(The Last Story)
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.
Benson said to his mother, “Will you remember me when I’m not me any more?”
His mother said, “How do you mean?”
Benson said, “I mean when I’m grown up, will you remember ME, the me I am now?”
“Of course I will,” she said.
Benson said, “Only I was thinking about Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. I was thinking that maybe they were young once but nobody remembers.”
“I would say they were definitely young once,” his mother said.
“They weren’t old when they were young, were they? I mean, what were they like when they were like me?” Benson said.
Benson’s mother said, “Let me think about this. You mean, were Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss the same as they are now when they were young, right? What were they like then?”
Benson nodded. His mother said, “That was before I was born, so I don’t remember, but I’ve heard lots of stories. I tell you what, let’s talk about it at lunchtime.”
Benson’s mother made everyone’s favourite soup for lunch, leek and potato, with fresh cornbread, and everyone’s favourite cake, carrot and banana.
As soon as everyone was sitting down and enjoying their soup, Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, do you remember Moss when she was little?”
“I remember when she was born!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I remember the first time she came out of her mother’s pouch. She was just a tiny round ball of fur. The very first thing she did was smile at everyone, and then she went to sleep.”
Aunt Moss said, “I remember that you were always so good at everything, Lillibet. Skipping, drawing, arithmetic – and colouring in. Lillibet was famous for her colouring in,” Aunt Moss said to Benson’s mother. “She never, ever went outside the lines.”
Lillibet said, “And your colouring in was always a mess. I remember one time when you coloured in the sun blue and the grass black. And that time we had to draw our families, and you drew dozens and dozens of smiling wombats. We had that drawing hanging on our wall for years.”
Benson went and got some paper and his pencils.
His mother said, “What was Moss like when she was little, Lillibet?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “She was always happy for no reason. She made friends with everyone. I remember when she was just a little joey, sitting on a blanket under a tree and clouds of butterflies came and sat all over her, and she just smiled and laughed.”
“I don’t remember that!” Aunt Moss said.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Do you remember Lionel trying to teach you how to ride a bike, and you didn’t know how to steer and you drove straight into the compost heap?”
“I remember that,” Aunt Moss said. “The smell of mouldy cabbage and dead oranges didn’t wear off for weeks, even after my mother put me in the bath and scrubbed and scrubbed. But that was nothing compared to Lionel and the rock-melon!”
Benson’s mother brought the cake over the the table and cut it into pieces. “What did Lionel do with the rock-melon?” she asked. Benson was busy drawing, but he stopped for a minute to have a piece of cake.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Lionel absolutely loved rock-melons when he was little, and one day he hid one under his pillow so he could keep it all to himself, and it gradually went rotten. The smell!”
Aunt Moss said, “Everyone thought there was a dead rat in the house. It took weeks to find it, and then it was just a ball of slime.”
“Lionel tried to say it must have rolled under his pillow by itself,” Aunt Lillibet said, “but it had his teeth-marks all over it.”
“Speaking of teeth-marks,” said Aunt Moss, “I remember the time that you…”
“Stop!” said Benson. “I’ve run out of paper.”
“Paper?” said Aunt Lillibet. “What are you doing with all that paper, Benson?”
“Look,” said Benson. He held up what he had been drawing. “This is Aunt Moss when she was a baby, and this one is her with the butterflies. This is Aunt Lillibet colouring in, and this is them riding bikes with Uncle Lionel.”
He had drawn three wombats on bicycles, and then one of them crashed into a compost heap.
“And this is the rock-melon,” he said, holding up the last drawing. Everyone looked at it.
“It was much worse than that,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“Much, much worse,” Aunt Moss said. They both picked up the brown and green and black pencils and made a much bigger, slimier mess of the drawing of Lionel’s rock-melon.
Benson’s mother said, “The cake is all gone. I think it’s time to do the dishes.”
Benson said, “But what about you? I don’t know any stories about you.”
His mother said, “Tomorrow. We’ll go and see Nanna, and you can take lots of paper and your pencils. Right now it’s time for the washing-up.”
Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were still reminding each other of all the things they remembered, so Benson and his mother did the washing-up together.
When they were finished, Benson said, “What about me? Who will tell stories about me when I’m old?”
His mother said, “I will.” She went into her room and brought back her journal. She showed it to Benson. “See? I write about you all the time.” There were even some tiny drawings.
She showed him some of the pages. “This was when you got me tulips for my birthday, and this was when there was a quokka at the playground. And remember the time you dug a hole so deep you couldn’t get out? And when little Zip got lost?”
They sat down and looked at all the stories she had written down, and they read their favourite ones together.
“I remember this!” said Benson. “Will you read this one to me?”
“I’d love to,” said his mother. And she began. “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.”
And what comes after that, you will have to read for yourself.
This is the final story in the series of stories about a young wombat named Benson. A new series, Stories for Another Day, stories of imagination and adventure for children of all ages, is coming soon. Check out the ‘News‘ page to find out when new stories will be available.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a happy, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother said, “Benson, would you like to go and stay with Nanna for a few days?”
A warm feeling spread through Benson’s tummy. He loved visiting Nanna.
His mother said, “Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss are going to a barn dancing camp with Gordon and Fenella, and I have to go to a conference and give some talks on organic gardening. Nanna says that she’d love to have you.”
Nanna always loved having him, and he always loved her having him. Staying at Nanna’s meant hot chocolate and date and walnut rolls and cauliflower sandwiches, and lots and lots of drawing and telling stories, and cooking together and playing games – so many wonderful, happy things that Benson couldn’t count them all.
He packed his pyjamas and his library book and his toothbrush, and his drawing things. When he got to Nanna’s, she said, “Benson, how lovely to see you!” as she always did, and gave him a big hug. His mother kissed him goodbye and said, “Benson, make sure you help Nanna as much as you can.”
Nanna said, “What would you like to do first, have muffins and dandelion tea in the garden, or take some sandwiches and make shadow hands on the big rock?”
