Fred Hollows (1929 – 1993)

Professor Fred Hollows was an eye doctor (opthalmologist). In his lifetime Fred gave thousands of people, all over the world, their eyesight back.

Fred Hollows was born in New Zealand in 1929. His family was religious, and Fred thought he’d like to be a missionary, but he changed his mind after doing some work at a mental hospital. Fred decided to become a doctor and eventually specialise in eye surgery.

In 1960, Fred got a job in Australia. Five years later he was head of the Eye Department at a Sydney hospital.

Fred always believed strongly in equality for all people. He was told about the need for Aboriginal health services in Sydney. He took up the cause, and helped set up the first Aboriginal Medical Service. There are now more than 60 across Australia.

One thing really shocked Fred. He discovered that almost all Aboriginal people in outback communities had eye diseases. Diseases caused by dirty conditions and poor health. These were problems that could be easily avoided.

In the 1970’s, he helped launch a national program to attack eye disease in Aboriginal Australians. Fred was great at inspiring people. He got doctors to give their time to the program. Many other people volunteered. In three years the team travelled all over outback Australia. It treated 30,000 people, performed a thousand operations and prescribed more than 10,000 pairs of glasses.

Fred Hollows became to be known as the ‘wild colonial boy’ of Australian surgery, partly because he had a deep love of the bush, and also because he had a wild temper. Fred believed in helping people to help themselves. He had no time for anyone who stood between him and his goals.

When I’ve seen an opportunity I haven’t sat down and called a committee meeting…we’ve gone and done it.
Fred Hollows

But Fred didn’t think enough was being done for Aboriginal health. He was very outspoken on this issue.

It is appalling. It is much worse than white health was in the worst times of the depression. It is appalling by third world standards.
Fred Hollows

Fred could be very gruff when things weren’t going as he thought they should and this made him some enemies. But his family and friends loved Fred deeply.

I admire him, I enjoy his company, I respect him. I find him an inspiring character…can’t help myself.
Peter Corris

He livens up anybody…whether it be just walking into a room…everybody knows when Fred’s arrived…he has this very large presence.
Gabi Hollows

By 1980, Fred was travelling all over the world to help set up eye health programs in developing countries. He heard about a war in Eritrea in Africa and how doctors there were trying to get training in eye surgery.

Each year in Africa about two and a half million people go blind…and they just go blind…they sit around in their huts.
Fred Hollows

This became Fred’s passion. He wanted to help the Eritreans build their own eye lens factory. He asked Australians to support his dream. They donated more than 6 million dollars.

I don’t know if you can see that lens sitting on my right knee…that costs at least 140 dollars Australian. Hopefully, in Africa,it will be able to be produced for in the order of a few dollars.
Fred Hollows

But by 1989 Fred Hollows knew he wouldn’t live to see all his ideas happen. He was dying of cancer. It didn’t slow him down…and instead of getting miserable Fred thought himself lucky.

I have been lucky in that I’ve been alive at times when the things that I wanted to do were capable of being done.Fred Hollows

In 1993, Fred died at home surrounded by his friends, his wife Gabi and their five children.

We have a lot of lovely memories of him and I think we’re very lucky that we’ve got those to fall back on.Gabi Hollows

Gabi Hollows in continuing Fred’s work. Eye lens factories have been set up in Eritrea and other developing countries giving sight back to thousands of people.

© 2002 ABC
Behind the News (BTN)
The text of this fact sheet is available at BTN Australians
Refer also to the Fred Hollows Foundation

The Fred Hollows fact sheet from the Australians series is reproduced by permission of Behind the News, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and ABC Online.
© 2002 ABC All rights reserved.

Theme: International racism and anti-racism – Reconciliation