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Fred Hollows, True Hero

Updated on January 14, 2015

Fred Hollows, 1929 - 1993, gave vision to more than one million people

Fred Hollows 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


Fred Hollows was a True Humanitarian

In the real sense of the word

Fred Hollows 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.


Fred Hollows at work
Fred Hollows at work

Fred, the Wild Colonial Boy

From 1976 to 1978, Fred's volunteer medical teams screened 100,000 people, 60% of whom were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage. Because of this programme, the rate of curable blindness among these communities was halved.

Fred's anger at a system which allowed curable blindness in indigenous Australians often meant that he was considered short tempered. His early campaigns earned him almost as many enemies as friends and he was often referred to as the 'Wild Colonial Boy' of Australian surgery.

"Having a care and concern for others is the highest of the human qualities." ~ Fred Hollows

Fred Hollows at work
Fred Hollows at work

The Work of Fred Hollows

By the 1980s, Fred had extended his campaign for treating avoidable eye disease and was soon traveling all over the world. A great believer in people being empowered to help themselves, Fred set up eye clinics in some of the world's poorest countries.

At these clinics he not only treated people suffering from eye diseases, but also taught local doctors how to treat these diseases so they could continue his work.

As word of his work spread, more and more Australians volunteered their time and donated money so Fred could continue to establish his clinics in developing countries around the world. His dream of setting up an eye lens factory in Eritrea became a reality when Australians donated more then $6 million to the cause.

Three out of four people who are blind don't have to be. They are blinded by poverty alone.

Fred is laid to rest in the Outback - He will always be remembered

Fred's Grave in Bourke

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

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.

Pretty much everyone in the district knew Fred and had a story about him to tell anyone who would listen. Whether it be about how he treated their eyes, how he swore at them, cajoled them, joked or shared a yarn with them.

Fred Hollows will always be remembered in the Outback.

A Granite Sculpture for a Gravestone

Sculpture on Fred's Grave

In 2006, Fred's original gravestone was replaced with a new granite sculpture, created by Austrian sculptor Andreas Buisman and erected with the generous support of friends and the local community.

The Hollows' family invite visitors to touch and feel the rock, to climb on it or sit peacefully and contemplate life.

For them, the polished surface of this new installation is reminiscent of the surface of those small medical marvels, pieces of clinical grade perspex called intraocular lenses. IOLs replace the natural damaged lens of the eye and restore sight to those living with cataract blindness. Factories in Eritrea and Nepal, named after Fred, now manufacture these lenses.

For Fred's Sake

The hymn Amazing Grace declares: "Was blind but now I see." and Fred Hollows has been almost deified since his death in 1993.

It's the sort of joke he would appreciate. Fred, who once studied for the priesthood, died an atheist. In the end he cared too much about humans to devote his life to God. Tran Van Giap was one of those humans.

In 1992, the Vietnamese boy with a severely damaged eye, squeezed to the front of a crowd gathered around Hollows. The boy's injury and lack of treatment enraged Fred. What the seven-year-old didn't know was that Hollows was ravaged with cancer and had less than a year to live.

In 2008, Giap made a pilgrimage of more than 7000km to Bourke to thank the man who turned his life around that day -- and to assure him his work had not been in vain.

A Message from Fred

Cambodia awards Top Medal to Fred's Foundation

The Cambodian Government awarded The Fred Hollows Foundation with a rare medal of honour, acknowledging the organisation's contribution to preventing unnecessary blindness in the country.

The National Development Medal was presented at the official opening of a new eye clinic in Prey Veng Province in south western Cambodia in early November 2008. The medal has only ever been awarded to a handful of International Non Government Organisations.

Australian of the Year

In 1990, the title of Australian of the Year was awarded to Fred Hollows in recognition of his work in treating avoidable blindness in some of the world's poorest communities

Why I support the Fred Hollows Foundation

20% of my income goes to continue Fred's work in treating avoidable blindness and improving indigenous health. If you would like to donate to keep Fred's work going, please visit the The Fred Hollows Foundation

Photo : Khim Rath, who can now see after a successful cataract operation, Kampong Chhnang province, Cambodia.

