Fred Hollows

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Fred Hollows
Fred Hollows
Fred Hollows
Born Frederick Cossom Hollows
(1929-04-09)9 April 1929
Dunedin, New Zealand
Died 10 February 1993(1993-02-10) (aged 63)
Randwick, NSW, Australia
Nationality New Zealander/Australian
Occupation Ophthalmologist
Spouse(s) Mary Skiller (m.1958–1975)
Gabi O'Sullivan (m.1980–1993)
Children 7[citation needed]

Frederick Cossom "Fred" Hollows, AC (9 April 1929 – 10 February 1993) was a New Zealand and Australian ophthalmologist who became known for his work in restoring eyesight for countless thousands of people in Australia and many other countries. It has been estimated that more than one million people in the world can see today because of initiatives instigated by Hollows, the most notable example being The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Early life[edit]

Fred Hollows was one of the four children in his family, the others being Colin, John and Maurice. All were born in Dunedin, New Zealand, to Joseph and Clarice (Marshall) Hollows. The family lived in Dunedin for the first seven years of his life.[citation needed] He had one year of informal primary schooling at North East Valley Primary School and began attending Palmerston North Boys' High School when he was 13. Hollows received his BA degree from Victoria University of Wellington. He briefly studied at a seminary, but decided against a life in the clergy. After observing the doctors at a mental hospital during some charity work, he instead enrolled at Otago Medical School. While living in Dunedin he was an active member of the New Zealand Alpine Club and made several first ascents of mountains in the Mount Aspiring/Tititea region of Central Otago.

Hollows was a member of the Communist Party of New Zealand during the 1950s and 1960s.[1]

Hollows was married twice: in 1958 to Mary Skiller, who died in 1975, and in 1980 to Gabi O'Sullivan.

Hollows was originally a New Zealand citizen. He declined the award of honorary Officer of the Order of Australia in 1985. He adopted Australian citizenship in 1989 and was named Australian of the Year in 1990.[2] He accepted the substantive award of Companion of the Order of Australia in 1991.

Medical career[edit]

In 1961, he went to Moorfields Eye Hospital in England to study ophthalmology. He then did post-graduate work in Wales before moving in 1965 to Australia, where he became associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. From 1965–1992 he chaired the ophthalmology division overseeing the teaching departments at the University of New South Wales, and the Prince of Wales and Prince Henry hospitals.

Early in the 1970s, Hollows worked with the Gurindji people at Wave Hill in the Northern Territory and then with the people around Bourke and other isolated New South Wales towns, stations and Aboriginal communities. He became especially concerned with the high number of Aborigines who had eye disorders, particularly trachoma. In July 1971, with Mum (Shirl) Smith and others, he set up the Aboriginal Medical Service in suburban Redfern in Sydney, and subsequently assisted in the establishment of medical services for Aboriginal People throughout Australia.[3]

He was responsible for organising the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists to establish the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program (the "Trachoma Program") 1976–1978, with funding by the Federal Government.[4] Hollows himself spent three years visiting Aboriginal communities to provide eye care and carry out a survey of eye defects. More than 460 Aboriginal communities were visited, and 62,000 Aboriginal People were examined, leading to 27,000 being treated for trachoma and 1,000 operations being carried out.[5]

Overseas work[edit]

His visits to Nepal in 1985, Eritrea in 1987, and Vietnam in 1991 resulted in training programs to train local technicians to perform eye surgery.[6][7] Hollows organised intraocular lens laboratories in Eritrea and Nepal to manufacture and provide lenses at cost, which was about A$10 (approximately US$9) each. Both laboratories started production after his death, in 1993.[8]

The Fred Hollows Foundation was launched as an Australian charitable foundation in Sydney on 3 September 1992 to continue the work of Fred Hollows in providing eye care for the underprivileged and poor, and to improve the health of indigenous Australians.[citation needed] The Foundation has also registered as a charity organisation in the United Kingdom where Fred did much of his training, and in his country of birth, New Zealand.

Opinions regarding HIV/AIDS[edit]

In 1992, Hollows spoke at the Alice Springs National Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Conference, and argued that some areas of the AIDS campaign were being inadequately dealt with at the time. According to The Australian's Martin Thomas, Hollows stated that some homosexuals were "recklessly spreading the virus"; therefore, the safe sex campaign was an inadequate way of dealing with the issue. To contain the disease, Hollows argued that promiscuity needed to be addressed. Hollows observed the spread of AIDS in contemporary African communities and he was concerned that AIDS would spread as vehemently through Aboriginal communities.[9][10]


Hollows died in Sydney, Australia in 1993 at the age of 63. The cause of his death was metastatic renal cancer primarily affecting his lungs and brain. He had been diagnosed with the disease six years earlier, in 1987. Upon his death the Chief Minister of the ACT, Rosemary Follett, described Hollows to her parliamentary colleagues as "an egalitarian and a self-named anarcho-syndicalist who wanted to see an end to the economic disparity which exists between the First and Third Worlds and who believed in no power higher than the best expressions of the human spirit found in personal and social relationships."[11]

Hollows was given a state funeral service at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, though he was an atheist,[12] and, in accordance with his wishes, was interred in Bourke, where he had worked in the early 1970s.[13] He was survived by his wife Gabi Hollows (an Australian Living Treasure), and children Tanya, Ben, Cam, Emma, Anna-Louise, Ruth and Rosa.

Recognition and awards[edit]

See also[edit]

Himalayan Cataract Project


  1. ^ Editorial: Fred Hollows – GreenLeft online. 17 February 1993
  2. ^ Lewis, Wendy (2010). Australians of the Year. Pier 9 Press. ISBN 978-1-74196-809-5. 
  3. ^ Mum Shirl, Mum Shirl: an autobiography, Mammoth Australia, 1992, pp 107 ISBN 1-86330-144-5
  4. ^ Powerhouse Museum, National Trachoma and Eye Health Program 1976 – improving eye health in remote communities, Accessed 14 August 2008
  5. ^ Hugh R Taylor, Trachoma in Australia, Medical Journal of Australia 2001; 175: 371–372, Accessed 13 August 2008
  6. ^ Ruit S, Brian G, Hollows F., On the practicalities of eye camp cataract extraction and intraocular lens implantation in Nepal, Ophthalmic Surgery. 1990 Dec;21(12):862-5. PubMed Accessed 13 August 2008
  7. ^ Fred Hollows and Garry Brain, Eye surgery in Eritrea, British Journal of Ophthalmology 1991 January; 75(1): 64. Accessed 13 August 2008
  8. ^ "The Fred Hollows Foundation". 
  9. ^ The Hissink File – August 2006
  10. ^ AIDS – Have we got it Right? – ADF
  11. ^ Rosemary Follett, ACT Parliamentary Hansard 16 February 1993
  12. ^ Hildebrand, Joe (11 February 2008). "Fred Hollows remembered at ceremony in Bourke". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 May 2013. 
  13. ^ Fred in Bourke – The Fred Hollows Foundation International
  14. ^ Humanist Society of Victoria Australian Humanists of the Year Accessed 13 August 2008
  15. ^ The 100 most influential Australians – The Bulletin and The Sydney Morning Herald. 27 June 2006
  16. ^ Fred Hollows Featured on Australian $1 Coin – Coin Update News. 19 July 2010
  17. ^ Fred Hollows coin released, Australian Geographic, 8 July 2010

External links[edit]