Australia has one of the largest number of micronations in the world – ABC News

George II (or George Cruickshank, if you insist on "mundane" titles) was a bright and articulate young child qualities his parents had hoped would put him on the path to a promising career in politics.

"What they got instead was me deciding to create my own country in their backyard and raising the flag of Atlantium, and being acclaimed as its first and so far only head of state," Cruickshank quips.

"Unlike many people who have similar childhood experiences, I've managed to maintain that experience throughout my adult life."

Founded in 1981 when Cruickshank was just a teenager, the Empire of Atlantium, as it is known, is a "parallel sovereign state" based in NSW, boasting its own constitution, judicial system, flag and currency.

Far from its genesis in the backyards of suburban Sydney, its "global capital" Concordia now sits on a private pastoral holding in the Lachlan Valley, and is home to a self-declared seat of government, commemorative monuments, a post office and more.

With more than 3,000 global "citizens" to its name, Atlantium's claim of sovereignty would be impressive, were it not for one minor detail.

It doesn't actually exist at least, not in the legal sense.

Born out of a desire to shrug off the shackles of the country's constitutional democracy, Australia has been home to more than a dozen different micronations, among the most in the world, including the Sovereign State of Aeterna Lucina and the Province of Bumbunga.

Ranging from well-meaning to absurd, they are not legally recognised by the Federal Government and seldom register in the national consciousness, beyond the occasional headline.

But while most go unacknowledged and thus, unperturbed by the powers that be, others are more familiar with the long arm of the law.

After a 50-year standoff, the Principality of Hutt River the country's oldest micronation announced on Monday it would be ceded back to the Commonwealth of Australia.

Hutt River, which claimed to be an independent sovereign state (though the Australian Government never legally recognised it), had long been pursued by the Australian Taxation Office.

"Anyone can declare themselves a king or queen in their own home, or declare their own nation, but doing so sits entirely outside of the law," says UNSW Scientia Professor and constitutional law expert, George Williams.

"No-one can decide to leave Australia unilaterally or stop paying tax and expect Australian law will recognise that."

On this point, Cruickshank concurs.

Declaring sovereignty doesn't entitle you to anything (at least in the legal sense), he says, and if you were planning on "dodging your taxes", expect to become well acquainted with the ATO.

So why do it at all?

For the self-appointed sovereign head of state, the goal is simple: to unite people across the globe to advocate for unrestricted international freedom of movement.

With "citizens" from Tanzania to the United States, Atlantium isn't a political party. Rather, Cruickshank likens it to "some type of sustained performance art project".

"Our message is quite serious, but we found it's easier to communicate with people if you do it tongue-in-cheek and smile on face," he muses.

"[Unrestricted movement] is the only practical way we see for addressing the vast disparity of wealth and privilege between poorer nations and those fortunate enough to be born in a country like Australia.

"There's a basic misunderstanding of what Atlantium represents, based on what most other micro-nations end up doing, which is trying to avoid paying their taxes."

Pseudo states, though often tongue-in-cheek, are seldom created in a vacuum.

Lorraine Finlay, a constitutional and international law expert at Murdoch University, believes the fruition of the internet has "opened up worldwide the possibility for nomadic micronations", like the Empire of Atlantium, to establish a larger presence than was once possible.

"They actually have moved from being more about [territorial claims] to movements that are more based on technology and getting people involved that way," she says.

Australia is the "home of micronations", adds Williams the consequence of a "really large number of personal motivations".

"I think in Australia these micronations come back perhaps to the larrikin spirit [and] the idea of thumbing your nose to authority," he says.

"What way of doing that could be better than setting up your own country in complete contravention to the idea of Australia controlling your life?

The Principality of Hutt River, for example, was born out of a stoush with the West Australian Government over wheat production quotas, while the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands was established as a symbolic political protest over the perceived lack of action around same-sex marriage.

Other times, these tiny fiefdoms exist simply to prove a point as is the case of John Rudge, the "Grand Duke of Avram".

