I had been researching exactly what to do on my upcoming trip to Western Australia (WA) when I came upon something extremely interesting – the Principality of Hutt River. This principality it seems is an independent “sovereign” state located in Western Australia about 500km north of Perth. Apparently around 40 years ago a farmer by the name of Leonard George Casley was growing grain on his 75 square kilometer farm out in Western Australia when the government placed a cap on his production which basically put him out of business. Obviously a smart man, he contested this in many ways and eventually was in a situation where the state was denying him economic freedom and the right to land. It seems that at the time these were exactly the two requirements to enact an antiquated British law that would allow him to succeed from the Commonwealth of Australia and become his own, sovereign, independent state. And that’s exactly what he did! I quickly became fascinated with the idea of such a place and made a plan to visit once I got out to WA in a few weeks time.
I know it sounds insane, but in the last 40 years he has operated the “Principality of Hutt River” successfully, without paying taxes to the Australian government and growing and selling as much wheat as he desires. In addition, they issue bank notes and coins as their own currency, postage stamps, visas and business registries and passports! Leonard became “Prince Leonard I” and his wife became “Princess Shirley”. Now well into his 80′s, Leonard still operates his land as an independent state allowing overseas citizens and issuing passports.
Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself in Western Australia traveling with my two dear friends Travis and Becca. We had just taken the Indian-Pacific Railway from Sydney to Perth and then driven up to Geralton where we had spent the night. After a quick breakfast we set out towards Hutt River with hopes of meeting the Prince and Princess in the ‘country’s’ capital ‘city’ of Nain. From Geralton we drove about 45 minutes north through the town of Northampton looking for a small blue sign that would tell us when to turn off the main road. Finally we found it and made the left that would take us nearly 30 kilometers off the main road and into the independent sovereign state of the Principality of Hutt River. Of course, only about half of this 30km was paved. The rest was pure dirt road in the middle of a landscape that resembled what I’ve seen of mars more then earth with “lazy goanna” lizards dotting the roadway soaking in the scorching sun. Finally after vibrating along in the car for what felt like hours, we arrived at a marker sign that designed the border between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Principality of Hutt River. We leaped from the car to take photos with it before continuing the rest of the way (now on Hutt River land) to the capital – Nain.
As we passed through the gates of Nain we were all very excited to to meet the Prince/Princess but once I saw the condition of the capital I immediately thought of the movie “Nothing But Trouble” and hoped that the Prince wouldn’t find us guilty of some insane law and murder us in the “Bonestripper“. I figured there was about a 19% chance of that happening…not enough to turn back after so much off road driving. So we pulled into the center of Nain and parked. Getting out of the car we were instantly swarmed by flies landing on our faces in our ears on our eyes, everywhere. There were thousands of them and they were everywhere and they were absolutely relentless. Walking around town aimlessly, swatting incessantly, we searched for signs of human life…finding none. The post office, the gift shop and other buildings were all empty. Finally I wandered over to a more residential area and exclaimed “HELLO?!”.
After several minutes an ancient looking woman emerged out of nowhere and came to greet us. I recognized her right away…this was Princess Shirley! Her Royal Highness Princess Shirley led us back to the main building and began telling us about Hutt River and showing us some of the amazing items they have accumulated over the years from foreign dignitaries, governments, the Pope and other visitors over the 40 years of their independence from Australia. It was all very impressive and although Hutt River may seem insignificant, it certainly seemed legitimate. Princess Shirley led us back outside where she posed for a photo with me and then into the post office where we got our visitor visas and passport stamps and saw lots of other random Hutt River memorabilia along with an impressive collection of currency from around the world and throughout time.
Princess Shirley went on to show us the chapel where we were able to sit on Prince Leonard’s throne and take photos which was nice since sadly the Prince had a dentist appointment in Geralton today and couldn’t be there to greet us himself. The whole ordeal may sound kinda strange in writing…but we were all thrilled with it. All the driving, all the dirt roads with lizard and the millions of flies were all meaningless once we got to be personally shown around the second largest country on the continent by the Princess herself.
If you want to lean more about Hutt River you can consult their website or Wikipedia but basically the Prince was able to succeed from the Commonwealth of Australia 40 years ago due to an obscure (but hastily closed) legal loophole. They even have an official letter from the Australian Government stating they are exempt from tax and other such benefits. Technically the Australian government has the right to post a border guard at the edge of Hutt River and demand visas for entry into Australia…but of course this doesn’t happen and they are free to come and go as they please. It really is a remarkable story and we much enjoyed our time with the Princess. Plus we pretty much have the coolest passport stamps ever now.
Long after departing from Nain and leaving Hutt River behind I continued to be fascinated with the micro-nation and started corresponding with them on a regular basis. In offering my services to the Principality I was asked to assist in writing a new piece of legislation to assist with corporate registrations within the Principality. I happily did so and to my surprise was later bestowed with the Rank of Commander in the Illustrious Order of Merit for outstanding service to the Principality and its Sovereign. I was recognized for my role as the Principality’s Principal Advisor on Foreign Commerce and for my support and assistance provided to the Principality’s Deputy Registrar of Companies and Banks.
Now a citizen of Hutt River myself, I hope that if you should have a chance to visit our fair land you will jump at the opportunity. Prince Leonard and Princess Shirley would be happy to see you – please let them know I sent you!