The passion that drove a local hero to international fame

This time last year award-winning Kirribilli author Gabriella Kelly-Davies published the biography of the local hero who took the pain centre at Royal North Shore Hospital to international fame for its leadership in pain management. The biography, Breaking through the pain barrier. The extraordinary life of Dr Michael J. Cousins, explores what made Australia’s father of pain medicine tick, and what set him ticking. It portrays Dr Michael Cousins’ dreams, trials and tribulations, Eureka moments and moral choices.

A perfect Father’s Day gift, the biography is the gripping story of a North Shore doctor driven by compassion, a sense of wonder about the science of pain medicine, and a compulsion to right a wrong—the poor treatment of severe pain. An adventure of the human spirit, Breaking through the pain barrier will take your dad on a rocky rollercoaster ride from the horrific moment that triggered Michael Cousins’ decision to dedicate his life to improving the treatment of pain; through his struggles, disappointments and victories, to his retirement in 2018 after placing Royal North Shore
Hospital on the map as one of the world’s leading centres of excellence in pain management.
Breaking through the pain barrier is available at Constant Reader in Crows Nest and Hawkeye Books.

Professor Michael Cousins AO Image:

About Dr Michael J. Cousins AO

Dr Michael Cousins has lived on Sydney’s North Shore all his life. As a boy he went to Shore
School, and he studied medicine at Sydney University. On Cracker Night in 1964 as a junior
doctor, Michael treated two little boys whose bonfire had run rampant, leaving them with
life-threatening burns.

He kept a forty-eight-hour vigil by the boys’ bedsides, fighting to save their lives. Thankfully, the boys survived, but Michael couldn’t control their agonising pain because pain medicine was poorly understood, and there were few options for managing severe pain back then.

Haunted by the children’s suffering, he resolved to learn more about pain and its management. At the end of that weekend, Michael Cousins made a decision that would define his future and profoundly influence the field of pain medicine—he dedicated his life to reducing suffering by improving the treatment of pain. The following year he started training at Royal North Shore Hospital to become an
anaesthetist. Three years later, he headed to McGill University in Montreal then Stanford University in California to study epidural pain relief with the acclaimed pioneers of pain medicine.

In 1990, Michael set up Royal North Shore Hospital’s pain clinic and research centre. The centre quickly gained international prominence under his leadership and the hospital named it The Michael J. Cousins Pain Management and Research Centre in his honour. For fifty years, Michael’s quest dominated his life, driving his research, treatment of patients, reform agenda and political advocacy. During that time, he led the pain world as president of the International Association for the Study of Pain in Boston, and he established the field of pain medicine in Australia.

Michael convinced governments around the world to view access to pain management as a universal human right. He also won acceptance of chronic pain as a chronic condition in its own right rather than as a symptom of an underlying illness, improving the way it is prioritised for government funding and elevating its status within the medical profession. And as an advocate for people living with chronic pain, Michael helped to destigmatise this condition that affects 3.4 million Australians —that’s 1 in 5 of us.

Author Gabriella Kelly-Davies at Mosman Library

About Gabriella Kelly-Davies

Local biographer Gabriella Kelly-Davies wrote Breaking through the pain barrier as part of her doctoral submission at Sydney University where she is studying the art and craft of biography. Her dissertation, Choices, Choices, Choices, explores the countless choices she made while writing the book, what biographers and biography scholars say about these choices, and why she made each one.

To get in touch with Gabriella email:, call 0408 256 381 or visit:


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