Fred Hollows, 1929 – 1993, was an inspiring man. A passionate man.
An ophthalmologist at a prestigious Sydney hospital, he helped set up the first Aboriginal Medical Service and launched a national programme to combat eye disease in Aboriginal Australians. By the 1980s, Fred had extended his campaign for treating avoidable eye disease in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Today there are more than one million people in the world who can see — because of Fred Hollows.
Having a care and concern for others is the highest of the human qualities : Fred Hollows
Fred was a humanitarian in the fullest sense of the term: someone who acknowledged the limits imposed on us by nature but refused to accept the limits we impose on ourselves.
He understood the term “aid” in the only way it makes any sense, as helping people overcome the obstacles that stop them from standing on their own feet.
When Fred Hollows wanted to aid overseas cataract victims, he didn’t make a one-off charity contribution, he didn’t organise a Rock Concert and make himself famous, he set about helping the Eritreans and the Nepalese and the Vietnamese to produce their own lenses, without concern for the profit rates of Western companies.
This earned him sneers and worse from those profit-making companies which prefer to see an aging musician talk about “poverty” in sorrowful tones than to see a doctor teaching people to help themselves.
There is profit to be made from poverty – and Fred Hollow’s work threatened that profit.
By 1989 Fred knew he was dying of cancer and he died at home in the February of 1993, surrounded by his friends, his wife Gabi and their five children.
Some days later, I attended his official state funeral at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, but Fred was laid to rest in Bourke, a northern New South Wales town, amongst the red dirt and mulgas.
The town of Bourke symbolises the ‘end of the road’ in colloquial Australian. The Back o’ Bourke is more than a geographic location, it’s part of the Australian language, part of the folklore.
Fred first visited Bourke in the early 1970s, and his eye team held regular weekend clinics to Bourke District Hospital. They were welcomed in the true Bush spirit and provided services to other communities in the district, including Brewarrina, Cobar, Enngonia, Walgett, and Wilcannia.
These vital screening and surgical services are continued today by the Eye Team from the Department of Ophthalmology at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney.