Saturday, December 26, 2020



I recently created a book of this blog. I must confess part of my desire to do this was based on the assumption that it might be of interest to someone after I’ve gone. Or that it might have value as an historical document about the early days of the Internet and education – the raison d’etre for this blog for its first 15 years. And I thought too that if it exists in hard copy its contents will be less likely to disappear off the face of the earth. I realise now too that I want some evidence to survive me that might explain to others what I did with my life!

I watched the movie Troy yesterday and in it Achilles makes it clear that he leads the life he does because he intends to be remembered after his death. (And it worked!) I guess that would be nice – even if a tad irrelevant for the person who is now dead – but I do have a desire now to pass some things on. I have a feeling that many friends and family really don’t have much idea what I’ve done with large parts of my life, particularly in the e-space, so getting this blog printed goes some way to addressing that.

I doubt if many who know me are aware of the fact that I have written around 100 songs. Of varying quality certainly, and this next step might be a little indulgent, but I’m going to begin adding the lyrics to these songs to this blog.

The first song I wrote was in 1972. I was 18. I had clearly been hurt and was feeling a bit sorry for myself – I’m guessing it was about a girl – but I don’t actually remember. As far as lyrics go I don’t think it’s too bad for an 18 year old. It’s a bit dramatic but at least shows signs of some early ‘wisdom’ about how the world works. I’d clearly worked out that just because you know why you’re hurting doesn’t stop the pain!



To be hurt is to feel pain
To be hurt is to see rain
To be hurt is good for the pride
It brings you down to what you hide


Then why do I wonder
          why do I cry
          why can’t I smile
When I know the reason why?

To be hurt is to be nothing
To be hurt is to have nothing
To be hurt is to feel everything
Like you never felt it before


To be hurt is to shatter
All those dreams of perfection
To be hurt is a state of mind
That you never dreamed would happen


Copyright Michael Coghlan 1972




Thursday, December 24, 2020

Lit Up Inside - Selected Lyrics of Van Morrison

 (I have no idea if this review was ever published anywhere. Found it today in the archives so thought I'd put it on the record. Written early 2015.)

Lit Up Inside
Selected Lyrics of Van Morrison
Edited by Eamonn Hughes

(Faber & Faber, 2014, 208 pp, RRP $27.99

Van Morrison
I wasn’t sure why someone would want to publish a book of lyrics these days. Lyric sites abound on the net and you can turn up the lyrics of any song you care to name for free in a matter of seconds. And initially I wasn’t sure either why someone would publish a book of lyrics of Van Morrison songs in particular. I don’t think of Van Morrison primarily as a lyricist. He’s a singer, and one of the finest of his generation. He changed the sound of much contemporary music forever with his unique brand of white soul. But he’s an emotional singer that relies very much on painting moods, and these moods are painted with words.

Before I opened the cover of Lit Up Inside I randomly chose a few of my favourite Van Morrison songs to see if they were included – Moondance, Tupelo Honey, Into the Mystic, Brown Eyed Girl, Wavelength - they’re all there. In fact, one third of all the songs he’s ever written are included. I started to remember beautifully sung phrases:

“Well it’s a marvellous night for a moondance
A fantabulous night to make romance” (Moondance)

‘“You can take all the tea in China
Put it in a big brown bag for me” (Tupelo Honey)

And then they just kept coming:

“I want to go to another country that operates along completely different lines”

 “What you lose on the hobby horses you gain on the swings”

“Chopping wood; carry water
What’s the sound of one hand clapping?
Enlightenment – I don’t know what it is” (Enlightenment)

So I’m changing my mind now. I’d forgotten how many fine lyrical moments of his had permanently lodged in my memory and become part of my lexicon.

