Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a cosy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s mother had to go to a meeting, so Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were taking Benson out.
“We’re going to the Botanic Gardens,” said Aunt Lillibet.
“Springtime in the gardens,” said Aunt Moss. “What could be more lovely?”
“Gardens!”said Benson. “We’ve got a garden here. Why do we have to go and see more gardens?”
“We’re going,” said Aunt Lillibet, and that was that.
The Botanic Gardens were bigger than Benson expected. There were black bamboos taller than houses, and streets of roses, and wide open fields with people playing games and having picnics.
“Why do all the trees have name-tags?” Benson asked. “Hello, Mr Howea Forsteriana! Hello Livistona Australis!” He walked across the grass towards a tall tree.
“What are you doing?” cried Aunt Lillibet. “Come off the grass at once!”
“The sign says ‘Walk on the grass. Hug a tree,’” Benson said. “I’m hugging a tree.” He put his arms around the tree quite carefully. It had rough spiky bark. “Hello Mr Hoop Pine.”
“I need to sit down,” said Aunt Lillibet.
“I remember when there used to be bats in the trees here,” said Aunt Moss.
“Bats?” said Benson. He didn’t like the idea of bats.
“Flying foxes, hundreds and hundreds of them, hanging upside in the tops of the trees, like big heavy black fruit,” Aunt Moss said.
“Big bats?” asked Benson. He started walking backwards out of the trees, looking up to make sure there weren’t any bats coming out.
“Look out, watch where you’re going, Benson!” Aunt Lillibet shouted.
Benson slipped and fell over backwards, right into the middle of a flower bed full of tall, delicate flowers. There was a big crunching, snapping noise.
“Oh no, the beautiful poppies!” cried Aunt Moss.
Benson was lying in the middle of a pile of crushed, broken flowers. He was afraid to move in case he broke some more of them.
Aunt Lillibet was so horrified she couldn’t speak. Her mouth stayed open but no words came out.
The Head Gardener suddenly appeared out of nowhere, looking very unhappy and extremely cross. He reached a hand down to Benson and pulled him up out of the flowery mess. “What do you think you’re doing, young man?”
Benson looked at the ruined flower bed and felt terrible. He looked at Aunt Moss, who was nearly crying, and felt worse. Then he looked at the Head Gardener and felt so bad he didn’t know what to do. He hung his head and said, “I’m sorry, I’m really sorry, it was an accident. I’m sorry I broke all the flowers.”
The Head Gardener looked hard at him. Aunt Lillibet said, “That was completely irresponsible and careless, Benson. I’m so ashamed of you I wish I’d never brought you here.”
The Head Gardener said, “Now, he’s said he was sorry, and he said it was an accident.”
Aunt Moss said, “Oh, it was. He was just walking backwards and he fell over.”
“Walking backwards?” the Head Gardener said.
“Because of the bats,” Benson mumbled.
The Head Gardener said, “Accident or not, the damage will have to be paid for.”
Benson started to cry. Paid for! He didn’t have any money. Maybe they would lock him up in jail.
The Head Gardener said, “I want you to come back here every afternoon for two weeks and work in the garden as a volunteer.”
Benson nodded. Aunt Moss put her arm around his shoulders. “I’ll bring him along myself.”
For the next two weeks Benson came to the Gardens every afternoon and pulled out weeds and loaded wheelbarrows and dug holes for new plants and spread mulch around and swept and raked up leaves and rubbish. He worked hard, but he liked it as well, especially the digging.
He helped the Head Gardener pull up the flowers he had crushed and carefully plant some new ones. The Head Gardener said, “You’ve done a good job. The Gardens are looking much better since you’ve been working here.”
Benson said, “Can I come and volunteer here again some time?”
The Head Gardener smiled. “Of course. We always need good diggers.”
“Tomorrow?” said Benson.
“Tomorrow would be fine.” They smiled and shook hands. On the way home, Benson walked over the grass and hugged a tree.