Matt Ottley

Matt Ottley grew up in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea where he spent the first eleven and a half years of his life. He lead an itinerate life as a stockman in Queensland before returning to Sydney to study fine arts and music. He is regarded as one of Australia most popular children’s authors/illustrators with such classics as What Faust Saw, and Mrs Millie’s Painting. His books are published in several different languages. He is also a composer and flamenco guitarist.




Brady’s Grave

Listen to the moaning of the pine
at whose root thy hut is fastened
– Old Danish proverb

In front of the old Manse,
Duck Creek weaves through
bulrushes along the hillside
striving with pine trees,
slippery with copper needles

home to magpie’s carolling.
‘There were three homes we had.’
Farther back into the hill,
a tilted slab of concrete, rusty
iron posts and chains mark it out

amongst the tussock clumps—
Brady’s Grave makes a slipway
for the flying, full moon;
and the local cats gather into
a circle, under the yellow glare.

A questioning silhouette
of Black Swans at Pauatahanui
ride easy, buoyant, on the inlet’s
long tides away from view,
behind the whistling pine grove.

“Oldest Pine”

A 10,500-year-old Huon pine, believed to be the world’s oldest tree, was handed back to Tasmania yesterday by mining company Pasminco.

– Sydney Morning Herald, April 24, 1998

Years grew in rings,
but my earliest memories
sought bird-dialect, the
hush of water and wind.

Men could hear then,
stood with forest-silence;
the leaf-like breathing
at my base made speech.

The loud and glacial
grumbling of boulder—
ice ceased in my first years,
ferns eventually uncoiled.

I thought myself ever
which is now at a closing;
yet I did not regard
this end without mystery.

Other pine-tree that
built memory in fire onto
their bark’s surface,
recorded an earlier time;

they hide mostly in the
moist gullies and deep rift
valleys (branches radial):
an ancient pine tree.

photo is found locked in
the earth’s element, an old
family and they are few.

The wide-branched
rivers that angled mirrors
under the sun, are gone
underground, they

emerged from within
the ice-tides, mountains fell
when the sky opened, the
seas had retreated.

They are shadow leaves.
They flow many-branched.
They house every myth.
They rise in me to air.

Emblem for Dead Youth


Over the past five years in the Great South Land,
a primary dissipation of energies; 2,500 youth suicides,
in fact. we pause to consider this phenomenon:

2,500 small white crosses neat as napkins laid
out in geometric patterns upon the parliamentary turf
sweeping up to the Big House. Small white crosses,
abstract as wing-nuts or butterflies, each one pinned

to the yellow grass lapel though, hauntingly, branded
onto the mind’s dumb hide. With each grief-prone parent,
pain inflates safe as an air-bag. Small towns outback
spin to emptiness. moonrise is a chalk outline after the

going down of the sun. Stars swing bright herds into the
dark corrals. There’s movement at the station; a murmuring
engine through woodland, sky velocity blue as gun-metal.

Cultural Misappropriation

Is that what I hear you cry, citizen?
If a delph-glazed moon with its O so
delicate pattern pans over Holland, flat as
a tack, it also comes by way of the
Antarctic circle right to your doorstep
in equal measure. If the sun clamps
its golden torque on mosque or synagogue, pa,
cathedral or sacred site does this endorse
any one people over another? Is it your wish
to head off the cultural bandits at the
historical impasse, citizen, by placing a
patent on your mana? Beware the polemicists
who define and so divide, who aggregate
authority unto self where before lay none.
Symbol becomes the circumference of
time and custom. It is not the thing itself,
but the beautiful echo of a people’s harmonic,
which cannot be bounded nor weakened.
Here lies the camouflage that protects the
ancient matrix, the silent memory of our
blood’s journey and sound leads you to it.

A Simple Tale

On the destruction of two giant, ancient Buddha statues, near
Bamiyan in central Afghanistan, by the Taliban militia in the
Year of Our Lord, March 12, 2001

In this stark country where light can be yellow
it is difficult to measure time.

Bare mountains, seemingly carved, overlook
ancient sea beds called deserts.

The Silk Road, or a tributary of it, drifted
this way past the cliff face—

for a generation men on rickety scaffolding
worked at the sandstone

to fashion the image deep into the cliff’s face
of a fifty metre high statue.

The mountain became grotto to the Buddha
homaged by 1,700 years of dawns

and sunsets until the coming of the Iconoclasts
in a drought-stricken land.

In two unhurried afternoons, much like any other,
between the braying of donkeys,

with mortar fire and dynamite, they turned to
dust and rubble the false idol.

The last piece to dissolve before dusk, which is
the traditional time for prayer—

was the impassive smile of the Buddha, and 500
tons of face fell under the blast.

King Hit

In the dark, unbounded warehouse that
is nothingness, God snapped his fingers like a
match, the universe unfolded in the cup
of his hand to glow forever, fathomlessly, until
we saw by light leakage—it close to a fist.

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