Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a tidy, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet had a plan. “It’s terrible the way people keep cutting down trees to clear spaces and build other things. The world needs more trees! I’m going to grow my own forest!” she said,
Benson imagined a forest of trees reaching up to the sky, filled with birds and animals. “Where are you going to put it?” he asked.
“Right here, where I can look after it and stop anyone cutting down the trees,” she said. “I’ve collected seeds and cuttings from all the trees in the bush and I’m going to plant them right here, in my back yard.”
She planted the seeds in little pots and watched over them carefully, giving them water when they needed it. After a while the seeds put out tiny shoots. The shoots got bigger and grew little leaves, until they were sturdy little saplings. One day she announced, “It’s time to plant my forest!”
She dug rows of holes across the back yard and carefully transplanted a baby tree into each one. She pressed the earth down around them and gave them plenty of water.
Benson looked at the rows and rows of baby trees stretching all across the yard. He said, “There won’t be any yard left when they grow up. There’ll be nowhere to dig, or have a picnic, or play outside. It will be just a deep, dark forest.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “That’s right, a tall, green forest.” She was very pleased.
The young trees grew strong and tall. Then one morning when Aunt Lillibet went out to water them, and she came rushing back in. “One of my trees is gone!” she said.
“You mean one of them has died?” asked Aunt Moss.
“No, it’s missing! There’s just a hole where the tree used to be,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“You must be mistaken, Lillibet,” Aunt Moss said. “Who would want to steal a tree?”
“Tree pirates!” said Aunt Lillibet. “Plant thieves! Bush burglars!”
The next morning it happened again. “There’s another one missing!” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson’s mother said, “There must be hundreds of trees out there. Does it really matter if two of them are missing?”
“Yes, it matters very much,” said Aunt Lillibet. “They’re my trees. I grew them from little seedlings. What if someone has taken them to turn them into mulch, or to start a fire with? Maybe rats or bandicoots stole them to chew on.”
Benson’s mother said, “I don’t think it was rats or bandicoots. Those holes look like they were made by wombat claws.”
“Wombats?” Aunt Lillibet said. “Who would do such a dastardly thing?”
Benson said, “You should set a trap and catch them, Aunt Lillibet.”
“Good idea,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Tonight I’ll hide in the garden, and if anyone tries to steal one of my trees, I’ll grab them and nab them.”
When it got dark, Aunt Lillibet took her trowel and hid behind the compost heap. But she was too sleepy to stay awake. In the morning, three more trees were missing.
“Those terrible tree thieves have taken three more trees!” she shouted. “Benson, tonight you’ll have to stay up with me, and if the tree pirates come, you can wake me up and I’ll snaffle them!”
As soon as it got dark, she and Benson hid behind the compost heap, but in no time at all they were both asleep. In the morning when they woke up, ten more young trees wee missing. “Ten trees!” shouted Aunt Lillibet. “Some burgling burglar has stolen ten of my tiny trees! Benson, you were no help at all!”
Benson said, “I’ve got an idea. I’ll ask Nils and Nella. Possums are always awake at night. They can help us watch. If they see something, they can wake me up and I’ll wake you up.”
That night Aunt Lillibet and Benson hid behind the compost heap and Nils and Nella hid in the branches of the big gum tree. In the middle of the night, Nils poked Benson and woke him up. “Someone is digging up trees,” he hissed.
Benson woke up Aunt Lillibet. “The tree pirates are here!” he said.
Aunt Lillibet grabbed her trowel and jumped out from behind the compost heap. “Hands up!” she shouted.
There were two wombats digging up a young tree. They stopped and put their hands up. Both of them had black balaclavas over their faces.
“Take off those masks,” Aunt Lillibet said, “or I’ll dong you with my trowel!”
The two wombats took off their balaclavas.
“Mr Fenn!” gasped Aunt Lillibet. “You’re the tree pirate?”
“She made me do it!” Mr Fenn said, pointing at the other wombat.
“Nanna!” gasped Benson. “Why are you stealing Aunt Lillibet’s trees?”
Nanna said, “We’re not stealing, we’re re-locating them.”
“If you’re not stealing, why are you wearing masks?” Aunt Lilibet said.
“It’s cold,” said Nanna. “I didn’t want Mr Fenn to get a frozen nose.”
Mr Fenn said, “You could say they’re not really your trees anyway, Lillibet. You got all the seeds from the bush, so these trees should belong to everyone.”
Benson’s mother heard all the noise and came out. “Why don’t you all come inside and have some hot chocolate?”
They went inside, and when they were all warmed up, she asked Nanna to explain. Nanna said, “Lillibet, you have hundreds of seedlings, and the Bushcare group doesn’t have any. All along the creek the banks are eroding because there are not enough trees. Since the bushfires, there aren’t enough gumtrees to feed the koalas, and there are no homes for the birds.”
Mr Fenn said, “We’ve been planting the seedlings along the creek, and in the burnt-out forest.”
Aunt Lillibet spluttered, “But you can’t just take a person’s trees!”
Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, didn’t you say the world needs more trees? You loved collecting the seeds and nurturing the young seedlings so that they grew into strong young plants. Aren’t you glad to think that they’ll be growing all over the country, where the birds and the animals need them?”
Aunt Lillibet thought about it. She said to Nanna and Mr Fenn, “Tomorrow, we’ll dig up the baby trees together, and we’ll go and plant them where they’re needed most. But no more stealing!”
Nanna and Mr Fenn said they were sorry. Benson said, “While we’re planting, you can collect lots more seeds and cuttings, and you can grow a whole new baby forest.”
Aunt Lillibet smiled all over.