Blindness is a significant public health issue in Cambodia. Over 160,000 people are blind and an additional 20,000 become blind each year. The main cause of blindness is cataract, which can be treated by a simple 15 minute operation at an average cost of $25

When I donate to Fred Hollows Foundation my money goes to a non-government organisation which seeks to eradicate avoidable blindness in developing countries ...

Did you know about Fred?

Have you heard of Fred Hollows before?

See results

© 2009 Susanna Duffy

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    • jmsp206 profile image

      Julia M S Pearce 

      5 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

      A fantastic page for a really special man!

    • mariacarbonara profile image


      6 years ago

      Hadn't heard of Fred, but its people like this that make the world a better place. Awesome lens

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      What a great tribute to a great humanitarian. Truly, I had never heard of him but I'm glad I stopped by today. I don't have any angel dust, but send you lots of happy grannysage blessings.

    • cdcraftee profile image

      Christine Larsen 

      7 years ago from South Australia

      I love that the advertising fraternity continue to use videos of Fred Hollows on commercials to promote his wonderful cause. Just love seeing those twinkling eyes peering over the specs on the end of his nose. Hope the world never forgets him.


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Truly he was a Great Man. We need more like him in the world

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I dont fully understand how many people have no clue who Fred Hollows was. His ads are on the t.v. all the time. But i guess thats life (:

      Fred Hollows is a great man. I am currently using him in my assignment for "A Great Person In History" This man is the definition of GREAT.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I had not heard of this man. Thanks for sharing his accomplishments, and continuing his work by sharing his story and contributing to his charity.

    • yayas profile image


      8 years ago

      As someone with sight problems, I totally appreciate anyone who understands the devastation that being sightless would bring. I did not know about Fred Hollows before, so I was not in a position to help his cause. Now, the tables are turned an' if I don't do something to help, I have no reason to complain I continue to have problems. Only through helping others can we truly help ourselves.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you so much for writing about this man and the way he lived his life. I am at a loss for words just now to express how I am feeling. What a great man who helped more people than we will ever know. A true reflection of divinity.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      8 years ago from Colorado

      I feel inspired after learning about this exceptional human being. His humanity and generosity made a true difference. Thank you for introducing me to Fred Hollows. I am more for having spent this time reflecting on someone who took action when presented with the critical needs, challenges, and suffering of others. I want to be more like this man. **Blessed.**

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 

      8 years ago from London

      Thanks Susanna, I did not know anything about Fred Hollows, and I am awed and moved by his story.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      An excellent lens about this inspirational man. I'd not heard of Fred before reading your lens and it's this kind of lens which makes Squidoo so wonderful.

      Well done and thank you!

    • Commandrix profile image


      8 years ago from Benson, IL

      Awesome Lens. Good on Fred Hollows for getting out there and helping blind people. There's been a bug going around concerning Lens pictures; you might want to republish to get your missing pictures back.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I learnt a few things. Firstly, you need knowledge. You need knowledge to help people. Secondly, having a care or conern for others is the highest of hman qualities. Surely, i look up to him. He is a great man.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      He is awesome-a great person to know.

    • NovaBlast profile image


      8 years ago

      very informative and inspiring lens thanks for sharing

    • NovaBlast profile image


      8 years ago

      very informative and inspiring lens thanks for sharing

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great lens, I learned something new today, did not know of this amazing person. He is very inspiring :)

    • SusannaDuffy profile imageAUTHOR

      Susanna Duffy 

      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @Paul Ward: The best thing about Fred is that he was nothing like Geldorf. Fred Hollows was a true humanitarian - he wasn't a publicity seeker

    • Paul Ward profile image


      8 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Fantastic work -- sounds almost like Bob Geldof in his manner.

    • SusannaDuffy profile imageAUTHOR

      Susanna Duffy 

      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @KathyMcGraw2: Thanks Kathy. You can visit the Fred Hollows Foundation

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 

      8 years ago from California

      I am so glad I followed your link here. Very inspiring story, and the part about there is money to be made in poverty set the hair on my neck straight up....I detest people and organizations that make a profit on helping others. The one thing missing here, or at least I couldn't find it was where those of us that wanted to can donate? Maybe I too am just blind ;)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Wow, I am sure glad to learn about the wonderful humanitarian work of Fred Hollows. This is a beautiful tribute and very informative.

