Shrewd and plucky, Len was born on August 28, 1925, the son of a Kalgoorlie railway fireman. He grew up on a railway siding on the Nullarbor Plain and left school at 14. He fought for the RAAF in Borneo. At a wartime dance, he met Shirley Joy Butler from the modest southern Perth suburb of Palmyra. They married in Fremantle on April 19, 1947. Shirley bore her prince four sons and three daughters. He prospered and, in 1969, the Casleys moved from a farming and mining interest near Westonia and bought their farm at Northampton, which would become his kingdom.
Len, a driven entrepreneur and tireless showman, produced stamps and coins; he issued visas and passports. He commissioned a national anthem It’s a Hard Land. Most of their 40,000 annual visitors were young backpackers but Shirley once received 24 Arab princesses. The Hutts made state visits to South Australia and Queensland, including a memorable motorcade through Townsville with the car proudly flying the Hutt River ensign.
It was not all plain sailing. In 1977, Len was advised that Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had ordered the Tax Department to pursue him. Len and his cabinet responded by declaring war on Australia but this state of war was lifted after a few days.
The life of a pretender feeds on concessions, blunders, oversights and nods and the Hutts seized on them all. On the basis of an early letter from the office of the then Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck, addressed to ‘The Administrator’, Leonard and Shirley managed to travel to Egypt, Greece, Lebanon and Israel using their Hutt River passports and claimed they were not required to pay tax earned within the principality (although Les made donations to his local council). Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, the ruler of another diminutive landlocked realm, was hailed as a soulmate.
A moment of deep satisfaction came in April 2007 with a message from their ‘neighbouring country’s’ Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, on the occasion of Len and Shirley’s diamond wedding anniversary. Although Len may have been crestfallen that it was addressed to Mr and Mrs Casley, they had always regarded themselves as loyal subjects of the Queen.
And so it was a particular thrill for the principality to receive a letter from Buckingham Palace’s senior correspondence officer in April 2016; the envelope addressed to Prince Leonard, acknowledging his greetings on Her Majesty’s 90th birthday: “Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated. In return, I am to convey Her Majesty’s good wishes to you and to all concerned for a most enjoyable and successful celebration on 23rd and 24th of April to mark the 46th anniversary of the Principality of Hutt River.”
The prince had announced plans for hotels and a casino but, after nearly five decades, there were six buildings, including a brick administration building containing the government office, post office, tea rooms and a swimming pool for the population of 30. Shirley’s dream of a chapel royal was realised just before her death in July 2013.
The Hutts’ modest success led to more than 20 micro-nations across Australia. Mudgee mother and daughter, Princesses Helena and Paula, declared the Principality of Snake Hill, after litigation over a mortgage. There is the Principality of Wy, 700 square metres on Sydney’s north shore; the 24-hectare Principality of Ponderosa, near Shepparton, Victoria; and the Republic of Awesome. Prince Leonard was dismissive of many of these pretenders. In 2011, he told The New York Times, “I know one chap, when he was younger, he seceded; I think it was his bedroom he seceded with. I’m not going to link up with these.»
His Royal Highness honoured loyalists and admirers with the Serene Order of Leonard. The writer, Colleen McCullough, was created a baroness. British journalist and TV presenter Alan Whicker was knighted. Shirley became Dame of the Rose of Sharon, Sovereign Aide, patron and chair of the Red Cross of Hutt and patron and colonel-in-chief of the Royal Hutt River Legion.
In February 2017, the same week that the Commonwealth celebrated the sapphire anniversary of its Queen’s succession, Australia’s second monarch announced his abdication. The family motto ‘While I Breathe, I Hope’ prevailed but worsening emphysema forced a decision and – following his continental counterparts, Albert of Belgium, Beatrix of the Netherlands, Juan Carlos of Spain, and Benedict XVI – Leonard I, by then 91 and only two years away from his golden jubilee, stood down, making way for his youngest son, Prince Graeme, Duke of Gilboa, to become Graeme I.
With an eye on continuity and a nod to Ruritania, Leonard ennobled all his children: Crown Prince Ian; Wayne, Duke of Nain; Richard, Duke of Carmel; and Duchesses Kay, Diane and Sherryl. Interestingly, the three duchesses exclusively constituted the Crown Council. Their seven Graces, survive their father, in addition to 22 grandchildren, and 33 great-grandchildren, a progeny worthy of Queen Victoria.
Why the youngest of Leonard and Shirley’s four sons was chosen by the Crown Council was not clear, but the freshly crowned prince, Graeme, was, before his accession, Minister of State, Minister of Education and Grand Master of the Order of Wisdom and Learning. These titles are not totally undeserved, given Prince Graeme’s long career as a primary school teacher across rural and semi-rural Western Australia and remote Aboriginal schools in the Kimberley.
Leonard was locked in a legal battle with the Australian Taxation Office for years. Finally, in June 2017, the Supreme Court of Western Australia ordered Len to pay $2.7 million and his son Arthur (Prince Wayne) to pay more than $240,000 in income tax for the eight financial years between June 2006 and 2013. Justice Rene Le Miere dismissed the Hutts’ argument as a «strange pseudo-legal straw man theory».
His honour ruled: “Anyone can declare themselves a sovereign in their own home but they cannot ignore the laws of Australia or not pay tax.”
Yet the Principality and the House of Casley endure as Prince Graeme endorses Hutt’s catch cry, ‘We are still here’.
Leonard of Hutt River 1925–2019