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First Conference of the six Australian State Associations held in December 1918 at which the Australasian Optometrical Association was established.


By Rhiannon Riches

Optometry Australia is celebrating its 100-year anniversary today and to mark the occasion, we’re looking back on how the organisation has shaped the optometry sector.

The Australasian Optometrical Association was founded as a federation of the state associations at the first national conference held in Melbourne on 3–6 December 1918 after a false start a decade prior.

The first known optometry association was the Australasian Optical Association, which formed in Sydney in 1904. It had five objectives, according to historian Charles Wright; to federate into an organisation representing all branches of the profession in Australia and New Zealand, to foster the growth and diffusion of optical knowledge generally, to promote friendly intercourse among opticians, to safeguard the material interests of the optical profession, and to elevate the standard of optical education.

The subscription was one guinea per year, which equates to roughly $150 today.

That first objective – to federate – wasn’t realised for a decade. When a state association was formed in Queensland in 1908, the Sydney-based Australasian Optometrical Association converted itself into a second state association, this time representing the interests of optometrists in New South Wales. It changed its name to the Institute of Ophthalmic Opticians of New South Wales, abandoning the goal of being a national association.

Other states followed in Queensland’s path. The Victorian Optical Association founded in 1911, the South Australian Optical Association founded in 1913, the Western Australian Optical Association founded in 1916, as did the Tasmanian Optical Association when two separate associations, one in the north and one in the south of the state, joined forces.

Charles Wright writes: ‘When the State Associations met together for the first time in 1918, it was necessary to decide the matter of a constitution and that would depend on whether they would form an association of optometrists or an association of optometrical associations. It was to be the latter: a federation’.

At this first National Conference in Melbourne in 1918, 35-year-old Wilfred Wenborn, who was then New South Wales State President, made the first speech which set a theme for the whole conference.

‘He proposed that the individual State Associations should ‘affiliate’. On this theme he moved the first definitive motion of the Conference: to the effect that the State Associations would form a federation of autonomous State Associations by agreeing together to delegate certain of their sovereign powers to a national body’ wrote Charles Wright.

The motion was unanimously agreed. The new national association was established and named the Australasian Optometrical Association (AOA).

Wilfred Wenborn became national president the following year, in 1919.

OA PresidentsOA Presidents 2

Optometry Australia’s current President Darrell Baker said: ‘Our organisation was conceived on 3 December, 1918 when a group of visionary optometrists representing their state organisations agreed to create a dedicated national professional body.

‘Over the past century optometry in Australia has evolved into a respected primary health care profession, attracting the ‘best and brightest’ to complete high quality, accredited, entry-level university courses, and providing clinical care to around nine million patients annually.

As a sector, we have much to look forward to.’

References: Charles Wright AM, History of Australian Optometry (Australian Optometrical Association, 1988)
Barry Cole, A History of Australian Optometry, (Australian College of Optometry, 2015)

Read also:

Optometry Australia’s 100 years of milestones including Medicare.

And a decade on the PBS for optometry medications.


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Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.