Childhood & Early Life
Fred Hollows was born to Joseph and Clarice Hollows on April 9, 1929 in Dunedin, New Zealand, where he continued to live for his first seven years of life. He was the middle child, with three brothers: Colin, John and Maurice.
As a young boy, he attended ‘Northeast Valley Primary School’ in New Zealand. At the age of 13, he began his high school education at ‘Palmerston North Boys’ High School’.
He was impacted greatly by his father’s empathy for humanity. His dad was a Christian Marxist who believed everyone should receive a fair wage for their work. It was this beginning that would later influence Fred to bring medical care to the poor.
Growing up, his parents were very religious, encouraging Fred to become a missionary. He even attended seminary for a short time to live out this dream.
After working a summer job in a mental hospital in Porirua, he realized that he wanted to help people in another way. He decided to get his BA degree at ‘Victoria University of Wellington’ and complete his medical degree from ‘Otega Medical School’.
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Fred Hollows’ first job after medical school was at the ‘Auckland Public Hospital’, where he was able to assist eye surgeons.
He continued to advance his knowledge in ophthalmology at ‘Tauranga Public Hospital’, where he assisted in operations and eventually performed cataract surgeries independently. He dreamed of one day helping the poor in Africa, and because there is a lot of cataract blindness in Africa, he wanted to become proficient at treating this disorder.
He gained experience in the latest medical technology at one of the largest hospitals in the country, ‘Wellington’. It was here that the first retinal camera was used.
He quickly realized he would need more specialized education in order to reach his dream of helping the poor. In 1961, he began his post-graduate training at ‘Moorfields Eye Hospital’, one of the top training hospitals for ophthalmology in London, England.
He completed his fellowship at the ‘Royal College of Surgeons’ and began working as an ophthalmology registrar in the ‘Royal Infirmary’ in Wales. It was here, in Wales, that he met his mentor, Professor Archie Cochrane.
The professor and Fred collaborated on a glaucoma survey, which served to popularize Hollows’ work and encouraged him to incorporate treatment with all future surveys he would perform.
In 1965, he moved to Australia, where he was appointed as the Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the ‘University of New South Wales’.
He continued to oversee the education at ‘Prince Henry’ and the ‘Prince of Wales’ hospitals from 1965-1992. He increased the level of care provided, performing the ‘Prince of Wales Hospital’s first cataract extraction.
In 1968, he began to turn his focus to the lack of healthcare provided for the Aborigines. He visited the Gurindji camp in the ‘Northern Territory’ and was disheartened by the number of people suffering from preventable blindness, especially trachoma.
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In 1971, he set up a proper treatment facility for the Aborigines, the ‘Aboriginal Medical Service’, in Redfern. Hollows worked together with the ‘Aboriginal Legal Service’ to set up additional treatment facilities throughout Australia.
In 1976-1978, he initiated the ‘National Trachoma and Eye Health Program’, which screened more than 100,000 underprivileged natives, and reduced the rate of curable blindness by half.
Hollows worked with the ‘World Health Organization’, to eradicate preventable blindness and bring quality healthcare to the masses. In 1985, he visited Nepal to assist in the training of local technicians and to reduce the cost of eye care.
In 1987, he visited one of the world’s poorest countries, Eritrea, which in the middle of a fierce civil war. He established intraocular lens laboratories in both Eritrea and Nepal to provide lenses for those in need at an affordable cost.
It was Fred’s lifelong goal to provide eye care for those who were unable to obtain it due to money or circumstances. He helped establish the ‘Fred Hollows Foundation’ to meet these goals. The foundation was launched on September 3, 1992.
Awards & Achievements
In 1985, Fred Hollows refused to acknowledge the award for honorary ‘Officer of the Order of Australia’ because of the lack of interest the government showed for Aboriginal healthcare.
In 1990, he was named the ‘Australian of the Year’ because of the advances in eye health that he brought to the underprivileged.
In 2004, he was entered into the Hall of Fame at the ‘NSW Aboriginal Health Awards’ for his contribution in the advancement of Aboriginal healthcare.
In 2010, the ‘Royal Australian Mint’ featured him on the one dollar coin that was a part of ‘Inspirational Australians Series’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Fred met his wife, Gabi O’Sullivan during his training in orthoptics in the early 1970’s, and they continued to work together at the ‘Prince of Wales Hospital’. They got married after ten years of courtship.
After fighting a long battle with renal cancer he succumbed to death as the disease affected his lungs and brain. The philanthropic doctor breathed his last on 10 February, 1993.