Tony-Abbott
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

In October 2014, I was surprised to receive a letter from Canberra in an envelope bearing an embossed crest. It was from the governor-general's secretary, advising me that I was being considered for investiture with the Medal of the Order of Australia, and asking if I would be willing to accept such an honour.

The truth is, I had always regarded such formal honours as the preserve of the rich, the powerful, or the conformistas. So I was somewhat cynical as to my eligibility.

But I resolved to consider the offer carefully, particularly in the knowledge that the Australian honours system had been created in 1975 by then prime minister Gough Whitlam "for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service" -- which sounded quite noble.