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Ron Manners’ ideas
and adventures
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This is part of a presentation I gave to students at Arkaroola in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia.

Birthdays and bush living

It’s an absolute pleasure to be here in Arkaroola with you guys. I’ve met about a quarter of you so far and the other three quarters I’ll meet tomorrow and learn from you.

Now, I just had a birthday party and I turned 75. I think with modern science the way it is, and if I keep myself fit, I’m about half way. I’m in it for 150 years and want to maximise the usefulness of the remainder of my life because I am just having a ball.

I’m not programmed for certain things and I’m certainly not programmed for the emotion of envy because I couldn’t imagine designing my life to come out better than it’s come out as it is right now. I look back and realise it was really just a series of accidental incidents that happened. I can’t look back and say: “I got a great education, or I went to a great school, or I know all these people.” Nothing like that happened to me.

I come from Kalgoorlie. A rough-and-tumble city where we all fall over each other. Nobody in those days had any money.  However, nobody was poor. Everyone was independent and nobody lived on welfare. They just worked their guts out to support their families. Now, that was a pretty simple way of how it was but the key of the success of the happiness of those people at that time was that they had no debt. They had no mortgages or interest payments. That was the key to it all then.

Now, what did we do as kids around your age? We had no televisions, computers, computer games, iPods or iPads. What the hell did we do? I think one thing we forego to bring was my stage props and they are back in the unit but one of them is a .22 pistol, homemade by myself and I’ll bring it in at breakfast tomorrow and we’ll pass it around because it is a thing of great beauty and I retained it from my youth. The other thing was a water bomb with a warhead on it.

Blowing up life

So, what we did without TV and things like that, we just shot things! We shot things and we blew things up. We all had access to explosives. You could buy detonators, fuses and gelignite from the local grocer’s shop. It was called Sheeds, on Hannan Street in Kalgoorlie.

So I thought that was not a bad way to go because we didn’t know any better.

Then at exactly the age of 16, one of the first accidental things happened to me. I was working after school in my father’s mining engineering business, unpacking crates of machinery that had come from America and in the crates was this packing material. No polyurethane, no bubble wrap or anything like that in those days but they used crumpled up magazines, so the machinery would not move around.

As a kid, I pulled these things out and I smoothed them out and I took them home and read them. They were all magazines called Freeman Magazine that came out of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in New York and it was information about individual responsibility, the free market and all this stirring stuff. The words of Thomas Jefferson. All so inspirational and I thought it was excellent.

So, how did that link to me being invited to New York, 20 years later, to give the talk to the very same organisation that produced that material originally? I’ll tell you later.

Another accident

The second accident happened when I was 17-years-old. Driving back from Esperance with my parents one night, there was an on-coming, very old, truck with its lights off. It had an overhanging load on the side which just happened to tear the side out of the vehicle I was driving. Unfortunately, my arm went along with it and it got a bit buggered up at that stage.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I remember at the hospital that night, sitting there, just wondering what’s going on. The doctor is saying to my father, “Charlie, we have to take Ron’s arm off just here because there is no way in the world of saving it.”

I recall my father questioned the doctor and this was the first time I had seen someone in authority being questioned. In those days you did not think of questioning the family doctor. He was like God.

My father said: “Alan, you may be a very good doctor, you may be a friend of mine, but what I’m going to do it take Ron to Perth tomorrow to get a second opinion.” So that’s what they did and I reckon that’s worked out pretty well.

About a year later, after they had stitched me up a bit, I learnt to play the trumpet with one hand. I loved music and I missed playing the piano so I made a little bracket to hold the trumpet up with my little finger and the thumb so I could play the trumpet with three fingers. While I was in the hospital getting my operations I used to sneak out in my pyjamas to a local phone box and practise my trumpet in the phone box at midnight. I got away with it too!

About a year later I developed a love for the clarinet. My father and I went to the music shop and my father noticed a beautiful looking clarinet for £48. The retailer looked at it and then at my fingers, which were all bent. “Your fingers won’t go where they are supposed to go on the clarinet,” he said. My father looked at him and said: “How much extra will we have to pay if you modified the clarinet to fit his fingers?” The guy replied: “Sorry, but I have never been asked that before however I think we could do it.”

So, every Wednesday night for years, I was in a little jazz band at The Exchange Hotel in Kalgoorlie having the time of my life. Again, I thought my father was first-class in that he questioned very good advice and I recall thinking that it all worked out pretty good.

Every time I do my shoe laces up I think: “It’s pretty easy with two hands but bloody hard with one hand.” Every time I happen to give a pretty girl a real good cuddle I think: “Better with two hands than one!” Then I say “thanks dad.”   I’ll never forget what he did for me.

That accident interfered with my school attendance. I finished high school and passed one subject earlier in the year — music. But one subject would not let me matriculate which lead to accident experience number three.

The writing on the wall

I enrolled at the School of Mines as a way of catching up. However, I had to catch up on subjects like maths, English, physics, geography and history before I could enrol to do any serious subjects. Also, at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines I wasn’t very good at sport because I still had a sling. So it was suggested I become the editor of the Kalgoorlie School of Mines Magazine. This lead to my first job as an editor and resulted in my interest in writing.

I extracted some of the information I’d kept from the packing boxes a couple of years before and started using it in the magazine. Well, the world fell in on me — Kalgoorlie was a very Labor-oriented town and its residents were very unionised.  Here I was saying you could be successful if you were an independent individual but this was in a town where you couldn’t possibly be successful unless you were a member of a trade union!