A foreward from Ian Rankin tells us that there were often ‘stories in the music’ of Van Morrison with characters and commentary, and many of his songs reveal a “search for the spiritual in the commonplace.” Indeed, you don’t listen to Van Morrison for very long before hearing evidence of his preoccupation of things spiritual. But it is not a religious preoccupation in the sense of having a set of beliefs he wants to share. It is more to do with exploring the uncertain nature of existence in the everyday. And he names those places of the everyday, and they are often in his hometown of Belfast. He was one of the first pop/rock writers to name local streets and bars and towns in song the way popular American songwriters have always done. He saw the value of his own place – “even somewhere as unpromising as industrial east Belfast…..can be offered as a place of potential spiritual wonder”. It didn’t need to be Chicago, or San Francisco, or Belfast for that matter. As Morrison sings of his life in Belfast I see and remember the streets and pubs and haunts here in my city that played the same role in my life. By naming parts of Belfast in his songs, he actually legitimised the local experience of people listening to his tales wherever they lived.

So the lyrics of Van Morrison can be studied. There are clear recurring themes – the metaphysical, the imagery associated with radio, rivers, and railways - and to trace the development of these themes it is handy to have them all in one place in a printed volume that can be held in the hand.

But putting rock or pop lyrics on a printed page devoid of their musical context has always been problematic. Lyrics become words stripped of some of their power. And repeated phrases like ‘ya radio, ya radio’ (at the end of Wavelength) written 12 times just doesn’t read well. And what to make of choruses like “Sha la la la la la” etc  from Brown Eyed Girl on the printed page? It helps to read the lyrics as streams of consciousness. You then get a sense of the connection between these lyrics and the poetry of the Beat Generation, and particularly with Allen Ginsberg’s Howl from 1955.

Van Morrison buffs will clearly appreciate this compendium of his lyrics, as will those who wish to study his contribution to rock writing. And it helped me understand why it is that I have enjoyed his music so much over the years. So I’m sold. On balance the words of his songs do have sufficient substance to justify being printed as a book.

“Rave on John Donne; rave on.”

(Photo courtesy of Tom Collins)



Sunday, December 20, 2020

Is it time to call an immediate halt to people returning from overseas unless they are quarantined outside metropolitan areas?


Earlier on in the year, when Adelaide and South Australia were enjoying a period of months without any COVID-19 infections, I was totally supportive of the idea of Australians overseas being allowed to come home. International flights came in regularly bringing people back home. I was shocked right from the start just how many of these flights seemed to have COVID positive passengers on board – it was an indication of how ubiquitous the virus was elsewhere in the world.

Then came the Melbourne outbreak. Then came the Adelaide outbreak. And now the Sydney outbreak. On each of these occasions the respective cities have been put into virtual lockdown – Melbourne for several months – and this means cancelled events, no travel, closed businesses and bankrupt companies. The economic impact of these sudden shutdowns is massive. And each time  they occur you are reminded that in today’s world nothing is certain. You can make plans but you can have no faith that they will come to fruition. Today I learned of a friend whose grandchildren had just arrived from Sydney to spend a few days with their grandma in Adelaide. She has been told that she and her 2 grandchildren now need to quarantine for 14 days at home because of the new and evolving cluster in Sydney’s northern beaches. Not a tragedy; just further evidence that you can’t rely on anything happening as you planned.

As someone who has travelled a lot, lived several years outside of Australia, and who has many friends overseas, some of whom want to come back right now, and who has often in the past had close family living overseas I find this hard to admit. But I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want any more expats returning to Australian unless they are quarantined outside of the major cities. Darwin has already done this. All the major COVID outbreaks in Australia have been linked to hotels where returning travellers are held in quarantine. As Shaun notes in the comments below, somehow the virus escapes. Catrina says that Singapore is also accepting returning residents via hotel quarantine and in Singapore housing these quarantine hotels outside a major population centre is not possible. Still, there have been no cases of the virus escaping into the community in Singapore. Bravo Singapore.

Singapore’s system may simply be better run, but the fact is that I, and I believe many other Australians, no longer have faith in the various state governments to do this properly. And as Gerry notes, there has been zero leadership from the federal government on this score. In a sense it’s a no brainer. Why on earth would you willingly house people with a highly infectious and potentially lethal virus in the middle of the most densely populated parts of the country? We found the resources to put refugees in facilities outside the of the metropolitan areas so the facilities for housing large numbers of incoming travellers do exist.

