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.
Benson’s mother liked to have things clean and tidy, the washing up done, the floor swept, the beds tidy. But one day she went crazy. She washed the dishes, and then she washed the sink. Then she took all the dishes out of the cupboard and washed them and then she washed the cupboard. She washed the walls in the kitchen, she washed the inside of the fridge and then she washed every single thing in the fridge. She washed the jars and the bottles, she washed the eggs and the tomatoes, she washed the spinach and the celery. But when she took the gherkins out of the jar and started washing them, everyone knew something was wrong.
“Are you okay?” Benson asked her.
His mother was washing the table and the chairs, the tops and underneath. “Hmm?” she said. “Yes, I’m fine.” She looked at Benson and wiped his face and his ears. She dusted his buttons and polished his fingernails. Then she lifted up each one of his feet and washed underneath them.
Benson went in to Aunt Moss’s room where she and Aunt Lillibet were showing each other their favourite string games. “I think there’s something wrong,” he said.
“Is it your mother?” Aunt Moss said. “I thought there was something bothering her.”
Benson said, “She’s on a Cleaning Rampage.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “How bad is it?”
“She’s washed all my pencils and scrubbed all my toys, and now she’s washing the light-bulbs,” Benson said.
“Oh dear,” said Aunt Moss. “I’ll go and talk to her.”
Aunt Moss went out to the lounge room. Benson’s mother was vacuuming the cushions and the chairs and the ceiling. As soon as she saw Aunt Moss, she turned the vacuum cleaner on her and vacuumed all over her. She stopped and polished Aunt Moss’s glasses. Then she kept on vacuuming over the floor and up the walls, sucking in all Benson’s paintings that were pinned to the wall. The vacuum cleaner made a clucking sound and kept on going.
Aunt Moss went back to her room. “I think you’d better try, Lillibet,” she said. “She didn’t even see me.”
Aunt Lillibet went out to the lounge room, but Benson’s mother had moved on to the bathroom. She vacuumed up the toothpaste and the soap, and the bottle of shampoo. Bubbles started to come out of the back of the vacuum cleaner.
Aunt Lillibet tapped her on the shoulder. Benson’s mother turned and started vacuuming over Aunt Lillibet’s face. She vacuumed Aunt Lillibet’s hat, feathers and plastic grapes and all, swukkk! into the mouth of the vacuum cleaner.
Aunt Lillibet shouted, “Stop!” She stamped on the switch of the vacuum cleaner and it went suddenly quiet.
Benson’s mother looked at Aunt Lillibet as if she’d just woken up from a long sleep. “What?” she said.
“You need to stop,” Aunt Lillibet said to her. She took her hand and led her back to the lounge, and made her sit down.
“Now, what’s going on?” Aunt Lillibet asked.
“What do you mean?” Benson’s mother said.
Aunt Lillibet pointed. The lounge cushions were gone, the lamp shade was gone, the pictures and the rugs were gone.
“Oh,” said Benson’s mother. She sat back and put her hands on her head. “I think I got carried away,” she said.
Aunt Moss and Benson came in, holding on to each other just in case. Aunt Moss put her arm around Benson’s mother, and Benson took her hand and patted it gently. Aunt Lillibet went to the kitchen and put the kettle on for a cup of tea.
Aunt Moss said, “Is there something on your mind, dear?”
Benson’s mother was quiet for a while. Then she said, “It’s silly, really. I was just washing up, and I started thinking about how precious the water is and how it hasn’t rained for so long, and then I was thinking about the bushfires, and the koalas, and little Roly and all the other animals like him, and how the bush is disappearing all the time and then I started thinking about Benson and what it will be like when he grows up, with no bush and no water and the animals dying out and no-one to take care of them, and who will look after him when I’m gone? Then Lillibet was standing there, yelling at me to stop. I think I just got carried away.”
“There, there, I know just how you feel,” said Aunt Moss. Aunt Lillibet came back with the teapot and a plate of muffins, and a glass of milk for Benson.
Benson patted his mother’s hand and said, “Don’t worry, we’ve got the Bushcare group, remember? And when I grow up I’m going to plant heaps of trees and we’re going to look after the koalas. Elmer is learning to knit so that he can make little pouches for the baby animals whose mothers die, and Bonnie Lou wants to be a vet, so she can make the sick ones better. Alejandro is going to be a famous dancer so he can make lots of money and make sure nobody digs up the bush or bulldozes it.”
His mother gathered him up onto her lap and hugged him close. “I should have known you would know how to take care of things,” she said.
Benson said, “Of course. I know you grown-ups love the bush and do everything you can to take care of it, but it’s my bush too, remember.”
“You’re right,” said his mother. “It’s your bush too.” They all sat there eating muffins and talking about what the new cushions and lampshades would look like.