The engaging and redoubtable Tim Fischer AC arrived safely at Cathedral House last Thursday, having already quipped, “I will arrive by train at Hamilton at 10.45am, not proceeding to the main station for fear the tracks are already ripped up.”
Tim was the guest of Mark Lees, Manager Fundraising and Donor Relations, and was in Newcastle to launch his sixth book, Holy See, Unholy Me. The book is a furious ride through his three years as first resident ambassador to the Holy See. Tim was formerly Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade in John Howard’s government. He has now returned to the land in Victoria, having been raised on a property in the Riverina district of New South Wales. As well as farming, his time and energy is given to many causes, interests and organizations, including Autism NSW, the St Vincent de Paul Society and the Fred Hollows Foundation.
His passion for trains and train travel is well known, and in Holy See, Unholy Me, he documents a colourful story he also told to an appreciative audience at the Newcastle lunch. “Caritas Internationalis does a very good job in Africa as well as other places, addressing the needs of the poor and the demands of justice. Caritas’ 60th anniversary conference was held in Rome in May 2011 and so I set about organising the Caritas Express to depart the Pope's platform and travel to Orvieto and back. It took a lot of work, but I persuaded the Vatican's chief station master to agree, found someone in Italian railways who could produce the steam engine and various carriages, and away we went. It was terrific, all the way.”
He also shared a rare insight into the world of diplomacy, passing on an experienced diplomat’s early advice: “The four key elements of diplomacy are protocol, vitriol, alcohol and panadol!”
It’s well known that Tim’s elder son, Harrison, has autism, hence his work for Autism NSW. He told the story of his family’s meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, at which Harrison said to the Pope, “You will keep the Church together?”
Tim’s conversation, and the book, are littered with these pithy observations, always with a strong Australian flavour. The understatement of the occasion was when Tim began answering a question by saying, “Yes, I am pro-rail…”
Article by Tracey Edstein. You can see a gallery of images from Tim's book signing and luncheon here.
Some copies of Holy See, Unholy Me are available for $30 from Mark Lees, 841 Hunter St Newcastle West, or P 4979 1124.