Obituary: Prince Leonard Casley, ruler of a micro-nation that seceded from Australia

Prince Leonard Casley and his consort, Princess Shirley
Prince Leonard Casley and his consort, Princess Shirley
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Prince Leonard Casley, farmer. Born: 28 August, 1925 in Nullarbor, Australia. Died: 13 February, 2019 in Hutt River, Australia, aged 93.

The self-proclaimed Prince Leonard, ruler of one of the world’s estimated 70 “micro-nations”, was the colourful monarch of a 30-square-mile area of Hutt River, 400 miles north of Perth, Western ­Australia.

Growing up with no regal pretension, Leonard Casley found himself pitched into a battle of what he termed “a principle of sovereignty” when in the late 1960s he bought the property that would become Hutt River.

He and his older sons – he and his wife Shirley had four sons and three daughters in their first 11 years of ­marriage – cleared 5,600 hectares and produced 14,700 bushels of wheat – only to discover that, under prevailing quota restrictions, the West Australian Wheat Board would pay him for only 10 per cent of it. There was no right of appeal, and no compensation offered.

Casley petitioned the state governor, Sir Douglas Kendrew, without success. So the aggrieved farmer took ­unilateral action –on April 21 1970, he declared independence from Australia.

Having carefully studied the English Treason Act of 1495, he concluded that it was ­illegal to hinder a de facto prince; so he declared himself prince of Hutt River Province. The principality has never been recognised by Australia or anywhere else, though Casley claimed otherwise.

In 1977, Prince Leonard declared war on Australia after receiving repeated tax demands, but within days, declared a cessation of ­hostilities –and tax demands halted.

The Australian Taxation Office classes the two dozen residents of Hutt River as ­non-residents of Australia, while resisting any move to turn Hutt River into a tax haven. Under Prince Leonard, the province levies income tax at 0.5 per cent.

The Prince proudly claimed that his realm was “58 times the size of Monaco”, but ­similarities end there. The capital, Nain, is connected to the outside world by dirt track, with Nain boasting ­one-roomed buldings of a chapel, post office and ­‘Government House’.

Len Casley left school at 14 after a putative upbringing on a railway siding on the Nullarbor plain. A diminutive man, he saw active ­service with the RAAF in Borneo, latterly working as a shipping agent. He married his future ­princess consort Shirley née Butler when she was 19.

The prince loved honours, decorations and ennoblements, and all that flowed from them. While Casley became HRH Prince Leonard I of Hutt, his wife, in addition to being princess, was made Dame of the Order of the Rose of Sharon, and Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Hutt River Legion.

Their sons were also ­elevated. The eldest, Ian, once Crown Prince, also served as Prime Minister; of the younger sons, Wayne became Duke of Nain; Richard, Duke of ­Carmel; and Graeme the Duke of Gilboa. Meanwhile, their daughters Kay, Diane and Sherryl were created duchesses. An Aberdeen church ­minister who contacted the prince a decade ago received unexpected stature as a Knight of the Serene Order of Leonard (and rejoices in the post-nominals KSOL).

When Prince Leonard ­abdicated on 11 February 2017, he made over his crown to his fourth son Prince Graeme, 60, now undisputed ruler of Hutt. Succession seems assured, with Prince Graeme the father of three sons, all in their 30s.

The royally colourful antics enacted at Hutt River have made the place a tourist attraction, with a peak visitor flow of 40,000 annually. Len proved the showman, with the ­shyer Shirley selling teas and ­souvenirs.

From Hutt River flowed a stream of stamps, banknotes, coins, passports and visas; there were even at one stage ambitious plans to build a city.

When Len and Shirley travelled to South Australia and Queensland on ‘state visits’, their car flew the Hutt River ensign. When in 2007 they celebrated their diamond wedding, Governor-General Quentin Bryce sent a ­congratulatory message, ­albeit addressed simply to Mr and Mrs Casley.

While recognition of Hutt River may have escaped notice of the United Nations, Australia to an extent acknowledges existence of the tiny state –or so Casley claimed – and he’d produce correspondence from Australian officialdom addressed to The Administrator, Hutt River Province.

Under Prince Leonard’s rule, the tiny state has gained 10,000 non-resident citizens, and signed a treaty with indigenous local landowners. Prince Graeme said: “We’re possibly the only government on the Australian continent with such a treaty.”

While the secession of Hutt River is described by its royal family as ‘Auxit’, the principality vigorously maintains a ­frictionless border and free movement.

It was Prince Leonard’s great claim that longevity was the key to the success of Hutt ­River. Speaking in 2010, he said: “You need to prove that you can stay.”

Prince Leonard was predeceased by Shirley in 2013, and is survived by his children and many grandchildren.

GORDON CASley