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Devoted to a cause or life's work, you are filled with great love. You feel compelled. You rise to the challenge and make sacrifices beyond duty, unfaltering and constant with grit to live with loyalty and passion. Devotion can inspire others. It can drive a life, be all-consuming. For some, their devotion becomes their life.

Fred Hollows and his devotion to improving Indigenous eye health

Fred Hollows
Professor Fred Hollows, early 1990s. Photo: Michael Amendolia.


Professor Fred Hollows AC was an Australian surgeon and humanitarian who worked to improve the health of Indigenous Australians. He was particularly concerned about the number of people who suffered from trachoma. Left untreated, this bacterial infection of the eye can cause blindness.

Hollows was born in New Zealand. He studied and worked in New Zealand and the United Kingdom before he came to Australia in 1965 as a specialist eye doctor. From 1965 to 1992, he led the ophthalmology teaching departments at the Prince of Wales and Prince Henry hospitals in Sydney.

In the 1960s, Hollows treated two Gurindji elders and then accompanied them back to the Northern Territory where he saw a huge deficiency in the health of Indigenous Australians, including many treatable cases of trachoma. In 1971, he helped to establish the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, Sydney.

Hollows was director of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program in Australia from 1976 to 1978. The program sent teams of ophthalmologists and support staff to communities in regional and outback Australia.

A total of 465 Aboriginal settlements were visited during the program. Staff liaised extensively with Indigenous people and trained Indigenous health workers in measures to help reduce the incidence of eye disease. By the program's end, 27,000 people were treated for trachoma, more than 1000 operations were carried out and 10,000 pairs of individually prescribed glasses were delivered to people in Aboriginal settlements.

Hollows also worked in Africa and Asia. He campaigned for local training and production of low-cost, high-quality lenses to assist people worldwide in obtaining better eye care.

Hollows was diagnosed with cancer in 1989. He continued to work and travel overseas, campaigning for blindness prevention and reducing the cost of eye care and treatment in developing countries.

Fred Hollows died in 1993. In accordance with his wishes, he was buried in Bourke in western New South Wales where he felt a strong connection to the local community. The Fred Hollows Foundation was established by Fred, his wife Gabi, and friends a year before his death. The foundation continues the campaign to end avoidable blindness and to improve Indigenous health.

A portable eye chart used by Fred Hollows during his time with the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program is on show in the National Museum's Eternity gallery.

Listen to Audio on Demand: Remembering Fred Hollows

More on the Fred Hollows collection

Bob Brown and his devotion to the Franklin River

Black and white photograph showing a smiling man reclining in a small raft. He wears a life jacket and holds an oar and appears to be wet. The man's knees rest against a netted drum towards the front of the raft.
Bob Brown on the Franklin River, 1980. Photo: Les O'Rourke, Fairfaxphotos.

Born 1944

Bob Brown is a leading conservationist and Australian parliamentarian. His devotion to saving the Franklin River wilderness in south-west Tasmania transformed him into a national icon for green issues. A life jacket worn by Brown while rafting on the Franklin River is on show in the Eternity gallery.

During the 1970s, following the flooding of Lake Pedder for a hydro-electric scheme, the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission announced plans to flood the Gordon and Franklin Rivers in Tasmania's largely untamed southwest.

An orange life jacket mounted on a mannequin. The sleeveless jacket has a collar, zip at the front and two black straps around the middle.
A life jacket worn by Bob Brown during the Franklin River campaign. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Dr Bob Brown, medical doctor, had rafted down the Franklin and knew first hand what was at stake if the river was to be lost under a dam. He quickly rose to prominence after taking on the directorship of the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and becoming one of Australia's most outspoken and high profile opponents of the Franklin Dam proposal.

Brown and the Wilderness Society were spectacularly successful in galvanising national public opinion against the Gordon and Franklin project.

