By Leanora Cole
“A nation’s culture resides in the heart and soul of it’s people.” – Mahatma Ghandi
Ghandi believed that what made a nation so intrinsically unique were the people that contributed to its heritage, and how they could come together to use their shared beliefs and attitudes to create a character that set them aside from any other nation. In contrast to this ideology, there is a place in Western Australia near the town of Northampton that puts this to the test in a most unorthodox way.
Relatively unknown even to people within Australia, The Principality of Hutt River exists fairly peacefully as a micronation claiming to be an independent state. However, while it is larger than several other autonomous countries, it isn’t officially recognized by the Australian government, or any other government body for that matter, putting it in quite a strange if not humorous predicament.
Founded on 21 April 1970, The Principality of Hutt River (the Principality) is an independent sovereign state, which means that it is “a nonphysical juridical entity that is represented by a single centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area”. Under an international law with regards to the legitimacy of its political influence, the first sentence of the guidelines of the Montevideo Convention on the Right and Duties of States explicitly states, “The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by other states”. As such, the Principality is seen to meet all criteria to function as self-governing.
Leonard Casley, originally a mere wheat farmer in a small province in Western Australia, declared the Principality an independent nation in 1970, in retaliation to a disagreement the family had with the government over what they considered harsh wheat production quotas. The Casley farm owned about 4000 hectares of wheat that was ready to be harvested, processed, packed and sold right about when the quotas were issued. This would have resulted in them only being able to sell 40 hectares, with the remaining wheat going to waste instead of making them enough profit to sustain the family and the farm for antoher season.
A self-taught physisist, Casely set out to personally study the laws in Australia in order to build his case against the govenrment as he felt that restricting their livelihood was unlawful imposition as technically, the quota had not yet been passed into law. After much correspondance with the Governor of Western Australia, Sir Douglas Kendrew, Casley used the international frameworks as a basis for his argument: that under these frameworks, he was allowed to secede and declare independence from Commonwealth Australia. In another twist, during correspondance with the Governer, Casely was accidentally referred to as the “Administrator of the Hutt River Province”. Written on an official document, Casely then claimed that it constituted a legally binding recognistion of the Principality, thus giving a semblance of credibility to the micronation.
In order to strengthen his position in the discourse, Casely decided to rename his position as “His Majesty Prince Leonard I of Hutt”, which according to his line of reasoning would allow him to make useof the British Treason Act 1945 to his benefit. According to this Act, the de facto king of a nation (the rightful or existing king) cannot be found guilty of treason towards the lawful king, and that any individual that interferes with a monarch’s duties would instead be charged with treason. During all this however, Casley continued to sell his wheat with open disdain and disregard to the quota. He believed that the Australian government had two years to rebut to the declaration of autonomy, and where they failed to respond after the given time in 1974, CAsely claimed that the province was then given “de facto autonomy” even though the government could still dispute.
Following five years of quiet, and despite Casley’s insistence that the government had already conceded, Casley was hit with a prosecution for failing to compy with requirements to provide the Australian Tax Office with the necessary documents. In retaliation, Casley famously gathered his Principality and decalred war on Australia. What this meant was that in declaring war, Australia had two choices: to acknowledge the declaration and in doing so acknowledge that the Principality of Hutt River was indeed a self-governed nation recognized by the government as an official entity, or ignore the declaration and accept that in doing so they admitted defeat. With the latter option, it would be noted that sovereignty is automatic to a country that remains undefeated in a state of war and it would therefore mean that the Principality would still remain recognized by the government as an official entity. Either way, Casley rescinded the declaration several days later on account of Australia’s concession.
In 2006, Casley was once again persecuted by the ATO, and the High Court of Australia dismissed his appeal on the grounds of his argument not being sufficient to uphold his claims. In 2012, a new tax demand was set, to which Casley maintained in a legal document that he was technically a foreign national and no longer a resident of Australia. As of today, the Principality of Hutt River supposedly owes over two million in taxes: the Supreme Court of Western Australia ruled that the legal claims to sovereignty were nonsense and that while the micronation might have it’s own tax rules that have been duly followed by the nations citizens, the Principality still needed to pay the unpaid balance from 2013.
However, this ruling has come after Prince Leonard abdicated the throne at 91, after 45 years of ruling, due to poor health. In his place, his youngest son Prince Graeme has taken to the throne and is expected by the government to handle the outstanding tax issues.
Currently, the Principality has no legal status as a matter of Australian law. The battle between the two entities continues though, with constant correspondence and rebuttal where necessary as while the government preserves their position that the micronation is merely a figment, several organizations like the Nation Museum of Australia, a sociologist at Macquarie University and even the Shire of Northampton have stated that the nation has some sort of sovereignty or power.
Similarly, several overseas nations have either corresponded with the micronation or have had some sort of dealings with them, regardless of whether they we for or against the autonomy of the nation. For example, Hong Kong does not officially recognize the Principality, but at one point its corporate registry documented the place as one where a company could be incorporated. In another example, the Principality received acknowledgement from Australia’s head of state Queen Elizabeth II.
At any rate, the Principality of Hutt River is a huge tourist attraction and remains standing as a beacon of persistence and unconventional Australian humour, to a certain extent. It may or may not be officially accepted, but it is one of the most talked about micronation, and continues to flourish in the face of such strange odds.