Alistair Caldicott

Into India, Out of Africa

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Excerpt from Chapter 8 - Australia - 'Welcome to Hutt River Province'

Travelling with my friend Rick, a native of West Australia, we explored some unusual, out-of-the-way places in the vast land mass of the this country.

Today we backtrack a little for one of the most bizarre and enthralling experiences I have had since I went inside a prison in Bolivia earlier this year (no really).

Down a dusty dirt road well off the main highway lies Hutt River Province, an independent sovereign land and technically the second largest country on the Australian mainland.

I can guarantee that you have not heard of it – I knew nothing of it until very recently.

On our way there I decided I had to stop and relieve myself by the roadside which is usually perfectly acceptable here in the middle of nowhere with no one around…until out of nowhere a vehicle comes right past us. I could have been caught urinating in front of royalty! A bit like relieving yourself on the walls outside Highgrove just as Prince Charles drives past.

We spot the 'Welcome to Hutt River Province' signs crossing the border and after passing another sign at the gates arrived at what looked like an ordinary outback ranch. We drive up a bumpy dirt track and park beside a collection of mostly ramshackle farm buildings. Buckingham Palace this is not.

In 1971 farmer Len Casey, disgusted with government quotas on wheat production, seceded from Australia. In truly un-Australian style (?) he proclaimed himself Prince Leonard of Hutt, monarch of the only principality in the world declared without bloodshed.

It appears that no one is around in what initially looks like a typically sprawling farm. Just as we turn to drive out again an elderly man waves us down and encourages us to look around. This is Prince Leonard, who with his wife Princess Shirley, farm sheep on a property equal in size to mainland Hong Kong, but with a slightly lower human population density and skyscraper count.

It is more than 30 years since independence and Prince Len has now reached the ripe age of 77. About 30 people live on his farm but Hutt River has 12,000 citizens world-wide. Those who live there pay no taxes and therefore have no entitlement to Australian benefits. The Province even has its own army and navy, purely ceremonial of course. It is a remarkable story.

Prince Len recounts his story to us with an enthusiastic vigour, which belies his years and hints at the determination and resourcefulness with which he continues to pursue his aims.

He is deadly serious about what he is doing and seems to have many influential international friends in high places. We are proudly shown evidence of correspondence and gifts from all around the world and signed memorabilia from the likes of the Pope and the President of Taiwan.

I get my passport stamped by the monarch himself – where else does that happen? He takes great pleasure in putting it slap-bang next to my Australian incoming stamp so they cannot fail to notice it on the way out. It was not hard to picture the confused and dismayed expression on the face of some burly non-smiling customs brute.

Holding a Hutt River passport might be attractive to people everywhere who are disgruntled with ever bigger and more intrusive governments stealing money from them and telling people how they should spend what they earn. (G. Brown please take note). Next I change some local currency and buy stamps, which proudly display a bust of a much younger looking Prince Len. How long before Tony Bliar catches on to such a vanity ploy?

Next door is a ceremonial church, which contains some magnificent religious paintings. They would not look out of place in any normal church or cathedral. Except that is until you look a little closer and sitting next to Jesus in the picture are children and friends of the Prince.

One picture even portrays a biblical scene including members of a TV crew who happened to be visiting him at the time.

Prince Len clearly still has a sharp legal mind, but he also has a fine sense of humour, which is particularly appealing. It is hard not to respect, admire and like him. He is a genuine character of principled determination. Without such people the world would become a much duller, predictable place. Good luck to him - long may he reign.

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