Prime Minister Scott Morrison has paid tribute to former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer as “a titan of regional Australia” whose political courage in advocating for stricter gun laws had made Australia safer.
Speaking at the state funeral for Mr Fischer at the Albury Entertainment Centre, Mr Morrison described the former Nationals leader, who died last week aged 73, as “a veteran, a colleague, and a patriot whose served his country faithfully and well”.
“He had a big courage. But one he combined with a gentle and forgiving kindness that understood human frailty,” Mr Morrison said.
“He had the ability to focus all of his attention on you. He would give himself over completely in his engagement with you. You had his attention. You mattered. He listened. And he always remembered.”
“Gun laws were not popular in regional Australia in 1996. And where there was resistance, Tim copped the brunt of it,” Mr Morrison said.
“He stumped up and he persuaded, together with the prime minister [at the time John Howard], and convinced regional Australians about the need for change.
“Australians are now safe today, because of him.”
Among those in the audience were former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and John Howard, Governor-General David Hurley, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and many current and former politicians from both sides of politics.
Friend and fellow National Party politician Bill Baxter remembered Mr Fischer as someone who was passionate about country areas and never started a discussion without first discussing the rain.
“Tim knew, as so many in this audience today well know, the importance of rain and water, not only to farmers, but to the people in the country towns, and to the nation at large,” he said.
“It’s often said that in politics you have hundreds of acquaintances but few true friends. That didn’t apply to Tim Fischer.
“He had hundreds of thousands of friends and he was a true friend of mine for over 50 years.”
Former Nationals leader John Anderson spoke of Mr Fischer’s selflessness right up until he died.
“He undertook some trials for the condition that he was suffering, having been informed they would make no difference to his life, but they may make a very real difference to other people’s lives,” he said.
“It was agonisingly difficult and personally painful for him to do it. But again, it’s the mark of the man.”
Mr Fischer’s elder brother Tony Fischer said no matter how far he travelled, he always loved the bush.
“He was very homesick during those six years away [at boarding school],” he said.
“For him, the Peppers home and the Boree Creek environment were already engraved on his soul, and it would remain that way for the rest of his life.”
Earlier, hundreds of people lined the platform of Albury Railway Station as a heritage train carrying his coffin was welcomed into the station with a large round of applause.
A military memorial was held on the platform by the Lockhart RSL to honour the Vietnam veteran, which was followed by a guard of honour for Mr Fischer’s coffin.
This morning, about 80 people attended the railway station at The Rock in the New South Wales Riverina to say one last goodbye.
The rail journey, which included Mr Fischer’s home town of Boree Creek, was arranged by the Lachlan Valley Railway (LVR) and completes a trip Mr Fischer was unable to finish as his health deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks.
LVR director Ross Jackson said it was a surprise to hear his old friend had requested the journey on the heritage train, which features three CPH railmotors.
“Two of the cars actually serviced the Boree Creek line as part of passenger journeys, probably when Tim was a lot younger, but certainly synonymous with country branch line travel and country towns,” Mr Jackson said.
“The saddest part about it is when I ran the cancer charity fundraiser tour back in July with Tim, Tim actually didn’t get to make the trip back home, he had to rest.
“So now we have the opportunity to finish that journey with him.”
He said the former deputy prime minister was a man who loved country Australia, the railways and his family.
Anne Martin was one of the many locals who came out to The Rock to say one last goodbye to a “genuine politician”.
“[Tim Fischer was] a man of the people,” she said.
“He used to come out and listen to what people had to say in the country.”
Lockhart Shire Mayor Rodger Schirmer said Mr Fischer always had the community’s best interests in mind and the railway tribute was the perfect way to say goodbye.
“Tim was absolutely besotted by anything to do with trains and rail,” he said.
“He will probably be listening to every clickety-clack of the sleepers as he passes over them.”
“His passing has created a tsunami, if you like, of not so much grief, but a huge wave of sadness over the community.”
St Matthew’s Church, in the centre of Albury, rung its bells for an hour until midday to honour Mr Fischer.
The bells then tolled 73 times before his coffin entered the Albury Entertainment Centre, where his state funeral began at 1:00pm.