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Launch of 'A Beacon of Hope – 140 years of eye care in the holy land, 1882-2022', Government House


This is Ngunnawal Country. This afternoon we are all meeting together on this Ngunnawal Country. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Elders.

Good afternoon, all, and welcome to Government House. Linda and I are delighted to have you here.

One of the positive outcomes to emerge from Australia’s response to the pandemic has been the recognition of services provided by those in the health sector which perhaps had not been as highly recognised in the past.

Over the last few years our health sector workers have figured prominently in the national conversation. They have been admired for their expertise, for their dedication to keeping us safe and for being a reassuring presence in our lives.

One organisation synonymous with health care across the globe is the Order of St John.

The book that I am launching today, ‘A Beacon of Hope’, is both an historical record of the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital Group and a celebration of the Order’s contribution to humanity.

In February 2020, Linda and I had the great pleasure of visiting the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital when we were in Israel representing Australia at the World Holocaust Forum.

I must admit that a wry smile came over my face when I read in the book that ‘one rationale for the production of a formal history of the Eye Hospital Group was its usefulness in informing the long line of prominent international visitors who came to the Hospital.’ We come because the Hospital's reputation speaks loudly.

Recalling that visit and seeing firsthand the impact of the Hospital and its staff on people’s lives, it is hard not to become emotional.

In that hospital, Linda and I saw the best of humanity.

There were no barriers placed in the way of people receiving good clinical care.

Brilliant people, dedicated people — people selflessly caring for others regardless of their race, religion, culture, class and nationality. You cannot ask for better service than that.

For 140 years, the Group’s practitioners and staff across four hospitals and a mobile outreach service have preserved the sight of millions of people and restored the sight of many hundreds of thousands of others.

The ‘how’ is the story of this book.

What is truly remarkable is that for much of that period the work has been undertaken against a backdrop of wars, intifadas, insurrections and military actions.

Several chapters are devoted to these upheavals and serve to highlight the ability of Hospital staff to adapt to a changing environment.

A table in Chapter 7 showing the ophthalmic caseload during World War 2 also indicates a strong work ethic amongst staff and a high number of positive health outcomes.

Says a Warden at the Hospital during World War 2: ‘We have counted ourselves fortunate in being able to carry on our work throughout the year almost unaffected by military operations in neighbouring countries.’

At all times, the Hospital has maintained its humanitarian ethos, dispensing its services at no charge to those in need.
What the Order is essentially saying to people in need is: no matter the environment and the dangers, risks and challenges we and you might face, we will still be here to help you.

That is a very powerful message to send to someone in need.

‘A Beacon of Hope’ tells an uplifting story.

We are indebted to the three authors – Dr Glozier, Dr Howie-Willis and Emeritus Professor Pearn for their persistence in pursuing the research, writing and publication of this book.

I thank St John Ambulance Australia for producing such a fine book.

A final point: a hospital cannot function without people.

I was delighted to see in the Appendices, lists of people who have contributed to the Order’s St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, in many and varied capacities, over the decades.

They are the real heroes of this book.

It is now my great pleasure to launch ‘A Beacon of Hope.’