That was the trouble with going to Nanna’s, Benson thought. It was so hard to decide what he wanted to do most. “Umm,” he said, thinking about climbing the big rock and eating their sandwiches in the sunshine, then getting mouthfuls of paint and making shadow hand-prints on the rock. “What kind of muffins?” he asked.
“Banana, carrot and coconut,” Nanna said. “I just got them out of the oven.” Then it was easy to decide. They sat in the garden among the wildflowers, seeing who could count the most butterflies, then they made cauliflower and blueberry sandwiches and took them up to the rock. They had a wonderful day together. Nanna had a nap while Benson was making hand-prints, and some foot-prints, then they walked home together telling stories and playing, ‘Guess what animal I’m thinking of.’
The next morning, when Benson got up and went out to the kitchen, Nanna was standing there in her pyjamas. She said, “Benson, what are you doing here?”
Benson felt confused. He said, “I’m sleeping over, remember?”
She looked at him with a tiny frown on her face, until he went up and touched her hand. Then she smiled an enormous smile and said, “Benson, how lovely to see you!” She wrapped him a big, warm hug.
“Are we having pancakes for breakfast?” Benson asked.
Nanna frowned again, and said, “Pancakes?” She looked around the kitchen. Then she got out a saucepan and some pickles, and tomato sauce. “I’m not sure,” she said, uncertainly.
There was a knock at the door, and a cheery voice said, “Nanna, it’s me, Shelley. Can I come in?”
Nanna said, “Shelley, it’s so nice to see you!” Shelley put down a big bag of fruit she had brought, and gave Nanna a hug. “We’re just going to make pancakes,” Nanna said. “Would you like some?”
Shelley said, “I’d love some! What have you got the pickles and tomato sauce for?”
Nanna looked puzzled and said, “I’m not sure.”
Shelley said, “Why don’t I give you a hand?” She got out the frying pan and the flour and the eggs, and she and Benson helped Nanna make the pancakes. They were delicious.
When it was time for the washing-up, and Nanna was getting dressed, Benson said to Shelley, “Nanna was funny, before. It’s like she didn’t remember that I was here.”
Shelley stopped washing up and said quietly, “I think Nanna is having trouble remembering things, sometimes. Sometimes when we get old, our brains don’t work as well as they used to. Sometimes we don’t remember things that we used to know really well. It’s like things get lost in our memory and we don’t know where to find them.”
“Does it hurt?” Benson said. He started to get worried. “What if Nanna forgets to eat, or if she forgets to breathe?”
Shelley gave Benson a hug. “It’s not as bad as that. It doesn’t hurt, but I think Nanna gets a little bit frightened sometimes, when she can’t remember. I come over every morning now, just to see that she’s okay. She needs a little more looking after now, that’s all.”
“Can we fix it for her?” Benson said. “What should I do?”
Shelley said, “I think you should talk to her just the same as you always do. She’s still Nanna, you know. You might just need to remind her of things, now and then.”
Benson was worried after Shelley left, but Nanna seemed just the same as always. They listened to some of her favourite opera music, and she remembered all the words. She had a little nap while Benson was reading his library book, and when she woke up she couldn’t quite remember that it was Tuesday, but Benson chatted to her and she soon felt fine again.
Benson remembered that his mother had said to help Nanna as much as he could, so he helped with the cooking and the washing up, and he reminded Nanna that she still had her slippers on when they were going out for a walk. Sometimes she got confused about whether they had already had lunch, but Benson never minded having lunch twice.
When it was time for Benson to go home again, he told his mother all about Nanna forgetting things, and what Shelley had said. “Nanna’s getting holes in her brain,” Benson said, “and things she’s supposed to remember keep falling out, but you just catch them for her and remind her again and it’s okay.”
His mother was very worried. She talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss.
“What are we going to do?” Aunt Moss said. She was very upset. “We can’t be with her all the time to look after her.”
“We should bring her to live here with us,” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson’s mother said, “I think she’d be happier in her own home, with her garden and everything she loves.”
“That’s what Shelley says,” Benson said. He was busy drawing pictures of every single wombat that they knew, and writing their names underneath. He told his mother how Shelley came to see Nanna every day.
“That’s very kind of her,” Benson’s mother said. “I wonder if we could ask her to help us look after Nanna?”
So they went to see Shelley and talk to her about Nanna. Then they all went to see Nanna.
Nobody knew exactly what to say, but Benson said, “Here, Nanna, I made you a book of drawings of everyone you know, so that when you forget, you can look at the pictures and see their names underneath.”
Nanna’s face crumpled. “Oh dear, I am forgetting, aren’t I?” she said. “I thought it was just the little things, but lately I feel as if sometimes I even forget where I am, and what I’m doing.”
Shelley put her arm around Nanna and said, “How would it be if I came to look after you? We can dig an extra room or two for my loom and my spinning wheel – maybe I could even teach you how to spin!”
Nanna said, “I think that would be lovely.” She looked at the book that Benson had made, and sighed. Then she had an idea. “You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to have a big party, so I can see everyone again, while I still remember.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Benson’s mother said. So they had the most enormous party and invited everyone Nanna knew, all her family and friends, Uncle Elton and Elmer, and Lance and Wilma, Mr Fenn and Gordon and Fenella and Malcolm and Rebekah and Hazel, and Nils and Nella and their family, and all the dunnarts, and the sugar-gliders, and the turtles, and Zip and Zali and their mother Teresa, and all Benson’s friends and their families, Mick and Bonnie Lou, and Ralph, and Philip, and Rodney and his family. Even the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats came, and danced with everyone. And of course, Pascoe came. She said she wouldn’t dream of missing it.
Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and Shelley cooked piles and piles of food, muffins and sandwiches and cakes and pies and tarts, and everyone else brought food to share, and they all sat in Nanna’s garden talking and playing music, singing and telling stories, and having a wonderful time.
When everyone had gone and Nanna was having a rest while Benson’s mother and Shelley were tidying up, Benson said, “I made you a special present, Nanna.” He had made little models of all her wombat friends out of clay from the riverbank. “They’re to remind you,” he said, “so even if your brain and your eyes forget, your hands will still remember.”