As Fred and Catriona illustrate there are many expats hurting – they’re enduring indefinite separation from friends and loved ones, and in Fred’s case in Canada, it’s actually getting scary as the virus runs rampant through America. As much as I would like to see these good friends be able to return to Australia, I believe there is a bigger issue at play here – the gradual erosion of the mental health of the entire Australian nation. This COVID storm is subtle and relentless and I know I am feeling more stressed than I ever have before . I am always aware of this persistent underlying low-level anxiety that never leaves you. Mental health practitioners have been predicting this for some time, and I think this is probably why I’ve changed my mind about the expat situation. Had Australia shut its doors in the same way as Western Australian shut its doors to the rest of the country, we would now be COVID free.

It’s not just economics. The mental health of 25 million people is at stake. It’s time to call an immediate halt to people returning from overseas until we have a system in place that allows for quarantine facilities and resources to be sited outside the major cities. No one is saying expatriate Australians can’t come home. It is their right. But housing quarantined people in the major cities will eventually just result in more of the same – sporadic outbreaks, bouts of lockdown, and ongoing uncertainty about everything.


Below is the commentary in response to the question I posed on Facebook: is anyone else in Australia feeling like it's time to call an immediate halt to people returning from overseas unless they are quarantined outside metropolitan areas? 

Shaun: Absolutely. Christmas Island for me

Catriona: Oh, that hurts! If I did need to get home for an emergency, I would have near zero chance of doing so. Firstly, the daily quota makes it impossible with tens of thousands of Australians stranded and still unable to get home. Secondly, the cost of a return ticket (for a 5 hour flight) and quarantine could cost anywhere between 14K and 20K for the two of us. That's all dependent on being able to get a flight and not have it cancelled multiple times. We have accepted that we're unlikely to get back any time soon and I pray that we are never in an awful situation where we can't be with loved ones when we need to the most. If there is a problem of imported cases spreading into the community, which I think is what you are referring to, then it is because the processes in handling this are uncoordinated and inadequate. Fix the real problem... and the problem is not the Australians trying to get home! Making them quarantine outside of the metro area won't solve a thing!

Michael: well it might if all service personnel (security etc) were isolated as well....I'd love you to be able come back but 'experts' are saying that the only reason we have the virus here is due to expats. And how long can businesses survive the sudden stopping and starting? Not to mention the persistent underlying anxiety of it all...

Catriona: actually, the only reason you have the virus is because of lack of safety protocols and complacency. Singapore too has returning citizens and pass holders. All are quarantined for 14 days in the city... there is no area outside of the urban area. All must have a test to come into the country. Some return a positive result during their quarantine but because safety protocols are strictly followed, there is no community spread as a result. Returning people are not a risk to the community as long as the procedures are followed. As I said... fix the real problem.

Michael: Perhaps Singapore would like to come down here and show us how it's done!

Catriona: I agree... perhaps the leaders of Australia need to start looking outside of their own country for examples of best practice!

Fredy (in Canada) Looks like I’m stuck here then!

Michael: No Fred - come. Just a couple weeks in a detention centre and you'll be fine. Govt kept telling us how good these facilities were when we put refugees in these places so gotta be good enough for returning expats. I hear Baxter is quite charming at this time of year. (Just a bit north of Port Augusta.)

Fredy: I'll take it!

Mary: Yet another medical expert commented that a number of returning Australians have non COVID medical issues that may or may not require treatment while in quarantine. This would be very difficult from remote locations like Christmas Island. Two years ago a family member was on Christmas Island for work purposes. What was a ten day stay became 5 weeks because of weather conditions flights cancelled. Maybe the Darwin setup is better? Regional locations near a good hospital? Although I doubt that would work in our region - even slightly complex emergency cases are air lifted to Melbourne hospitals.

Michael: Thanks Mary. Highlights just how complex this whole issue is.

Barbara: They should do the PCR test before they come.

