Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
It was Christmas, and it was very hot. Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss had been cooking and cleaning for days and days, ready for Christmas. Nanna came, and Uncle Elton and Elmer, and Mr Fenn, and cousin Lance and his special friend, Wilma, and Hazel, and Pascoe, the story-teller.
There was so much amazing food, Benson ate and ate until he could hardly talk. Everyone had a wonderful time, talking and laughing. While they were waiting to have enough room in their tummies for dessert and cousin Lance’s fabulous Christmas cake, Benson’s mother said, “Pascoe, would you tell us a story? Tell us the Christmas story again.”
Benson settled down to listen. He’d heard this story lots of times, but he loved the way Pascoe told it.
Pascoe began. “Once a long, long time ago, two travellers named Mary and Joseph went on a long journey, to a town called Bethlehem. They travelled day and night along rough, dusty tracks, and when they reached Bethlehem, Joseph looked for a place for them to stay, because Mary was going to have a baby. But the town was so crowded, there was no room anywhere for them to stay. Joseph knocked on door after door, but everyone turned him away, saying, ‘No room! No room!’
“Mary was so tired that she could hardly walk another step. Then a small boy told them they could sleep in the stable, a shed for the cows and the ox and the donkey.
“They went to the dark, quiet stable and the animals made room for them. The time came for Mary to have her child. It was a beautiful baby boy, and they named him Jesus. This baby was so special that all the heavens and the earth rejoiced. Angels filled the skies, singing, and the stars stood still in the night, and shone over the stable where the baby was.”
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Benson jumped up to answer it. “Wait! Don’t tell any more of the story till I get back,” he said to Pascoe. “I don’t want to miss anything.” He was gone for ages. When he came back, he said, “Did I miss anything?”
“No,” Pascoe said, “we were just up to the part where the angels were singing and the stars were shining.” She went on, “There were some shepherds, looking after their sheep in a big paddock. A great, shining angel suddenly appeared to them and they were amazed. The angel said – “
Hazel interrupted, and said, “Can I do this bit? I love this part!”
“Yes, of course you can,” Pascoe said.
Hazel stood up and said in a loud, strong voice, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy that shall be to all people!”
Elmer said, “Huh? What does that mean?”
Hazel said, “It means, Don’t be frightened, I’ve got great news! The most wonderful thing has happened. A baby has been born, who will bring peace and joy to everyone in the world.” And Hazel started to sing, in a high, beautiful voice.
Benson listened, spellbound.
When Hazel finished singing, Pascoe went on, “The shepherds said to each other, ‘This baby must be very special. Let’s go and see him.’ They hurried off to the stable, and there they found the baby Jesus, asleep in a bed of hay, warm and safe. The whole stable was lit by the light of the stars. The shepherds knelt down and gazed at the baby. Then they went off to spread the good news.”
Benson thought about the baby, and the angels and the stars.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Who was at the door?”
Benson said, “Oh, no-one, just a couple of animals. Can we have the Christmas cake now?”
His mother said, “What kind of animals?”
Benson said, “Just ordinary animals, kind of small and brown, with pointy noses. A bit like tiny kangaroos, with straight tails, and a black furry bit on the end of it.”
“It sounds like they were woylies!” Nanna said. “But they couldn’t be! There haven’t been any woylies around here for years and years, since long before I was born.”
“What’s a woylie?” Elmer said.
Cousin Lance said, “They’re rat-kangaroos, or bettongs, some people call them.”
“Soil engineers, we call them,” Aunt Lillibet said. “They scatter seeds everywhere, and they scratch up the the soil and that lets in more water for the plants to grow.”
Aunt Moss said, “Once there were woylies everywhere, but now they’re nearly all gone.”
“Where did they go?” Benson said.
“They died,” his mother said. “No-one knows why. Unless we can look after the ones that are left, they could soon be extinct.”
“Extinct!” Benson said, with round eyes. “Then there’d be no more woylies?”
“That’s right,” his mother said.
Uncle Elton said, “Two woylies knocked at the door? Where are they?”
Benson said, “I told them there was no room. It was too hot and crowded in here already.”
Everyone stopped talking, shocked. “You sent them away?” Uncle Elton said, horrified.
“No, of course I didn’t,” Benson said. “I took them down to the back door, to that little empty room. They needed a nice, cool, quiet place to have their baby.”
“A baby?” everyone said.
“Come and see,” Benson said, simply.
Everyone got up at once and hurried down to the little room near the back door. And there they found the mother and father with a brand new baby.
They all stood and gazed at the baby without saying a word, even though they were bursting with excitement and joy. Benson said, “Would you like some Christmas cake?”
The woylies smiled and said that would be nice and everyone got even more excited and all started talking at once. They all took turns holding the baby and saying how beautiful he was, except for Benson, who was thinking very seriously about dessert.
He and his mother went back to the kitchen, and they got the Christmas cake and the watermelon jelly and the passionfruit cream and peaches and cherries and everything ready. Benson helped his mother make a special treat for the woylies, out of peanut butter and oats and a sprinkling of truffle oil. They carried everything down to the little room by the back door, and everyone had a wonderful feast while the baby woylie went to sleep in nest of Aunt Moss’s knitting yarn.
“What are you going to call him?” Benson asked.
“His name is Felix,” the mother woylie said. “It means ‘happy’.”
“How did you come to be so far away from home?” Aunt Moss asked.
The father woylie said, “We used to live a long way out west, but we were taken to a kind of animal sanctuary.” He looked unhappy. “It wasn’t a good place. The woylies all died, one by one, so we decided to run away.”
“We travelled a long, long way,” the mother said, “looking for a safe place for us and the baby.”
“You can stay here,” Benson offered.
His mother looked at Mr Fenn. They were thinking of foxes and cats and other animals that were dangerous for woylies. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Mr Fenn said.
Nanna said, “I’ve heard of a special safe place for small animals like woylies to live, with no fences and no cages. It’s called Marna Banggara, healthy country. But it’s a very long way away.”
Aunt Moss said, “It would be a dangerous trip, especially with a young baby.”
Mr Fenn stepped forward. “I’ll take them,” he said. Everyone nodded. Mr Fenn was the biggest, bravest wombat anyone knew. He could protect them, and even carry them if they got too tired.
“But not just yet,” Benson’s mother said. “Stay here as long as you like and get your strength back.”
Everyone left then, to let the woylies have some rest, and to tell everyone the good news about baby Felix being born.
Benson’s mother said to him, “You look a bit disappointed. What’s the matter?”
Benson said, “I thought maybe they’d name the baby after me.”
His mother smiled. “Benson is a good name for a wombat, but maybe not such a good name for a little woylie,” she said.
Benson said, “And even though it’s Christmas and a baby was born, I didn’t hear any angels!”
His mother said, “Didn’t you? I did.” And she kissed him on the nose. Benson listened very hard, and he thought he could hear the sound of angels singing far away. Or it might have been Hazel.