The Observatory

Q&A with John Howie

We welcome John Howie to the Vision 2020 Australia Board and talk to him about his passion for the law, arts and sport and what inspired him to join the eye health and vision care sector. John has practiced as a lawyer in Melbourne for nearly 50 years. He is currently a board member on the Professional Advisory Board to La Trobe University Law School but has sat on the board of the Melbourne Olympic Park Board of Management, Montsalvat Foundation, and Chaired the Film Victoria Board – to name just a few!

  • Firstly, John, welcome to Vision 2020 Australia Board. What attracted you to Vision 2020 Australia and what are you most looking forward to in your role in the eye health and vision care sector?

For many years I have had an interest in organisations working internationally in the health area. I have been a director of a not-for-profit organisation in South East Asia involving dentists and dental surgeons who repair cleft palates. It is one of several similar organisations operating throughout Asia and Africa. Also, I have had a long interest in the work of the Fred Hollow’s Foundation and its aim to prevent unnecessary blindness.

So in discussions with Barry Jones over the years, I have been interested in the aims of Vision 2020 Australia in seeking to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision loss by the year 2020.

I was therefore delighted to be invited to join the Board.

  • As someone who has worked as a lawyer all your professional life, what is it that you love about the law? And what is your proudest career achievement?

The training and professional practice of lawyers requires clear thinking and the necessity to argue a position dispassionately.  I have a long interest in social justice, and was involved in the early establishment of Legal Aid Centres which were set up to assist people without sufficient means to defend themselves in criminal matters, and to give advice generally. Lawyers are often involved in the defence of human rights and the fight for social justice.

While I have worked in many fields of law, including acting on behalf of major global corporations in patent extension applications and other commercial litigation, the matters that have given me the most satisfaction have involved acting for workers who had been injured in industrial accidents, and working to ensure that they were adequately compensated for their injuries.

  • Outside of law, you have sat on a number of boards across film and television and were the Deputy Director of the Montsalvat Foundation. Tell us about your interest in the arts.

My interest in the Arts goes back to my school days during which time I enjoyed visiting the National Gallery of Victoria that was attached to the State Library at the time.

I have also been interested in film for many years. I joined the University Film Society on my first day at Melbourne University when I became a great fan of the films of the Swedish Director, Ingmar Bergman. This interest continues with my regular attendance at The Melbourne Film Festival. I was involved as the Chair of Film Victoria during the resurgence of the film, television and digital media industry during the 1980’s and the first 10 years of the 21st century.

I have been a long time member of the National Gallery of Victoria, and I am now actively involved in Montsalvat, the wonderful heritage facility at Eltham in Victoria which houses resident artists and conducts programs of concerts and art exhibitions. 

My interest in the arts has also been a major part of my travel arrangements over the years. I have been privileged to have visited some of the great galleries of the world and to attend major theatres in London, Paris, New York, Washington, Berlin, Istanbul and Venice.  Loving the arts has been a significant part of my life and again I am lucky to have lived in Melbourne where there is so much art, music, theatre and literature on offer.

  • John, you have had an association with Melbourne Olympic Park Trust, Melbourne Olympic Park Board of Management, Sports Federation Victoria (VicSport) and National Tennis Centre Board of Trustees. As a Melburnian, how important is sport to you and how has it changed over the years?

I strongly believe that sport is very important in developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. At school I played cricket, football, hockey, swimming and water polo. Now I swim regularly in a squad at Melbourne Swimming Aquatic Centre and I participate in ocean races, such as the Lorne pier to pub.

During my term as chair of VicSport I was concerned to promote the further development of sport at a grass roots level. As a member of the Olympic Park Trust I was involved in the development of the Tennis Centre Complex from 1986.

  • You have clearly contributed to a lot of not-for-profit boards throughout your career. What has inspired you to undertake this volunteer activity?

I have always believed that volunteers make a valuable contribution to life in Victoria.  Therefore it seemed natural for me to join a not-for-profit organisation. I presently chair two boards, one of which provides financial support for programs assisting under-privileged primary school children in Gippsland Victoria. The other board is involved in the creation of art programs in Avoca in country Victoria.

  • And finally, on a personal note, can you tell us something that most people don’t know about you and / or would be surprised to know about you (it could be a hobby, non-work related achievement or something similar!)

Unfortunately some matters must remain private, but I can reveal that I am still playing water polo and I don’t like films that end without hope.