The next time you find yourself driving along the western route of Australia’s circuitous Highway 1, turn west on Ogilvie Road. After about an hour on this winding path you will cross the Hutt River. At this point, make sure to have your passport handy.
You have just left Australia.
I spent the summer in conversation with His Royal Highness Prince Leonard Casley and his Aide-de-Camp Lord Steven G.P. Baikie of the Principality of Hutt River (PHR), a small nation situated 500 kilometres north of Perth with limited recognition.
Forty-five years ago, the Casley family declared independence from Australia in response to threats from the Australian government to “resume” their lands if they could not meet the impossibly harsh wheat quotas imposed by the state governor.
Since then, they have received no official declarations of recognition by Australia or any other country.
There is a word which typically applies to nations like these, to secessionist communities which have achieved limited to no international recognition: “micronations.”
Micronations have existed since the mid-19th century, and vary drastically in scope and motivation.
Several exist purely as tongue-in-cheek imaginary countries, and their “heads of state” typically rule their “nations” more as a hobby, rather than a serious and formal desire for sovereignty. Some such entities have claimed fictional territory or territory on other planets, such as the Aerican Empire, which has asserted ownership over various terrestrial territories, in addition to Mars, the northern hemisphere of Pluto, and the entire planet of Verden, “should it be found to exist.”
Many others exist as money-making entities, and several have been condemned as fraudulent enterprises, such as pyramid schemes or money laundering operations.
Other micronations have been created to promote specific agendas, either political, environmental, social, or legal. The Republic of New Afrika, which has been in existence since 1968, was founded as a black nationalist movement with an intent of laying claim to large swaths of territory in the southeastern United States.
There are 73 documented micronations across the globe; however, one nation in particular would prefer to be left off this list: The Principality of Hutt River.
As Lord Steven, Aide-de-Camp to Prince Leonard, passionately expresses, “the term ‘micronation’ is warped in that it is used to encompass the plethora of ever growing declarations of ‘independence’ entities, covering everything from bedrooms to theoretical empires in the ether.
We do not involve ourselves in any way with these ‘micronations’ and to be included is an insult to us and to the law.”
From Field To Throne
Understanding the zeal behind Lord Steven’s rhetoric requires an examination of the history of the PHR.
With a series of remarkably astute political tactics, the PHR seceded from Western Australia under the name “Hutt River Province” on 21 April 1970, after the state governor imposed “draconian” wheat quotas upon local farmers.
Over the past 45 years, the PHR has legally and politically distanced itself from Australia to an impressive degree.
After the Australian government threatened the secessionists with prosecution in 1971, Leonard Casley invoked the Imperial Treasons Act of 1495, which stated that “noe person going wth the Kinge to the Warres shalbe attaynt of treason.” By declaring himself to be the prince of his own territory, Casley protected himself and his family from prosecution under this loophole.
The Australian government elected not to take the secessionists to court, and in 1972 Australia’s two-year window to protest the PHR’s declaration closed, leaving the Huttriveans permanently safe from prosecution.
Historically, warfare has typically accompanied secessionist movements, and the PHR’s story is no exception. When the government of Australia refused to deliver the PHR’s mail in 1976, Prince Leonard was forced to reroute the principality’s mail delivery through Canada. In retaliation, Prince Leonard declared war on Australia in 1977, only to cease hostilities three days later.
Although the war was bloodless and no territory changed hands, it turned out to be an inspired political manoeuvre.
As Prince Leonard expressed to the Governor-General of Australia at the time, the laws of war state that “after even a situation of one day of declared war it follows upon cessation absolute sovereignty to the respective countries.”
Through these political manipulations, Prince Leonard established a standard for recognition of the PHR under
Today, the PHR stands on its own, without significant help or hindrance from the Australian government.
Residents of the PHR have been declared non-residents of Australia and thus do not pay taxes to the Australian Taxation Office, but rather to the PHR itself. In return, PHR subjects have been removed from the Australian Electoral Rolls and thus cannot vote. As well, the Australian government has rescinded its social security responsibilities to PHR citizens, including health care and child endowments.
Prince Leonard, who celebrated his 90th birthday in August, explains that although the Australian government “seems to wish to simply harass us wherever they see potential to do so […] they have little, if any, interference or show of authority within the PHR.”
