The Storyteller

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning Aunt Lillibet came in from the garden and said, “I’ve heard there’s a mob of pademelons up by the big hill.”

Benson’s mother said, “Should we go up and visit them, and tell them where the best grass is?”

“No need,” said Aunt Lillibet. “They’ve got their storyteller with them.”

“A storyteller?” said Benson. Benson loved stories. “Can we go and listen to the storyteller, please?”

“We could take them up some plums and some lillypillies,” his mother said. “If you’re lucky, you may hear a story or two.”

They collected some plums and lillypillies and took them up the big hill. From a distance Benson could see five or six stocky animals like small kangaroos, but when they got closer, they all ran off except one. She came up to Benson and his mother. She was not much bigger than Benson, and she was covered in thick brown fur, with shiny black eyes and ears that twitched all the way around.

“You must be Benson!” she said at once. “I know so many stories about you!”

“Me?” said Benson, amazed. “I’ve never even seen you before! How can you know stories about me?”

“My name’s Pascoe. It’s my job to remember stories,” she said. “I know the one about the quokka and the book, and the one about little Zip getting lost, and the time you went to the lake.”

“Really?” Benson said. He felt a bit embarrassed, but he felt kind of pleased at the same time. “Can you tell us a story?” he asked shyly.

“I’d love to, but right now I’m a bit tired. I’m just going to have a sleep and then this afternoon I’m moving on,” she said.

Benson looked so disappointed that his mother said, “Maybe we could travel along with you part of the way? It’s been a long time since we’ve had a good long bush walk.”

Pascoe said, “Sure. We can tell each other stories as we go along.”

Benson and his mother went home and got their hats and their water-bottles, and Benson’s mother packed some food into a backpack. Benson had an idea. “Can Roly come too?” he asked. “Roly loves hearing stories.”

His mother said, “He might have trouble keeping up.”

Benson said, “He can ride on my back, or he can go in the backpack.”

Roly was really happy to be going with them. He climbed into the backpack, and Benson and his mother took turns carrying it.

When Pascoe saw him, she said, “Roly! I’m so excited to meet you!”

Roly said, “How do you know who I am?”

Pascoe said, “Everyone knows about the brave little echidna who lost his mother in the bushfires and kept on looking for her even though he was badly burned himself.” Her eyes filled with tears, and she said, “I’m so sorry about your mother.”

Roly went pink all over. “That’s okay,” he said. Lots of people said they were sorry about his mother, but he didn’t mind when Pascoe said it.

They set off through the bush, talking non-stop. Pascoe knew stories about everything. They went past a bush with long leathery leaves and Pascoe looked around and her ears twitched. “There’s a story about that plant, you know. One day a mob of big kangaroos was passing through a gully and they happened to trample down a bush like this, covered in pink flowers. The owner, old man Oleander, was so angry with them that when they camped for the night, he sneaked up with a twig broken from the plant and stirred it around in their billy tea. Everyone who drank tea from that billy got sick, and one old man kangaroo even died.”

Whenever Pascoe started one of her stories, Benson felt as if he was in a different world. Pictures from the story filled his head and he forgot where he was and what he was doing. When Pascoe finished the story, he woke up with a bump. “Really?” he said. “He made them all sick with just a little twig?”

Benson’s mother said, “Actually the sap inside oleander twigs and leaves is very poisonous. It can easily make you sick.”

Later on, when the sun was going down and they were looking for a good place to camp, Pascoe’s ears started to twitch again. Benson smiled. “That means there’s another story coming,” he thought.

“I’ve heard a story about these hills,” she said. “That big hill shaped like an old wombat’s bum – back when the old Ancestor was younger, he made lots of smooth round hills all the same, and lots of gullies and creeks. Then there was a long, long drought. There was no rain, and all the waterholes dried up , and the creeks ran dry. The animals were dying of thirst, and the grass and plants were all dying. The old Ancestor called all the wombats together and told them to dig. ‘Dig down and look for water,’ he said. The wombats dug down and down and down, until they dug down into an underground spring. Water poured out and filled up the hole they had dug, and all the animals came and drank. The old Ancestor took a big stick and shaped this hill like a wombat’s bum, so everyone would know where the waterhole was.”

“Really?” said Benson. The hill up ahead really did look like a wombat’s bottom.

His mother said, “As a matter of fact, the best waterhole for miles is at the foot of that hill.”

Benson was impressed.

They found an old wombat burrow near the waterhole and built a camp fire just outside it. They baked yams and melted marshmallows. When it was dark, Benson and Roly nestled close to the fire and watched it burn down.

Then Pascoe’s ears twitched. She looked far into the distance. “There’s a story about this gully,” she said. “Long long ago, a bad old goanna lived here and he used to steal everyone’s eggs. So the people got some dogs to chase the old goanna away from their eggs. The goanna got so angry that he couldn’t get the eggs any more that he crept up behind those dogs and bit their tails and made them mad. Ever after that, spirit dogs with red angry eyes have roamed this gully, howling and looking for that old goanna.”

“Dogs?” Benson said. His stomach suddenly went all shaky. Benson was afraid of wild dogs. Roly took his hand.

Benson’s mother said, “I think it’s time for bed, don’t you?” She and Pascoe scooted Benson and Roly down inside the wombat hole, and everyone settled down to sleep. Not long after that they heard a long howl and angry barking just outside the wombat hole.

Benson opened a sleepy eye. “It’s a good thing you remembered that story,” he said.

Pascoe leaned over and whispered to Benson’s mother, “Actually, I didn’t remember that story, I made it up. I could hear those dogs coming from a long way off, but I didn’t want to frighten the little ones.”

Benson’s mother said, “I heard them too. You did well, Pascoe.”

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