I omitted one stop from my travel log on the West Coast trip. Clearly, that story is already long enough. Plus, we visited a separate country, which surely justifies a separate blog post. “A separate country?”, you ask? Indeed, just off the North West Coastal Highway Number One, a few kilometres off the main road, lies the Principality of Hutt River, an independent country within Australia. If it had been up to me, we would have skipped it.
The Principality of Hutt River is in all the guidebooks, which usually say something along the lines of “roll up, roll up and stare in amazement at the crazy bush-prince who started his own country and made himself its ruler because he didn’t agree with the Australian government on some minor agricultural policy.” This assessment is not entirely untrue. I was, however, completely wrong in thinking that this detour from the highway (keeping in mind we were already on a tight schedule) would be a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, Rydn used his powers of persuasion to convince Eva and Celine in the early planning stages for this trip that Hutt River needed to be on the agenda. His bright-eyed eagerness to “meet the king” and have our passports stamped on an outback-farm-cum-micronation beat my unenthused “meh, it’s a delusional megalomaniac on a wheat farm in the middle of nowhere” (again, not quite inaccurate, but still short of the full truth), so it was decided: We were going to see the king.
The Principality of Hutt River’s immigration process is a bit unusual. You have to call ahead to make sure someone’s home. Since the country only has 20-odd permanent residents, there’s a very real risk they could all be out (possibly visiting neighbouring Australia for official trade negotiations?). To make that call, you need mobile phone reception, so we didn’t actually get through until we were almost there. Needless to say, we weren’t expecting the king himself to answer the phone, which led to a slightly flustered conversation that began with questions of protocol (“oh, um, hi, your highness? majesty?”) and ended with Leonard I kindly giving us directions and looking forward to our imminent arrival.
Once we crossed the border (i.e. drove through the farm gates), we were greeted by Crown Prince Ian, who is, let’s not mince words, much more of a farmer type than, say, a typical heir presumptive type. He showed us around the government offices, which double as the post office, where we got our passports stamped, bought some souvenirs and wrote a few postcards (which were posted with Hutt River stamps and, I am glad to report, made it all the way to their destinations in Europe).
He also gave us a run-down of the history of the Principality of Hutt River, which King/Prince (he has been both at various points) Leonard himself elaborated on later. I won’t go into the details, but have listed some links below. My take is that “His Royal Highness Prince Leonard I of Hutt” is by no means a nutter. We definitely don’t see eye to eye on politics and his whole outback rebel shtick is fuelled by some pretty extreme libertarian views that I don’t share in any way. On the other hand, his decision to secede from Australia was made in a situation where he needed a way out of an economically desperate situation, caused by an – at the very least, by all accounts – badly implemented policy change. He was smart enough to find a way out and was probably as surprised as the next government-hating wheat farmer that it actually worked… so he ran with it.
He knows full well that certain aspects of the setup he has in his own backyard are ridiculous – and he doesn’t take the more ludicrous ones too seriously himself. He is, however, very seriously proud of what he has achieved and you have to hand it to him: Although the Australian government (nor any other government) recognise Hutt River as a country, he has gotten away with what he set out to achieve for his farm, and more. He is also a gracious and charming host and meeting him alone was worth the detour. Best random side trip ever! Thanks Rydn, I’ll never doubt your judgement again 🙂
The Wikipedia page is pretty thorough, so pop over there if you care to learn more about the details. The official website may also be useful – and it’s like a visit to the museum of internet, too, so enjoy!
I know I had a hard time imagining what the hell the place might look like, so if you care to see Hutt River and its residence in action, this short (German) report gives you a nice insight.