Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning at breakfast, Benson’s mother said, “You know how there have been lots of bushfires in the north? Well there are a lot of animals whose homes have been burnt out so they have nowhere to live, and there’s nothing left for them to eat. So we’re going to have a family come and stay with us for a while.”
“Oh, how lovely!” said Aunt Moss. “Is it a mother and a father, and maybe a young wombat for Benson to play with?”
“It’s a mother and her children,” Benson’s mother said, “but they’re not wombats.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “I hope they’re not bandicoots. Bandicoots eat everything in sight and they always bring ticks with them.”
“Now you know that’s not true, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss.
“They’re not bandicoots” Benson’s mother said.
Aunt Lillibet said, “We don’t have a lot of room to spare, you know.”
Benson said, “There’s space in my room. I can sleep on the floor, and they can have my bed.” Benson thought it would be fun to sleep on the floor for a change.
“Thankyou, Benson,” said his mother, “but I don’t think they’ll need much room. They’re dunnarts.”
“Dunnarts!” said Aunt Lillibet.
“Oh, how lovely!” Aunt Moss said.
The dunnart family arrived just before lunch. Aunt Lillibet was in her room, and when she came out, she said “A mouse!” and got up on a chair.
“Don’t be silly, Lillibet,” Benson’s mother said. “This is Mrs Dunnart and her family. These are the little ones over here, and there’s a very small one just behind you and there are four babies… well, they’re here somewhere.”
“Oh.” Aunt Lillibet got off the chair. The dunnarts were small and grey, with long tails and little sharp noses and big ears.
Aunt Moss came out and said, “Oh, they’re so cute!” She picked up two tiny dunnarts and gave them a kiss each on top of their little stripy heads.
There were two little ones under the lounge, another one nosing around behind the curtains, a very small one trying to climb up the leg of the chair, and two babies just peeping out of their mother’s pouch. Aunt Lillibet picked a medium-sized one out of the fruit bowl. “Seven children?” she said. It was hard to keep count.
Benson came out of his room. “I think it’s more than that. There are two in my room trying to eat a sock, and I saw one in the bathroom chewing the soap.”
“Oh,” said Benson’s mother, “that’s not good for them. Go and get them, Benson. I should see about getting lunch for everyone.”
“I think they’re looking after themselves,” Aunt Lillibet said. The mother dunnart had caught a mosquito and was feeding it to two of the little ones, and the medium-sized one was trying to catch a spider in the corner.
Benson went back to his room. The two small dunnarts ran over over his feet, chasing a beetle. He went into the bathroom, and found the other one looking for bugs in the plughole.
He went into the kitchen and got an apple and took it outside. It felt like there were dunnarts everywhere. When he had finished his apple, he decided to do some digging, to help him think. He dug a nice wide hole and sat in it, thinking.
His mother came out, trailing a line of small dunnarts behind her. They scattered over the garden, looking for flies and bugs, their noses and tails twitching.
Benson said to his mother, “I’ve been thinking.”
“So have I,” said his mother.
Benson said, “With the bushfires, there must be lots of animals with no homes.”
“Yes,” said his mother.
“Wombat holes are safe, aren’t they? Even if a fire comes, they can’t burn.”
“That’s right,” said his mother.
They both thought for a while.
Benson said, “We could easily make our wombat hole bigger, and add on some more rooms, couldn’t we? They wouldn’t have to be big, for small animals like the dunnarts, and antechinuses and bettongs and bilbies.”
“Yes, we could,” said his mother. “And even the bigger animals like potoroos and quolls don’t need much room. I know there are lots of empty wombat holes around with no-one using them at the moment. Mr Fenn down the road has two old burrows he doesn’t use much any more.”
They both got up. “I’ll go and have a chat to Mr Fenn, and then I’ll tell Mrs Dunnart to let her friends know,” said Benson’s mother.
“I’ll start digging,” Benson said.