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This paper is about contemporary micronationalists in Australia. The material is drawn from in-
depth interviews of several active groups conducted in recent years. Each has declared a sovereign
principality or free state after disputes with the governing bureaucracy on a local, state or
federal level. A crucial moment in the distancing of these people from the parent state is a
discovery that the authority claimed by Australian political leaders, local administrators,
judicial appointments or banking officials is illegitimate. The discovery confirms a widespread
suspicion of “government” and its instrumentalities. Its claim to rightful authority is seen by
many Australians to be betrayed on a daily basis in its “selling out” of the people, but is found,
ultimately, in the minor detail of the government’s own machinery of dominance: on a legal
“technicality”. It may be a signature in the wrong place; an ancient law that was never repealed;
a constitutional move that was never made. Many micronationalists, in Australia, are “bush lawyers”
: ordinary people, lacking formal qualifications, who have taught themselves to become experts at
law and at the technical apparatus of government. Whilst not all of Australia’s paralegal anti-
government campaigners are participants in the new nation-building projects of micronationalism,
there is considerable overlap in their activities and their networks. The act of seceding from
Australia and declaring an independent state functions in a number of ways to open up a space from
which to speak an anti-government message and have it framed in a context of hope and adventure.
Australians have a colloquial term for someone who is not a lawyer, but who has picked up enough of law to presume to practice the art, for friends and family at home, or for real in the courts. It is “a bush lawyer”. With the bush being the Australian countryside, in its roughness and rural isolation, the idea of a bush lawyer suggests an ordinary local with all of the cockiness but none of the training, the resources and the refinements of an educated, urban élite. There is a Banjo Paterson poem called “A Bush Lawyer” that was published in 1933, but the term was in circulation at least a hundred years before this. (1) Australians use the term with a certain groaning affection. There is a national Bush Lawyer Competition run by the Victoria Law Foundation, for example, which publishes the best short story, joke or poem about the experience of listening to - or worse, acting upon - the advice of such a would-be legal expert. (2)
The Banjo Paterson poem tells of a pelican, arbiter of a dispute between a turtle and a water rat, who “accidentally” swallows the crawfish that he is holding in his beak whilst hearing arguments as to who has the greater claim to its tasty flesh. The pelican makes a hasty interim order, and takes off with “the subject of debate"; the turtle and the water rat have been cheated, and left with nothing.
The bush lawyers whom I discuss in this paper are, in one sense, tricksters, like the pelican. They find in the technical detail of law, or of government regulation, policy or procedure, the means by which to catch the ruling bodies out. Their form of resistance to the domination that they suffer in their lives is to turn the machinery of this domination back upon itself. For unlike the pelican, perhaps, these bush lawyers have taken to the task of assuming expertise and paralegal authority as a result of having been cheated, themselves, by the system, or having been dispossessed in some greater sense, by the institutions that they believe should guarantee their rights and sovereignty.
I am writing of the micronationalists whom I have interviewed in 2005 for this paper, from the Principality of United Oceania, the Principality of Snake Hill and the Central Queensland Free State. They are part of a larger movement amongst the popular right in Australia that may be characterised by this willingness to master an enormous amount of technical knowledge in law (especially constitutional law, both national and international), government (its historical and bureaucratic schemes of institution and regulation) and finance. Given that almost all of these experts have no higher education (many, in fact, being high school “drop outs”) this willingness, and this achievement, is remarkable. The participants in this movement (which is neither organised nor self-conscious) are not all micronationalists, of course. But the micronationalist theatre of seceding from Australia and claiming independent sovereignty for the newly declared state dramatises well the essential break with any social contract that is a feature of the movement. Elsewhere I have identified elements of this movement in Australia with the Sovereign Citizen movement of the contemporary United States of America. (3)
Part of these people’s motivation for taking the “extreme” option of secession is a sense of having been dealt with unfairly in the cases taken against them. This personal motivation is often a catalyst for action that expresses a longer standing, and more general, sense of having been sold out to international interests by economic rationalism and globalisation. That is, their personal grievances resonate with a sense that they are being cheated of their sovereign rights as Australian citizens. In the personal cases, determinations are made in ways that appear to go against the spirit of the law, in its accounting for natural justice. Harsh judgements in favour of the petitioning bank, solicitors’ firm, government official, and so on, are brought down in summary fashion, with the defendant’s account of the matter, and proofs submitted in support of this account, routinely being dismissed as “inadmissible evidence”. Alternatively, if evidence is considered and statutes consulted, the rulings (whether they are made in the courts by judges or in tribunals by the police, bank authorities, the bureaucrats of local planning and so on), are decided on a “technicality” – a mere detail of the documents that specify the rules. Here is where the twist may be found, for the technicality, normally of interest only to a specialist - except when it is used to get the judgement that one wants in a strict interpretation of the law - is made to work against the élites, instead of for them.
