The Portal

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

Towards the end of August, when the weather was starting to warm up and the birds were starting to get noisier, Aunt Lillibet stopped in the middle of weeding the garden and snuffed the air. She said to Benson’s mother, “I think it’s time.”

Benson’s mother snuffed the air too, and nodded. “Let’s go and see Nanna.”

Benson’s mother packed food for everyone, and she and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and Benson set off for Nanna’s.

When they got there, she was waiting for them. “It’s time!” she said. “I’ve made you a big pile of sandwiches and I’ve got everything ready. “

“Aren’t you coming with us?” Benson asked.

Nanna shook her head. “Not this time,” she said. “I get tired too quickly these days.” Nanna hadn’t been well lately.

“But what about the notebook?” Benson asked.

Nanna already had a small backpack ready. It was very old but the worn parts were carefully patched over.

Nanna held it out to Benson. “I think it’s your turn, Benson,” she said.

“Me?” he said. He took the backpack and put it on. He suddenly felt a lot more grown up.

Aunt Lillibet said to Nanna, “I was thinking of taking Bonnie Lou with us this time.”

“Bonnie Lou?” said Benson. “She’s just a baby.”

“She’s older than you were when you started coming,” Aunt Lillibet said. “She’s very good with her hands and she has a good eye for colour. I think she’ll do very well.”

Aunt Moss said, “I think so, too.”

Nanna thought about it and nodded. “All right then, take her with you and see how she goes,” she said. “Off you go, everyone. Have a good time! I’ll have the cake ready when you get back!”

They went to Bonnie Lou’s place first and asked her mother if she could come and then they all set off together. They walked along the main track at first, and then they turned off onto a smaller track, and then a smaller track after that. After a long walk they took a much narrower path that was hardly a track at all, and before long they were pushing their way through thick bush.

Suddenly Benson said, “There!” and pointed.

Bonnie Lou looked around and said, “What? Where?” She was already hot and tired. She really didn’t understand what they were going on this long walk for.

Benson pointed again and said, “There! That’s the portal!”

Up ahead of them was a blue gum with two trunks that curved away from each other and then mysteriously curved back again until they crossed over each other at the top, making a big circle like a round doorway.

“Ooh, a portal!” said Bonnie Lou. “Is it magic?”

“You’ll see,” Benson said. “Come on.” Leading the way, he went up and stepped through the middle of the circle. Bonnie Lou stepped through after him, holding her breath.

“But there’s nothing here!” she said. “It’s just more bush!”

“Wait till you see,” Benson said. His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss followed them through, and started to spread out through the bush.

Aunt Moss sighed with happiness. “It’s just as beautiful as it always was!” she said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve found some silky purple flags, and some smokebush.”

“Look at this woolly tea-tree, and here’s a beautiful pink boronia,” Benson’s mother said.

“What are they talking about?” Bonnie Lou asked Benson. He was opening up the backpack and getting out a very old notebook.

“Why don’t you go and see?” he said. “I’ve got to write these down.” He took out a pencil and opened to a new page and carefully wrote the date at the top of the page.

Bonnie Lou went over to Aunt Lillibet. “Where’s the purple flag?” she asked. “All I can see is flowers.”

Aunt Lillibet pointed to a bright purple flower with three triangular petals. “This is a silky flag,” she said, “and this one with white flowers is smokebush.”

“We came all this way just to pick flowers?” Bonnie Lou said.

“Absolutely not!” Aunt Lillibet said. “We don’t touch anything. We look to see what’s here, what’s growing well and what isn’t. We look for anything that’s new, and anything unusual. Benson will write it all down in the notebook.”

“But why?” Bonnie Lou asked.

Aunt Lillibet explained slowly. “For a long long time, Nanna has been coming to this place every season, watching over it, and keeping a record in the notebook of all the flowers and plants that are growing here. This is a special place. No-one comes here, so the flowers and plants grow wild without anyone disturbing them. You can tell by looking at them how healthy all the bush is, and whether it’s a good season or a bad season.”

