Through his extensive work in rural Australia, Fred developed a strong affinity with Indigenous communities, in particular the north-west New South Wales town of Bourke. His passionate work in the region culminated 40 years ago with the establishment of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program, which he led working with the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmology. The program halved avoidable blindness in Indigenous Australian communities.
Today, on the anniversary of his passing, we’re looking back at Fred’s strong bond with Indigenous Australia, as Gabi Hollows and our team visit his final resting place in Bourke this week to remember him.
I like the Australian outback … and I like the people of Bourke because it’s just sort of good honest eye work and the people of Bourke seem to like the service we give them.
- Fred Hollows
When Fred’s ophthalmology work brought him to Australia permanently in the sixties, it wasn’t long before he found himself making regular trips to Bourke and nearby Enngonia, discovering the inequity in the state of Aboriginal health and dedicating his efforts to its improvement.
It’s about seven years since we first came here… We certainly haven’t seen as much pus in the kids’ noses, and the ears, although still many times the white rate, are much better… Of course the damn show shouldn’t be here should it? We’ve had seven years, surely all of the Aborigines in Bourke could’ve have been housed in those seven years.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Fred was always demanding improvement. He could not help but express his discontent with the lack of progress that had been made in the seven years since his first visit to Bourke. His endeavour always pushed for the development of the health services of those in need. As we acknowledge the vital improvements since Fred’s first trip to Bourke, the fact remains that we have much more yet to do before Fred’s vision of true equality in eye health services for all Australians becomes a reality.
I wanna be buried in the Bourke cemetery, and I want my wake to be held with me in the coffin on that big clay bank north-west of Bourke. I’ve fallen deeply in love with this great concave continent. And that’s the closest bit of it that’s real Australia to here. I just hope I live a few weeks or months longer so that the temperature may come down a bit.
Today, Bourke remains Fred’s final resting place, but it represents something greater. It’s a place where among the red dirt, the spirit of Fred’s work can be seen; a snapshot of the “real Australia” that he fought so hard for. As we reflect on Fred’s legacy, Gabi Hollows, our CEO Brian Doolan and members of the original National Trachoma Program are making the trip to Fred’s grave up in Bourke to remember the great man and reminisce about the inimitable one-of-a-kind character. Reflecting on Fred and his connection to Bourke, we can not only see the vital progress that has been made since Fred’s time, but also with the work that still needs to be done.
Head to our Facebook and Twitter pages to follow Gabi and Brian as they catch up with old members from the National Trachoma Program and tell yarns remembering Fred on the anniversary of his passing today. You can also discover more about Fred himself at our About Fred section.