His Serene Highness Prince Peter The First (Peter Gillies) is an ex-policeman on the N.S.W. lower north coast who heads the Principality of United Oceania. As the owner of a 66 hectare property, Peter had a number of rulings made against him by local government officials and the courts in the run up to his decision to declare the independent Principality on May 1st, 2003. A development application on the property had been blocked by the local council on the grounds of aircraft noise, despite expert evidence to the contrary being tendered to the hearing. In a separate dispute over the payment of worker’s compensation insurance, involving his alleged default on a new contract that was drawn up without him ever having seen, agreed to or signed it, Gillies was declared bankrupt, and his property seized. Peter reports that “I went to court with this and did not even get a hearing. The Judge said (and I quote) ‘Mr Gillies, I am not prepared to listen to a single word that you have to say.’ My non-hearing lasted all of three minutes and he ruled me bankrupt.” (4) The property was sold at auction by the appointed trustee, but Gillies and his fellow micronationalists had been prepared for this: a United Oceania citizen bought the property on behalf of the group (unbeknown to the trustee) so that the Principality could continue on this coastal stretch of land. Water access is important, according to Prince Peter, who told me “To my knowledge our Principality is…unique in that we have 'clear and free passage' to international waters. One of the annexed properties, about 300 acres, has water frontage to Nelson Bay which, according to a friend of mine very high in the NSW Water Police, gives us this unfettered right.” (5) United Oceania (with its annexures) is now larger that this original 66 hectares, and boasts an official citizenry of about 140 people (mostly from N.S.W.) with several hundred more due to come on board.
Gillies never completed high school, but his knowledge of the finer points of constitutional law, historical documents governing political institutions, tax, currency and interest regulations and so on, is now impressive. He has become very involved with the campaign of the Institute for Constitutional Education and Research, publishers of the crucial book Australia the Concealed Colony (1999), to get legal recognition of the status of Australia as still a British colony; not, as it claims to be, an independent sovereign nation. (6) The campaign has been played out recently in the U.K. courts, with the case turning on the “technicality” of key appointment documents having been incorrectly stamped with the Great Seal of Australia, instead of the Great Seal of the U.K. In the latest hearing, Justice Lightman in February 2005 denied an appeal against a dismissal of the case, declaring it, among other things, “purposeless”; in his words, “the grant of the declarations sought would be (if any) of academic interest only”.
I submit that it is precisely the non-academic, popular interest in such technicalities that is remarkable in this turn of events. The careful hair-splitting that they engage in is designed to expose the bald exercise of power that the governing élites have subjected them to, as individuals and as good citizens of the Australian nation. Peter Gillies on his own research has discovered that in the appointment papers of the N.S.W. governor, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, royal assent was incorrectly certified; it appears in a signature at the top right hand corner of each page, instead of in its proper place at the bottom. This evidence was obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information request that arrived in Gillies’ hands only after time spent on the N.S.W. Premier’s desk; where the implications, he suspects, were pondered at length. Recently, Gillies has served a notice of dispute on his local council, challenging their jurisdiction in the charging of rates, citing an Imperial Tenures Abolition Act that applies to Australia, he maintains, as a colony of Britain. The document itself, he informs me, was sent to him unknowingly by the relevant Federal Minister himself, Phillip Ruddock.
Other examples of such discoveries and the technical mastery of law and process can be found in the testimonies of other principals involved in Australian micronationalist projects. Princesses Paula and Helena of Snake Hill claim to be the only Principality since Prince Leonard of Hutt’s in 1970 that has been formally recognised in Australia. (7) They never received letters back from the Australian Prime Minister or the Governor-General, rejecting their claim to independent sovereignty upon notification, and after a certain period of time, in international law, this amounts to recognition. Paula and Helena established the Principality of Snake Hill (in rural Mudgee, with a consulate in suburban Sydney) on the 2nd of September 2003 after they were defrauded of property worth half a million dollars by corrupt solicitors. They, too, were never listened to in court. Indeed they told me, “when we got to the courts the judge has put it quite straight, ‘the facts of the case are irrelevant’”; here Princess Helena laughs, and Princess Paula continues Helena’s recount. “The facts of the case are totally irrelevant, he said, and he dismissed our appeal as being vexatious and without substance” (8)
The “legalese” of state documents is expertly reproduced in the declarations penned by Brian McDermott of the Central Queensland Free State, which he proclaimed on July 1st, 2004. The pages- long statements are held in chain with the idiomatic connectors “whereas … and whereas …and whereas …mindful that….notwithstanding…” and so on. The proclamation sent to the Queen, the Queensland Governor and State Premier, the Australian Governor General and Prime Minister and the Secretary General of the United Nations lists more than 75 categories of violation of common law or God’s law, with which the Australian government is charged. Examples are worded as follows.
