and the resulting infrastructure needed to support them is a testament to Hancock’s vision and determination.

At Karratha in 1996, Lang Hancock’s daughter, Gina Rinehart said, “More than any one man, Lang Hancock is responsible for the Hamersley Iron development. Australia is fortunate to have such a man able to contribute to the development of its national resources… From the start he had the vision, the comprehension and the faith that was required to set the stage for the development of these resources on a scale commensurate with their value. He thought in world terms, rather than in just national. It is this early comprehension of the order of magnitude of the scene yet to unfold that set him apart.”

Lang Hancock died in 1992.

Gina Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting Pty Ltd helped to prepare these biographical details.
Bob Sheppard

For more profiles of the men and women who made Australia a global mining powerhouse, go to: