When I was little, my mum always told me that one day I’d meet a prince to call my own. Okay, so it’s taken 24 years to happen, but she was right. Trouble is, I never envisioned him being a septuagenarian with a penchant for argyle cardies. I’ve also had to rethink my dream of being whisked away on a white steed because my prince drives a Ute covered in red dust. He was also gagging to stamp my passport to mark the day we met. Oh yes, my Prince Leonard is real outback royalty.
Around 595km north of Perth, WA, the sprightly pensioner rules over Hutt River – a remote and dusty 75sqkm he proudly declares is the “second-biggest country in Australia.” And although the principality covers an area the same size as Hong Kong, there’s certainly no problem with overcrowding here as Hutt River has a permanent population of just 20.
Not many people know about the bizarre little province and it’s not even on that many maps. But one thing’s for sure, everything about it is completely legit and above board. It does exist.
People say that living in the outback can drive you crazy but Prince Leonard has done just fine. A ruler like no other, he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth and nor did he buy his way into royalty. He created it.
The Prince, real name of Len Casley, used to be a wheat farmer, but that was
before the 1970s and his dream of independence came true.
Let’s go crazy
Sick of paying a huge amount of tax on his crops, Len decided to take action. He found a legal loophole that would enable him to make history and establish his own country. And now, after more than 35 years – and countless fights with the government fat cats – Hutt River is still going strong.
There’s not really much to the principality apart from masses of the red dirt that Oz is famous for and, of course, its novelty factor. But if you’re looking for something different to do in WA, you could do far worse than take a trip to Hutt River – Australia’s best-kept secret.
Before your imagination starts getting carried away though, it’s not a lawless land or anything like that. It’s not full of gun-toting cowboys either – only hardworking farmers, bored-looking dogs and the occasional tourist.
Reached by way of a bumpy dirt road, the province consists of a few ramshackle buildings, one of which is the Prince’s official residence.
If you’re expecting reams of red carpet to be rolled out or flags flapping in the wind, you’ll be disappointed because Buckingham Palace it ain’t. But you will get to meet the monarchs themselves – and there aren’t many places you can rub shoulders with royalty.
When I ventured out to Hutt River, I was in luck as both the Prince and his wife, the ever-smiling Princess Shirley, were home.
Meet the monarchs
Excitedly, the elderly couple came out to greet our little van and, dressed in the finest tracksuits money can buy, ushered us into a very unofficial-looking government office to mark our arrival with a passport stamp. So this is where the magic happens, I thought to myself.
This was the room where hundreds of tourists were magically transported out of Australia and into the almost mythical world of Hutt River – a place where “dreams come true” (according to its national anthem anyway).
Oh, did I forget to mention the province has its own national anthem? Well it does. And its own flag, laws, monetary system and army (though the precise size and arsenal remain vague). The army have never had to bear arms, but they’ve come close.
In 1977 Prince Leonard, angered by the Australian continent’s refusal to acknowledge his new country, declared war on them. His outrageous audacity was however ignored yet again and he announced a cessation of ‘hostilities’ a week later.
But by having actively demonstrated its independence, according to international law, the Hutt River Province was therefore officially a statehood in its own right.
Of course, it’s all ridiculously self-indulgent. But let’s face it, if you got to make the rules and pose for posh photos every couple of years, who wouldn’t want to run their own country? And where else in the world could you put up a massive stone statue of yourself to cast a watchful eye over what’s rightfully yours – even if it is a gammy eye in Prince Leonard’s case.
During our brief ‘out of Oz’ experience, the ageing monarchs showed us around the bizarre little place they call home. I snapped up some Hutt River souvenirs like stamps, flags and coins and heard stories about the heirs to the throne – Crown Princes Ian, Wayne, Richard and Graeme.
I even got the chance to sit in the Prince’s official throne and was shown around the family chapel, where you can really see the locals are a law unto themselves.
Famous scenes like The Last Supper adorn the walls but here, there’s one key difference that will stop you in your tracks. In every painting, Jesus and his disciples have been given a controversial makeover to incorporate the Casleys and their mates. Tasteful.
But it doesn’t stop there. Because of his status, Prince Leonard is an incredibly well-travelled man and it’s quite a treat to see the impressive amount of gifts he has amassed from other heads of state.
I even cracked a smile when I clocked a faded page from the Daily Mail pinned to the wall. Headlined “The People That Rule the World”, the article showed the most powerful people on the planet and sure enough, there was the pint-sized Prince Leonard standing alongside the likes of Bill Clinton and John Howard.
When you think about it, the life the Casleys have made for themselves is pretty insane. But you too can become an honorary Hutt-ite. For $250 (that’s the price of independence these days), you can join an elite group of 13,000 people by investing in a five-year passport. This enables you to visit when you like and, essentially, do what you like. Because after all, in Hutt River, anything goes…
The damage: Free entrance.
The details: Ph: (08) 9936 6035 or visit www.principality-hutt-river.com.
Best of the West
No trip to WA would be complete without a trip to:
The Nullarbor Plain
Treeless and lifeless, this infamous stretch of road has to be seen to
be believed. Covering the same amount of miles as London to Moscow, you’ll need to allow at least three days for this drive and be prepared to lose all contact with the outside world.
The most remote capital city in Australia, this is a place where the sun is always shining. A wander through the picturesque King’s Park is a must, as is a trip to the super-cool suburb of Fremantle, where the bars and restaurants will keep you busy into the wee small hours.
If you want to get up close to some of Australia’s dolphins, there’s no better place to do it than here. Sightings are almost guaranteed at sunrise and sunset but be warned – there’s a strict ‘look but don’t touch’ policy in operation here.
The west coast’s answer to the Great Barrier Reef. Water babies will be in heaven, with snorkelling and diving opportunities aplenty. Teeming with life, a dip in these warm waters will leave you wondering if you’ve just stepped into a marine fish tank.
The ultimate place to chill. Check out sunset at Cable Beach, watch a movie under the stars at an outdoor cinema or hop on one of the camel safaris for an alternative view of town.
Purnululu National Park
Also known as the Bungle Bungles. The rock ranges found here are among some of the most impressive in the world and were only discovered in the 1980s. There are plenty of decent hikes here but pack plenty of water as things can get hot and sticky.