I rejoined my Western Exposure bus tour that I had taken previously from Perth to Exmouth. Two weeks earlier Andrea and I departed the tour at Exmouth to visit Karijini National Park. Now I was my “two day return” to Perth that had a lot fewer stops and a lot more driving. Each day was long with allowing me to catch up on some long needed sleep. After passing through Coral Bay the tour made an overnight at a farm home-stay before we made our way south to Hutt River, a little known principality and micro-nation.
I had never even heard of Hutt River before this trip and as we drove south towards Perth our tour guide Kim explained about Prince Leonard and his little fiefdom inside of Australia proper. She explained that in the early 1970′s he declared independence and is now a “legitimate” sovereign government. I rolled my eyes thinking that this is just another micro nation that exists only in fantasy. The real measure of a government is its ability to tax. “If this guy is paying Australian taxes,” I thought to myself, “then his province is bogus.”
We arrived at the border and got out to take photos (above). Hutt River Province is about the size of Hong Kong covering about 75 square kilometers (45 square miles). Most of the province is rolling farmland; you can see some of the flat farmland behind me at the border photo. Our bus pulled into “downtown” Hutt River and it resembled the center of a huge farm except that there was a church, a post office and government buildings. I’d never seen a mix of farm and small government before, but then again, I’d never been to a self-proclaimed republic either.
Prince Leonard Casley came out and greeted us and took us for a tour of the Province and we learned a little about him, his family and the history of this little country. The history of the province began with a dispute in wheat quotas in 1969. The Casley family had consistently grown 13,000 acres of wheat but that year, the Western Australian Legislation decided to give them a quota of only 100 acres. Leonard protested the quota without success and subsequently, the legislature filed a law in the national government that would cede the Casley land grant back to the government. It was a land grab that was to be sanctioned by law.
Leonard filed a protest citing a law that prevented the government from reclaiming more than 1/20th of any land that was previously given by grant. After a month had passed with no reply, Leonard filed articles of secession declaring Hutt River to be an independent nation.
Leonard met with the Western Australian government in Perth and after an impasse could not be resolved, the meeting ended when Leonard walked out. Later, the Commonwealth government (Australian Government) offered its federal powers to Western Australia to resolve the matter of the Hutt River secession. An old and relatively unused law remains in Great Britain and its commonwealth countries wherein the rights of sovereign principalities are protected. Leonard called the new citizens of Hutt River together and proposed that the tiny republic be transformed into a principality and that Leonard be names as Prince. This would prevent Australian government officials from interfering with Leonard’s activities by penalty of treason.
The law was passed, Hutt River became a principality and this abruptly ended the interference from the Western Australian and federal Commonwealth governments. Under law, the government has (had) a two year statute of limitations to challenge the secession which has long since passed allowing Hutt River de facto legitimacy on that ground alone.
How Prince Leonard came to secede is an interesting twist of events that result from a legal loophole that exists in the state of Western Australia. When Australia was made a commonwealth of Great Britain, all recognized land holdings of the Crown were recognized. In a legal twist, the patent filed for Western Australia by Captain Stirling only included the Swan Settlement (Perth). By accident, the rest of Western Australia was “left out” when Australia was made a commonwealth. Since Prince Leonard declared independence, the Australian government has been reluctant to act against him as they might likely lose the case in Australian court. This would be disastrous as it would likely usher in thousands of other claims for independence. I speculate that the Australian Government decided to just leave well enough alone so as not to cause too much controversy.
I thought back to my original thoughts on the province, that if it wasn’t taxed, it is an independent state:
If the government of Western Australia considers Prince Leonard and his subjects “non residents” of Australia and he pays no state or federal taxes, that is proof that Hutt River is a legitimate sovereign country.
Regarding my speculation that the Australian Government doesn’t want controversy because they believe that Prince Leonard would win in a court, inside of his museum he displays a copy of a letter that was leaked to him by a sympathetic officer in the Australian government:
DEPARTMENT OF TERRITORIES CANBERRA
As requested, we have spoken with the Taxation Department. It is their considered opinion that the facts as they are currently available to all parties would suggest the statement issued by one Mr. Leonard James CASLEY known as H.R.H. Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province is correct.
The fact that the Commonwealth has not formally recognized the Principality is a muta point, as the residents of the area do, and there has been now, and in the past a legal uncertainty as to the constitutional aspects of the case.
It is therefore our considered opinion, that subject to guidelines we have had to adopt, the following points are in fact the situation currently
1. Principality is a legal entity.
2.Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province is a person exempted in the Australian Law from Taxation under the current guidelines.
3.The Passport as used by the persons claiming to be Principality Citizens are valid. However, the Act can be used to isolate them by requirement of visa’s.
4. Nothing, in any legislation currently, would preclude recognition of these facts ever saw the light of day.
It is therefore our suggestion that you at all costs contain this situation. The Department would at your request therefore institute the required action..
As summarized a bit brutally by the Australian Lawyer Anthony FISHER “This damned place had really seceded and we are talking about a true independent country “
To be a recognized “country” by international standards, a nation must have its own government, post office, currency and have control of its own borders. Hutt River even has its own Army (defense force) and armed residents train in small arms and tactics. Prince Leonard first took us to the immigration office where he stamped our passports with an entry stamp to the Principality. He took great pride in stamping right next to the Australian visa stamp in sort of an “in your face” move to Canberra. He also took us for a tour of his post office where we were able to buy some post cards and Hutt River stamps and then we went over to the museum to see some of the gifts he had received from other foreign heads of state.
We went to the Hutt River Cathedral, where of course, Prince Leonard is the head of church. We were invited to sit in the Royal thrones for a photo opportunity and we conversed with the Prince at length. Perhaps a bit eccentric, Prince Leonard was very warm and charming with a quick wit that had us laughing a few times. The visit was very agreeable and everyone in my tour group was smiling throughout the visit.
I had a chance to pose with Prince Leonard for a photo inside of the cathedral. It isn’t every day you get to rub elbows with royalty LOL!
Of course, every monarch needs royal transportation. This is the official limousine of the Hutt River Monarch, a classic Rolls Royce that he drives in during local parades and other special events.
I’ll have to say that my opinion of the Hutt River Principality changed completely after my visit. Before, I thought it was a bit of a gimmick but, but after looking at the laws and the Principalities legal paperwork and representations, it looks like it is in fact a bonafide sovereign nation. I learned later that you can become a citizen of Hutt River and they will even issue you a passport. I’m sure that would be quite a conversation piece in my social travel circles!
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