He put them in her hands, and her face lit up. “This is Zali, isn’t it?” she said, touching them all over. “And this one is Elton, and this is your mother, and this is you, isn’t it? They’re beautiful, Benson.” Then her face clouded over a little.
Benson said, “Are you okay, Nanna?”
“Benson,” she said very quietly, “I’m frightened.”
Benson took her hand and said, “What are you frightened of, Nanna?”
She held his hand tightly, and said, “I’m afraid that one day I’ll wake up and I won’t remember you, or your mother, or anyone any more. I won’t have a chance to say goodbye.”
Benson thought about how sad that would be. He said, “We’d better make sure we say goodbye now, while you still remember.”
Nanna gave him a radiant smile. “That’s a wonderful idea!” She took him in her arms and told him how much she loved him. And from then on, whenever Benson was going home or it was bedtime, he would say, “Goodbye, Nanna. I love you.”
And Nanna would said, “I love you too, Benson. Sweet dreams, little wombat.”
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson was outside trying to work out the best way to put up a flag in a tunnel, when he heard a great clattering and banging coming down the track. He looked out to see if it was maybe an invasion of metal triceratopses, but it was his friend Mick, in a big, metal contraption with wheels and gears and air foils and a steering wheel the size of a cartwheel.
The contraption stopped and Mick got out. So did his little sister, Bonnie Lou, and then Arlette and Twiss, who were two kind-of friends. “This is my new super-dooper solar-powered billy-cart!” Mick said, nearly bursting with pride. “I made it myself!”
“It’s …..amazing!” Benson said. Words couldn’t describe how magnificent it was.
“I made it with parts from my old bike and and Hazel gave me some bits too, this gear-stick and the sun-roof,” Mick said, pointing out his favourite parts. “I’m thinking of getting air-conditioning, too, but I need some more bits.”
Benson walked around the billy-cart, admiring the hubcaps and the mudguards. Mick said, “It’s got a top speed of… I’m not sure, but really fast, anyway. When it’s only me. It’s a bit slower when there are four of us.” He leaned forward and whispered to Benson, “Arlette and Twiss were playing with Bonnie Lou, and my mum made me bring them too.”
Arlette came over and said, “It’s SO much better than riding a dusty old bike. The seats are really comfortable. But Mick, you should definitely get a GPS.”
Mick rolled his eyes and shrugged.
Benson’s mother came out to admire the billy-cart too. “Solar-powered!” she said. “What a good idea!”
Twiss said, “We’re going over to the gully to pick some passionfruit.”
“Passionfruit?” said Benson’s mother, frowning.
Just hearing the word ‘passionfruit’ made the thought of summer explode in Benson’s mind, warm days, golden juice and the most incredible smell. “Can I come too?” he asked eagerly.
Arlette said, “There’s only enough room for four, and we thought of it first.”
Benson was really disappointed. He said, “The gully’s not that far away anyway. You could probably walk there just as fast.”
“No way!” said Arlette.
“Do you want a race?” said Bonnie Lou.
“All right,” Benson said. “First one back here with a bag full of passionfruit is the winner!”
Mick and Bonnie Lou and Arlette and Twiss piled back into the billy-cart. Mick started it up with a loud bang. Benson ran inside to get a big bag for the passionfruit. His mother said, “Benson, I don’t think…” but he was in too much of a hurry to listen. He put on his hat and sped off, over the back fence, through the bush and down by the creek.
Mick’s billy-cart trundled down the track, speeding along. “Turn right here,” said Bonnie Lou. “That’s the track to the gully.”
“It’s not wide enough,” Mick said. “The billy-cart can’t make it down there.”
“Go left,” Arlette said. “We can go around behind the library and get to the gully that way.”
They went left but when they got closer to the gully, that road got narrower too. “Go left again,” Arlette said.
“That’s not the way to the gully,” Bonnie Lou said.
“Yes it is, if we go across the park and over the bridge,” Arlette said.
Mick turned left. The track got bumpier and bumpier. Two of the hubcaps came off, and one of the reversing mirrors. The gears made loud complaining noises. When they got to the park, the ground was muddy from weeks of rain. Mick stopped the billy-cart. “I’m not driving over that,” he said. “We’ll get bogged.”
“We should go back, and round the other way,” said Bonnie Lou.
“I think we should keep going,” Arlette said. “It doesn’t look that muddy to me.”
“No, we need to turn left,” Twiss said. “It’s definitely drier over there.” They all started arguing.
Mick folded his arms and said loudly, “Who’s driving this billy-cart?” Everyone stopped.
“All right, you are,” Arlette said, “but I think we should definitely keep going.”
Mick sighed, and kept going. The front wheels got bogged straight away. Bonnie Lou and Twiss got out and pushed while Arlette gave directions. Then the back wheels got stuck. By the time they got the billy-cart turned around, they were all covered in mud, and exhausted. Then the sun went behind a cloud.
“Why aren’t we moving?” Arlette said.
“Solar-powered,” Mick said glumly. They all got out again and started to push.
Meanwhile Benson went along the narrow track until he got to the gully where the passionfruit vines were. But there wasn’t a single passionfruit on the vines. “Oh no!” he said to himself. “Mick must have been here first and picked all the passionfruit.” He hunted around everywhere but all he could find was one wizened-up old passionfruit way under the back of the vine. He put it sadly in his bag and set off for home.
When Benson got back, he found Mick and the others there, looking very grumpy. “We had to walk all the way back,” Arlette said. “Solar-powered, huh!”
“I suppose you won, then,” Mick said to Benson. “Where are the passionfruit?”
Benson showed him what was in the bag. “Only one?” Mick said. Everyone’s faces fell. One passionfruit among five hungry young wombats isn’t much.
Benson’s mother said, “Perfect! I’ve made a lemon cream sponge, and all it needs is some passionfruit icing on top.”
“Really?” said Benson. His tummy suddenly felt a lot happier.
