Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Tim Fischer was "a big Australian in every sense" who was widely loved.

Australia’s former deputy prime minister, National Party leader and Ambassador to the Holy See in Rome, Tim Fischer, has died after battling acute myeloid leukaemia in hospital.

Fischer, who died at the Albury-Wodonga Cancer Centre in NSW, surrounded by close family members, was a widely-loved and respected politician and ambassador who loved his country of birth.

“After successfully battling three cancers since 2009, the fourth cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia eventually claimed his life although he continued to contribute to his many passions and attend functions right until the day of his final hospitalisation,” his family said in a statement.

A forceful trio who changed Australia's guns laws after the Port Arthur massacre: Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer, Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Fischer was “a big Australian in every sense” who was widely loved.

“Big in stature, big in his belief, big in his passion, big in his vision for what Australians could achieve and big in his view of Australia’s place in the world,” Mr Morrison said.

“As a result, Tim Fischer will forever cast a big shadow on our nation”

Australia’s ambassador to the US, former treasurer Joe Hockey, said Fischer would be deeply missed.

“Any Australian that is grateful for our gun laws can thank Tim Fischer for his courage at that time. Generations to come will owe him a great debt,” Hockey said.

Tim Fischer with his wife Judy Brewer at their farm in Mudgegonga, Victoria, Australia, in 2012. Photo: Supplied

Here are five surprising things you might not know about Fischer.

  1. Fischer served and was wounded as a platoon commander in Vietnam in the late 1960s. He believed his cancer was related to being sprayed by the defoliant Agent Orange during the ferocious battle of Firebase Coral.
  2. The former deputy prime minister played a vital part in reforming Australia’s gun laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre. He stood his ground at hostile meetings where effigies of him were hanging from light posts.
  3. During his time at the Vatican, Fischer became a well-known figure in his black Akubra hat. He only had to wave it to the Swiss guards from his car to gain access.
  4. The 73-year-old predicted the resignation of Pope Benedict by observing the pontiff’s visits to the tomb of Pope Celestine V, who had resigned from his office 600 years ago.
  5. Fischer started in politics as a NSW (state) MP in 1971. In 1984 he successfully moved into federal (national) politics and became deputy prime minister and Trade Minister in 1996.

After leaving federal politics in 2001, Fischer was appointed chairman of Tourism Australia from 2004 to 2007. Former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd appointed him as Australian ambassador to the Holy See in Rome in 2009.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with Tim Fischer as Australia's ambassador to the Holy See, in the Vatican to farewell the then-pontiff in 2011. Picture: Supplied

He also served as Chair of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Chair of the Crawford Fund, Chair of the Global Crop Trust and was a director or patron of more than two hundred not-for-profit and community organisations.

“I’d say if I had to list my passions the kingdom of Bhutan would be number one, rail transport past and present would be number two, and that would be followed by World War I military history and trains of World War I,” Fischer told the Weekly Times last year.

Fischer is survived by his wife Judy Brewer and sons Harrison and Dominic.