Travel

A kingdom in Kangaroo Country

What's it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Foreign Correspondence is an interview with someone who lives in a spot you may want to visit.

Leonard Casley, 82, lives in rural Western Australia, about 370 miles north of Perth. He was a farmer until 1970. When government-imposed agricultural restrictions crippled wheat production in this remote area, Casley says he formally seceded from Australia and unilaterally established an independent principality of the British Commonwealth. (Australian officials have generally ignored him.)

He is now Prince Leonard, and with his wife, Princess Shirley, governs the Principality of Hutt River Province. His turf - about 95 square miles - is one of roughly 50 profiled in "Micro Nations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations" ($14.99; Lonely Planet).

Q. What does your domain look like?

A. Well, it's inland but the land is undulating. The Hutt River is in the center of it, and we're at a river fork. The Hutt River is actually a creek except when it rains heavily in winter. The river is fed by springs; the water comes down from the big hills. About 27 years ago, we put fresh-water lobster in there.

There are lots of wildflowers growing here, and some people pick them commercially for 11 months a year. All in all, it's a pleasant outlook.

Q. Do you get many tourists?

A. We've had about 27,000. Tourism grew for the first 10 years, then took a dip, but is building up again. Early on, the visitors were in their later years. Now, visitors are mostly 20-year-olders.

Q. Your location is somewhat remote: Neither the Hutt River nor Nain, your capital, are shown in the National Geographic Atlas of the World. What attracts them?

A. They come for the uniqueness of the event, because of our seceding. It's intriguing to a lot of them. There's a group here right now that I'm showing around. They're university people from many places around the world.

These people want to see how our nation functions. Also, there are quite a lot of buildings with displays and things of interest. There's a lot of artwork.

Q. The "Micro Nations" book has a photo of a statue - it looks like an enormous bust of you. Is that one of the things to see?

A. Yes. It was carved by an American chappie from Hawaii, who carved it with a tomahawk.

It's one of many attractions here. There's another statue with copper on the top and gemstones all around it. About 750 miles from here are copper mines.

Q. What do residents do for a living?

A. It's still agriculture. They usually plant about 10,000 acres of wheat, oats, barley and white lupins. And some canola. Lupins are a grain that competes against the American soybean.

Q. What do you do as a king?

A. We have over 200 diplomats around the world, and I correspond with them in voice and writing. I also respond to mail, especially e-mail. Everyone would like a reply from me.

Also, I show all the tourists around the village and show them various things.

Q. What's in your village?

A. I'm in the government office at the moment; that's where you get visas and passports stamped. There's a display of foreign bank notes, including American ones. There's a mineral display. Also Chinese art, and Chinese tree sculptures on display. There's a chapel with a lot of art, which we commissioned.

There's another building with many display cases of historical things. Souvenir shops where you can get things for hot weather. Another building with a lot of art. Another being finished.

One building has computer systems for Principality of Hutt River ID cards and international drivers licenses. Also, the lecture room is in there.

There are also a couple homesteads and sheep-shearing sheds. And other houses in the area.

There are about 30 who live here permanently. We have about 13,000 citizens around the world.

Q. How long has your family been there?

A. About 40 years. Before then, I lived in Freemantle, but was born in Kalgoolie, 365 miles inland. I went to many schools but left at 14. I was in the air force for Australia. In Singapore, I was an exporter of vegetables. I also put up houses. Then went into farming. I also wrote articles for NASA.

Q. Do you get any famous visitors to Hutt River?

A. Not too famous. I was away once when a cousin of Queen Elizabeth came. My wife looked after her. One of our representatives lives in England; he and his wife were invited for the queen's birthday. They stayed with all the governor-generals of the Commonwealth, and that was very good - recognition to our representative.

Q. I read that there's been a tussle with the Australian government, that at one point they refused to deliver mail to your principality. You issue your own postal stamps.

A. We've always got a bit of a running tension. The Australian government is not happy about is. But we also have some friends amongst them, too.

Q. Have you ever left the area since you declared your own principality?

A. I've been to Singapore, Egypt, Lebanon. The only passport I have is for Hutt River.

Q. What's on the horizon?

A. We just put up a wooden framed pyramid. It's on a scale with the big ones in Egypt - it's so tall birds can't fly over it. We checked that out. And it's energized with mineral crystals inside it. We got some chappies in India to go out and get me mineral crystal for the pyramids, and they'll get me some more. We got some special silver boxes and will be putting these energized crystals in them and selling them from this principality - the only place where people can get them.

They'll cost about $25 Australian.

GOT A SUGGESTION?

Know someone who lives in an interesting city or country who would like to give us the inside line on visiting there? E-mail, in English, jbordsen@charlotteobserver.com.

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