The Hon Tim Fischer AC is one of Australia’s best known and most recognisable public figures. The former National Party member for Farrer, National Party Leader and Deputy Prime Minister is seldom seen far from his Akubra hat. He is even less seldom seen without a tie, and over the years amassed a kaleidoscopic collection. Last year Tim very generously donated to the Museum every tie he ever wore or was given from 1951 to 2011.
What can be gleaned from 60 years of ties? As it turns out, a great deal. Ties are fascinating objects. They are visually compelling—sometimes for the wrong reasons—and their length, width, manufacture and design provide a barometer of social and cultural change. But ties also have a deeper, perhaps more fundamental symbolism.
‘A man and his tie are one and the same’, declared the 19th-century style guru Beau Brummell. In ancient times some Chinese and Roman warriors wore neckwear, but the trend really took hold during the Thirty Years’ War in Europe (1618—1648). King Louis XIII liked the look of the knotted cloths worn by Croatian mercenaries serving in his army, and the style was quickly adopted by the French aristocracy and associated gentlemen. Since then the tie and its meanings have evolved. The impeccable Brummell, who favoured understated hues and clean, classic tailoring, would have been horrified by the eye-watering designs of recent decades. But one thing has not changed: ties and their connection to identity.
A tie is associated with parts of the body heavily laden with symbolism. It knots around a crucial area, the neck, and underscores one indicator of male virility, the larynx. It then flows down the centre of a man’s physical and perhaps spiritual core, his chest and heart. Thus located, a tie pledges the wearer’s allegiance to an organisation, occupation, community, lifestyle or cause—including the noble cause of Style. A tie represents inclusion in a network with shared heritage and values and can be a fabric ticket to social mobility. And the tie’s military roots and royal patronage indicate its perpetual connection with discipline and authority. The knot invented by King Edward VII and popularised by his grandson the Duke of Windsor is still favoured by power dressers today. Even the literal meanings of the noun and verb ‘tie’ signal symbolic importance. Many school students might find their tie, a word synonymous with noose, fetter or rope that could be considered a restriction, restraint, constraint or encumbrance might eventually benefit from the bond, connection, link, association, affiliation, kinship or relationship that ‘old school tie’ may later bring.
Tim Fischer’s ties are a story of his life. They come from his early education, Army career, state and federal parliamentary careers, ministerial achievements, post-parliamentary commitments and personal passions. Each tie tells a story: from the short, crumpled stripes of Tim’s schooldays at Xavier College to the gift from fellow cattlemen in a Santa Gertrudis breeders’ association. A Boxing Kangaroo tie conjures the 1983 America’s Cup victory. An Expo 88 tie reminds Tim of the Nepalese royalty he escorted through the pavilion (he’s long had an interest in Nepal, Bhutan and the Himalayas). Railway ties evoke adventures in Africa, India and long stretches of our own country. There are numerous ties gifted by rural and regional shire councils: from Cooloola and Narrabri to Sale and Alice Springs. These ties are proxies for the people of these places. As National Party Leader, Tim dutifully wore the ties in Parliament.
After Tim’s retirement from politics he got involved in numerous public roles. These ranged from positions with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Fred Hollows Foundation and the Royal Flying Doctor Service to Chair of Tourism Australia, Chair of the Australian Winemakers’ Foundation and Special Envoy on the Ghan railway from Adelaide to Darwin. He also took up a number of business roles: a startlingly yellow tie comes from his stint with Deloittes Automotive. And an exquisite silk tie bought in Italy tells of Tim’s time as first resident Australian Ambassador to the Holy See. Perhaps he wore this tie while consulting with the Vatican on the canonisation of Australia’s first Roman Catholic saint, Mary MacKillop.
Tim’s ties not only represent his experiences and achievements. They are also significant as having been collected and curated by him. The collection makes Tim’s memories material and testifies to his sense of self. It shows what is important to him. This personal aspect gives the collection significance not just for its social, historical and research values but for its provenance and rarity. Tim’s ties are unique, and we are delighted to have them. Even the bright purple polyester cravat.