Julie: No one will fly anywhere unless there is a flight crew. From what I know, the recent outbreak in Sydney could be because a few of them failed to self isolate. Now they will be locked down in a couple of hotels near the airport. In any case, they could not be put outside metro areas.

Taking a long time to get the return of Australian citizens right even in the face of dreadful consequences.

Irena: Yes they can - and we have Federal Government facilities in each State/Territory that can be used for this. When will Scumo finally accept this is his government’s responsibility by law. Why are Labor not holding him to this?

Fredy: They can send me to the Simpson Desert for a couple weeks or more...swag billy tea and the stars above!
Wouldn’t cost me $4000 to quarantine for starters!
One must understand that for many of us who are OS! Specially in Europe or North America! It’s getting F***ing scary over here!! Never mind that I live 300km from the southern border with the US!
I am suffering on certain days, of mental and emotional stress due to the fact of how complicated it get back to Australia and my family and friends.
If an expat returns with a negative Covid test...they should be able to quarantine with a family/friend member at their point of destination. What is the point of quarantine in a hotel with hundreds of other people? It’s a Covid cluster waiting to happen!
Enough said...if I had a spare 20k...I’d be on my way.

Shaun: I agree Freddy. The hotel quarantine system isn’t full proof and the virus keeps escaping. It’s time for a rethink. Expats do need to come home if they desire but need a couple of weeks quarantine away from highly populated areas. The continued on again off again (ie the economy, travel etc) scenarios we have been experiencing here really raises people’s anxiety. I acknowledge that it would be tougher for expats. I’d handle the Simpson desert if I just wanted to get home! I won’t even start on international flight crews....
Roll on the vaccine.

Sheila: Yes. Christmas Island

Gerry: Yep. Agree. But that would require leadership which at the Federal level is almost completely absent.





Sunday, December 06, 2020

The Chicago 7 (8)


I recently watched the Trial of the Chicago 7 on Netflix. This was the trial of a group of mostly young men who had been behind the organisation of a mass protest against the Vietnam war in Chicago in1968. The Chicago 7 were a group of unaffiliated persons who represented hippies and ‘Yippies’ (Youth International Party), the Black Panthers, student activists, and sundry anti-war groups.  Representing the Yippies were Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. I had read much of their writing when I was a much younger man and it was largely due to them that I decided that I would never visit America.



Leftist activists of the late 1960s in America used to refer to 'Amerika with a K' to highlight the fact that the Anerican ideal of peace and equality was a just a dream for many. They argued that many Americans lived in poverty and hardship, experienced daily racism and other forms of prejudice, and that the system perpetuated these inequalities. Whenever they spelt Amerika with a K it was to remind people of these injustices.

I remember though that I was not sure about Hoffman and Rubin's ideas. I couldn't decide  whether they were just drug crazed hippies, violent and unstable revolutionaries, or heroes. After watching the Chicago 7 it was clear that in this instance they were heroes.

When Trump was elected President many of us were in shock. Noam Chomsky wasn’t: “I’m surprised that it took us so long. This America has always been there and now we have a President that represents the very worst of America.” And seeing the ugly side of the law crush the protest in Chicago, and shaft these ‘ringleaders’ in a sham trial just reminded me that this foul underbelly of America has been around for a long time. Recent images of armed white vigilantes on American streets in support of Trump are just the most recent incarnation of this lawlessness and disregard for those who stand up against the ‘American way’.

I relented on my promise to myself never to go to America when I was invited to go there for work on a number of occasions from the mid-80s. I thoroughly enjoyed it and found the average American to be very friendly, genuine, and hospitable.

Would I choose to go there now? I have friends there I would like to see and Trump is about to depart the scene. For now. But the fact remains that 70 million Americans revealed their stupidity and selfishness by voting for this divisive character a second time.

Despite the fact that the average American may be a decent human being, four things loom as cancerous blots on the canvas of this nation:

  1. Racism
  2. Guns
  3. Lack of universal healthcare
  4. Homelessness

These are 4 pillars of a gutless society that refuses to step up to the plate and genuinely assist those citizens who suffer most, and move America more into line with Europe, Canada and Australia. And how Obama could be characterised as a devil for wanting to implement health care for those who have none is just beyond me.

