Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson and his mother went to the zoo. They saw lots of strange animals, antelopes and lions, and even some giraffes. They stared at crocodiles in ponds, and shivered at exotic snakes in glass boxes. Then they came to a space with high wooden fences. Inside was a mob of kangaroos.
Benson said to a sleepy, red kangaroo that was next to the fence, “Hey, what are you doing in the zoo?”
The sleepy kangaroo opened one eye. He said, “What do you mean? We live here.” He shut his eye again.
Benson said, “Zoos are for strange animals. Unusual animals. Animals you can’t find anywhere else. Kangaroos aren’t strange or unusual. They’re ordinary.”
The kangaroo opened both eyes. “Ordinary? What do you mean?”
Benson said, “I’ve seen hundreds of kangaroos in the bush, leaping and jumping around, and eating the grass.”
A big grey kangaroo came over to listen. “What’s leaping?” he asked.
Benson’s mother said, “Show them, Benson.”
Benson said, “You know, like this.” He gave the biggest leap he could, but because he was a wombat, it came out more like a small hiccup.
The grey kangaroo laughed. “You mean like this?” He jumped up like Benson had, but because he was a kangaroo, it came out like a high, graceful bound.
“Yes, like that,” Benson said, “only bigger.”
“Bigger?” the kangaroo said.
Another kangaroo came over to see what was going on. “Here, let me try,” she said . She pushed off with her tail and sailed through the air, over the top of the red kangaroo. “Wow!” she said, “that was great!” She bounded across the small yard and bounded back again in two long leaps. All the other kangaroos sat up, and started coming over.
Benson said, “That’s exactly what bush kangaroos do. They leap and bound all day long, when they’re not eating the grass or drinking from the water-hole.”
The grey kangaroo said, “I want to be an ordinary kangaroo! How do I find the bush where they live?”
“It’s just over the fence,” Benson’s mother said.
The red kangaroo, who was still lying on the ground, said, “Just wait a minute. What’s wrong with right here, on this side of the fence? It’s comfortable, there’s plenty of shade, and we get food and water whenever we need it. We get to lie around all day.”
The grey kangaroo shook his head. “Watch this,” he said. He bounded off, and zigzagged from fence to fence and back again. “These fences are in the way. I can’t jump as far as I want to, or as high.”
“These fences protect us from wild animals,” the red kangaroo said.
“We ARE wild animals,” said the grey kangaroo. The other kangaroos were all trying out little jumps and hops, hopping back and forth and bumping into each other.
“Hey, this is great!” they said to each other. “Watch what I can do!”
The grey kangaroo said to Benson’s mother, “How do we get to this bush you were talking about, when all these fences are in the way?”
“Well, you are kangaroos,” she pointed out.
The big grey kangaroo frowned, and then he smiled. “Out of the way, everyone,” he said. He took a flying leap and sailed right over the fence.
“Hey, where did he go?” the other kangaroos said, then, “Wait for me! I’m coming too!” and “Too easy!” One by one they jumped over the fence and disappeared.
The sleepy red kangaroo still lay on the ground, with his eyes shut.
Benson’s mother said, “Your friends have all gone. Aren’t you going too?”
The red kangaroo said, with his eyes shut, “They’ll be back. As soon as they find out that they have to get their own grass and find their own water, they’ll be jumping back over that fence faster than they left.”
Benson waited. It was very quiet. Then the red kangaroo opened his eye again. “Although it would be nice to see those hills and gullies, even just once. But I’m too old and tired to jump over the fence.”
Benson and his mother looked at each other. Then Benson had an idea. “I’ve got an idea,” he said. He got a stick and some mud, and crossed out ‘Kangaroos’ on the sign at the front of the enclosure, and wrote, ‘Common Wombats’. Then they dug a tunnel under the fence, and came up inside the enclosure. They started walking around, eating the grass.
Before long, the zoo-keepers came past. They looked at the sign, and they looked at Benson and his mother inside the enclosure, and they nodded approvingly. Then one of them frowned. “What’s that old red kangaroo doing in the wombat enclosure?” she said.
She opened the gate and said, “Come on, out you go,” and shooed the kangaroo out. The kangaroo hopped a little way, and then bounded off up the hill where his friends had gone.
Benson and his mother waited until the zoo-keepers had gone, then they went back out through the tunnel under the fence, and went home. Before they left, they rubbed out ‘Common Wombats’ on the sign, and wrote ‘Rare Disappearing Wombats. Do Not Disturb.’