Prince Leonard is handing over control of Australia's oldest micronation

Prince Leonard. Image: Supplied.

Prince Leonard, who founded the Principality of Hutt River almost 47 years ago, is abdicating as head of Australia’s oldest micronation.

He will be replaced as sovereign by Prince Graeme, Prince Leonard’s youngest of four sons, a former primary school teacher.

Prince Leonard’s last official duty will be on February 11 when he will create some new knights of the principality and then step down.

The former farmer, Leonard Casley, seceded his property 595km north of Perth from Australia on April 21, 1970, in a dispute over wheat quotas.

“Something that has been on my mind for some time now is the question of when I should look at handing on the Sovereignty of the Principality of Hutt River,” Prince Leonard said in a statement.

“Having attained the age of 91 years and being in declining health for some time, I have decided that the time is right to do it now.

“Having been the sovereign of our small nation for more than half of my life, a position that has been most rewarding at times and most difficult at others, I feel that it is time to hand over at a time when I am still around and thus able to offer help and support to my successor as he settles in to the position.”

The internal discussions within the royal family on a new head of state are not known. Observers would have expected crown prince Ian, who is the Grand Duke of Hutt and the prime minister, to be at the top of the succession list.

However, the Crown Council, consisting of Prince Leonard’s three daughters — Princess Kay, Princess Diane and Princess Sherryl — must approve any nomination for head of state. The nomination apparently came from Prince Leonard and this was then approved by the Crown Council.

Prince Graeme, who turns 60 later this year, says he is quietly excited to steer the principality into its next stage.

He had a long career as a primary school teacher specialising in early childhood education, working across Western Australia in rural, semi-rural, hard to staff schools and remote Aboriginal schools in the Kimberley.

Since returning home three years ago to the principality, which is 75 square km in area, about the size of Hong Kong if the New Territories are excluded, he has been working full time as minister of state and education.

He says this has led to a deep understanding of issues and commitments of the principality.

Prince Graeme. Supplied.

“My vision is to build a small township with a group of diverse people, to encourage a deep sense of community,” he told Business Insider.

“Of course this will mean a more harmonious arrangement with the Australian governments, which I will passionately pursue to bring about bridges of friendship, where through dialogue we can resolve any issue for mutual benefit.”

The principality is currently in dispute with the Australian Tax Office (ATO) over alleged $2.6 million in unpaid taxes. The principality says the ATO has ruled Hutt River is a ‘non-resident’ for tax purposes.

Hutt River is a significant tourist attraction with its own coins and stamps which it offers to collectors worldwide.

Prince Leonard has always maintained that the principality’s secession has been acknowledged by Australia.

In the 1970s, he received a letter from then Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck addressing him as the “Administrator of the Hutt River Province” which was, he said, legally binding recognition of the principality.

And last year a letter was received from Buckingham Palace addressed to “Prince Leonard” with the Queen’s good wishes on the anniversary of the principality seceding from Australia.

The principality has an honours list of its own and regularly appoints new knights and dames.

Among those honoured are musician Keith Kerwin, awarded a knighthood for composing the principality’s national anthem, and writer Colleen McCullough who was a Baroness of Hutt.

The principality stands out among micronations in that its honours are awarded on merit alone. They cannot be purchased.

Prince Graeme, who has three adult sons, will be enthroned in a ceremony at Princess Shirley’s Chapel of Nain. The chapel is named after his late mother.

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