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.
Aunt Moss was in the kitchen, boiling up a big pot of onion skins.
“Are you making soup, Aunt Moss?” Benson asked. If she was, he was pretty sure he didn’t want any.
“No, I’m dyeing this possum fur that Nella’s mother gave me,” Aunt Moss said. “It’s always falling out or getting caught on things, and she collects it for me.”
“Why are you killing the possum fur?” Benson asked.
“Not killing it, dyeing it,” Aunt Moss said. “I’m making it a different colour.” She strained the onion skins out of the water, and then she put a big pile of possum fur into the water in the pot and pushed it down carefully with a stick. In a little while she pulled it out again and it was a nice yellow colour.
“I’m dyeing some of it yellow with these onion skins, and then I’ll dye some of it in different reds and some of it brown and green with these gum leaves and banksia cones,” Aunt Moss said. “Then I’m going to take it my friend Shelley, and she’s going to spin it on her spinning wheel and make it into yarn, and then we’re going to weave a wonderful story.”
Benson said, “Did you say you were going to weave a story?” He thought Aunt Moss must have gotten distracted and forgotten what she was talking about. She did that sometimes, like when she forgot she was washing up and started filling up the kitchen with giant bubbles, or when she started hula-dancing right in the middle of ukulele practice.
“Yes, that’s right,” she said, “we’re going to weave a story.”
“You tell stories, or you read them, you don’t weave them,” Benson said kindly. He knew Aunt Moss was getting very old. Sometimes she got her plate and Aunt Lillibet’s plate mixed up and ate two desserts by mistake.
Aunt Moss said, “There are lots of ways of telling stories. Bees tells stories just by dancing in the air.”
“Bees?” said Benson. “I thought they were just buzzing around.”
“Oh no, they’re telling each other about where they’ve been, which flowers they’ve visited and how delicious the nectar is,” Aunt Moss said. “Magpies tell stories by singing.”
“Singing?” said Benson.
Aunt Moss nodded while she was stirring. “They sing to each other all the time and tell each other about how many beetles they’re going to catch, or if somebody’s seen a fox. They talk about their visitors, and who’s moving in and who’s getting married, all sorts of things.”
It was funny to think of birds telling each other things, when he thought it was just noise. Benson thought about it. He said, “Nanna told me that a tree can tell you about the droughts and the fires and the floods it’s been through if you look at the rings inside its trunk.”
“That’s right,” said Aunt Moss. She carefully lifted the fur out of the pot and put in a big bowl to cool down. It was a lovely bright golden yellow. “Shelley and I are going to weave a story about the bush near her place, with all the plants and trees in greens and browns, and the wild-flowers in all their beautiful colours, and the animals that live there.”
Benson thought about the bush, and he remembered the stories about the bushfires that Pascoe, the story-teller, had told him. He thought of the bright red flames in jagged leaping lines, and the wavy grey smoke hanging over everything. He said to Aunt Moss, “Do you think drawing could be a kind of story-telling?”
“Of course,” said Aunt Moss. “I think all the best drawings tell a story.”
Benson went and got the biggest piece of paper he could find, and all his coloured pencils. He drew trees and fire and wombats hiding underground, and bushes and trees and even the ground on fire, and echidnas and wallabies and koalas trying to get away, and smoke everywhere. He drew and drew until there wasn’t one space left on the paper.
His mother came and looked at what he was drawing. She said, “That’s the story of the bushfire, isn’t it?” She could see red flames, and the orange sky covered in brown and grey smoke.
Benson nodded. “But that’s not all the story,” he said. He went and got another piece of paper and drew blue skies and black trees with fuzzy green around the bottom, coming to life again. He drew green grass growing again and hungry animals coming out to eat the grass, and wombats peeping out of their holes looking for something to eat. He drew lost animals like Roly, and sad animals with no homes, like the koalas. He drew ants and beetles and grasshoppers, and he drew lots of birds sitting in the black branches of the trees, looking down at the beetles and grasshoppers and thinking how delicious they looked.
“This is the next part of the story,” he said.
“And then what happens next?” asked his mother.
“I’m not sure yet,” Benson said. “I think I’ll just keep drawing and see what happens.”