Twirling towards freedom


The Lego Movie, the computer animated adventure comedy by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, is a masterpiece. It is an American-Australian co-production, and while the accents and voice actors are American, the moral of the story, that ordinary Lego minifigures can overcome impossible odds if they believe in themselves, think magically and stick with their mates, is quintessentially Australian. 

There are moments in the narrative when one, if one squints, can almost detect a subtle Australian political allegory in the film. There is, for example, a scene in which the 1980s-something Spaceman, played by Charlie Day – best known for his star turn as the mentally defective and erratic Charlie from the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia – builds a spaceship. After begging the other Lego heroes to let him build a spaceship, Spaceman is finally given carte blanch to do so. He flies into an ecstatic fit, tears apart everything he can see, and builds an 80s-style fighter-craft, which he uses to blow up all the bad guys, while joyfully screaming ‘SPACESHIP!’

In unrelated news, Tony Abbott, enjoying the Prime Ministership after a long oppositional period craving power, has announced that Australia will buy 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) at a cost of $12.4 billion – bringing the total JSF force to 72 aircraft, making them Australia’s most expensive defence asset. It is also a fine opportunity for Abbott to have his photo taken in the cockpit of a beautiful war machine. 

The F-35 JSF, developed by an international coalition led by the US, is designed to avoid radar while hitting targets in the air and on the ground, and is billed as the smartest fighter jet in the world. It has also been beset by technical problems, expensive developmental delays, and a tendency to lose parts once in the air

The Brookings Institution's Michael O’Hanlon, a specialist in US defence strategy, told the ABC that the JSF may not be best suited for the kind of ‘Afghanistan-style’ military operations in which Australia tends to engage. 

The fighter is designed for combating superpowers such as, say, China, which, hopefully, Australia is not planning to war with – especially as early combat simulations of the F-35 in a war against China found them woefully lacking

So, while I’m not a military woman, I am a citizen of the Australian constitutional monarchy (incidentally) and I can’t help but wonder if all the tax dollars raised by raising the retirement age, dismantling healthcare, gutting research and denuding civil servant jobs have been well spent on buying a bunch of warplanes that, really, if you think about it, we don’t need. 

I grew up in suburban Brisbane, and as a red-blooded banana-bender I appreciate the majesty of an awesome warplane. Some of my most cherished childhood memories involve the annual River Fire festival, when the family would head down to Southbank to watch the fireshow, which was crowned every year by an F-111 fighter buzzing the crowd before performing a ‘dump and burn’. Here, the pilot would eject their fuel and ignite it, trailing a glorious train of white-hot fire, drenching the crowd of working Australian families in fun, fire and brimstone.

So, it occurred to me, watching the Federal Government dismantle many much-loved institutions to sink the cash into our air power, much as simple-minded 1980s Spaceman dismantled all he could see to make his dream true, that there was nothing wrong with the Government’s investment in the controversial fighters – the largest peace-time military investment in Australian history. 

What Mr Abbott – Rhodes scholar, Blue-winning boxer, sometimes fireman and resident of an Australian Federal Police training college – understands, what every fan of River Fire learns young, what 1980s Spaceman instinctively knows, what media outlets like the treasonous ABC and others lacking home team affection fail to understand, is that the spend is not some misguided attempt at projecting regional power, but is because, well, sometimes you just need to build an awesome spaceship. 


Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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