Roly’s Place

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a tidy, comfortable wombat hole, with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One day Benson’s mother came home with really good news. “Pascoe’s mob is up on the high paddock,” she said.

Benson said, “Can we go and see her?”

His mother said, “Why don’t we all go up, and take a picnic?”

That was such a good idea, they all got to work straight away, and packed up lots of delicious food, roasted beetroot and cucumber sandwiches, lemon coconut slice, corn and blueberry muffins and some plums and apricots. Aunt Lillibet got the picnic blanket and they all got their hats and water-bottles and set off.

The first thing Pascoe said was, “I’ve seen Roly. He’s fine.”

“Is he happy?” Aunt Moss asked.

“Is he coming back?” Benson asked.

Pascoe settled down and her voice changed the way it did when she was starting a story.

“You all know that Roly left here a while ago, to go back to the place where his people were from, the place where he was born. It wasn’t easy to begin with. It was a long, difficult journey, but the echidna-board that Hazel made for him helped a lot.”

Everyone looked at each other and smiled, imagining Roly riding along on his special skateboard.

Pascoe went on, “When he got there, it wasn’t the way he remembered it. The trees and bushes had grown back since the bush fires, and the rocks and hills were the same, but the problem was, no-one recognised him or remembered him. You know how Roly is different from other echidnas?”

Benson nodded. “He’s very, very smart,” he said.

“That’s right,” Pascoe said. “And when he was burned in the bush fires, his spines didn’t all grow back, and his face has some scars on it. The other echidnas weren’t friendly at all. They didn’t like a strange echidna moving in who was different. They didn’t like it that he ate strange food like vegetables, instead of just ants, and they said he smelled like a wombat.”

Benson whispered to his mother, “Do wombats smell?”

She whispered back, “I suppose we do, to other animals.”

Pascoe said, “Some of the younger echidnas even threw stones at him and told him to go back to where he came from.”

“But that IS where he came from,” Benson said.

Pascoe nodded, and said, “Yes, exactly. So Roly decided – “

“Did he decide to come home again?” Benson asked, crossing his fingers and hoping very hard.

“No,” Pascoe said, “because he knew it was his place, and he wasn’t going to run away. Instead he thought hard and came up with a plan.”

“A plan?” Benson said, wondering what it could be. Roly was always really good at plans.

“First of all,” Pascoe said, “he made himself a hat.”

Aunt Lillibet smiled very happily. “What a good idea!” she said. She thought she was looking very fetching herself, in a smart black hat with orange ribbons sprouting out of the top like a volcano.

Pascoe went on, “Roly put his hat on and he made a whole pile of thistle and ant sandwiches.”

“Just like I used to make for him,” Aunt Moss said fondly. “They were one of his favourites.”

Pascoe said, “Then he got on his echidna-board and went out to where the other echidnas were. They stared at him. One of them, called Prickle, said, ‘That hat is stupid, and you’re stupid.’

“Roly didn’t say anything. He got his sandwiches out and started eating them. Prickle said, ‘Why are you eating that weird food?’ Roly said, ‘Because they taste really good. Would you like to try one?’

“Prickle didn’t want the other echidnas to think he was afraid to try the sandwiches, so he took one and had a tiny nibble. Then he took a bigger bite, then he ate the rest of the sandwich in one bite, it tasted so good. ‘That was great!’ he said. ‘Can I have another one?’ Roly gave him another one, and then all the echidnas crowded around, and Roly shared his sandwiches with them.

“Then Prickle asked Roly, ‘What do you have that thing with wheels for?’

“Roly said, ‘Oh, that’s just my echidna-board. I can go really fast on it.’ He got on his echidna-board and zoomed off down the hill. He flew over two big roots of a gum tree, then swung twice around a termite nest and screeched to a stop. Prickle’s mouth dropped open. ‘Can I have a try?’ he said. The other echidnas all said, ‘No, me first!’ and they started arguing over who should have the first go.

“Roly said, ‘Maybe tomorrow. I have to go now.’ He pulled his hat down tight and zoomed off.

“The next day, everyone wanted to have a turn on his echidna-board. All the mother echidnas wanted to know how to make his delicious sandwiches, and all the auntie echidnas wanted hats just like his. So now he’s busy every day, showing his friends how to do tricks on his echidna-board, and teaching the mothers and aunties how to make sandwiches, and his favourite food, chocolate-covered ant cookies.”

Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were very pleased that Roly was happy, and had lots of new friends, but Benson was looking sad.

Pascoe asked him, “What’s the matter, Benson?”

Benson said, “Roly’s got so many new friends, I suppose he doesn’t miss me at all.”

“Do you still miss him?” Pascoe asked. Benson nodded. Pascoe said, “But you have lots of friends, too.”

“Not like Roly,” Benson said sadly.

Pascoe said, “I think it’s the same with Roly. None of his new friends is like you.” She took a piece of paper out of her pouch. “Roly asked me to give you this,” she said.

Benson unfolded it. It was a picture of a wombat and an echidna sitting side by side. Roly had drawn it with the red pencil that Benson had given him.

Benson smiled. He said to his mother, “As soon as we get home, I’m going to draw lots of pictures for Pascoe to take back to Roly.”

“Good idea,” his mother said.

Then Benson thought of something else, and he frowned. “What am I going to draw about? Nothing’s happened since Roly went away. Pascoe won’t have any stories to tell him about us.”

His mother smiled. “Are you sure? What about the wolley-ball game? And the art competition, and the new baby woylie, and little Rosie, and making your kite, and…”

“Wait!” said Pascoe, “one thing at a time.” And they all sat down together, with the sandwiches and the lemon coconut slice and the muffins, and told stories and talked and laughed for hours and hours.

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