Hilary Clinton was right to describe Trump devotees as deplorables. Her mistake was doing it in public. As I watched the Trial of the Chicago 7 come to its stirring conclusion I felt proud that I knew about Bobby Seale. Jerry Rubin, and Abbie Hoffman back then as an 18 year old. I felt my decision to keep away from America was vindicated – I had made the right decision.

That a country so deeply flawed in so many aspects of civil society has managed to parade itself as a leader among the free world, and a  beacon of democracy, is one of the greatest con jobs ever wrought on the planet.


Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Victorian Lockdown and the Politicisation of the Corona Virus

Dear Friend,

I’ve been thinking a lot about the conversation we had about the Corona virus when we last spoke.

You mentioned a letter that Melbourne doctors had written to Daniel Andrews. As soon as I got back to my car I looked it up on my phone. And there it was at the top of the list of search results – from The Australian. The Australian is Murdoch’s flagship and I stopped reading it many years ago because I don’t believe a word they say. In the Australian context one of their primary goals is to bring down Labor governments everywhere, and they don’t let facts get in the way.

The next one on the list with mention of the doctor’s letter was Quadrant – a known right wing, conservative outlet. Interesting I thought. The only other reference to it was in The Chronicle – another Murdoch paper based in Queensland.

Then I searched the three media outlets that I regularly use to get my news – starting with The Melbourne Age.  Independent. Always has been The Age’s mantra for decades – and no mention of the letter.

So I checked the ABC – nothing. Then I checked the Guardian. Nothing. I eventually found the letter via Twitter at

I thought the letter itself was quite reasonable, and I’m not going to quibble with doctors who are working in this field.

But what worried me was the fact that The Age, The ABC, and the Guardian all had no mention of it. (And still don’t today a week later.)

Why not?? Do they think it’s fake news? Not worth mentioning? They don’t want to rock the boat, and present an alternative view? If that’s the case that would make them just as guilty of bias as the Murdoch press.

Whatever the reason it really worries me. In Australia now we are being fed news that is incredibly biased towards one side or another. If I read only the Age, the ABC and the Guardian I don’t even hear about this letter to Daniel Andrews. If I read the Murdoch press and watch commercial news or Skye news I am bombarded with it as part of their usual anti-Labor propaganda. And this is an example of how the whole COVID-19 issue has been politicised. Indeed just about every issue in Australia gets politicised in this same way. Unless you are making a conscious effort to consume news from a range of media outlets you risk being subject to propaganda and I think Australia is in real trouble here.

And of course filling in the gaps is the uninformed and opinionated morass of social media to further muddy the waters ….

Something else you said at our last meeting seemed to suggest that you didn’t think the reports of mass graves of people dying from COVID-19 or mobile freezers in NY being used to help out collecting the mounting number of dead bodies were true.  This quite stunned me. 

For the record, media outlets from all sides of politics provide lots of references to what happened in NYC:

NY Bodies

And similarly there are countless stories on mass graves for COVID victims from all sides of the political spectrum. I started searching stories about Brazil, but then found reference to similar situations in Bolivia, Iran and even the UK.





I mentioned an article from NZ that I found useful. It helped me realise that as a lay person my opinion on all of this is not worth much. It is just that – an opinion. And an unqualified one at that! The article, from a Professor of Epidemiology, is here if you’re interested.

The original letter from the 13 Victorian doctors has now garnered in excess of 500 signatures supporting their position. But I do wonder what the other 30,000 plus Victorian doctors think …

For all our sakes let’s hope that Victoria is soon through this nightmare.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Aging and Sadness


I’ve been looking at old photographs and have been quite moved by the fact that everyone looks so much younger – my wife and I, our children, friends, even our parents – everyone! Everyone looks so beautifully youthful. And there’s a tinge of sadness as I contemplate all the years that have passed and I’m trying to work out why.

It’s not as if those years have been filled with tragedy – quite the opposite in fact. There have been sad times but overall life for me has been full of joy and wonder. So the sadness is not rooted in any disappointment about the past. It seems to revolve squarely around the fact that

I am not young anymore.

