Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning after breakfast, Benson went out to ride his bike. He hadn’t gone very far when he noticed something lying under some bushes at the side of the track. He got off his bike and went to have a look. It was a little mouse.
At first he thought it was dead, but then he saw it move a tiny bit. It was very thin and looked really sick. Benson knew his mother would know what to do, so he carefully slid his hanky underneath it and picked it up by the four corners and carried it home.
As soon as she saw it, his mother said, “Oh, the poor thing!” It was hardly as long as Benson’s hand, and it weighed about as much as a leaf.
Benson’s mother looked at the mouse all over, then she said, “I’m sorry, Benson, there really isn’t anything we can do. He’s very, very sick.”
“Is he going to die?” Benson asked.
His mother nodded. “All we can do is make him comfortable. We can’t make him better.”
They got a very soft towel and put it in a small box and laid the little mouse in it.
Aunt Lillibet looked at it carefully and said, “I think it might be a blue-grey mouse. I haven’t seen one for years and years. I thought they were all gone.”
“Nanna will know,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, would you go and see Nanna and ask her if she can come?”
Nanna stopped what she was doing straight away and came with Benson. “Oh, dear,” she said, “this must be little Timmy. I knew his grandfather, many years ago, before the big drought. They were the last family then, and Timmy and his sister Tippy were just babies.”
Aunt Moss said, “I heard that Tippy died in the big bushfires, so Timmy must be the only one left.”
Benson said, “What do you mean, the only one?”
Nanna sat down and Benson sat down beside her. “Not so long ago, when I was a girl, there were lots and lots of blue-grey mice, hundreds, maybe even thousands. But they’ve gradually all died out.”
“What made them die?” Benson asked. “Did they get sick, like this one?”
“No, they didn’t get sick,” Nanna said. “Some of them died in the droughts, and some of them died in bushfires. For some of them, the places where they lived were turned into farms, so there was no food for them, and they starved to death. Sometimes the farmers put out poison, because they didn’t want mice eating their grain. Some of them were killed by foxes, or by feral cats or wild dogs.”
Aunt Moss said, “After a while there were hardly any left, and one by one they died too. Timmy is the very last blue-grey mouse.”
“The last one?” Benson said, horrified. “And then there’ll be no more? Not even one?” Benson couldn’t believe that a whole family of animals would be completely gone and never come back again.
“It’s called being extinct,” Nanna said. “It’s a terrible thing. It’s happened to lots of animals over the years. Nobody looked after them, and they all died out.”
Benson huddled down next to Nanna and thought about animals disappearing off the earth, like stars going out in the sky.
“What about wombats?” he said, suddenly worried.
Nanna smiled. “There are lots and lots of wombats, don’t worry,” she said. “There was a time when people tried to kill as many as they could, but now it’s not allowed.”
“Kill them?” Benson couldn’t believe his ears. “People wanted to kill wombats?” He thought about Elmer and Zali and little Zip, and Aunt Moss. “Why? Who would want to kill a wombat?”
“Oh, people have different ways and different ideas,” Nanna said. “Wombats can be a nuisance for farmers, digging holes and pushing down fences. That’s why you should always try to use the wombat gate in a fence.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “We’ve got some cousins in the north of the country, who were very close to becoming extinct. They’re hairy-nosed wombats.”
“What?” Benson couldn’t believe it. Tiny tiny mice he could imagine being eaten up by foxes and cats, but how could big strong wombats die out? “What happened to them? Did someone kill them?”
“Some of them,” Nanna said. “Some of them had their homes destroyed by farmers and builders, so they had no food and no shelter and they died.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Now there’s a specially protected place for them, with fences to keep wild dogs and cats out, where they can live peacefully and have plenty of food, and no-one is going to hurt them.”
Benson thought about the great big bush where he lived, the creek and the hills. He was glad he didn’t have to live inside a fence to be safe.
The little blue-grey mouse stayed in his soft little nest for the next couple of days, and then he died quietly. Lots of other animals came to say goodbye, possums and dunnarts and koalas and echidnas and lots of rats and other kinds of mice. Some of them brought flowers, and some of them just stood quietly, feeling sad.
Benson’s mother said to them, “This is a sad day for everyone, not just for us but for the whole world. Timmy was just a very little mouse, but he was all of the blue-grey mice left in the world. The same thing could happen to any one of us, no matter how big or small we are. It might be bushfires, or floods, or losing our homes somehow. Because once a creature is gone, it’s gone forever.”
Benson looked at all the different animals and birds who had come to say goodbye to the mouse, and he tried to imagine what it would be like with no koalas, or no echidnas, or no wombats. “What are we going to do?” he asked his mother.
“All we can do is look after the bush and look after each other,” his mother said. “The rest is up to other people.”
Want to listen to Benson’s own podcast? Search for ‘Stories of Benson the Wombat, his family and friends’ and listen to stories read aloud by the author.