Special report by Gabi Hollows, Founding Director
Australia: Gilbray Alum is a real charmer, 70 years old, and a true gentleman; warm, softly spoken and with a quiet, wise way about him.
Restoring sight restores dignity and life
After droving the great cattle routes of Northern Australia for more than 30 years, Gilbray had lost most of his eyesight as a result of cataracts.
I remember visiting a stock camp with Fred in the late 1970s and we were shocked to find that 8 of the 11 Aboriginal stockmen there needed some form of eye surgery.
Now Gilbray hardly ever travels far from his hometown of Elliott, a remote settlement in the Northern Territory, halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs.
I met Gilbray on one of his rare visits to Alice Springs.
The 1,500-kilometre return bus trip to Alice is a long journey for anyone, let alone an elderly man like Gilbray, but this visit to Alice was special.
Gilbray was in town waiting to have the cataracts removed from his eyes.
His dream was to once again take the young men out and teach them how to hunt the traditional way.
"I'll be able to hunt good when I get my eyes fixed up," he told me.
Restoring sight in our own backyard
The operating theatre was busy on the day of Gilbray's procedure. Eye health workers had come from all over Australia to assist in a week of intensive surgery – one of a number organised by The Foundation and our partners every year.
Gilbray waited patiently for hours.
After the procedure was over, ophthalmologist Dr Tim Henderson said Gilbray’s operation hadn’t been easy.
"It was quite difficult because he had corneal scarring which makes the central area quite hazy,” he told us. “But the operation went very well, and we managed to get the entire lens clouding out."
The next day Gilbray returned to the hospital to find out if the operation had worked – if his sight had been restored.
It's given him back his manhood
The patch was removed. He blinked and smiled. "It's a bit bright, but I think I can see even better from this eye than from the other one," he said.
Dr Henderson said, "The impact of cataract surgery is like giving Gilbray his manhood back. He can now pass on all the men's business he'd previously been unable to do".
With his sight restored, Gilbray can go hunting with his son Michael, and he can be a strong role model and leader to the young men of Elliott, teaching them the traditional knowledge that preserves their culture and dignity.
Fred spent his life working to improve the health of Indigenous Australians like Gilbray.
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