Fred Hollows

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Fred Hollows

Fred Hollows
Frederick Cossom Hollows

(1929-04-09)9 April 1929
Dunedin, New Zealand
Died10 February 1993(1993-02-10) (aged 63)
NationalityNew Zealander/Australian
OccupationOphthalmologist, philanthropist
Spouse(s)Mary Skiller (m.1958–1975)
Gabi O'Sullivan (m.1980–1993; his death)
Children7[citation needed]

Frederick Cossom Hollows AC (9 April 1929 – 10 February 1993) was a New Zealand–Australian ophthalmologist who became known for his work in restoring eyesight for thousands of people in Australia and many other countries. It is 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 Cossom Hollows was one of a family of four boys; 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.[1] 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. In 1951, Edmund Hillary was on a test run for Everest, and was backpacking up the Tasman Glacier towards Malte Brun Hut; all five were carrying loads of 70 lb (32 kg) or more. Hillary was "met by a young man (Hollows) who came bounding down to meet me and offered to carry my load up to the hut. No one had ever offered to carry my load before, but it was too good an offer to refuse. I handed my pack over and saw his legs buckle slightly at the knees."[2]

Hollows was a member of the Communist Party of New Zealand during the 1950s and 1960s.[3]

Hollows was married twice: in 1958 to Mary Skiller, who died in 1975, and in 1980 to Gabi O'Sullivan. He first met Gabi in the early 1970s during her training as an orthoptist, and they later worked together on the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. They would ultimately found The Fred Hollows Foundation together.

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.[4] 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 to 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. Inspired by the missionary ophthalmologist Fr Frank Flynn,[5] he became especially concerned with the high number of Aboriginal people who had eye disorders, particularly trachoma, an eye disease not found elsewhere in the developed world. These visits inspired his life's mission to advocate for better access to eye health and living conditions for Indigenous Australians. 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9][10] These experiences motivated him to find a way to reduce the cost of eye care and treatment in developing countries. Hollows organised intraocular lens laboratories in Eritrea and Nepal to manufacture and provide lenses at cost, which was about A$10 (approximately US$7.50) each. Both laboratories started production after his death, in 1993.[11] Today, the factories have produced millions of lenses and are a continuing reminder of his enduring impact.

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. 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.[12][13]


Farnham House, the Hollows home in the suburb of Randwick

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."[14]

Hollows was given a state funeral service at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, though he was an atheist.[15] In accordance with his wishes, he was interred in Bourke, where he had worked in the early 1970s.[16] He was survived by his wife Gabi Hollows (an Australian Living Treasure), and children Tanya, Ben, Cam, Emma, Anna-Louise, Ruth and Rosa.

A reserve near his old home in the Sydney suburb of Randwick was named Fred Hollows Reserve in 1993.[citation needed]

Recognition and awards[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fact Sheet Fred Hollows" (PDF). The Fred Hollows Foundation. Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 October 2013.
  2. ^ Hillary, Edmund (1999). View from the Summit. Auckland: Doubleday/Random House. pp. 69, 70. ISBN 0-908821-09-3.
  3. ^ Editorial: Fred Hollows – GreenLeft online. 17 February 1993
  4. ^ Lewis, Wendy (2010). Australians of the Year. Pier 9 Press. ISBN 978-1-74196-809-5.
  5. ^ Campion, Edmund (2014). "A man of deep respect: Frank Flynn MSC" (PDF). Australian Catholic Lives. David Lovell Publishing. pp. 46–48. ISBN 9781863551458.
  6. ^ Mum Shirl, Mum Shirl: an autobiography, Mammoth Australia, 1992, pp 107 ISBN 1-86330-144-5
  7. ^ Powerhouse Museum, National Trachoma and Eye Health Program 1976 – improving eye health in remote communities, Accessed 14 August 2008
  8. ^ Hugh R Taylor, Trachoma in Australia, Medical Journal of Australia 2001; 175: 371–372, Accessed 13 August 2008
  9. ^ 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. PMID 2096350 Accessed 13 August 2008
  10. ^ Fred Hollows and Garry Brain, Eye surgery in Eritrea, British Journal of Ophthalmology 1991 January; 75(1): 64. Accessed 13 August 2008
  11. ^ "The Fred Hollows Foundation".
  12. ^ The Hissink File – August 2006 Archived 26 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ AIDS – Have we got it Right? Archived 3 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine – ADF
  14. ^ Rosemary Follett, ACT Parliamentary Hansard 16 February 1993
  15. ^ Hildebrand, Joe (11 February 2008). "Fred Hollows remembered at ceremony in Bourke". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  16. ^ "Fred in Bourke". The Fred Hollows Foundation International. Archived from the original on 17 February 2012.
  17. ^ Humanist Society of Victoria Australian Humanists of the Year Archived 30 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 13 August 2008
  18. ^ The 100 most influential Australians – The Bulletin and The Sydney Morning Herald. 27 June 2006
  19. ^ Fred Hollows Featured on Australian $1 Coin – Coin Update News. 19 July 2010
  20. ^ Fred Hollows coin released[permanent dead link], Australian Geographic, 8 July 2010
  21. ^ Goodwin, Eileen (8 September 2016). "Street named for surgeon". Otago Daily Times.
  22. ^ Incat ferries bound for Denmark & Sydney Harbour The Mercury 21 April 2017

External links[edit]