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March 24th 2017 print

Roger Underwood

Remembering Lang Hancock

There is an old saying that money cannot buy happiness. But on the other hand, I can confirm that it can buy a nice car and a challenging game of tennis. Each might be considered by people who have everything to be hallmarks of happiness

lang hancockThe Hancock family has been in the news again recently, mostly Gina, and mostly for the wrong reasons, but it reminded me of the two times in which Gina’s father Lang Hancock and I crossed paths … although he didn’t realise it on either occasion.

The first occurred one day perhaps thirty-five years ago. I was stopped at the traffic lights at Christchurch on Stirling Highway in the Perth suburb of Claremont. It was a throbbing mid-summer’s day, the temperature in the mid-40s, one of those days when you can hardly touch the car’s steering wheel or gear stick without asbestos gloves. I drove a 1960s model VW Beetle in those days, and it had no air-conditioning. As I waited for the lights to turn green, I glanced casually around and saw that the car next to me was a huge silver Rolls Royce, a uniformed chauffeur at the wheel. Sitting in the back was the instantly-recognisable figure of mining magnate and billionaire Lang Hancock. He was wrapped in a heavy blanket to keep the chill of the Rolls’ air-conditioning at bay, and appeared to be smoking a large cigar. I remember thinking how this vision epitomised wealth.

The second occasion was more intriguing. My brother was a member of the Kings Park Tennis Club in the early 1980s, and he and I would occasionally have a game there on a weekday. On one such occasion I became aware of an unusual game of doubles across on the centre court, and after a while I could not help but stop to watch.  Three of the players were young, athletic and very stylish players; the fourth was in his 60s, stocky, with horn-rim spectacles and wearing long white ‘creams’ in the style of the 1930s champion Big Bill Tilden. The tennis was interesting, with lots of sharp volleys and neat winners.

My brother explained: this was Lang Hancock and it was one of his regular weekly games, always on the beautiful grass centre court. Lang loved his tennis and was a member at Kings Park, but having become a billionaire he no longer favoured the ragbag standard of ‘social tennis’ on a Saturday afternoon, or playing on the back courts. So he  arranged his own games. This he did by hiring three professional tennis players to make up the four and paying for the centre court to be prepared for his exclusive use. Lang would pay the young pros an hourly rate to play with him once a week for a two hour session.

I recalled this recently with a friend who had been a club pro back in those days. He knew all about the Hancock gig. Among themselves, the pros had a pact about how to play: they would keep the rallies going, bringing Lang into things and subtly making him look good, right up until the moment when they got an easy put-away. Then they would put it away … always remembering of course, not to drill the man with the cheque book. Lang was a better than everage tennis player who could handle the ball when it came to him, and so long as he didn’t have to do too much chasing. Although no longer agile, he was a pleasant partner and fair sportsman. To the young club professionals of the day it was an easy dollar, but it was also fun, and they enjoyed the games. Lang no doubt knew they were indulging him, but did not let this affect his enjoyment.

There is an old saying that money cannot buy happiness. But on the other hand, I can confirm that it can buy a nice car and a challenging game of tennis. Both of these might be considered by people who have everything else, to be a hallmark of happiness.

Comments [3]

  1. Jody says:

    Hancock had credibility until Rose came along.

  2. Bran Dee says:

    Not infrequently the friendly secretary [or the friendly Mexican domestic for a certain Hollywood actor] has led to a dalliance [ and even a child].

  3. Ian MacDougall says:

    In 1851, Edward Hargraves discovered alluvial gold at Bathurst, NSW: or so the story goes. That started one almighty rush to Australia from all corners of the world and: Europeans, North Americans, Chinese and a horde of others from all the lands on Earth (Henry Lawson’s phrase) downed tools and headed for Bathurst, then shortly afterwards for amongst other fields, Ballaarat (as it was then spelt), Kiandra, Araluen, and Australia’s answer to the Canadian Klondike: the Palmer River in the Gulf country.
    The mining laws of each colony required each prospector to peg out only a small claim, and to pay the government a steep fee for the right to prospect for gold, payable whether gold was discovered or not.
    The gold rushes did an almighty lot to help form the national economy, and in non-indigenous society, what we now know as the distinct Australian national character. Australian democracy arose out of the Eureka Rebellion on the Ballarat field.
    Fast-forward to 1962. Lang Hancock flies his plane from his cattle property in the remote Pilbara of WA on a course for Perth, but bad weather forces him to fly low. As a result he discovers the iron ore bonanza of the Hammersley Range. Biding his time, and keeping this discovery largely to himself and a small number of close associates, he gets into a position to lay claim to the whole massive deposit, founding the huge $25 billion fortune presently held by his daughter Gina Rinehart, and fought over by her heirs and their respective battalions of lawyers. And unlike the wealth of the 1850s gold rushes, it will not do much for democracy, instead finding its way into the pockets of a horde of latter-day aristocrats, and their heirs and hangers-on.
    It is as if Hargreaves in 1851 had been entitled to cop the lot. Those in the rush to the diggings could forget it.
    Minerals belong constitutionally to their states of occurrence, which is anomalous, as the small (~2 million) population of WA as an independent nation would probably have a helluva time keeping them without Australia’s NATIONAL defence forces to back them up.
    Gillard’s mining tax, vehemently opposed by Rinehart and the whole mining push, was eminently fair, reasonable and justifiable. It was also quite modest.