Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet’s friend Gordon came over to ask Benson something. He said, “It’s Hairy Nose Day soon, you know. The committee has decided that this year we want something very special to celebrate all wombats everywhere.”
“What’s a committee?” Benson whispered to his mother.
“It’s a group of people who like meetings,” his mother whispered back.
Gordon coughed importantly. “As I was saying, the committee had a meeting and decided to have a mural painted.”
“A Muriel? Is that one of Aunt Moss’s friends?” Benson whispered.
“No,” his mother whispered, “it’s a painting on a wall.”
“Like I get in trouble for doing?” Benson asked.
Gordon said in a loud voice, “The mural will remind everyone of all the great things wombats do for our community. A painting to celebrate wombatness!”
“Wombatness?” Benson’s mother said.
“You know, everything that makes wombats special!” Gordon said.
“Where is it going to be?” Aunt Lillibet asked.
“That’s a secret,” Gordon said. “No-one will see it until we unveil it, on Hairy Nose Day.”
Early the next morning, Benson got his backpack and filled it up with his paints and brushes, and his mother made him a lettuce and banana sandwich. He got his hat and his water-bottle and he and Gordon set off.
They walked a long way, until they came to a big road full of cars and trucks whizzing past. It was so noisy that Benson had to shout, “Where is the wall I’m supposed to be painting on?”
“There!” Gordon said. He pointed to a big grey concrete wall on the other side of the road.
“Over there?” Benson said. “How do I get over there?”
“You wait until there are no cars coming and then you run!” Gordon said.
“What?!” Benson squeaked.
“Now!” Gordon yelled. He gave Benson a huge push and shouted, “Run!”
Benson landed in the middle of the road with hundreds of cars zooming past. He was sure he was going to be squished into wombat jam at any minute. His mother had told him over and over that he should never run on the road so he stopped still and scrunched up into a small wombat ball.
A car came screaming towards him but then it jammed on its brakes just before it got to him. It stopped so close that Benson could feel its hot breath on him. The people started to get out, saying, “It’s a wombat! Did you hit him? Is he dead?”
Benson opened his eyes. For just a second there were no cars coming, so he walked quickly to the other side of the road. He lay down flat on the grass, waiting for his heart to stop pounding.
A voice said, “Wow! That was close!”
Benson opened his eyes. There was a big wombat standing next to him. He said, “I saw that! You were so lucky!”
Benson looked back at the busy road, and he felt sick.
“What are you doing here anyway?” the big wombat asked him.
“My name’s Benson. I’m supposed to be painting a picture on the wall,” Benson said.
The wombat said, “I’m Gizmo. Wow! I’ve never met a painter before. What are you going to paint?”
Benson looked at the big grey wall. He said, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought of it yet.”
Gizmo said, “Wow! You can paint something you haven’t even thought of! That’s incredible”
Benson got his paints out and tried to think of what he should paint, that showed what wombats did that was so important.
Gizmo said, “Hey, can you do something for me?”
“Sure,” Benson said. “What do you want me to do?”
Gizmo held up a small, round rock. “Can you paint a name on this rock for me? It’s for my brother, Gomez.”
Benson asked him how to spell it, and then he wrote it carefully on the rock. “What do you want your brother’s name on a rock for?” Benson asked.
“It’s what we do when someone gets killed crossing the road,” Gizmo said. “See all these stones?”
Along the grass there was a row of stones, each of them with a name or a picture of a flower or a heart on it. There were so many of them, Benson was shocked. “All these animals were killed crossing the road?” he said. “Your brother too?”
Gizmo nodded. “He thought he could get across the road, but he didn’t make it.” He put the rock down with all the others.
Benson said, “If the road is so dangerous, how do you get across it?”
“I don’t,” Gizmo said. “I was born on this side.”
Benson felt a bad sinking feeling in his stomach. How was he going to get home again? He looked at the big wall, and he looked at his paints, and an idea started to grow in his mind. He said, “Are you good at digging?” And he told Gizmo his idea.
Gizmo smiled. He said, “I’ll go and get some mates to help.” Benson started painting. He painted all day, while Gizmo and his friends dug and dug. He painted a big wombat pushing its way out of a big tunnel that he had dug, and next to the wombat he painted lots of other animals, koalas and wallabies, and lizards and possums and echidnas.
In the afternoon Gordon came back and stood on the other side of the road. “Have you finished yet?” he shouted across the noise of all the trucks and cars and motorbikes.
Benson shouted back, “Nearly, but I can’t come home yet,” and he told Gordon the reason why. Gordon looked at the traffic, and he looked at the painting. He said, “You know, it will be finished faster if I get some more wombats to work on this side.” He trundled off, and came back in a little while with Mr Fenn and Benson’s mother and Uncle Elton and lots more friends. They all started digging on their side of the road.
By the end of the day, the tunnel under the road was finished. All the wombats and the other animals started crossing from one side to the other under the busy road, smiling and saying hello to each other.
Benson’s mother came through the tunnel to Benson’s side. “That’s a good painting,” she said.
“Just one more thing,” Benson said. He got his biggest brush and painted a sign at the top of the painting that said, ‘Hairy Nose Tunnel’.
“There, it’s finished,” he said, and they walked safely through the tunnel and went home.