Behind the big hat, his love of trains and an endearing quirkiness, Tim Fischer was a much-loved political figure in Australia.
Known as a down-to-earth bloke, a farmer from Boree Creek in the “bush” of New South Wales, Tim Fischer was instantly recognisable in his Akubra, whether as deputy prime minister in Canberra, on an overseas mission as trade minister, or treading the cobblestones of Rome as Ambassador to the Holy See.
He died in hospital on August 22, aged 73, after a long bout with cancer.
Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference president, Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge paid tribute to Tim Fischer, saying he lived as a proud Catholic and a proud Australian.
Mr Fischer was educated by the Jesuits at Xavier College in Melbourne, and had a long and distinguished career in the New South Wales and Australian Parliaments.
At the federal level, he served as leader of the National Party of Australia during the 1990s and Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister under John Howard between 1996 and 1999.
He had earlier served in the Australian Army during the Vietnam War.
Archbishop Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said Mr Fischer was a larger-than-life personality who throughout his career was genuinely dedicated to service.
“Tim was a man of many interests and with many talents, but those of us who have known him will remember most his warmth, his humanity and his strong conviction to pursue what is right,” he said.
In 2008, the Labor Government appointed Mr Fischer Australia’s first resident Ambassador to the Holy See. Previous Australian ambassadors to the Vatican were resident ambassadors to another country, usually Ireland.
During his tenure from 2009-12, Australia’s first saint, Mary of the Cross MacKillop, was canonised.
In 2012, he was made a Knight Grand Cross in the Order of Pius IX, one of the Church’s highest honours.
“Tim was very proud to be our man at the Vatican at the time and was a remarkable host and ‘ambassador’ for Church and country,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
He noted that “Tim was renowned for his love of trains and, even during his time representing Australia in Rome, he managed to reactivate the Vatican railway”.
“He was loved by all who met him”, the Archbishop said, “and we mourn his passing. But we also celebrate all that Tim gave to his family, his community, his Church and his country.
“May he rest in the peace of Christ.”
Former Prime Minister John Howard always acknowledged the key role Tim Fischer played in passing Australia’s historic uniform national gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 – a mass shooting in which 35 people died and 23 were wounded.
“We would never have successfully battened down those laws without the understanding of Tim Fischer,” Mr Howard said.
"[He said], 'I just want you to understand it's going to be hard for some of us in the bush', and of course it was, but he stuck manfully to the task, and I'll ever be grateful, and our nation should be grateful that he worked so hard."
Another political colleague, former Nationals leader, Barnaby Joyce knew Tim Fischer well and was one of many, including John Howard to comment on his quirky character, his intellect and energy.
“His quirkinesses masked a forensic intellect for the more obscure tabulated data,” Mr Joyce said.
“His hat was a signal of a person who wanted to be seen by the people so they could approach him. “I am going this way. Walk with me.” was one of the first times that I approached Tim. He was never dismissive, but he was busy.
“Enthusiasm was his trademark. Enthusiasm guided by a laser like compass of values.
“He was the ballast that gave longevity to the John Howard political ship. He was the standard by which so many National Party Leaders after him were judged.
“When he offered advice it was taken because you knew it came from a good place and to the end his vision was a patriotic belief in the destiny of his Nation.
“Merely one example of this was the extension of the rail line from Alice Springs to Darwin, a vision initially ridiculed, now lauded as one of our great seminal nation building projects.”
After retiring from politics Tim Fischer didn’t slow down, rather, he poured his energy elesewhere, including helping international causes, agriculture and autism sufferers.