Fred Hollows – A Tribute to a Great Man

Fred Hollows

Do you know anything about the late Fred Hollows? He is someone I had never heard of before visiting Bourke. But this man definitely deserves a special mention. Once I found out about this man I was so impressed I just had to go to the Bourke cemetery to pay my respects.

The Fred Hollows and his Legacy

Fred Hollows was born in 1929 in Dunedin, New Zealand. Originally studying to become a minister, he got a summer job at a mental health facility that opened his eyes to a different ways of thinking. He decided to study medicine, and after graduating he began assisting eye surgeons. Fred became so interested in ophthalmology, he moved to the UK to specialise in it. He returned to Australia in 1965, and became Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of New South Wales.

In 1968, after seeing two senior Aboriginal men as eye patients, Fred went north to where they lived in the Northern Territory. He was so shocked at the poor standard of health in the camp, particularly in eye health. Fred was especially concerned by the large number of children and adults suffering from blinding trachoma. In 1971 he was later asked to go to Bourke where he found the same shocking conditions. It was then that he decided to do something about it and fight for better eye health.

Fred and his (now) wife Gabi worked together on the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. This took them to over 465 Indigenous communities in outback Australia. Fred also visited developing countries including likes Nepal and Burma where he saw the same poor eye health.

“It’s obscene to let people go blind when they don’t have to.”

– Fred Hollows

Fred pioneered the factory production of affordable intraocular lenses (IOLs). These lenses were used to treat cataract and significantly cut the cost of restoring sight. The lenses were expensive when made in countries like Australia, but cheap and accessible when made locally. He realised that by setting up factories to produce the IOLs cheaply in places like Nepal and Eritrea it would make a world of difference to so many who would otherwise be blind.

Fred’s work took him to many developing countries in order to train eye surgeons. Even though he had developed cancer he once discharged himself from hospital to fly to Vietnam to undertake such training.

This is a line from a poem by Bruce Walker

Fred Hollows grave beneath the sculptured stone

Gone too soon…

He was so well thought of that nobody called him Professor Hollows or Dr. Hollows. Just Fred. And he liked that. Fred had such an affection with Bourke and the people in the area that he asked to be buried there. His grave is surrounded by rocks from nearby Mt. Oxley. They are laid out in the shape of an eye.

Fred died in 1993 and was given a state funeral before being taken to Bourke where he was laid to rest. The original grave stone was replaced in 2006 by a sculpture that embraces his love for the area, climbing and nature. Its polished surface is reminiscent of the clinical grade plastic intraocular lenses that were used in cataract operations that restored sight to those who had gone needlessly blind.

Every once in a while you discover someone quite remarkable. Someone who truly can be called a great human being. Fred Hollows is one such person.
Fred’s work is continued by The Fred hollows Foundation.

Final thought…

I was never going to try and write a full biography for Fred Hollows here in a relatively short post. But his story, of how one person can make a huge difference, is truly inspiring. I would urge you to research the man and find out more about Fred’s story.

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