His mother nodded. “One passionfruit is plenty to make icing with.” Everyone had a turn at stirring the passionfruit into the icing, and then they all helped spread it all over the cake, and licked the bowl and the spoons afterwards, and the only thing better than that was eating the cake.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s friend, Mick, had a new bike. It wasn’t really a new bike. He had found some old handlebars and Hazel had helped him fix them up, and then they had painted the whole bike so that it looked like a new bike, or even better, Mick said.
At breakfast time, Benson said to his mother “Is it okay if I ride my bike down to the creek? We’re going to do time trials over the new bridge. Mick thinks his bike is going to be way faster, now that it’s red.”
“That sounds like fun,” his mother said, collecting all the empty plates. “Do you want to finish Aunt Moss’s rockmelon? Aunt Moss, do you want to eat Benson’s paw-paw?” Benson always left the paw-paw behind when they had fruit salad. It looked like it was going to taste like pumpkin but it never did.
Aunt Lillibet said ominously, “They didn’t build the new bridge high enough. Don’t they remember the Black July floods?”
“I don’t think anyone remembers them, Aunt Lillibet, they were so long ago,” Benson’s mother said.
“Nanna remembers,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’ve heard her talk about how the creek came up right over the old bridge and hundreds of animals living along the banks were drowned.”
“That was a long time ago,” Aunt Moss said. “It could never happen again, now that they’ve made the dam bigger. Besides, the banks of the creek are much higher now.”
“That’s just because the creek is lower,” Aunt Lillibet insisted. “Never underestimate the power of nature!”
“You’re absolutely right,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, make sure you wear your hat and drink plenty of water. It’s going to be quite sunny today.”
Benson put on his hat and got his water bottle and sped off on his bike. Alejandro and Elmer were already there, admiring Mick’s bike. It was beautiful.
“Do you think Hazel would help me paint my bike?” Elmer said, wistfully.
“I think it would take more than paint to make your bike go fast,” Alejandro said. They all looked at Elmer’s bike. His dad was always coming up with ways to improve its performance. It had a windsock tied to the handlebars, and an extra-large reversing mirror, and a cushion tied to the seat. Elmer sighed.
Arlette and her sister Twiss came up just then on their roller-skates. “Hey, do you boys want a race?” Arlette called.
Mick just laughed. “Race with us? Roller-skates are for girls. You’d never even make it to the finishing line!”
Arlette stomped up to the beginning of the bridge, as well as she could with her roller-skates. “We’ll see about that!” she said. “Ready, set, go!” and she whizzed off.
“Hey!” yelled Mick. “I wasn’t ready!” He got on his bike and set off after her, but she got to the end of the bridge well ahead of him.
“I won!” she chortled, but Mick whipped his bike around and started back across the bridge at top speed.
“And back again!” he shouted, flying along.
“That’s not fair!” Arlette shouted. She started off after him, but he won easily. All the boys cheered.
Arlette panted up, shouting about how unfair it was. She wasn’t looking where she was going and one of her skates got caught on a rock. She stumbled and started to fall backwards into the creek. Benson and Elmer each grabbed one of her hands. She hung there in space over the water, with the wheels of her skates scrabbling against the bank.
“Just leave her!” said Mick. He and Alejandro lined up at the beginning of the bridge again. “Come on, we’re starting the race. Last one across is a loser!”
Elmer dropped Arlette’s hand and jumped on his bike. Benson felt his arm stretching and stretching, trying to hold Arlette’s weight while her wheels slid and spun helplessly in the dirt.
“Benson, it’s now or never,” Alejandro shouted. “Ready, set – “
Benson said hurriedly, “Sorry, Arlette!” and let go. He got on his bike just as Alejandro said, “- go!” They raced off, over the bridge and down the track on the other side. Benson didn’t even look back, but he heard Arlette splash up to her waist in the muddy water, yelling, “I’ll never trust a boy again!”
The next day and the next day and the day after that it rained. It rained for a whole week without stopping. Most of the time, it didn’t just rain, it poured. Aunt Lillibet started to make dire predictions about floods. “It’s going to be Black July all over again,” she said.
Aunt Moss said, “It’s only a bit of rain, Lillibet. Even the back yard isn’t flooded.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It isn’t flooded yet! That’s what happened in Black July. The river and the dam filled up and up, then all of a sudden they overflowed and there was a flash flood.”
“What’s a flash flood?” Benson asked. “Too much lightning?”
“It’s when the flooding happens suddenly, like a wall of water out of nowhere,” Aunt Lillibet said. “That’s why all the animals were taken by surprise and why so many of them drowned.”
Benson’s mother was looking worried. “I think I might go down to the bridge and have a look at the water level in the creek, just to be on the safe side,” she said.
“Can I come too?” Benson said. “I haven’t been anywhere for a week.” So they went together. It wasn’t actually raining, and Benson thought it was a bit silly to be looking for a flood when it wasn’t even raining, but he was happy just to be outside.
Once they got to the creek, his mother looked even more worried. The water was running deep and fast, carrying lots of rubbish, sticks and broken branches with it. Benson had seen it like this before, and it was scary. His mother sniffed the air and said, “There’s more rain coming. If Aunt Lillibet’s right, this could be a disaster. I’ll go along the banks of the creek to warn the families living there, and tell them they should move to higher ground.”
Benson’s tummy was turning over. The clouds overhead were getting darker and heavier, and rain was beginning to fall again. His mother said, “Benson, go straight home, and tell Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss they may need to start getting ready for lots of animals who need shelter. Go the long way – don’t go over the bridge.” She set off running along the side of the creek, and was soon out of sight.
Benson set off quickly. He was nearly home when he saw Arlette, going the other way towards the creek. “Where are you going?” he said.
Arlette sniffed and said, “You made me lose my favourite hat in the creek. I’m going to get it back.”
“You can’t go down to the creek,” Benson said. “There may be a flood coming.”
Arlette just ignored him and kept going. He ran after her, trying to explain about Black July, but she wouldn’t listen. They got to the creek and she kept going onto the bridge.
Benson shouted, “Arlette, you’ve got to get off the bridge!”
Arlette stopped in the middle of the bridge with her hands on her hips. “I don’t believe anything you say,” she said. “It’s a perfectly good bridge. You just want to make me look silly again.” She put her nose in the air and stalked the rest of the way over. Then to Benson’s horror, she started to climb down the bank of the creek.
