IN the end, it is just as the late mining magnate Lang Hancock has bequeathed – neither his only daughter nor her stepmother must fight over his A$400mil-plus legacy. He had given them what he believed to be fair.
But it didn’t happen that way until 11 years of bitterness and seemingly endless legal battles that cost millions of dollars spent hiring powerful teams of queen counsel and senior lawyers came to a surprise end.
Money had not really been a problem for both women. When one battle ended, another began within months with more allegations, innuendos and scandals of what had taken place behind the walls of the Hancock’s multi-million dollar mansion in Perth’s western suburb of Mosman Park.
It was like a circus, as State Attorney-General Jim McGinty described it. In fact, it was more a steaming soapy for the afternoon TV show like The Days of Our Lives that never ends despite its national daily screening for the past three decades.
Last week, however, Gina Rinehart and Hancock’s second wife, now Rose Porteous, agreed to bury the hatchet and call it quits.
They issued a joint statement agreeing to drop all litigation against each other, one of which was about to be heard in the Perth Supreme Court.
They will retain their entitlements to Hancock’s assets, which had been the bone of contention in a succession of legal disputes.
So Gina will now not be challenged over her rights to receive more than A$20mil a year in iron-ore royalties from the resource giant Rio Tinto.
Rose, on the other hand, will keep the A$50mil-plus assets she received as gifts from Hancock during their seven-year marriage.
This includes the riverfront mansion Prix d’Amour, a replica of the mansion in the 1950s box-office movie Gone With The Wind, and two office buildings in Sydney.
Both would not talk about the legal settlement because of the confidentiality clauses. That might be somewhat uncharacteristic for them as they usually had some sharp comments to make against each other even after each legal battle had ended.
But McGinty is still annoyed with the unseemly squabble that had drained much of the court resources in Western Australia for more than a decade. “It has cost the taxpayer an enormous amount and denied justice to all of those other people waiting for civil and criminal trials.”
What made the two women endure an obsessive and hate-filled feud that obviously was Australia’s most bitter and most expensive?
Interestingly, the Gina-Rose saga is without precedent as far as family feuds go. Indeed, it has been an unusual and bizarre case. There has never been such complexity as it unravelled during the court proceedings.
Combined with allegations or suspicions of murder, black magic, lust, romance, drugs, syringes and intrigue, it became quite difficult to separate truth from fabrication.
From the outset Gina did not like Rose, a Filipino maid in the Hancock household, marrying her father, who was one of Australia’s richest men, in July 1985. She went away to the United States and returned just before Hancock, affectionately known as “the rogue bull,” died.
Even before the body could turn cold, forensic experts, police drug squad officers and sniffer dogs were brought to his deathbed in response to Gina’s suspicion of foul play.
They found no incriminating evidence. A coroner’s inquest was convinced that Hancock, 82, died of natural causes on March 27, 1992, following a long illness of heart, lung and kidney problems. But Gina was not convinced. She believed that Rose’s behaviour had hastened her father’s death by causing him stress and emotional distress with quarrels over money and his will.
“My father wanted to live and his death was untimely and unexpected,” she had said.
She paid large sums of money to various people, including other Filipino maids and private investigators, for what she called “the truth of what happened in the last seven days” of her father’s life.
After fighting relentlessly with the authorities for eight years, Gina was granted a second inquest on her father.
State Coroner Alastair Hope was told of an incredible plot to assassinate Hancock.
The plot, hatched by two members of the rebellious Philippines People’s Liberation Army, was supposed to have been arranged by Rose who allegedly wanted her husband assassinated.
One Filipino maid after another came forward to give damning evidence alleging that Rose would use threats to get what she wanted.
They spoke of the quarrels Rose and Hancock had over money. They told of her warning to them that “you are just one bullet away from me.” They also spoke of Rose ordering a maid to push Hancock’s wheelchair so hard that he would die and of giving him only oily food.
One maid went as far as to say of Rose: “When you open the door, you think she is wonderful. But when you close the door, she is a monster.
“The public was never meant to know what was happening inside the house. It was all confidential and cover-ups and lies.”
Yet this same maid boasted that she had offered black magic or voodoo to cast a spell over Willie Porteous, a friend of the family, so that he would “follow Rose like a dog” and “fall in love with her.”
Some days later, Rose allegedly told her that the black magic was having an effect on Porteous because after a dinner party in her house, he had slept with her in the main bedroom while the ailing Hancock was in the guest-house at the back of the mansion.
If there was enough incriminating evidence, Rose could have been committed to stand trial on a charge of murder. But Coroner Hope was concerned about the amount of money being paid to the witnesses to give evidence. He said Gina’s lawyers had misled him over the validity of the new evidence and described it as some of “the most atrocious evidence I have ever heard in terms of perverting the evidence of a witness.”
After proceeding to get to the bottom of his extended inquiry into payments to witnesses, Hope finally cleared Rose of any suggestion of murder.
But for many people who had been following the legal actions, one thing is now certain. This is really the closing chapter of the Gina-Rose saga that had its high moments in the courts – and is no longer funny. As McGinty says: “Good riddance to both of them. I am pleased to see the end of them in our judicial system.”
Jeffrey Francis is editorial consultant, Australasia-Pacific Media (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)