Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Wednesday was Bushcare day. Everyone gathered to do weeding or planting to help take care of the bush they all lived in. Malcolm, who was in charge, decided that it was time to cut down the old ironbark tree on the edge of the clearing where everyone liked to go for picnics and to play cricket in the summer. It was rotten and full of termites. Its big branches tended to fall off suddenly, so it was getting dangerous.
Malcolm brought his bush saw and Benson’s Uncle Elton brought his axe and two tomahawks and a big sledge hammer. Uncle Elton went first. He swung his axe and struck the tree. The axe bounced back without making the slightest chip in the bark. Malcolm said, “Step out of the way, Elton.” He brought up his big saw and started sawing on the tree trunk. After ten minutes there was a tiny cut in the bark, and Malcolm was exhausted.
The other big, strong wombats had a go with their axes and their saws and tomahawks, chopping and sawing and whacking but they hardly made a dent on the tree. Malcolm said, “What we need to do is chop it up higher, where the trunk is skinnier.”
Uncle Elton sent Elmer home to get the ladder, and Gordon went and got his biggest axe and another ladder and some rope, and they set to work, climbing up the ladders and chopping and sawing as hard as they could.
Mr Fenn sat under another tree, chewing a long blade of grass. He said to Benson, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I don’t know,” said Benson. “If you tell me what you’re thinking, then I’ll know.”
Mr Fenn said, “Let me tell you a story. Once there was a fine, strong young wombat who was married to a beautiful young wombat. They were going to have a baby, so he decided to dig a nice new hole for them all to live in. He looked around and found a great big gum tree, close to a creek, and he said to himself, ‘This is the place. Good shade, water close by, perfect for a wombat hole.’ And he started to dig.
“Well, before long he ran into the biggest root you have ever seen. He dug and he dug, but this root just went on forever. He kept digging and digging, getting tireder and dirtier, but he wasn’t going to give up.
“His wife said, ‘Fenn – ‘
“It was you!” said Benson.
Mr Fenn nodded. “‘Fenn,’ she said, ‘it won’t be long before we have this baby. Maybe you should try digging the other way.’ But I was determined that root wasn’t going to beat me. I dug and dug for days, until I finally got past that root. But you know, under that root, there were five more roots nearly as big as the first one.
“By now I was nearly worn out, but I wasn’t going to give up. I kept digging and digging, day after day, getting nowhere, until finally Mrs Fenn said, ‘This is ridiculous, Fenn, I’m not going to wait any longer.’ She went over to a spot in the middle of a hill side, far away from the tree, and started to dig. In a couple of hours she had a beautiful little wombat hole dug, warm and snug, just big enough for the three of us, just in time for the little joey to be born.”
Benson said, “Is that the end of the story?”
Mr Fenn nodded and chewed on his piece of grass. He pointed to the wombats halfway up the tree with saws and axes and ladders and ropes. “Do you see what I mean?” he said. “Sometimes if you’re not getting anywhere, it’s because you need to stop digging in the same hole.”
Benson looked at the old ironbark tree, and Uncle Elton and Malcolm and Gordon working their hardest, and he looked at the small cut they had made in the tree so far. “Oh,” he said, “I think I see what you mean.”
Just then Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother turned up with baskets of sandwiches and rolls and fruit, and everyone stopped trying to chop the tree down and wiped the sweat off their faces and sat down to eat. Mr Fenn and Benson went over to the tree. Mr Fenn walked all around it, looked at the other trees nearby and the clearing and the gully, and nodded. “Right, let’s get to work,” he said to Benson.
They both started to dig around the roots of the tree, under the biggest roots and all around the smaller ones. They kept on digging while everyone else was having lunch. After lunch, Malcolm announced, “Thankyou for the lunch, ladies. Now we’d better get back to work. I’m sure we’ll have this tree down by dinner time, or at the latest, by dinner-time tomorrow.”
Mr Fenn said, “Malcolm, if you don’t mind, I’d like to try something different.”
“Oh?” said Malcolm. “What were you thinking of?”
“I think if we all got together, we could push this tree over in no time,” Mr Fenn said.
Gordon laughed, and then pretended he hadn’t so as not to hurt Mr Fenn’s feelings. “I don’t think that’s possible,” he said, “unless anyone here is Superman?” He looked around at everyone else, and they all laughed.
Mr Fenn said, “How about we give it a try anyway?”
Everyone got up and came over to the tree. Mr Fenn told everyone where to stand, and he got himself into position. “Ready?” he said. “Now, PUSHHHH!”
Everyone pushed as hard as they could. The tree started to lean, and they pushed harder. The roots that Mr Fenn and Benson had undermined all came out of the ground, and the tree fell over with a huge thud. Everyone was amazed. They packed up all the ladders and the saws and the axes and the tomahawks and everyone shook each other’s hands and went home.
On the way home, Benson said to Mr Fenn, “What happened to Mrs Fenn?”
Mr Fenn said, “Sometimes people are happier living apart. I’m more of a solitary wombat.”
“What about the baby wombat?” Benson asked.
“I still see him from time to time,” Mr Fenn said. “He’s growing up into a fine young wombat.”
“Is he big and strong, like you?” Benson asked.
“It’s not always about being big and strong,” said Mr Fenn. “Being kind and looking after other people is more important. Did you see young Elmer today, running back and forth with saws and water bottles and things for his father? And little Bonnie Lou? She spent the whole morning playing with Zip and Zali and keeping them happy. That was very kind.”
Benson thought about it. Not everyone could be big and strong, but anyone could be kind.
“It was good when everyone helped push the tree down together, wasn’t it?” he asked.
Mr Fenn nodded. “Very good,” he said. “Everyone helped, in their own way. Sometimes the first way you try to do something isn’t the best way. Then it’s good to listen to each other and try someone else’s way.”