“Don’t go down there!” he shouted at her. “The flood could come any minute!”
“Huh! Floods don’t just come all at once,” she said. “You’re not fooling me. I’m going to find my hat.” She kept on climbing down.
“Arlette, please!” Benson said. “I’m not tricking you, there really might be a flash flood coming.”
Arlette looked up at him scornfully. “I don’t believe you!” she said.
Then they both heard a noise like a deep, thundering roaring from further up the creek. Benson felt a very bad feeling in his stomach.
“We have to get out of here,” he said urgently. “Come on!” He held his hand out to Arlette. She folded her arms and just stood there, refusing to listen. He said desperately, “Look, I’m sorry about dropping you in the water last week, but this is different. You could be drowned!”
She said stubbornly, “Why should I trust you?”
“You just have to!” Benson said. “Come on!”
She climbed up and went back across the bridge. The terrifying sound suddenly got much louder. Benson grabbed her hand and yelled, “Run!”
They both ran, as fast as a pair of young wombats can run. There was a huge, crashing, grinding sound behind them. They looked back over their shoulders, and saw a wall of water like a giant, tumbling, dirty wave, come crashing down the creek. It flooded up the banks of the creek and over the top of the bridge and tore half the planks away, sweeping them along with it.
Benson and Arlette kept on running, and didn’t stop until they were nearly home. Benson said, still panting, “We just made it in time! If you hadn’t listened to me…” He shivered to think about what might have happened.
Arlette said, “Maybe it’s okay to trust boys sometimes. Thanks, Benson.” Then she said, “But you still owe me a new hat!”
Once there was a young wombat who lived in a nice, roomy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother took him to the park. His friend Alejandro was there, playing with someone Benson hadn’t seen before. “Hi, Benson,” he said. “This is my cousin, Errol.”
“Hi, Errol,” said Benson. “Do you want to come and dig in the sandpit?”
Errol said, “I can’t. I’m not very good at digging. My arm got hurt in a bushfire.” Benson hadn’t noticed it before, but one of Errol’s arms was hanging down at his side.
Benson felt sorry for him. “I’ve got a friend who was hurt in a bushfire too,” he said.
Errol said in a soft, sad voice, “It was so terrible. My whole family was burnt up.”
“That’s awful!” Benson said. He felt really bad for Errol.
Errol said, “I tried to rescue them but a burning tree fell on me and now my arm will never work again. I’ve got no family left in the whole world.” A tear ran down his face and dripped off his nose.
Benson felt very sad for him. He wondered what he should say.
Just then Alejandro called, “Errol, do you want to go on the swing?”
Errol jumped up, not sad at all any more. “Sure,” he said. He jumped on the swing and started swinging higher and higher.
“Hey!” Benson called. “I thought your arm didn’t work!”
“It’s better now,” Errol said, swinging really high.
Benson felt confused. He went over to the sandpit to dig with Zali. Zali was happy to see him and little Zip said, “Huh huh,” and climbed into his lap and tried to pull his nose off.
After a while, Errol got off the swing and came over towards the sandpit. There was an old paddle-pop stick lying on the ground. “Look what I found!” he shouted. “A troglosaurus bone!”
“It’s not a bone, it’s a paddle-pop stick,” Benson said. Maybe it was Errol’s eyes that got hurt in the bushfire, not his arm.
“No, it’s a bone,” Errol said. “I know because my mother is a famous scientist and my father has the biggest collection of dinosaur bones in the world!”
Benson said, “I thought you said all your family was burnt up in a bushfire.”
“That was before,” Errol said. “They’re better now.”
Benson was so confused he didn’t know what to think. He went over to where Alejandro was pushing himself on the roundabout. “Does Errol have something wrong with his memory?” he asked him. “Did he get hit on the head in the bushfire?”
“What bushfire?” Alejandro said.
“He said all his family was burnt up in a bushfire,” Benson said.
“I’m his family,” Alejandro said. “Do I look like I’m all burnt up?”
“Why did Errol say that?” Benson said.
“I don’t know. I suppose he likes making things up,” Alejandro said.
Benson asked his mother about it when they got home. “I think Errol is the biggest liar I ever met,” he said.
His mother smiled. “He certainly has a very lively imagination,” she said.
Benson said, “What does that mean?”
His mother said, “You know how when you want to draw something, you imagine it in your head first? I think Errol gets mixed up between what he imagines and what is real.”
“Like he can’t tell if something really happened, or if it’s something he made up?” Benson said.
“More like when he hears a story, he imagines it happened to him, and it’s so exciting, he thinks about it as if it really did happen. Then he hears another story, and he forgets about the first story and he gets caught up in the new one instead,” his mother said. “Some people have very powerful imaginations, so powerful that they take over.”
Benson imagined his imagination like a giant monster taking all his pencils and paints and drawing things without him. He shook his head. That could never happen.
His mother said, “You just have to remember that when Errol tells you something, it may be his imagination talking.”
Benson said, “Pascoe is a storyteller, but she’s not like that. She never pretends it happened to her.”
His mother said, “No, Pascoe is a story-teller and a story-keeper. She remembers stories and tells them. She never gets mixed up between what is real and what isn’t.”
Benson said, “Do you know when I’m telling a story, or when I’m telling the truth?”
“Every single time,” his mother said, with a smile.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning after breakfast, Aunt Lillibet said, “We’ve been invited to a naming party.”
“What’s that?” Benson asked. He was drawing a cockatoo but the ears weren’t coming out right.
“Remember my second-cousin, Bingo?” she said.
“Oh, yes!” said Aunt Moss. “I remember when Bingo got married to Bongo. It was such a beautiful wedding!” she sighed. Weddings always made Aunt Moss sigh.
“And now they’ve had a baby?” Benson’s mother asked.
“Yes, and they’d like the whole family to help name the baby,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“How lovely!” Aunt Moss said. “Everyone chooses such interesting names for babies nowadays, like ‘Goldie’, and ‘Angora’, and ‘Masala’. Such pretty names!”
