Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a tidy, clean wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning, Benson’s uncle Elton came over. “Guess what?” he said. “The most tremendous thing has happened!”
“What’s happened?” Aunt Lillibet said. “You found your missing purple sock?”
“No, nothing like that,” Uncle Elton said.
“You found a tame elephant and we’re all going for a ride?” Benson said hopefully.
“No, better than that,” Uncle Elton said. “A friend of mine from up north has given me his kayak! Isn’t that wonderful? We can all go kayaking and paddling on the creek!”
Aunt Moss clapped her hands together. “How lovely!” she said, dreamily. “I’ve always wanted to paddle along the creek, listening to the little frogs, trailing my fingers in the clear brown water and watching the baby fish swimming down below.”
Benson said, “Can we go try it now?”
“Just a minute,” said his mother. “Do you have life-jackets?”
“Yes, of course,” said Uncle Elton. “Well, one life-jacket, anyway. Actually it’s a bit small for me.” Then he said brightly, “But it fits Elmer perfectly. And I can swim, anyway.”
They all went down to the creek. Benson’s mother went because she was worried that there weren’t enough life-jackets. Aunt Moss went because she thought it would be beautiful to watch someone gliding along the water in a kayak, and Aunt Lillibet went because she expected someone would fall in and she didn’t want to miss it. Benson went because he loved anything to do with the creek.
Uncle Elton said he would go first and show everyone how it was done.
“Have you paddled a kayak before?” Aunt Lillibet asked.
“No, but it’s very easy,” Uncle Elton said. “You just sit on it and paddle. Watch me.”
He climbed onto the kayak and sat down. The kayak tipped onto its side and Uncle Elton fell into the creek. Aunt Lillibet hooted with laughter.
Uncle Elton got out of the water. He was completely soaked. “Sometimes the balance takes a bit of getting used to,” he said. He climbed onto the kayak again and sat down. The kayak tipped over the other way and Elton fell into the water again. Aunt Lillibet roared laughing.
Uncle Elton climbed out of the creek, even wetter than before. “There must be something wrong with this kayak,” he said. “It’s obviously faulty.”
Elmer said, “Can I have a go?”
“You can have a try if you like, son,” Uncle Elton said, “but I think it’s got a leak or something.”
Benson’s mother helped Elmer put the life-jacket on, and then he climbed onto the kayak very carefully and sat there. The kayak floated nicely without tipping over. “Well done!” Uncle Elmer said. “Maybe it just needed warming up.” He handed Elmer the paddle.
Elmer paddled on one side, then the other side. The kayak stayed perfectly still. Elmer’s arms were so short that the paddle didn’t actually reach the water. Aunt Lillibet laughed so much the tears ran down her cheeks.
Uncle Elton helped Elmer off the kayak. “There’s something wrong with the paddle, too,” he said. “Maybe it’s made for a left-handed person.”
Aunt Lillibet wiped her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with the paddle,” she said. “It’s the paddler that’s got it wrong.”
Uncle Elton said, “Why don’t you show us, then, if you know so much about it?”
Aunt Lillibet took the paddle and climbed aboard the kayak. “There’s nothing to it,” she said. She dug the paddle into the water and gave a mighty sweep. A flood of creek water swooshed up and over her. It poured over her hat and down her face and over her nose.
She climbed back off the kayak and wiped her glasses. Her hat was flopping down over her ears and its feathers were drooping into her eyes. “This kayak is ridiculous,” she said. “You should take it away and burn it.”
Uncle Elton said, “It’s probably an ocean-going kayak. Why didn’t I think of that before? No wonder it won’t work in the creek.” He said to Elmer, “Sorry, son, it was a good idea but it’s just not going to work. Let’s go home, everybody.”
Benson could see that Aunt Moss was really disappointed. “Did you want to have a turn, Aunt Moss?” he asked her.
Aunt Moss looked as if she really wanted to but she wasn’t sure if she should. “If Elton says there’s something wrong with it, I probably shouldn’t,” she said. “It might not be safe.”
“Can you swim?” Benson asked her.
“Oh, yes,” Aunt Moss said. “I actually have my bathers on under my frock, just in case.” She showed Benson her yellow swimmers with bright pink flowers on them.
“Then you’ll be okay if you fall off,” Benson said. “Didn’t you tell me that if you don’t try, you’ll never know?” He smiled at her and she smiled back.
Benson helped her pull the kayak right up to the bank of the creek, so it sat in the shallowest part of the water. Aunt Moss climbed aboard and sat down right in the middle. The kayak bobbed a bit but it didn’t tip over. Benson handed Aunt Moss the paddle. She straightened her shoulders and used the paddle to push off from the bank. The kayak slid into the middle of the creek.
She paddled on one side then on the other. The kayak moved along smoothly. She paddled a little more strongly and the kayak sped along, moving swiftly down the creek.
“Aunt Moss! Where are you going?” Uncle Elton shouted.
Aunt Moss turned the kayak around and paddled back. “I think I’ll just see where the creek takes me,” she said. She turned the kayak around again and paddled away serenely.
Benson sat down on the bank of the creek. He said, “When she comes back, I’m going to ask her to show me how to do it.”
“Me too,” said Elmer.
“Me too,” said Uncle Elton.
“Good idea,” said Aunt Lillibet. And they watched the kayak as it sped out of sight down the creek.
Want to listen to Benson’s own podcast on Spotify? Search for ‘Stories of Benson the Wombat, his family and friends’ and listen to stories read aloud by the author.