Speech to Parliament: Tribute to Brien Holden

It is with great sadness that I pay tribute to the life of my mate, Brien Holden, an internationally acclaimed researcher and head of the Brien Holden Vision Institute at the University of New South Wales.

Brien was a tireless advocate for the vision impaired and, in particular, those in developing nations. He has been described as the most influential optometrist of our time.


After studying optometry at Melbourne university, Brian travelled to the UK to undertake his PhD. He was a social activist during his university years. On the journey to England, Brien saw firsthand the poverty and hardship of many at ports along the journey. This inspired Brien to use his medical expertise for human improvement and social justice, and that is exactly what he did for the remainder of his life: he devoted his life to vision correction for the poor throughout the world.

In 1971 he took up a position at the University of New South Wales and quickly worked on establishing a world-leading optometry research and development institute. In 1976, the Cornea and Contact Lens Research Unit was established, developing breakthrough advances in vision correction and attracting the best and brightest researchers and students throughout the world. This also attracted the support of government.

The Hawke government, through the Cooperative Research Centres Program, worked in collaboration with the institute and industry to develop and commercialise some of the most advanced contact lens and corrective eye care in the world.

One man had a passion for humanity and devoted his life to making life better for others. The Brien Holden Vision Institute works in 54 countries. It provides optometry services to 3.2 million people throughout the world. It has trained 139,000 in eye care, developed nine schools of optometry throughout the world and generated millions of dollars in royalties to the Australian economy. The institute is fittingly named after the man whose vision it was to establish it.

In 1997, Brien was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia. He received 30 international awards and six honorary doctorates . He was, quite simply, a great Australian. He was a larger-than-life character who loved his family and loved his staff.

On several occasions, I visited the Brien Holden Vision Institute. If you want to talk about jobs of the future, walk through the halls of the Brien Holden Vision Institute and see the jobs of the future in operation today. I have never seen a workforce that was so passionate and so devoted to their boss as the staff of the Brien Holden Vision Institute were to Brien Holden. He loved his staff, he took an interest in all of his staff and they reciprocated. He loved his sport; he was a great fan of the Swans. He loved life, he had a big heart and he devoted his life to making the lives of others better. Sincere condolences to his wife, Yvonne, and to Anthony, Karen and Daniel.

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