“Is it a baby girl?” Benson asked.
“They’re not saying,” said Aunt Lillibet. “They don’t want to give the baby a name that sounds like a girl’s name, or a boy’s name, in case the baby may not like it when they’re older,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Why don’t people give their children proper names any more?”
“What’s a proper name?” asked Benson. He had figured out the ears, but the tail was giving him problems. He couldn’t remember which way the stripes should go.
“Proper names like we had when we were growing up, like George and Herbert and Cuddles,” said Aunt Lillibet.
Aunt Moss said, “Oh, Lillibet, nobody calls their children old-fashioned names like that any more!”
“How do people know what to call their babies?” Benson asked. He was very carefully drawing the cockatoo’s eyelashes.
“Nowadays they just make something up, like Blob or Sneeze,” said Aunt Lillibet.
Benson’s mother said, “I don’t think so, Lillibet. Sometimes they name them after someone else in the family. I remember when Benson was born, you wanted to name him after Uncle Lionel.”
“Lionel!” said Benson. He could NOT imagine himself as a Lionel. He asked his mother, “Why did you call me Benson?” He was using the side of his pencil to give the cockatoo long, wavy fur.
She said, “I thought of a few names I liked, and then you were born and I looked at you and Benson was the only name I could possibly call you. You were just…. Benson!”
Benson liked that idea very much.
“That’s not always such a good idea,” Aunt Moss said. “Remember when Elton was born, and his mother thought he looked exactly like a cute little piglet so she called him Little Oink.”
“Oink?” said Benson. “Uncle Elton’s real name is Oink?” He dropped all his pencils and rolled under the table laughing. “Oink! Oink, oink!”
“That’s what everyone said,” Aunt Lillibet said. “He changed it as soon as he was old enough.”
“Why did he choose Elton?” Benson asked. “Was it the name of someone famous?”
“No, I think it was his favourite fingernail-polish colour, Elton Pink,” his mother said.
“Arlette changed her own name, too,” Benson said, picking up his pencils. “It used to be Arnette, but she liked the curly loop in the ‘L’, so she changed it.”
“You changed your name too, didn’t you, Lillibet?” Aunt Moss said. “Your real name is – “
“That’s enough, thank you, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I didn’t change my name, I just decided to use my middle name instead. That’s perfectly all right.”
“What was your first name, Aunt Lillibet?” Benson asked.
“That’s best left in the past,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It didn’t suit me, and it was difficult for people to spell. No-one remembers it now, anyway.”
“Of course, Lillibet is a lovely name,” Aunt Moss said, “but I still like – “
“Moss! If you say one more word…!” Aunt Lillibet said threateningly.
“All right, Lillibet.” Aunt Moss closed her lips and locked them with her finger.
Benson’s mother helped him pick up his pencils. “What were you drawing?” she said.
“It’s a cockatoo in a zebra onesie,” he said.
“Does he have a name?” she asked.
Benson thought. “I think I’ll call him Louise,” he said.
The baby-naming party was more fun than Benson thought it would be, for something that was all about babies. All the family came, and everyone had their own ideas about what to name the baby.
Bongo said, “When the baby was born, we thought we would wait and let the baby choose their own name, but that didn’t work out too well.”
“Everyone kept calling the baby things like ‘Cutie-pie’ and ‘Sweetie’, and we didn’t want the baby to end up with a name like that,” Bingo said, with a shudder. “So we decided to hold a naming party and ask everyone to help.”
Uncle Elton said “Why don’t you call the baby after yourselves? Go-Go? Or Bing-Bong?”
Elmer started to giggle. “Like a door-bell!”
Bongo said, “We want the baby’s name to be special, not just a name like other people give their babies.”
Bingo said, “So we’ve made a list, and we’d like to hear what you think. The first name on the list is ‘Mood.'”
“Moo-ed,” said Benson, long and low. “Like a baby calf. Moooo-ed.”
Elmer started giggling again. Bingo crossed ‘Mood’ off the list. “The next name we thought of is ‘JJ’.”
“How do you spell that?” asked Aunt Lillibet. Bongo crossed it off the list.
“What about Jon?” Bongo asked.
“I’ve got an uncle called Jon,” two people said, and someone else said, “I knew a horse called Jonnie.” Bingo crossed ‘Jon’ off the list.
“That only leaves one name on the list,” Bongo said. “Actually it was our favourite anyway.” Bingo and Bongo looked at each other and smiled. “So we’re going to name our new baby, ‘Wombat.'”
Nobody knew quite what to say. Aunt Moss looked puzzled, and Aunt Lillibet looked disgruntled. Uncle Elmer said, “Is that even a name?”
Bongo held up the baby, who blinked and looked back at all the family. Benson went up and touched his nose against the baby’s nose. “Hello, little Batty! It’s nice to meet you.”
Everyone smiled and started talking at once. “Batty, that’s a cute name! Looks just like a Batty to me. Welcome to the family, Batty!”
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a happy, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson and his mother were going to visit his mother’s friend, Dellie, who lived by a big lake. It was a long, long way so they were going to catch a train. They got up very early and walked a long way to the train station. It was so early that there was nobody else there. They waited on the platform until a big train came hissing up to the platform.
The doors opened with a whishing noise, and Benson and his mother stepped in, very carefully because there was a bit of a gap between the train and the edge of the platform and they didn’t want to fall down into it. The doors whished shut behind them and the train set off.
Inside the train, it was bright and clean. There was hardly anyone else in the carriage at all, just a man in a bright orange vest who was asleep in the corner. Benson’s mother thought that was a very good idea, so they found a cosy spot under the seat at the very end of the carriage and snuggled up and went to sleep.
When Benson woke up a while later, there were a lot more people on the train. They were all being very quiet, looking at their phones. Every now and then the train stopped at another station, and one or two people got off and two or three got on and sat down and started looking at their phones.
After a while, someone got up and came down to Benson’s end of the carriage, where there was a door that Benson hadn’t noticed before. She pressed a green button on the door, and it opened. Benson wondered what was on the other side, so he got up and followed her through the door. There was another door, exactly the same, and they both went through that one too. Then both the doors shut with a solid thunk.
