A farmer decides to secede from Australia after a dispute with the government, declaring himself a prince, building a “kingdom” and, at one point, declaring war on Australia.
Looking at the basic facts, the Principality of Hutt River – and, by extension, its rulers and inhabitants – seem quite mad.
But after speaking with Graeme Casley, son of founder Prince Leonard, things don’t seem as black and white.
“Australian government websites sort of have Prince Leonard painted as a crazy farmer, a bit eccentric, and running a theme park,” he says. “That’s certainly not the case.”
In fact, there’s actually some very sane logic to Prince Leonard’s actions.
Just 12-years-old when the secession happened, it wasn’t unusual for Graeme to arrive home from school to find international media sitting in his living room.
Prince Leonard in 1975 [Image: News Ltd/Newspix]
“It gave me a very good global view and expanded my horizons, which I think was a great benefit for me,” he says.
Prince Leonard’s secession began in 1970 when the government imposed wheat quotas he felt would financially ruin him. The fed-up farmer took his land and broke away from Australia.
In the years since, Prince Leonard, now 90 years old, has successfully wielded obscure passages of law to keep the authorities at bay and his “kingdom” alive.
After the Australian Tax Office came calling for their money, Prince Leonard made a move no one saw coming.
Prince Leonard at the entrance to the Principality of Hutt River [Image: Ross Swanborough/Newspix]
“Dad declared war on Australia,” recalls Graeme. “They thought he had really flipped his lid and been out in the sun too long.”
After ceasing the war a few days later, Prince Leonard invoked the Geneva Treaty Convention of 12th August 1949, “whereby a part of that treaty says the occupying people after war have the right to sovereignty.”
It’s been widely reported that he has never paid taxes – excluding yearly “gifts” to the Shire of Northampton – but renowned constitutional lawyer George Williams from UNSW doubts such claims.
“Everyone is subject to the law, and you can imagine what the Commonwealth would do if people actually stopped paying their takes. It’s as plausible as saying they don’t have to obey the road rules.”
Today, the Principality is a popular destination for travellers, attracting thousands of visitors every year. Tourists can acquire citizenship, purchase coins and stamps, and speak with the royal family. Around 13,000 people now hold passports for Hutt River.
Their national anthem, which can be heard here, was sung by the late Jon English.
Official stamps [Image courtesy of the Principality of Hutt River]
Almost half a century after the secession, the Principality has inspired new micronations across the country – Australia has the world’s highest number of the tiny nations per capita.
For measuring the secession’s success, perhaps the best indication is the micronation’s continued existence. Prince Leonard is now one of the longest-serving world leaders.
In April this year, the Principality celebrated 46 years – and received a letter from Queen Elizabeth II.
Looking into the future, Graeme says development is on the Principality’s agenda.
“We want a small community of diverse people from many, many backgrounds. Unfortunately, we just need that infrastructure and commercial mix where people can live and have an income.”
“We’d like to be an independent state, an independent country, and while not as big as the U.S., China or Australia, we’re bigger than the Vatican, and we’re bigger than Monaco. We’re not doing too bad.”
The Principality of Hutt River post office [Image: Shutterstock]
While Australia has a relaxed attitude to micronations, George Williams, a constitutional lawyer at the University of NSW, warns that “we shouldn’t pretend it actually enables them to operate outside the law or to actually establish their own nation.”
“You can go home and say I declare myself to be the queen of this household, and there’s nothing to stop you doing it. It just doesn’t change anything as a matter of law.”
The Principality of Hutt River’s national flag [Image: Shutterstock]
Both the WA and Australian Governments have repeatedly said they do not – and will not – recognise the Principality, legally or in any other way.
“It has no special status. It has no separate sovereignty and remains subject to the Australian Constitution and the laws of Australia,” according to an official Federal Government communication.
The Eccentric World Of DIY Kingdoms
Throughout the world’s internationally recognised nations, there are tiny, largely unrecognised “micronations”, formed out of a desire for independence, entertainment or political dissent.
These self-appointed rulers have planted flags all over. On islands: Off Denmark’s coast is the Kingdom of Elleore, which bans Robinson Crusoe because they consider it a slander on island life. In deserts: Nevada’s Republic of Molossia sells bonds to fund its war. And in the ocean: The ruler of the Principality of Sealand, a WWII-era British Navy sea fort, says he once foiled a hostage-taking coup.
Some micronations are serious (the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is recognised by the United Nations), while others were built in the name of fun (in Nevada, the Republic of Molossia hosts the "Intermicronational Olympic Games").
By international law, those aspiring to nationhood must have a government, a permanent population, defined territory, and a capacity for foreign relations. What most don’t have is recognition. They exist, as their founders do, on the fringes.
Many create their own flags, currencies, and passports. Some even send ambassadors abroad. But what they all have in common is an abundance of character.