Bonnie Lou said, “But I can’t write yet, and I don’t know what any of the flowers are.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You’ll learn. Now go and see if you can find any more silky flags, and any of this. It’s a coral pea. It’s very hard to find.”

Bonnie Lou scampered off and before long she found all sorts of different flowers. It seemed the more she looked, the more she found. A lot of the wildflowers were so tiny that she’d never noticed them before, but once she started really looking, they were everywhere. After a while, it seemed like the whole gully was filled with flowers of all sizes, pink and red and white and cream and yellow and purple, springing out everywhere.

When she was tired, she went and sat down beside Benson, who was busy writing down the names of flowers in the notebook that his mother or Aunt Moss or Aunt Lillibet called out to him.

“Why did you say it was a portal?” Bonnie Lou asked.

“Because this gully has the most flowers and more different kinds than anywhere in the whole of the rest of the bush,” he said. “It’s like this place is magic.”

Aunt Lillibet called, “Benson, you’d better come over here. I think I’ve found something.”

Benson gathered up the backpack and the notebook. “Come on,” he said to Bonnie Lou.

Everyone gathered around the flower that Aunt Lillibet had found. “It’s beautiful!” Aunt Moss breathed.

“I’ve never seen a pink one like this before,” Benson’s mother said. “I think you may be right, Lillibet.”

Benson opened a new page in the notebook and very carefully drew a picture of the flower and its leaves and some tiny buds. Then he got some coloured pencils out of the backpack and a little bottle of water. He coloured in his drawing, trying to make sure it was exactly the same colour as the flower.

“I think it’s a bit pinker than that,” Bonnie Lou said, looking over his shoulder with her head on one side.

“I haven’t finished yet!” Benson said. He wet one of his pencils and very, very carefully added some more colour. “There!” he said.

Everyone looked at the drawing, and at the flower, and they nodded. “Good job, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson could feel his heart swelling up. This was always Nanna’s job. He’d never done it by himself before.

Bonnie Lou said, “Why did you draw this one and not any of the others?”

“Aunt Lillibet thinks this is a flower no-one has ever seen before,” Benson said. “Isn’t that amazing? We’ll show Nanna when we get back, and she’ll check in her big book.”

“That’s pretty special, isn’t it?” Bonnie Lou said. “A flower no-one has ever seen before?”

Benson nodded. “Nanna has found lots of new flowers. One of them was even named after her!”

They stopped for a rest and ate Nanna’s sandwiches, and then went on looking for flowers until late in the afternoon. Bonnie Lou had a nap next to Benson. When she woke up, she asked him, “Were you as young as me when you started coming here?”

Benson said, “A bit younger. I’ve been coming since I was a baby. Nanna used to bring a bag of chocolate sultanas, and every time I found a flower, she’d give me one.”

“Chocolate sultanas?” Bonnie Lou said, brightening up.

Benson nodded. “But when I got bigger, I got better at finding flowers until I was so full of chocolate sultanas I could hardly walk home. So now Nanna just makes a big chocolate cake instead.”

“Cake?” Bonnie Lou said. “Chocolate cake?”

“Yep,” Benson said. “She’s probably putting the icing on it right now.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Bonnie Lou said. She jumped to her feet. “Here’s a cup of tea bush…”

“Tea-tree,” said Benson.

“And a flannelette flower…” she said.

“Flannel flower,” he said.

“And some gravy flowers, red ones and pink ones, and a banksy over here,” she said.

Benson sighed and wrote down ‘grevillea’ and ‘banksia’.

When it was time to go, Benson packed up the notebook carefully with his drawings to show Nanna, and they all went back through the portal. It was a long walk back to Nanna’s place, but she had made them the most enormous chocolate cake Bonnie Lou had ever seen, and extra chocolate sultanas just for Bonnie Lou.

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