While the website of the Australian government claims that it does “not legally or otherwise recognise the so-called Hutt River Province,” the actions of the government tell a different story.
Shortly after secession, Australian government officials began to address Prince Leonard as “Administrator of the Hutt River Province,” and have continued in this fashion until the present day, referring to Prince Leonard as “HRH Prince Leonard of Hutt.” In addition, a 1976 restricted cablegram issued by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs stated that “the information and evidence available to date does not suggest that Casley has contravened any Australian law,” and a secret Department of Territories message to a government minister acknowledged that “the Principality is a legal entity.” Coupled with the 1980 decision to recognize PHR postage as “legitimized and validated,” as well as the removal of basic Australian voting, health care, and welfare rights, Prince Leonard is certain that these acts constitute de jure recognition of state sovereignty.
Australia is not the only country from which the PHR claims de jure recognition. The Principality has established diplomatic relations with a number of countries, including various ambassadors and consuls in Brazil, Monaco, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Pakistan, and the USA, among others.
In addition, two of the PHR’s consuls, those to Benin and Côte d’Ivoire, were invited to the 2008 World Federation of Consuls in Ghana, and the PHR’s High Representative to the UK was invited to attend the 2006 celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday.
The PHR has also enjoyed strong relations with the Vatican. Prince Leonard himself has twice attended the Vatican as a papal guest, has been honoured at a cardinal dinner, and even received a papal blessing in 1976. “Not bad for a non-Catholic,” he quips.
None of the above-mentioned countries have officially declared recognition of the PHR; however, their gestures significantly muddle the intricacies of statehood.
One would be hard-pressed to find another nation which, while possessing all the trappings of a state, has achieved so little international recognition.
Because of this, Lord Steven is adamant that the PHR exists on a separate tier from the rest of the micronations. In fact, he rejects the term entirely.
“We certainly do not class ourselves as ‘micronationalists,’” he expresses. “Therefore we also stay clear of media articles on micronations as invariably we appear alongside someone who has declared himself Emperor of some cyber space Kingdom and another who has declared himself Prince of Chocolates.”
True to his word, it took some convincing for Lord Steven and Prince Leonard to agree to an interview.
When I first made contact, I was met with the following response: “We now seek assurances as to the direction a proposed interview/article is to take, who else is to be involved if it is a group (groups, we usually reject becoming involved in) and an assurance as to the accuracy of portrayal and the seriousness of the article.” Concerned with their public image, they asked me to send them a copy of this article prior to publication, a request which I politely declined.
Lord Steven is adamant about stressing his country’s legitimacy: “We have no time for the game players and the work required in establishing a ‘real nation’ is certainly no game.”
On this final point the two of us are in definite agreement. It is clear that Prince Leonard and his policymakers are intelligent, shrewd, and have worked incredibly hard over the past 45 years in order to project their legitimacy unto the rest of the world. To dismiss the PHR as simply another joke or imaginary state would be insulting. What’s more, it would be false.
What then, is the Principality of Hutt River?
Competing Models for Statehood
I asked Prince Leonard if there was a term he preferred, other than “micronation.” He simply responded: “a Sovereign Independent Country.”
But is this accurate in the eyes of the international community?
Is the PHR a sovereign state? Is international recognition of the PHR a prerequisite for its statehood? And if so, what constitutes “recognition?”
These are precisely the types of questions which calls for a case study of such an aspiring and ambitious nation as the PHR.
Political theorists have long battled over the definition of the word “state,” with two opposing theories emerging:
The “constitutive” view expresses that official recognition by other states is a necessary criterion for statehood, while the “declarative” view allows a state to be defined as such if it possesses the following criteria: 1) a defined territory, 2) a permanent population, 3) a government, and 4) a capacity to enter into relations with other states.
Under the terms of the constitutive theory, the PHR is not a state, while under the declarative theory, it is one.
Unsurprisingly, Prince Leonard is a firm proponent of the latter theory, and believes that countries should be internationally obliged to extend recognition to states that meet these four criteria.
“Sovereignty in legal terms does not depend on recognition,” he expresses. “Recognition is a social state of relations between sovereign countries.”
This statement has merit; the constitutive method can be problematic because it places an emerging state’s right to exist in the hands of already established states.