Why is there inherent sadness in this fact? I am not sick, or about to die. In all likelihood I have many years of health left to enjoy the time ahead. But I have less time than I used to. Is that it? That I can longer pretend that the end is far off in a distant future?

Is the quality of ‘young’ intrinsically better than oldness? Is it somehow better to look young and youthful than it is to look old and a little weathered? And if so, why? Looking older of course is a constant reminder that you’re time is limited, or that you have been around for many years. There’s a sense of loss in there – a loss of a feeling of invincibility; loss of that feeling that there is lots of time left to enjoy people and places.

One could see this as positive – I enjoy my life. I have no reason to want it to end. I want it to go on for as long as possible. I could count my blessings. (I do.) But still the sadness of aging lingers. Is it because I don’t look young? That I feel a little irrelevant to the generation before me? That I am adjudged to be in some sense passed it?

You do however sometimes hear people my age talk about the advantages of being over 60. And I totally subscribe to this. There is something really pleasurable about knowing who you are; knowing what you think; having fewer doubts; knowing that you can express opinions better than ever before. And maybe even that you think more clearly than you ever did. But would I rather be younger with the accompanying angst that comes with it? Probably. Why? Because that would mean I had more time.

So it’s the shorter timeframe thing again. I look back on those photographs and am reminded that I probably won’t have another 30 years of memories. But who can tell? I may well. There may be decades of memories left to create and in 30 years I could be looking back at photos I took today. And what – feeling even sadder because I’ll be even older?

And in the background Gordon Lightfoot coincidentally sings:

It’s cold on the shoulder; and you know that we get a little older every day!

When I was 23 I returned home from 14 months travelling overseas. A family aunt asked my on my return, “Apart from feeling a little wiser and a little sadder, how was your journey?” I asked why she assumed I would be sadder and she said no one ever came home from that kind of journey without being sadder. In her view it was as if having such an out of the ordinary experience was ipso facto  going to result in a degree of sadness. In time I came to agree with her.

Over the years I have learned too that sadness is quite a precious emotional state and is closely related to a sense of beauty and appreciating the things we care about. So I’m not disheartened by the idea of being sad when looking at my past, or because I’m so much older now. I think there is a sadness attached to growing older but it doesn’t have to be debilitating. I’m just trying to disentangle the roots of that sadness. But in the meantime, as Don Henley and Merle Haggard sang:

Wear it like a royal crown when you get old and grey.
It’s the cost of living, and everyone pays.




Thursday, July 09, 2020

The Role of Culture

In another COVID foray into forgotten drawers and corners, in amongst another pile of papers, a letter written by someone called Joyce tumbled out - a letter written to my Dad. I vaguely remember Mum and Dad having a friend called Joyce but I never met her.

In this letter to Dad Joyce had written, "thank you so much for sharing your son's memoir with us. I would now very much like to meet this 'cultural chameleon' son of yours."

I was a little bamboozled by this.  I knew I had written a memoir for a university assignment some decades back, but I have no memory of giving it to my parents to read.

Anyway, I eventually found a copy of it on an old floppy disc. It’s kind of like the story of the first part of my life through the lens of culture. I've put it up on the web and amongst other things it offers a great explanation of why I like to travel so much.

I wrote it in 1991 so an upgrade is needed that includes the last three decades.

My professor at the time was one Jerzy Smolicz, a Polish- born sociologist and educationalist acknowledged widely as a major contributor to cultural understanding in Australia. He really liked this memoir and I’m proud of what he wrote:

Michael – I was pleased to read your long and illuminating essay – and I can see that you are only halfway there! Portugal still to describe; Ireland still to visit. I think that you have described very sensitively the array and variety of cultures that have influenced you – while you continue to maintain a strong Australian identity, but of the kind which permits you to adjust your personal cultural system through interaction. A very perceptive memoir.

The memoir is OVER HERE ;)


  I recently created a book of this blog. I must confess part of my desire to do this was based on the assumption that it might be of intere...