After writing a PhD thesis in the 1980s about setting up a central bank, Rudge decided to put theory into practice, issuing his own notes and coins from the self-styled Royal Bank of Avram in Tasmania.

As Rudge tells it, it was a move that earned the ire of the Government, who disputed his use of the word "bank" on the notes and took him to court (though he claims the case was ultimately dismissed).

"All I was doing was making a point... It was about proving my thesis," he says. "They [the government] run by the power of a gun."

While a picture may tell a thousand words, in the case of Paul Delprat, the message is far more succinct: monarch.

Draped in a regal robes with a crown to boot, the self-appointed Prince of the Principality of Wy certainly knows how to talk the talk and walk the walk.

Frustrated by a long-standing council dispute over the construction of a driveway, Delprat seceded in 2004 not from the Commonwealth, but rather, his affluent harbourside suburb of Mosman, in Sydney.

"I believe it's important for people to feel they can have some degree of independence, even if it's imaginary," Delprat laughs.

"Like Ned Kelly, I hate the idea of injustice and unfairness... there are many ways of fighting it, and one of those ways is by laughing at it."

Affable and quick-witted, Delprat likens his pseudo state to the theatre ("Even Hamlet was a prince," he muses).

His "kingdom", plastered with royal paraphernalia, is more art installation than micro-nation an eccentric form of protest over a seemingly innocuous council squabble.

The Mosman Council, to their credit, met Delprat's tongue-in-cheek fight with their own brand of humour in a "formal ceremony" at council chambers, they "graciously accepted" the secession of the Principality of Wy (his own home).

And while he is yet to reach a resolution on the driveway debacle and continues to pay council rates (or "tributes", as he calls them), he believes there is a clear role for micronations in Australia.

"I think the very essence of democracy is plurality, lots of points of view, people arguing, disputation, reasoning to each other," he says

"When everyone is thinking the same, and following the same rules, it makes for a very boring society.

"What a wonderful society we live in that we put up with people like me."

While it would be easy to relegate micronations to the realms of satire, embedded in its very fabric is a strong history of Indigenous nationhood.

Murrawarri Republic, an Aboriginal micronation, declared independence in 2013, with its founders demanding a treaty between the Murrawarri nation and the Crown of Great Britain.

Likewise, the Yidindji Tribal Nation in Far North Queensland, which renounced its legal ties in 2014, hopes to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Australia (Murrumu Walubara Yidindji, its founder, has relinquished his passport, bank accounts and Australian citizenship).

But while they may follow a similar formula to other micronations across the country, Williams cautions against drawing too many parallels.

"Indigenous peoples have a claim to sovereignty, a claim to nationhood, that predates the colonisation of Australia," Williams says.

"So those groups are saying, 'We're continuing to assert our rights'. And in their case, they've taken it to court [and] they have legal arguments they can mount.

"And even though they're rejected by the state, they're in a different category to people who, essentially for a hobby and without any foundation whatsoever, seek to declare themselves as rulers of their own land."

Love them or loathe them, if there's one thing both the legal fraternity and self-appointed monarchs can all agree on, it's that the very presence of micronations in Australia underscores the country's commitment to democratic freedoms.

In Australia, there is a sense of "let bygones be bygones", says Williams, and provided those who seek to declare sovereignty continue to "fulfil their normal responsibilities", authorities are more inclined to view the phenomenon as an "eccentric hobby".

"We do live in such a peaceful, democratic, tolerant nation," adds Finlay.

"There are a lot of places in the world where if you tried to declare yourself as a separate nation, the government simply wouldn't allow it and you'd find yourself in quite a lot of trouble."

It is a sentiment echoed by Cruickshank, who believes there are lessons to be learned from the demise of Hutt River.

"If you're thinking of starting a micro-nation in response to legal issues or a dispute with their municipality or the Australian Taxation Office, those sorts of responses are inevitably doomed to failure," he says.

"What they will do is simply delay the inevitable, and that's the lesson we can take from Hutt River."

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Australia has one of the largest number of micronations in the world - ABC News

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