What joy, then, since, to have so many Australians pipe up against the idea that at the time of writing Virgin seems to have pulled its head in.

Something about the concept jangled enough Australian minds to make a difference. Enough of us have wondered what there can possibly be about choosing a career in the forces that somehow, mystically, confers an honour and an aura not conferred on those of us who are called to, say, banking, plumbing, journalism, nursing, astronomy, climate science, music, anything.

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There is always such sentimental jingoism in the public conversation about the “service” of servicemen and servicewomen. Listening to it a Martian might imagine (especially if he listens to “service” sentimentalist Brendan Nelson director of the breathtakingly over-funded Australian War Memorial) that servicemen and servicewomen, uniquely in the Earthlings’ workforce, are unpaid and saintly altruists. He, our Martian, would think that our society believes that servicemen and servicewomen are somehow called to their work by God while all other sorts of workers only have secular callings.

But sensible, sceptical Australians feel in their bones that this is not so.

And perhaps as well as all of the important Americanisation-resisting reasons for ridiculing Virgin’s idea it may be that Australians, if only subconsciously, think of aircraft boarding as a quintessentially democratic ritual, a levelling ballet.

Some of us appreciate the sheer democracy of air travel. The obnoxious toffs who try to bustle ahead of us gibbering to security and ticketing “Do you know who I am?” (John Hewson once diagnosed that Bronwyn Bishop suffered from Do You Know Who I Am? Syndrome’) do not, whoever they are, have a flight experience very different from the flight experience of the lowliest working-class passenger. Meteorology is no respecter of rank and class and the same turbulence that rattles the nerves of those in Economy rattles the nerves and spills the cocktails of those in First Class. Nor do the toffs arrive at some superior destination, at a Shangri-La or an El Dorado, while the rest of us have to disembark at dull old Frankfurts and Canberras.

I respect my fellow Australians in uniform while doubting that their choice of work sets them mystically apart from the rest of us. What’s more, if any of my doting grandchildren ever tell me that they are toying with the idea of an ADF career I will, after a dignified pause (allowing a little colour to return to my temporarily ashened face) urge them to think again.

I will caution them that to “serve” is to run the risk of being sent to conflicts chosen for them, for Australia, by lickspittle Australian prime ministers shamefully anxious to do the bidding of whichever warmonger is in the White House at the time. If they then, in their sweet naivety and ignorance of recent history, ask for examples of what I mean I may sigh “How much time do you have?” before giving them a potted account of the lickspittles and their wars, the Vietnam War looming large in my narrative.

Then, if I still have their attention, I will read them one of Wilfred Owen’s passionate anti-war/anti-jingoism poems. Probably it will be his starkly truthful Dulce et Decorum Est with its condemnation of “the old Lie” that “it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country”. One doubts that this is a favourite poem of sacrifice-sentimental Brendan Nelson.

Falling asleep from the fatigue of all this fighting for my beloved nation’s uniqueness, for its soul, I had this reassuring dream.

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It was the 2019 launching ceremony of the keenly-anticipated Canberra light rail network. The progressive ACT chief minister, attuned to the educated, left-liberal timbre of his territory’s people, announced that for the first year of light rail’s operation priority boarding and discount fares would be given to, to honour them, the city’s battlers, the unemployed, the rent-ravaged, the homeless, the begging and the busking.

Then my dream moved to an airport, to a Qantas departure lounge, and to the announcement that “Ladies and gentlemen your Qantas flight is ready for boarding with priority boarding being given this week to poets, climate scientists, aged-care nurses and refugee advocates. We thank them for their noble service to our nation.”

Blushing, these modest Australians, shuffled on ahead. In my dream a few Bronwyn Bishops and bemedalled Brigadiers seethed at not being given priority, but all the other passengers stood and sincerely applauded the truly deserving Australians being given a little fair dinkum limelight.

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