Australia’s oldest micronation, Hutt River, no longer due to Covid-19

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(CNN) – The 50-year reign of an Australia-based micronation formed by a “prince” has come to an end.

Hutt River, a self-proclaimed principality, issued its own passports and even declared war on Australia once. In recent years, however, it has become known as an eccentric tourist attraction.

But the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with a giant tax bill, has forced the principality to announce that it will finally travel to Australia.

Hutt River’s origins as a micronation date back to 1970, when the late Prince Leonard Casley claimed he exploited a legal loophole to create the principality in a remote part of Western Australia, 500 kilometers north of the state capital, Perth.

Situated on 75 square kilometers of farmland, it was more than twice the size of Macau but populated less than 30 people.

The principality – although not officially recognized by the Australian government – acted as an independent nation. His government issued visas and driver’s licenses, issued passports and currency, produced its own stamps, displayed its own flag, and reportedly operated 13 overseas offices in 10 different countries, including the United States and France.

Now his exciting journey is over.

Prince Leonard Casley, pictured in 1998 with his French-born wife, Princess Shirley.

Olivier Chouchana / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

When Prince Leonard died in February last year, he left behind a tax bill of $ 2.15 million, forcing his son and successor Prince Graeme Casley to announce last week that the principality would sell its lands to pay off the debt.

Casley told CNN Travel he was devastated to dissolve the micronation.

“It’s very sad to see your dad building something for 50 years and then you have to shut it down,” Casley said. “Times are very difficult economically and healthily around the world because of Covid and we are feeling it too.”

Australia’s most famous micronation

Micronations are entities that claim to be sovereign states but are not legally considered independent, unlike microstates like Vatican City, which have internationally recognized sovereignty.

Australia has produced many more micronations than most countries.

Over the past decades, dozens of its citizens have declared independence from Australia and created their own nation within a nation.

Leonard Casley founded the Principality of Hutt River in 1970.

Olivier Chouchana / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images

None, however, are as renowned as the Principality of Hutt River – also known as the Hutt River Province – which has made headlines around the world for the past 50 years.

While Prince Leonard initially decided to part ways with Australia due to his disagreement with agricultural regulations, he turned the principality into a unique tourist attraction, with visitors arriving to purchase passports, currency and stamps.

But, like tourist destinations around the world, the principality has remained vulnerable due to the economic impact of the pandemic.

Tourism has been one of Hutt River’s main sources of income, especially over the past 15 years, as the internet has helped spread its strange history across the world.

It has been closed to travelers since January, but before that, the self-proclaimed “royal family” of Hutt River went to great lengths to make their micronation intriguing to tourists. Visitors to the scene were greeted by a family member, who first helped them obtain their entry visas, which cost $ 2.50.

For many visitors, just getting a Principality of Hutt River stamp in their passport made the trip worth it.

Once this process was completed, they were escorted through the principal buildings of the principality by a member of staff who explained the local history. Travelers could walk to the principality’s post office to send a letter or purchase Hutt River stamps, then browse the Souvenirs Department and Historical Society, before enjoying a light meal in its tearooms.

There was also change. Visitors could buy and spend the Hutt River dollar, which was traded one for one for the Australian dollar.

Other attractions included a non-denominational chapel and the Sacred Educational Shrine of Princess Shirley. Named after the wife of Prince Leonard, it featured findings relating to religion and physics and was created with the help of academics from the Principality’s Royal College of Advanced Research.

The Principality of Hutt River souvenir shop in Western Australia.

The Principality of Hutt River souvenir shop in Western Australia.

Stuart Forster / Shutterstock

And then there was the Royal Art Collection, made up of 300 pieces scattered throughout these buildings, as well as a giant bust of Prince Leonard, carved in rock by a Canadian artist.

The walls of these buildings were also adorned with documents, newspaper clippings and photos relating to the principality and its history – including the time in 1977 when Prince Leonard declared war on Australia.

When he learned that the Australian government was suing the principality over unpaid taxes, he allegedly consulted his own government and, rather than paying, decided to declare war. It was unclear how he planned to fight battles, given that the Royal Hutt River Defense Force was not formed until 11 years later.

This force included an army, navy and military college, which developed artillery manuals and training programs so impressive that they were adopted by affiliates of the United States Army, claims the official Hutt website River.

This giant bust of Prince Leonard was carved out of rock by a Canadian artist.

This giant bust of Prince Leonard was carved out of rock by a Canadian artist.

Stuart Forster / Shutterstock

Prince Leonard’s war with Australia only lasted a few days, and this brazen show of force did nothing to deter the Australian Tax Board.

The ATO continued to sue the Principality for unpaid bills, which delayed its surrender last week.

Although disappointed, successor Graeme Casley says he is “very proud” of what his father has accomplished and hopes his story will be remembered for generations to come.

“I have so many wonderful memories of my life here (in the principality),” he said. “After mom passed away (in 2013), I spent five years full time working alongside my dad and it was more than just a father-son relationship, we had a very deep working relationship.

“What he’s created here over the past 50 years is amazing, it’s truly a unique story that people all over the world have read, and it won’t just be forgotten now. “

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