Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, comfy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
It was a hot summer’s day and everyone was outside. Aunt Lillibet was picking caterpillars off her rhubarb plants, Aunt Moss was practising her ukulele and Benson was digging. His mother put down the papers she was reading and looked up at the sky.
“It looks like there’s a storm coming,” she said. “I don’t like the look of those clouds.”
Benson looked at the clouds. They were heavy and dark purple, and moving very quickly.
Just then Pascoe, the story-teller, came bounding up. She was panting so hard she could hardly talk. “Big storm coming,” she panted. “Very bad. Big hailstones. Danger for everyone.”
Everyone knew that Pascoe remembered all the stories of thunderstorms and floods and fires for generations. If Pascoe said there was a dangerous storm coming, everyone listened.
Benson’s mother said, “I’ll go and warn Teresa and Mr Fenn straight away.” In a storm, lots of animals took refuge in wombat holes because they were safe places.
Pascoe nodded. “I’ll tell the possums to spread the word to the other animals,” she said. “There’s not much time.” She bounded away.
There was a great flash of lightning and a deep rumbling growl of thunder.
“My tomatoes!” Aunt Lillibet squeaked. “My beans!” She ran to the garden.
Benson’s mother said to him, “Go down to the back door and make sure it’s clear. If the storm is very bad, a lot of animals may need to come in for shelter. Then stay inside where it’s safe.” She hurried off.
Aunt Moss said, “I’ll start making sandwiches.”
Aunt Lillibet came up with her arms full of tomatoes and beans. “I’ll make a big pot of soup,” she said.
Benson went inside and went all the way down to the back door and cleared away the weeds and long grass. He could see the storm coming closer. The purple clouds had turned a weird green colour, and they were coming down very low. The thunder got louder and louder, and the lightning was so bright it hurt his eyes.
The wind was so strong that the trees and the bushes were swaying wildly. Benson saw an old gum tree in the bush start to lean over, and then it fell down with a crash. As it was falling, something small and grey dropped out of it. It was a young koala, not much bigger than a baby.
“Hey!” Benson shouted. “Come inside! There’s a storm coming!”
The baby koala didn’t know anything about storms or wombats. All he knew was that the sky was flashing and making big loud noises and he wanted his mother. When he saw Benson shouting and waving at him, he ran away as fast as he could.
There was a huge crash of thunder and big lumps of hail started to fall out of the sky. Benson could see that if one of the hailstones hit the little koala, he could be badly hurt. Someone had to go after him and bring him in to where it was safe. Benson looked around, but there was no-one there except himself. He ran out into the storm to get the koala.
The hailstones rained down on him so hard that it felt as if someone was throwing great big rocks at him. He could hear the koala screaming with fright. He ran towards him but as soon as he got close, the koala started to run back towards the trees again.
“No!” Benson shouted. His mother always told him to keep away from trees in a thunderstorm because that’s where lightning struck. He caught the koala’s hand and pulled him back, away from the trees. Heavy curtains of rain started to pour down, so heavy that Benson couldn’t see where to go. He put his arms over his head and shouted as loud as he could, “Help! Help!”
From a long way away he heard a voice. “Benson?”
“Help! Help!” he yelled with all his might.
“Benson!” the voice called, coming closer. “Where are you?”
“Here!” Benson shouted. “We’re over here!”
He kept shouting, and then he could see his mother running through the rain towards him, and her warm, strong arms wrapped around him. “This way!” she shouted. She picked up the baby koala with one hand, and they ran together through the rain and hail, with lightning flashing all around them. Then with a jump and a tumble they were safe inside the wombat hole.
Benson stood there, panting and dripping, and grinning from ear to ear. It felt so good to be in a safe, dry wombat hole. It was already crowded with lots of people Benson knew, Nils and Nella and their mother, and their smallest cousin, Wilbur, and lots of lots of little dunnarts. Pascoe was there too, eating soup and listening to everyone talking about how they were nearly caught in the storm and they only just made it to the wombat hole in time.
Benson’s mother got a blanket for the baby koala and they wrapped him up, safe and warm. Aunt Moss made a very big sandwich for Benson, and got some warm milk for the baby koala, but the koala kept crying for his mother.
Benson said, “Don’t cry. As soon as the storm is over we’ll go and find your mother.” But the little koala wouldn’t stop crying.
Pascoe picked up the baby koala and put him on her lap, and called all the little ones to sit in a circle. “It’s time for a story,” she said. “This is the story of the Little Koala and the Hailstorm. When everyone is sitting quietly, I’ll begin.” Everyone was very quiet. Even the baby koala stopped crying and looked at Pascoe to see what she was going to say.
Pascoe said, “It was a hot summer’s day, and everyone was outside. The little koala was in a big old gum tree with his mother, when suddenly a great wind shook the tree. The tree fell over and the little koala fell onto the ground. There were big flashes of lightning, and great big rocks made of ice were falling down out of the sky. But worst of all, there was a big, brown hairy monster shouting at the little koala. The koala tried to run away, but the monster grabbed him.”
Benson listened to the story, amazed. He didn’t remember a monster at all.
Pascoe kept telling the story. “The monster yelled and shouted, and then another monster, even bigger than the first one, came and picked the koala up. The koala was very frightened. He shut his eyes and cried and cried. The monsters took him to a deep, dark hole, and wrapped him up in a blanket. But the koala didn’t need to be frightened, because they weren’t bad monsters, they were nice, friendly wombats.”
Benson’s eyes opened wide. Did the little koala really think that he was a monster?
Just then there was a knock at the door. It was a big, soft, grey koala, looking very worried and upset. “Has anyone seen my baby?” she asked. Then she saw the little furry bundle snuggled up on Pascoe’s lap. “My baby!” she cried, and ran and gathered him up into her arms. “My baby,” she murmured softly. And the little koala smiled and hugged her as tightly as he could.