Money no op­tion

Wheels (Australia) - - Head to Heaod -

CON­SID­ER­ING you could have a top-spec Porsche Cayenne Turbo for $ 230,800, or less than half the price of the bonkers Bentayga, you get a sense that the pric­ing is set at a level de­signed to give own­ers some­thing to brag about.

When you con­sider the op­tions they’re goug­ing peo­ple with, though, it looks more like a case of fools and their money be­ing soon parted. Sir can spend al­most $ 3000 on floor mats alone – plush, lamb­swool mats that you feel bad get­ting mud on, which makes no sense for an SUV – or $ 14,767 for a rear-seat en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem, with Google Maps, in case you don’t trust your driver’s abil­ity to read.

The list goes on and on, up to the Lin­ley Ham­per by Mulliner, for $ 57,807, which must be one hell of a pic­nic bas­ket.

All th­ese op­tions pale into pocket change, though, next to the $ 300,000 Bre­itling clock, which on its own costs more than a Cayenne. Sadly, our car wasn’t fit­ted with one, so we can’t tell you what spe­cial things it does with time.

not much in ev­i­dence now. It also has a con­sulate, in Las Ve­gas, where a fleet of tanks are kept for its pro­tec­tion, but that’s an­other crazy story.

We find Prince Leonard in the midst of a typ­i­cal work day, re­gal­ing open-mouthed tourists with the var­i­ous sto­ries of his life. Slightly too old to travel th­ese days, he puts in 364 days a year en­ter­tain­ing visi­tors, and of­ten works half of Christ­mas Day as well. Clearly one of the gifts of be­ing royal is bound­less en­ergy and long life.

Get­ting your pass­port stamped with a Hutt River visa (yours for just $4) and tak­ing a selfie with Leonard, in his mono­grammed, crisp white shirt, keeps the tourists happy, but he also has some well­worn gags that he weaves into his Princely pat­ter. “That’s a pic­ture of me in the air force back in World War II, when I was much younger, in case you’re won­der­ing why I look dif­fer­ent.” He’s a bit like an older, more re­gal Daryl Somers.

We drag Len – as his sons call him, although some of the staff pre­fer “Sire” – away from his peo­ple to go for a drive in the Bentley and he’s hugely im­pressed, par­tic­u­larly with the heated seats, declar­ing the car wor­thy of roy­alty. He even takes it for a drive, and strug­gles a bit to see over the dash. Sadly, it’s no

sale, how­ever, be­cause his Royal Fridge Mag­nets won’t ad­here to the alu­minium pan­els.

He takes us to a Hutt River cross­ing so we can put the Bentayga’s off-road cre­den­tials to the test and, while it doesn’t give up and die by any means, there’s a lot of un­seemly whirring and clunk­ing from some­where far be­neath us as the faux-wheel-drive sys­tems des­per­ately try to cope with ac­tual mud and rocks.

We have a hard time work­ing out which one of the off-road set­tings to use be­cause they’re all de­picted with silly pic­tures that sug­gest they’re only for things like Driv­ing Next to Cac­tuses, or Catch­ing a Snowflake On Your Tongue.

Frankly, treat­ing the Bentley like this and get­ting it all filthy feels in­ap­pro­pri­ate, like ask­ing Prince Ed­ward to marry a woman. It would be far more at home driv­ing to some Swiss ski re­sort.

AS WE gaze out across his unique corner of our di­vided na­tion, Prince Leonard tells me he’s in the process of ne­go­ti­at­ing a treaty with the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment, and points out a flat stretch of ground where he’s plan­ning to build an in­ter­na­tional air­port.

“Over the years I’ve had a se­ries of skir­mishes with lots of prime min­is­ters – Mal­colm Fraser par­tic­u­larly hated me – but I’ve out­lasted them all, and re­cently we’ve been dis­cussing a treaty,” he ex­plains.

“If it hap­pens, we’d ba­si­cally have a Hong Kong within Aus­tralia, and I’d al­low de­vel­op­ment be­cause I’ve had peo­ple want­ing to build big re­sorts here for years, and we could have an air­port, di­rect flights from Jakarta, no prob­lem. This area is the same size as Hong Kong, but we don’t want the same num­ber of peo­ple.”

I ask one of his sons, Richard, if he thinks his dad has delu­sions of grandeur and whether the robes, the ti­tles, the whole royal rum­ble, are re­ally nec­es­sary.

“We be­came a prin­ci­pal­ity rather than a prov­ince be­cause it of­fered more le­gal pro­tec­tion,” Prince Richard ex­plains. “That’s what it’s al­ways been about. It’s not about tax be­cause the ATO treats us as non­res­i­dents for tax pur­poses, so we still pay, but we don’t get Medi­care or any kinds of sub­si­dies or ben­e­fits; we’d be bet­ter off, fi­nan­cially, not hav­ing left.

“But Dad has al­ways fought them, and we’ve backed him, and once you’re a prin­ci­pal­ity you have to have your own cur­rency, your own stamps (or you can’t mail things), and your own pass­ports. You’re not in­de­pen­dent if you’re us­ing other peo­ple’s stuff.”

As for the money Hutt River makes off tourism, Richard says it’s been both min­i­mal – “Dad won’t let us put the prices up, that’s not what he’s about, you can camp here for $5 a night and he’s sell­ing cans of drink for $2” – and ac­ci­den­tal.

“Tourism was never the plan; the plan was to save the farm, that’s it,” he says. “No bull­shit, we were farm­ers. Se­ces­sion ar­gu­ments started and next thing there’s a coach pulling up … all we’ve got here is a farm­house and a shear­ing shed, but they’d heard about Hutt River so the coaches started com­ing through and we were like: ‘Bloody hell, what are we go­ing to do with all th­ese peo­ple? I hope they don’t want morn­ing tea!’”

At its peak, back in the days when peo­ple used to love coach tours, the Prin­ci­pal­ity hosted 60,000 visi­tors a year, but it’s roughly a quar­ter of that now.

For his part, Prince Leonard is happy to see them all, and to ex­plain to them his be­lief that you should never let author­ity grind you down. So does he feel sat­is­fied with what he’s achieved, turn­ing him­self and his fam­ily into roy­alty, mainly through an ef­fort of will?

“I don’t re­ally have time to sit back and think about it like that be­cause there’s al­ways the next bat­tle to be fought, but I feel good,” Len says. “I feel con­fi­dent that we’ve never given up the fight, and I think we’ve suc­ceeded be­cause we’re still here.”



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