Western Australia: Home to white sandy beaches, the gold mines of Kalgoorlie, and…another country in its own right. David Orkin explains how the Principality of Hutt River Province came to be, how you could become a citizen and even share a tinnie with His Royal Highness Prince Leonard George Casley himself.
Mention Western Australia (WA) to anyone who has visited that vast state and expect them to eulogise about stunning white sand beaches, turquoise sea and coral reefs. They’ll rave about the rainforests and wineries, and perhaps relate how they cheered England on at the Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA), Perth’s celebrated cricket stronghold. Very few, however, will tell you that whilst in WA they visited one of the smallest nations in the world, and had a beer with the head of its Royal Family.
Once upon a time (actually August 27 1925) a boy was born in WA’s gold mining town of Kalgoorlie. He married at 21 and ran a business exporting fruit and flowers to Singapore. In the late 1960s, the man, his wife Shirley and their seven children moved from their home in Perth to an 18,500 acre wheat farm 600 km to the north, not far from the town of Northampton.
At Mother Nature’s mercy, a farmer’s life is filled with worry. But this family’s problems were caused not by Acts of God but by Acts of Parliament. They had barely hoisted pitchforks in their new location when they were struck two body blows by the Government of Western Australia. Firstly – and with no warning – a harsh restriction on the amount of wheat a farm could produce and sell was suddenly introduced. This was particularly damaging as the quota was announced several months after the wheat had been planted. Close on its heels was a bill that would give the state the right to resume any rural lands.
Outraged, our protagonist appealed against these unfair and unconstitutional rulings to all ranks of officials. His pleas fell on stony ground. In very real danger of losing not only his livelihood but that of his dependents, he refused to capitulate. The desperate man could think of only one course of action that could save them from total financial ruin: if their government would not back off and rewrite its laws, the farm and its occupants would have to secede from Australia.
His Royal Highness Prince Leonard George Casley
The Aussie government didn’t take the warning seriously: the man’s letter was passed from department to department and eventually ignored. But this was no idle threat: on April 21 1970, with great reluctance, he sent formal notice of the secession. The farm was renamed ‘Hutt River Province’ and the man appointed himself ‘Administrator’.
Now the government sat up and took notice: the action provoked a reaction of worrying proportions for the family. Rumours began to circulate that the Prime Minister himself intended to destroy the province and charge its citizens with treason.
With not just money but liberty at stake, the Administrator once again spent most of his nights digging through every law book he could lay his hands on. His hours of nocturnal research eventually paid off when he unearthed an ancient statute which said that a charge of treason could not be brought against a prince, or anyone helping a prince maintain his office.
So it was to save the family – rather than for egotistical reasons – that the nascent Province adopted the status of an Independent Principality under the leadership of its newly declared Sovereign, His Royal Highness Prince Leonard George Casley.
For a while, officials had bigger sheep to shear, and it wasn’t until some years later the government tried again to “put an end to the Hutt River Province nonsense.” Attempting to beat the Prince at his own game, lawyers ploughed through long-forgotten rule books. Something appropriate was unearthed and it was announced that those living in the principality would be charged with “Having an Intention to Deprive Her Majesty of Her Title or Territory”, for which the maximum penalty was life imprisonment. There was plenty of evidence with which to put a case together but official attention to detail couldn’t match Prince Leonard’s: legal action had to be shelved when he pointed out that there was a two year statute of limitation on this offence; by taking so long to address the matter, the government had missed the deadline.
Australia: A Not So Neighbourly Neighbour
“I wish that relations between us could be more cordial, after all Hutt River Province is the second largest country in this continent. Australia could be a more neighbourly neighbour,” Prince Leonard said ruefully in 1976.
Three and a half decades on, the official Australian position hasn’t weakened. A website states: “The Australian Government does not recognize the ‘Hutt River Province’ legally or in any other way”.
The Principality of Hutt River (PHR) – Prince Leonard changed the name a few years back – has almost 14,000 overseas citizens worldwide, for any “person of good character and not likely to bring discredit” may apply for overseas citizenship (fill in an official application form and enclose supporting I.D., two passport photos and the appropriate fee). Don’t treat the matter lightly – you’ll also need to pledge allegiance to the Sovereign of the Principality.
Inside the Principality of Hutt River Province (PHR)
So what is the PHR itself like? With less than two dozen people actually living there, it looks much like any other ‘station’ (as farms are known in that part of the world). Wheat apart, lupins, barley and wild flowers are grown commercially and there are sheep and cattle. Most days visitors trickle in and are given a brief tour by Prince Leonard or Princess Shirley. On display are many photos of the royal couple in the splendour of their full ceremonial regalia; but on my recent visit the Prince – who turned 86 in August – greeted me in a well-worn open-necked checked shirt, ragged paint-stained trousers and sandals. Princess Shirley (in a housecoat and slippers and sensibly not trying to outdo the new Duchess of Cambridge in the fashion stakes) had to leave us to put the dinner on.
Apart from official memorabilia in the small museum, expect to be shown the Chapel of Nain (its inner walls adorned with pictures of biblical scenes in which the characters all resemble PHR dignitaries). You can have your passport stamped and buy unique philately at the Principality’s Post Office (which they’ll open especially for you). You’ll be able to ask about the Province’s Armed Forces (these include an army, and – even though the PHR is land-locked – a Navy) or Diplomatic Representatives (over 75 in 35 countries). However, this is not a commercial theme park but a working farm: the PHR’s advertising is the lowest of low-key, the tours are free, and there is little for the souvenir hunter to spend money on (Australian dollars are accepted).
The citizens of the PHR have always remained fiercely loyal to their and our Queen. Although on the occasion of each and every Royal Tour of Australia, those responsible for planning the itineraries have turned down invitations for Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh to visit the principality, Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley don’t give up hope. After all, the last lines of the PHR’s National Anthem are: “God blessed this land where dreams can come true.”