    • giacombs-ramirez profile image

      gia combs-ramirez 

      8 years ago from Montana

      Wonderful lens, it gave me goosebumps...and now I know who Fred Hollows is!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A few years ago, I suffered from a neurological illness that also threatened my vision. I did, in fact, temporarily lose some of my ability to see certain shades of colors and quite a bit of my peripheral vision. It was terrifying to not know if the damage was permanent or not, or if I would lose my sight completely. Giving someone the gift of sight is really giving them the whole world.

    • cdcraftee profile image

      Christine Larsen 

      9 years ago from South Australia

      I have loved this man from the first moment I heard of him and his work. What a superb human being. Just heard he will be honoured in a new way, with a coin created with his image on one side.

      Lensrolled this beautiful article to my latest lens.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Seriously beautiful lens Susanna. A true hero - giving vision in more ways than restoring sight.

      Yet another challenge to us all to be better human beings.

    • Carmel Aaron profile image

      Carmel Aaron 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this. I am happy to be informed about this man and his wonderful work with people in need.

      I hate the mines. They are just wrong!!!

      I hope to continue learning from you.

      Thank you. Thumbs up!

    • visualNZ profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens...about a great bloke...A Kiwi - Australian... born and studied medicine in Otago... finished his work in Australia, A true Humanitarian!

    • Joandearc LM profile image

      Joandearc LM 

      9 years ago

      An excellent lens Susanna.

      I think it is such a wonderful contribution for yu to be donating 10% of all your web earnings to this cause.

      I was only a child when he passed, but I do remember it being all over the television and my mother explained to me what he had done for so many people.

      Well done! 5*

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      @SusannaDuffy: Susanna, I think you're pretty darn impressive with your donation scheme.

      As for the glasses, I was not referring to the medical magnifiers, but the 'normal' spectacles that have these carved out semi-circles. But now that you mention the magnifiers, it gave me the idea that these semi-circles are for accommodating the magnifiers while wearing his normal spectacles at the same time?

    • SusannaDuffy profile imageAUTHOR

      Susanna Duffy 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      @Quirina: Yes, Fred was a wonderful man, his work still goes on. I give 10% of my earnings (all web income) to Fred Hollows Foundation. Fred is wearing medical magnifiers-loupes.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Dear Susanna, I have two comments to make:

      First - I did not know Fred before reading this and am thoroughly impressed with his work and vision. And I'd like to add: I do not consider being short-tempered a flaw in a person - I think short temper and passion go hand in hand. I think very many people in this world are way too much indifferent about things.

      Second: Am I getting this right? YOU, Susanna, donate 10% of your income to the Foundation? That is 10% of your total net income? Not 'just' Squidoo income (which would be tiny peanuts in my case, but yet possibly very significant in yours...) ???

      Ok, and another question: Why is Fred wearing these funny glasses?

    • ZenandChic profile image


      9 years ago

      Thank God for people like him!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      i think it was the perfect story for the most magnificent man that anyone in the whole wide world could know

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice uplifting true story of a great man. Thanks for sharing and this is a great charity to support.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Great story of a great man.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      10 years ago from USA

      Nice tribute!

    • Wendy L Henderson profile image

      Wendy Henderson 

      10 years ago from PA

      I have never heard of this amazing man. Thank you so much for writing about him and creating this lens.

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 

      10 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I'm so surprised that this amazing man is so little known outside of Australia. I'd never heard of him. I'm glad you've written about him so more people realise what a wonderful job he did for people who would otherwise have gone blind.

    • cjsysreform profile image


      10 years ago

      What a beautiful place to be laid to rest. This is an excellent tribute to someone I hadn't heard of before; thanks for the education. 5*.

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 

      10 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      What an inspiring story! This reminds me of a young lady I met (on the Appalachian Trail) who'd served as a volunteer aboard a ship that travelled to poor countries and brought people on for free eye surgeries. I wonder if she'd known of--or perhaps known--this man.


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