Money no option
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.”
PASSPORT CONTAINS A HANDY LOCATION MAP FOR NAIVE FOREIGN BORDER OFFICIALS; THE ROYAL FAMILY WAS HAPPY TO SEE US LEAVE
HRH PRINCESS SHIRLEY’S MEMORY IS HONOURED WITH A CHAPEL AND AND A SHRINE ON THE PROPERTY