As result, I started getting attacked. People were very abusive and I thought, this isn’t acceptable. I wrote a letter to FEE in New York advising Mr Leonard E. Read that I didn’t think his ideas were much good because they were getting me into trouble.

He replied, advising that he still thought the ideas were alright. He told me that if I was going to have an opinion on anything, I had to put myself into a position where I had done enough research to defend my position. It was suggested that to help me, they could put me on their mailing list and I’d receive their monthly information. Mr Read also enclosed a couple of publications for me to look at and offered to speak with me personally if I required any further information.

He ended up being my mentor and a friend for life. We kept meeting all over the world. He was an amazing man.

(Accidentally) engineering greatness

At the Kalgoorlie School of Mines I wanted to do geology but the director told me mining was finished. He was almost right too, as there were more mines closing down than opening up in the 60’s. It was suggested I do something useful, like engineering. I loved electrical engineering so I got to be an electrical engineer and that was pretty useful. So, it’s all accidental as we go.

Looking back, I probably would not have become so involved in these ideas of free market if I hadn’t taken on that editorship and been in a position of having to defend myself. That really got me involved in the world of ideas – I call it ‘The Wonderful World of Ideas’ because your life is more than just being what we do for a living it’s the concept of why this follows this and what this causes. It’s the human action side of it that’s more interesting to me and it was probably about the that I gave up blowing things up. I realised that any idiot can blow things up and destroy things and graffiti things but the sheer genius is in creating things like works of art of an enterprise like a company. That’s where the genius is — the creativity of being in business. This really helped me get started along that path.

The fourth accidental event was one morning in 1967 when I went into the Palace Hotel in Kalgoorlie to pick up a visiting engineer who I was taking out to the mines for the day. He was still having breakfast and suggested I sit down as he was not ready to go yet. He introduced me to the other person at his breakfast table that was in Kalgoorlie recruiting young people to apply for the Duke of Edinburgh Study Conference. They wanted a person from the country areas of Western Australia to go with the other five from Western Australia to be chosen.

He said he’d come to Kalgoorlie especially. He’d been to see the mayor of Kalgoorlie, whose was 93-years-old, asking if he knew of any bright young people who would be suitable. The mayor had told him he did not know any young people. As result this man was going back to Perth that day with a strike rate of zero. He looked at me and said: “Ron, you are about the right age, why don’t you enrol?” He gave me the form and asked me to go away and think about it.

Consequently I took it away, thought about it, signed up and got through it. To this day I’m still involved with The Duke of Edinburgh Study Conference. I’m on the selection committee and I go to Buckingham Palace; I’m organising a buck’s party for HRH Prince Philip when he comes to Perth in October this year. He’s 90-years-old now so this might be the last chance we have to have a good buck’s party with him.

Meeting my heroes

All these small accidental instances which I’ve managed to turn these accidents into opportunities and isn’t that what life’s about? It’s recognising a misfortune and turning it into something that really is to your benefit.

The real pay off for me is it’s allowed me to meet many of my economic and philosophical heroes that I read about in these books and I ended up being personal friends with so many of them. With my father’s influence, it’s given me the courage to question authority from time to time. In particular, the taxation department when it misinterpreted its own tax act and tried to extract unreasonable amounts from me. I left the country for seven years and had a remarkable career on the run (that was all reported in my latest book, Heroic Misadventures).

In the end I politely wrote to the taxation department and said: “You are not getting any tax, so why don’t you tear up the files and I’ll come back into the Australian workforce.” Well, they agreed. So I came back.

I enrolled, yet again, at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines at about the age of 50 and did two geology subjects and formed a couple of companies. They produced 1.25m oz of gold and paid 11 dividends to the shareholders. I paid a lot of tax.

I also joined the Mont Pelerin Society, an international group of 500 economists and scholars. We meet each year in a different country. I was selected as part of a group of 40 who were sent to Russia in 1990 as communism and socialism were falling apart. Our task was to instruct them on how free enterprise worked as it was arriving the following month! It was quite a challenge when we found that they had none of the building blocks of a civil society.

I was explaining to a group of Russians how to form a public company, i.e. get 500 people to give us their money so you can go exploring and discover economic resources and then with responsible management pay them a dividend from profits. One man came to me later and said: “I don’t know anyone in the world I would trust with my money.”

That experience made me realise how fortunate we are to live in a civil society where our chosen colleagues can be trusted and relied upon. We call it Western Civilisation and I only wish it was taught in our schools.

Where to now?

I am now pursuing my three full time careers:

  1. Running the family business: Mannwest, a mining consultancy, has been going strong for 114 years.
  2. Running the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation: Mannkal spreads the free market message. We have 350 young people attending a conference in Turkey this September, New York in November and I’m on the Board of Overseers for the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington DC where we have sponsored about 300 economic think tanks around the world.
  3. Author: I’ve just finished writing a book, with another on the way.

To conclude, I want to leave you with something of value for each of you to take away. I’ve noticed that schools or parents are not much good at teaching their young about money. There are two things to remember about money:

  • Money is not the measure of a person, but without it you can’t achieve much.
  • If you are smart and squirrel away some of your earnings, start early, you will be able to get money working for you. Much better than you working for money. Get this one right and  you can spend more time on your passions.

It has been a pleasure to spend this time with you all at Arkaroola and to be stimulated by you. Keep questioning the authorities politely but with purpose. Ask me about the youth rebelling around the world. I wish you all an exciting life adventure.




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