Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, friendly wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson woke up especially early, so he went outside to do some digging. There was a kangaroo grazing on the grass in the back yard. At least, he thought it was a kangaroo. It was grey and kangaroo-shaped, but it had white woolly patches all over its fur, and when it moved along, it didn’t jump like a kangaroo. It put its front paws on the ground and moved its back legs one at a time and sort of shuffled along.
“Hi,” said Benson. “My name’s Benson.”
“Baa-aa,” said the kangaroo.
“What?” Benson said.
“I said, ‘Baa-aa,'” said the kangaroo.
“I thought kangaroos said, ‘tsk-tsk-tsk’, not ‘baa'”, Benson said.
“I’m not a kangaroo, I’m a sheep,” said the other animal. “My name’s Diggory. I live in a field with a lot of other sheep. I eat grass, and I have wool, see?”
Benson looked at Diggory’s fur, and he could see that the white patches lying on top of it were actually clumps of wool. “Oh, okay,” he said.
Diggory went back to grazing on the grass, and Benson settled down to dig. He dug out a nice flat place just near the doorway and smoothed it out, then he lay down in the sun, looking up at the sky and thinking how nice it was to be outside digging and thinking and stuff.
Diggory gave a small cough. “Excuse me,” he said. “There’s something caught in your fur, just near your ear. I think it might be a centipede.”
Benson twisted around and scratched near his ear. “Is it gone now?” he asked.
“No, it’s still there,” Diggory said. “Try putting your arm over your head like this, and flicking your ear a little bit, like this.” He flicked his ear and twisted his arm to show Benson how to do it.
Benson twisted and flicked, and he found he could reach the spot easily. The centipede fell off and wriggled away. “Thanks,” Benson said. “You’re really good at that. For a sheep.”
Diggory heaved a sigh. “I’m not very good at anything much,” he said. “I don’t know anything about rainfall or pasture quality or the staple length of fleeces. I only know about useless things like scratching your ears, and strength-to-weight ratios, and windspeed and spring constants. I’m really dumb, for a sheep.”
“Sheep must be pretty smart,” Benson said.
“They are,” Diggory agreed. “And they’re really useful. They grow wool, and they keep the grass nice and short. Sheep are pretty important.”
Benson said, “Wombats don’t do any of that stuff. They just dig. My mother helps look after the bush, and my Nanna is always helping people and doing things like singing and making pikelets and putting ointment on possums when they hurt themselves. Not like sheep, though.”
“Sheep are pretty cool,” Diggory said, nodding.
Benson said, “Digging is my favourite thing in the whole world. What’s your favourite sheep thing?”
Diggory said, “Eating grass, I suppose. I like eating grass. But sometimes,” he said, “sometimes I feel like I just want to jump. I want to jump over fences and bound through the bush and leap over creeks and gullies. I just want to jump.”
Benson looked at Diggory’s big back legs and his big strong tail. He said, “You look like you’d be really good at jumping.”
“But sheep don’t jump,” Diggory said. “They trot sometimes, and they walk a lot, but they don’t jump, or leap, or bound.”
“They skip sometimes, don’t they?” Benson said.
“Yes, they skip when they’re happy,” Diggory said.
“Is that what you do?” Benson said.
A slow tear rolled down Diggory’s face. “No,” he said. “I can’t skip.”
Benson felt really sad for him. “I’ll ask my mum,” he said. “Maybe she can help.”
His mother was inside cutting up pineapple and rockmelon for breakfast. He told her all about Diggory while he had some pineapple and drank some apple and celery juice. She came outside to see.
“Hi, Diggory,” she said. She looked at his grey fur with tufts of wool stuck here and there, and his soft, twitching ears and his round black nose, his long tail and his powerful legs. She said, “Diggory, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sheep like you before.”
Diggory hung his head. “I don’t fit in very well with the rest of the sheep, no matter how hard I try,” he said.
“I know some other animals you might like to meet,” she said. “Why don’t we go for a walk up to the hills?”
They set off straight away, through the bush and up over the hills where a big mob of kangaroos were grazing. They came jumping up to Diggory and said hello and sniffed him all over, then they bounded away again.
Diggory bounded after them. He couldn’t help himself. He followed them up and over the hills, leaping and jumping, his long back legs stretching and his long tail pushing off the ground behind him. After a long while he came back to where Benson and his mother were sitting under a tree.
“Do you think it would be all right if I stayed here?” he asked, panting.
“What do you think?” Benson’s mother said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Part of me feels like it belongs with all my sheep friends, and part of me wants to stay here and just jump around all day. What should I do?”
Benson’s mother said, “You could stay here, or you could go back to the sheep, or you could spend some time here and some time there, and see how it works out. But whatever you decide, I think if you’re going to be a kangaroo in a sheep paddock, you should be a kangaroo, not a pretend sheep.”
Diggory looked at his legs and his tail. He jumped away, big long jumps, and back again. “I think you’re right,” he said happily.