This poses a number of hypothetical questions with impossibly subjective answers.
If a state like the PHR requires recognition in order to legally exist, then what form must this recognition take? Must it be de facto or de jure? A global declaration or a gesture as simple as addressing a letter to “His Royal Highness Prince Leonard I of Hutt?”
Going further, how many countries must recognize a state before it legally exists? And does it matter which ones? Are some states more valuable than others, when it comes to recognition?
Prince Leonard remarks that the PHR does possess a formal declaration of recognition, although it does not come from another state.
“We believe that the Principality is the only government on the continent of Australia with two Documents of Recognition signed by the Elders of the ‘Nunda’ tribe, whose ancient territory included the area which is now the Principality of Hutt River.”
Perhaps recognition from the territory’s first inhabitants is the most valuable recognition of all?
I find myself taking the hypothetical to extreme lengths: if recognition is a prerequisite of statehood then how did the first state come into existence, without another state to recognize it? What if all countries hypothetically merged into a single entity — who would recognize it? Or at this point maybe the whole issue simply become moot.
This is not to say that the declarative model is necessarily the better option; it certainly has shortcomings of its own. If a state’s capacity to exist depends upon four criteria, then a breach of one or more of these elements negates the legal foundation for the state itself. For example, an illegal annexation of a country’s entire territory would eliminate its legal right to exist.
Thankfully, this scenario has not historically been realized.
After Poland was invaded and dismembered by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in September 1939, the Allied states continued to recognize the Polish government-in-exile, even though the country did not exist in reality.
His subscription to the declarative model aside, Prince Leonard believes that his government is unique among nations in that, above all else, it is completely honest with its citizens. He believes in following Confucius’ Golden Rule: “do not do unto others that which you would not do unto yourself.
“There are governments whose political power to control, their great power of force, their power over cultural, religion, commerce and trade, are driven to extremes by their feeling of the great power they control.
“Small countries do not produce such power hungry politicians,” he concludes. “They are more concerned with the general welfare of their people.”
While those intimately familiar with the increasingly authoritarian government of the small island nation of Nauru might disagree with Prince Leonard here, his comments yield yet another question: is a state that answers directly to its people more deserving of statehood than another, which does not?
Given that the resident population is only 20 to 30 people, “everyone in the PHR knows each other fairly well,” explains Prince Leonard. “Many are family.”
“It can be guaranteed that residents of the PHR will band together and help one another […] when illness or difficulties strike someone.”
While this sense of community is typical to small towns or villages all over the world, the PHR is unique in that its community encompasses the entirety of its territory.
This symbiotic sense of actual community and statehood is certainly an exception to the standard of internationally recognized countries, all of which function as “nations of strangers,” in the words of author Vance Packard.
The intimacy of the PHR may preclude it from being an “imagined community” in the way that Benedict Anderson originally conceptualized — the idea that a “nation” is the fraternal identity which binds complete strangers together, and is more valuable than the people who compose it. Indeed, the PHR is more of an actual community than an “imagined” one.
Principality as Problem-Solver
The PHR came into existence as a creative method of solving a unique problem. It was a means to an end, not an end in itself. As Prince Leonard expresses, “Becoming independent was never the goal, nor the aim. It was the result.”
Prince Leonard’s story is a refreshing example of utilizing statehood as a problem-solving apparatus, rather than as a power aggregator.
As you exit the PHR, you pass a five-foot tall sculpture of Prince Leonard’s head. He gazes benevolently across his country and beyond, inviting the world to reflect upon and recognize his national achievements.
You pass his country’s post office, the government offices, and finally cross the border, back into Australia. These national institutions, constants in every country on earth, pose a final, overarching question:
Is there a fundamental difference between the PHR and an internationally recognized country?
The majority of secessionist nations, a diverse list that includes the United States, Ireland, Bangladesh, and many others, were born out of a complex mixture of realpolitik, domestic disputes with “host” countries, and warfare. In this sense, the PHR and the United States share a common historical bond, while existing as de facto near-polar opposites.
One is the most important nation on Earth, while the other is barely known outside of a regional context. One proudly accepts recognition from every nation on the planet, while the other must gutsily fight for its own.
Given the prevailing global attitude of states pursuing power for power’s own sake, perhaps the international community could learn something by taking notice of the PHR.