Violated our ancient liberties by imposing tolls, licences and fees on the roads and highways throughout Australia, where we the People have been guaranteed free travel on all roads and highways forever (Magna Carta)…
Deliberately violated the Australian constitution by sending Australian troops overseas to engage in war missions, against the will of the Australian people, and when Section 68 of the Australian Constitution states clearly that such powers to do so shall be vested in the Governor-General, as the Queen’s representative…
By conspiring and transferring our lands for “World Heritage” listing (and transfer of those lands in discharge of purported “debts” created out of thin air by the banking system in the first place by the stroke of a pen) to the International Monetary Fund, without our knowledge or permission, thereby depriving our People of our right, for our own ends, freely to use our natural resources, exactly in line with the policies for the “New World Order.” This is high treason. (9)
McDermott’s “technicality” or outsider’s mastery of the technical language of law is matched by his technical prowess in the conception and design of machines. He is an inventor of technology, with a number of successful patents behind him, and the prototype of a new invention in development at the time of our interview. This is something that links the Central Queensland Free State with the Principality of United Oceania, as it, too, is home to an array of invented machinery. The inventions sponsored by United Oceania’s Prince Peter enable the generation of power and clean water, the disposal of waste in an environmentally friendly way, and other schemes for freeing the micronation of any dependency on outside utilities and services. The inventiveness of these micronationists, Princesses Paula and Helena included, extends to the design of new banking systems for their citizens along with new constitutions, flags, stamps and so on. The longer version of this paper will explore this creative activity in a context of contemplating all of the enabling effects - the yield of an intensified capacity for agency, sovereignty, and utopian adventure – that the micronationalist gesture affords. As much as time permits, I will draw on more material from the interviews of Prince Peter, Princesses Paula and Helena and Brian McDermott, and develop the analysis of “technicalities” as a unique, emerging form of anti-government protest among the ordinary men and women of Australia today.
(1) Chief Justice Dowling A.C.J. [online], case of R. v. Ryan, Eyre and Maloney in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, 2 May 1836. Source: Sydney Herald, 9 May 1836
“The prisoners cross examined Dr. Hamlyn at some length. Hare, who is what is generally termed a ``bush lawyer," was very shrewd, and took advantage of every point of evidence. In his cross-examination, to one of the questions, Dr. H. stated that he received four stabs in the back.”
Available at: http://www.law.mq.edu.au/scnsw/Cases1836-37/html/r_v_ryan__eyre_and_maloney__18.htm Accessed 22.6.05
(2) The Bush Lawyer Competition ©2005 Victoria Law Foundation. Available at: http://www.rurallaw.org.au/cb_pages/Bushlawyer_competition.php, [Accessed 25th June 2005]
(3) See Lattas, Judy. “DIY Sovereignty and the Popular Right in Australia", in the collection "Mobile Boundaries / Rigid Worlds" published in May 2005 through the Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, available at: http://www.crsi.mq.edu.au/mobileboundaries.htm
(4) Email advice to me from Prince Peter, Wednesday March 30, 2005
(5) Email advice to me from Prince Peter, Friday January 14, 2005
(6) Australia the Concealed Colony “a report to the United Nations on the continuance of the application of British law within the territory of the independent sovereign nation Australia" Institute for Constitutional Education & Research ( Frank Coningham, Geoffrey Skelton and Ian Henke) -1999, ISBN 0-9096087-5-X
(7) The Hutt River Province Principality started on a WA farm in 1970, by Prince Leonard (born Leonard George Casley) after a dispute over wheat quotas. URL: http://home.vicnet.net.au/~huttrivr/ [not available 25th June 2005]
(8) Transcript of interview by Judy Lattas of Princesses Paula and Helena of the Principality of Snake Hill on the 18th January, 2005, in suburban Sydney, pp. 3-4. See The Principality of Snake Hill [online]. Available from: http://members.lycos.co.uk/snakehill/ [Accessed 29th March 2005]
(9) Central Queensland Free State of Australia [online]. Available from: http://www.cqfreestate.com/ [Accessed 25th June 2005]