Hundreds have farewelled former Nationals leader and fierce rail advocate Tim Fischer, with a military ceremony, a state funeral, and one last train ride to Albury on August 29.
Crowds gathered to watch a heritage train carrying Fischer’s coffin from The Rock to Albury in southern New South Wales on Thursday morning.
Fischer, a Vietnam veteran, was honoured with a military service at Albury station, before a state funeral at the Albury Entertainment Centre attended by – among many others – prime minister Scott Morrison, his deputy Michael McCormack, opposition leader Anthony Albanese, governor-general David Hurley, and former prime ministers John Howard and Kevin Rudd.
Morrison described Fischer as “a titan of regional Australia”.
“When his country called, Tim Fischer never failed to answer,” he told the service.
“Tim Fischer was one of a kind, and the boy from Boree Creek has left us too soon. May he rest in peace. As he enters eternity, he will no doubt be greeted with the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ And for those who he has left behind here, we can take comfort in the simple fact that we knew and we loved Tim Fischer.”
“It’s often said that in politics you have hundreds of acquaintances but few true friends. That didn’t apply to Tim Fischer,” former Nationals colleague Bill Baxter said.
“He had hundreds of thousands of friends and he was a true friend of mine for over 50 years.”
Fischer, first a farmer, then a soldier, then a state MP, then a federal MP, served as leader of the Nationals for nearly a decade. He was deputy prime minister under John Howard from 1996 to 1999, playing a crucial role in gun control reforms following the Port Arthur massacre.
He retired as deputy PM in 1999, and from Parliament entirely in 2001, but continued to play an active role as a public figure, including as a rail advocate and policy advisor.
His post-parliamentary contribution to rail included being named Special Envoy for the Adelaide to Darwin railway by the South Australian government in 2004. He was also a director of Freightlink, operating trains on the route.
He wrote a number of books on rail and contributed to advisory reports, including the feasibility study conducted by Labor into high speed rail to connect Australia’s east coast cities. He was also patron to the TrackSAFE Foundation.
Leaders from across the Australian rail and freight industry were unanimous in their praise last week.
“I would like to pay tribute to Tim Fischer; a person of great honour and dignity,” TrackSAFE and Australasian Railway Association chairman Bob Herbert said. “We are united in our sadness of his loss, but will celebrate the indelible mark Tim Fischer has left on the Foundation and the rail landscape overall.”
“Tim was a tireless and energetic advocate for rail in Australia and was one of the driving forces behind the Inland Rail project,” ARA CEO Danny Broad added.
“He leaves a lasting legacy as a visionary leader for the industry who had a unique connection to rural and regional Australians. His keen appreciation of the role rail can play supporting regional communities and unlocking economic growth will be felt by generations to come, right around Australia.”