Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother asked him to take some things over to his cousin Lance’s place. “Lance has a Very Special Friend coming for lunch, and he needs some mushrooms and oranges.”
Benson took the mushrooms and a big bag of oranges to Lance’s. Everything was extremely clean and tidy. There was a beautiful table-cloth on the table, and Lance’s best plates and glasses, and there was some screechy violin music playing.
Benson said, “Everything looks very tidy!”
Lance said, “My friend, Wilma, is coming for lunch, and I want everything to be nice for her.”
“What are you having for dessert?” Benson asked. “Is it oranges?” Dessert was his favourite part of lunch.
Lance said, “No, the oranges are for ambience.”
“Ambience? Like if someone has to go to hospital?” Benson said.
“Not ambulance, AMBIENCE,” Lance said. “I’m going to scrape bits of orange skin off and put it in my spray gun and spray the air with it, so even the air will smell delicious!”
Benson wasn’t so sure. He thought eating the oranges would be more delicious. “What are you going to do with the mushrooms?”
Lance said, “I’m going to make mushroom dust to sprinkle on the milk-thistle custard tarts I made.” He opened the bag of mushrooms, and his face fell. “Oh no! They’re the wrong colour! ” he said,
Benson peered into the bag. “What’s wrong with them?”
“They’re too white! They need to be off-white, to go with the zucchini foam.” He looked at his watch. “If I hurry, I can pick some more and be back before she gets here.” He grabbed a basket and raced off.
Benson sat down to wait. He wondered if cousin Lance would miss one of the oranges. Then he heard a knock at the door.
When he opened the door, there was a very pretty wombat outside. She had red eyelashes, and shiny diamond sparkles on her fingernails. “Hello, I’m Wilma,” she said. “Is Lance here?”
Benson said, “He had to go and get some mushrooms. I’m Benson.”
Wilma said, “I’m a bit early. I didn’t want to get lost – I’ve never been to a place like this before, way out in the country.”
Benson didn’t know what he should talk about to a pretty wombat with red eyelashes, so he said, “Would you like something to eat?”
“That would be lovely,” Wilma said.
Benson looked around the kitchen. “Um, the only thing I know how to make is damper,” he said. “Cousin Lance showed me once.”
“Damper?” said Wilma. “What’s that?”
Benson said,”I’ll show you.” He got out Lance’s biggest bowl and tipped in some flour. He put in a pinch of salt and some butter.
Wilma was looking at Lance’s shelves, stacked full of shiny equipment. “Which machine are you going to use?” she said.
“You don’t need a machine,” Benson said, “you just use your fingers.” He showed her how to rub the butter into the flour with her fingertips until it was all mixed in.
“Now we add the water,” he said.
“How much water?” Wilma said.
“Just enough,” Benson said. “Sometimes it’s a bit more, it just depends. If I put in too much water, I just add some more flour.”
He mixed in some water and stirred the dough until it made a nice doughy blob. He plopped the dough onto an oven tray and patted it down into a nice flat circle. “There,” he said.
“Is that all?” Wilma asked.
“No, you have to cook it first,” Benson said.
They put the tray into the oven. “Now we wait,” Benson said. He looked at the table that Lance had made so beautiful. He didn’t want to make a mess on it. “I know,” he said, “let’s eat it outside.”
“Can you do that?” Wilma asked.
“Sure,” Benson said. He got Lance’s picnic blanket and they put it under the big ironbark tree near the orange jasmine bushes. Wilma sniffed the air suspiciously. “What’s that smell?” she said.
Benson sniffed. “It’s just the bush and the flowers, and the eucalyptus smell from the gum trees.”
Wilma sniffed again and breathed in deeply. “I like it,” she said.
Then she stopped suddenly and looked worried. “What’s that noise?” she said.
“That’s just magpies singing,” Benson said, “and some lorikeets chatting to each other. It’s just birds, don’t worry.”
Benson was getting a bit thirsty with all this work. He had an idea. “Do you like orange juice?” he asked Wilma.
“Yes, have you got some?” she asked.
“We can make some,” he said.
They went inside and got the orange squeezer and cut the oranges in half and squeezed the juice into two plastic cups Benson found in the cupboard. “This is the best orange juice I’ve ever had,” Wilma said.
When the damper was done, Wilma got it carefully out of the hot oven. Benson tapped it on the top, and then he tapped it on the bottom. “That’s how you can tell if it’s cooked,” he told Wilma. “It’s perfect.”
Wilma cut two big pieces of damper. Benson got the golden syrup and two spoons. “Why do we need two spoons?” Wilma asked.
“So we can do this,” Benson said. He dipped one spoon into the golden syrup and trickled it in swirly patterns on top of his piece of damper. Then he put the spoon in his mouth and licked it clean. It was delicious.
They took their damper and their orange juice outside and ate it under the ironbark tree. It was just about all gone when Lance came running up.
“Wilma!” he said. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you got here!”
“That’s okay,” Wilma said. “Benson’s been looking after me. We made damper, and orange juice.”
“Damper?” said Lance. He thought of all the trouble he’d gone to, to make a special lunch for her. He looked at the old picnic blanket, and the cups Benson had put the orange juice in.
“It was lovely!” Wilma said. “Everything here is lovely.” She looked around and sighed. “I could live here forever!” she said.
“Really?” Lance said. “I was going to ask you about that.”
Benson decided it was time to leave them alone together, so he thoughtfully took the last piece of damper and set off for home.