The 'No Dams' campaign that commenced in 1981 culminated in the July 1983 decision by the High Court of Australia against the construction of the dam.

The 'Save the Franklin' campaign was one of the major social and political events of late 20th century Australia.

As a result of Brown's efforts to preserve Australia's natural heritage, he was made Australian of the Year in 1983.

He was elected as an independent to the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1983 and he has served as a federal senator for the Australian Greens since 1996. Brown has campaigned on many other environmental and social justice issues and has written a number of books.

The life jacket on show is part of a much broader collection of material donated to the National Museum by Bob Brown. The 3000 items of ephemera, documents and personal artefacts concentrate on the Franklin Dam campaign.

Bob Brown material in the National Museum collection

More on Australia's water story from the Water exhibition

Ida Prosser-Fenn and her devotion to nursing and her husband

Sister Ida Elizabeth Muriel Prosser, 1937
Sister Ida Elizabeth Muriel Prosser, 1937. Courtesy: Ida Prosser-Fenn's daughters, Elizabeth and Beverly.


I cannot describe our departure from the Aird Hill Mission Station I visualise those dear young people on the wharf crying and singing in English. Now is the hour when we must say goodbye.

With a heavy heart we had the unbelievable ordeal of adjusting to the so-called civilised way of life, longing for the uncritical loyalty of our Papuan friends.

Ida Elizabeth Prosser-Fenn, 1985–86

Ida Elizabeth Prosser-Fenn and her husband Reverend Edward Richard Fenn were missionaries in Papua New Guinea from 1937 until 1952. Together they learnt that being missionaries in Papua New Guinea involved more than just preaching and teaching.

While the Reverend Fenn assisted with building and maintenance, Ida Prosser-Fenn, a nurse by trade, provided a range of medical assistance, particularly to the women and children of the surrounding villages.

Known as Bohobo Puripuri Upi – white medicine woman – Ida Prosser-Fenn devoted her time in PNG, not only to her husband's work, but to treating injury and disease and assisting women through pregnancy and labour.

On display in Eternity is a grass skirt from Papua New Guinea that belonged to Ida Prosser-Fenn.

Sir Littleton Ernest Groom and his devotion to his family


Sir Littleton Ernest Groom is probably best known for his career as a vocal and long-serving non-Labor member, minister and Speaker of the Commonwealth House of Representatives between the 1900s and the 1930s. Born in Toowoomba, Queensland, he trained as a barrister and fell into politics, taking over his father's seat in the new Commonwealth House of Representatives in 1901. His parliamentary career was prominent and busy, often taking him away from his Queensland-based family. At the same time, Groom was passionately devoted to his life outside politics, particularly his family and the Anglican Church. The Eternity story focuses on his devotion both to his family, as seen through letters he wrote to his wife, and on his political career.

A silver key, presented to Littleton Groom as he was the inaugural Speaker of the House of Representatives when Parliament House opened on 9 May 1927, is on display.

Stories previously on display

Annette Kellerman
Devoted to a healthy lifestyle and championing the modern swimsuit

Faith Bandler
Campaigner for Aboriginal citizenship rights (1960s)

Joy Burns
Devotion to the Christian Women's Association

Gilbert Dyett
Worked in recruitment during the Second World War and after the war for the organisation that became the Returned and Services League

Jack Lamont
Cared for his wife, Daphne, who has advanced dementia (contemporary)

Mary MacKillop
Co-founder of the Sisters of St Joseph and devotion to helping people in poverty (1860s-1900s)

Emma Miller
Trade unionist and women's rights activist devoted to achieving women's voting rights (1900s)

William Morrow
Devoted to international peace (1930s-60s)

Peter Pedals
Renewable energy and products (contemporary)

William Saville-Kent
English-born marine biologist whose work had an enormous impact on the early study and management of Australian fisheries and reef conservation (1890s)

Benny Zable
Anti-nuclear activist and artist devoted to the peace movement (1980s)

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