Benson was in another carriage exactly the same as the other one, but much more noisy. A mother and a father and a boy were sitting on the seat near the door. The mother and the father were drinking coffee out of plastic cups and the boy was yelling that he wanted a drink. His mother gave him a can of something, and the boy stopped yelling to drink it, but then he dropped it. Benson ducked under the seat so the can didn’t hit him on the head. The can rolled back and forth on the floor, spilling sugary drink everywhere.
The boy stood on the seat and cried because he had dropped his drink, so the mother gave him a biscuit. The boy sat down, kicking the seat while he ate the biscuit. Biscuit crumbs showered down on Benson’s head and fell into his ears. He decided he’d go back to the nice, quiet carriage where his mother was. Then he realised he had a problem. The green button was too high for him to reach. How was he going to get the doors to open?
Above his head, the boy was standing on the seat looking out of the window, eating a packet of chips. Benson was thinking he seemed to be a very hungry child and then the chip packet, still half full of chips, fell on his head. He brushed chips off his head and out of his ears, and then he thought he’d better squash back further under the seat in case anything else was going to fall on him. It was a good thing he did, because a minute later nearly a whole apple with just one bite taken out of it dropped on the floor right where Benson’s nose had been.
The apple rolled around on the floor. Benson was starting to feel hungry himself, and the apple, even with a bite taken out of it, looked delicious. It looked like nobody wanted it, so he reached out to catch it as it rolled past. Just then the train stopped and a crowd of people piled into the carriage. Two ladies with shoes with long, pointy heels stepped dangerously near Benson’s nose. He pulled his nose and his hands back under the seat quickly, so they didn’t accidentally get stepped on.
The ladies with the pointy heels started to sit down, but when they felt their nice shoes sticking to the floor where the boy had spilled his drink, and saw all the rubbish on the floor, they got up again and went to another part of the carriage.
Benson peeped out. The mother and father were looking at their phones and the boy was pestering them for some chocolate. The mother gave him a chocolate bar out of her bag, without even looking up from her phone. The boy peeled the wrapping off it and dropped it on the floor. The apple rolled back towards Benson. He waited until it was nearly within his reach and then he made a grab for it. Clopp! A nearly-empty coffee cup hit him on the head.
The mother said to the father, “You shouldn’t just drop your cup on the floor like that.” Benson silently agreed, rubbing his head.
The father said, “Why not? The floor’s already filthy. They keep these trains in a disgusting state. Anyway, we’re getting off here.” The train stopped. The mother brushed some crumbs off the boy onto the floor and dropped her own coffee cup and they all got out.
When the train started again, Benson looked around at the rubbish everywhere. Even the apple was covered in bits of dirt from rolling around the floor so much. It looked disgusting. Someone should do something, Benson said to himself. There was too much to pick up, so he spread his arms out like a small bulldozer and gathered it all up. Then he pushed it in front of him towards the door, so that when the train arrived at the next station and the doors opened, he could push it out.
He waited by the door, and the train stopped. As soon as the doors opened, he gave a big push and all the rubbish fell out. Then the train jerked suddenly. Benson felt himself falling into the gap between the train and the platform. He could see a dark space, and giant, metal train wheels.
Luckily for him, his tummy and his feet were glued to the sticky floor. Instead of falling, he stopped halfway, with his head out of the doors and the rest of him inside the train. There was a sharp hiss and the doors started to close. Benson pulled his head in like a snail backing into its shell, just in time before the doors shut. He sat there, panting and feeling himself all over to make sure that all of him was safely inside the train.
Then he heard a shriek. Two women were standing behind him in the carriage. They screamed and pointed at him. “Euyywwwwhhh! A dirty, disgusting wombat!” They ran to the connecting door and pressed the green button. The door to the next carriage opened and they ran through.
Benson wasn’t going to miss this chance. He scampered through as fast as his legs would carry him. He made it through just as the door whished shut behind him. “It’s a good thing wombats don’t have tails,” he said to himself.
His mother was still curled up in the corner under the seat. She said sleepily, “Where have you been?” She sniffed. “You smell like… biscuits, and chips, and… coffee!”
“Tell me about it,” Benson sighed. He snuggled up against her and closed his eyes.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were playing cricket in the back yard with Uncle Elton and cousin Elmer and Aunt Moss’s friend, Shelley, one sunny afternoon. Aunt Moss hit a beautiful straight drive off one of Aunt Lillibet’s googlies. It went straight over Uncle Elton’s head, over the compost heap and landed just inside the fence.
“Four,” said Benson, who was being the umpire instead of Uncle Elton, because Uncle Elton had a sore eye from when he had gotten a bit too close to the stumps when Elmer was batting.
“What are you talking about?” yelled Aunt Lillibet. “That was clearly leg before wicket! A blind horse in a snow-storm could see that! She’s out, lbw!”
“Four,” Benson repeated calmly. Aunt Lillibet always said she got someone out, every time she bowled, even when the ball landed in the asparagus patch on the other side of the yard, or when the ball slipped out of her fingers and flew backwards straight over Uncle Elton’s head and knocked his hat off.
Aunt Moss said, “Oh dear! There’s a big hole in my leg-warmer. I must have over-reached myself.”
Everyone looked at Aunt Moss’s leg-warmers. The right one had a big split from top to bottom. She took it off and showed it to Shelley. Shelley said, “I think it’s beyond repairing, Moss dear. But you know, if you cut it in half and sewed the edges together, you could make two sweet little possum pouches for homeless baby possums.”
“What a good idea!” Aunt Moss said. “But what about the left one? What can I do with just one leg-warmer? It would be such a shame to waste it.”
“It would make a very nice scarf,” Uncle Elton suggested.
“Do you think so?” said Aunt Moss. She took it off and wrapped it around her neck. Aunt Lillibet picked up the other one, the one with the hole in it. She took a needle and some bright green thread out of her pocket.
“It looks very nice,” said Uncle Elmer. “It may be just a little bit too short, and a little bit too thick, but it’s lovely.”
“It’s very warm,” Aunt Moss said. “But I already have a very nice scarf. What would I do with that?”
Shelley said, “You can sew a whole lot of scarves together and make a lovely warm quilt for your bed.”
“Oh, yes!” said Aunt Moss.
“She already has a beautiful quilt on her bed,” Aunt Lillibet said, sewing away industriously.
“You can do a lot of things with an old quilt,” Uncle Elton said.
“It could be a horse blanket!” Elmer said.
Aunt Moss looked unhappy. Nanna had made her quilt for her, and she didn’t like the idea of giving it to a horse. Benson was thinking of a horse getting into bed, with horse sheets, and a horse pillow.
“Or you could make a parachute,” Uncle Elton said, “or you could join a whole lot of quilts together and make a hot air balloon!”
“Cool!” said Elmer. “We could all go for rides.”
Benson started imagining floating up into the sky in a giant balloon tied to a bed with a horse in it.
“How lovely!” Aunt Moss said, her eyes shining.
“It could get very cold up there,” Aunt Lillibet said. She cut off the end of the thread and put her scissors and the needle back into her pocket.
“You’d probably need a blanket,” Elmer said.
“And a warm scarf,” Uncle Elton agreed.
“You’d probably need some leg-warmers,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Here you are.” She held out Aunt Moss’s leg-warmer, all nicely sewn up.
“Oh, you’ve fixed it!” Aunt Moss said.
The balloon in Benson’s imagination popped and the bed with the horse in it sank slowly to the ground.
Shelley said, “You’ve done a beautiful job darning it, Lillibet. It’s funny the way the stitching is in the shape of an ‘L’. I didn’t notice it before.”
“It must be an ‘L’ for ‘left’,” said Uncle Elton.
“But it’s my right leg-warmer,” Aunt Moss said. “Unless I wear it on the other leg.”
“You wouldn’t want two leg-warmers on one leg,” Benson said. “What if you turned it inside out? It wouldn’t look like an ‘L’ then, would it?”
Everyone turned their heads on one side, trying to imagine an inside out ‘L’.
“It’s not an ‘L’ for ‘left’,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You can wear it on your right leg if you want to, Moss.”
Aunt Moss put the leg-warmer on her right leg, then she unwound the other leg-warmer from around her neck and put it on her left leg. She beamed at Aunt Lillibet. “Thank you, Lillibet. My legs feel toasty and warm again,” she said. “It must be an ‘L’ for ‘lovely’.”
“Whose turn is it to bat?” asked Elmer, who was getting impatient.
“Aunt Moss is still batting,” Benson said.
“No, I just got her out lbw,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I don’t think so, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss.
“Are you sure, Moss?” Aunt Lillibet said. She pointed to Aunt Moss’s leg-warmer. On the front there was a long ‘L’, and when she turned around, on the back was a ‘B’ and a ‘W’.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet had been in bed with a bad cold for a week and she was very grumpy. She had read all her gardening books twice. She had knitted two pairs of socks and one-and-a-half scarves, and she had finished three baby jackets that Aunt Moss had started for baby Rosie and stopped because the pattern was too hard or the neck was too tight or she had lost one of her needles halfway through the last sleeve. She was so bored she could scream.
“Arghhhh!” she screamed. “This is the most boring wombat hole in the universe!”
Aunt Moss said, “Lillibet, don’t get so upset! I’m sure it’s bad for you. Would you like another cup of sage tea?”
“No!” Aunt Lillibet said very loudly. “I’ve had so much sage tea, my feet are turning green! And if you make me one more horseradish and lemon myrtle sandwich, I’ll throw it at you!”
“Oh dear,” said Aunt Moss.
“Don’t worry, Aunt Moss,” said Benson, who was lying on the floor, comfortably out of reach, drawing a crocodile circus. “Aunt Lillibet is just in a mood.”
“I am not in a mood,” Aunt Lillibet said in a very scary voice. “I am sick and tired of being sick, and tired,” she said.
Benson’s mother said, “Aunt Lillibet, I think it might do you good to go for a little walk, out in the fresh air and sunshine.”
Aunt Moss said, “Oh, yes! A little nature-bathing is sure to make you feel better.”
Aunt Lillibet said dangerously, “Moss, a walk in the bush is a walk in the bush, not a nature bath or a sun shower or a fresh-air fun fair. I’m not going to take my clothes off and swim in a puddle!”
“No, of course not, Lillibet,” Aunt Moss said. “But don’t you remember Shelley saying how good it is for you to spend time taking in the beauty of nature and getting in touch with your inner naturist?”
Benson’s mother said quickly, before Aunt Lillibet could blow her top, “Benson, why don’t you go for a walk with Aunt Lillibet? That way she’ll have someone to chat to, and if she gets tired, you can help her on the walk home.”
Benson didn’t want to go for a walk, especially not with a grumpy, fire-breathing Aunt Lillibet. He wanted to keep drawing crocodiles juggling and crocodile clowns with red noses, and crocodiles on trapezes, but his mother had a look on her face that said, If you take Aunt Lillibet for a walk, there’ll be muffins or possibly a carrot cake when you get home.
“Oh, all right,” he said, getting up slowly. His mother raised an eyebrow at him, and he changed his expression into a cheery smile and said, “I’d love to go with you, Aunt Lillibet.”
So he and Aunt Lillibet set off. It had been raining earlier but now it was nice and sunny. Aunt Lillibet lifted her face up to the sun and felt better straight away. Benson lifted his face and tripped over a big tree-root.
Aunt Lillibet laughed and helped him up again. Benson brushed off the dirt and they kept going. Aunt Lillibet breathed in the fresh air and felt so much better that she started to smile. Benson breathed in, and snuffed a bug right up his nose. He snorted and sneezed until it came out again, while Aunt Lillibet fell over herself laughing.
A bit further down the track there was a banksia covered in golden yellow flowers. Aunt Lillibet exclaimed, “Aren’t these flowers beautiful?” A bee came buzzing out of the bush towards Benson. He backed away quickly, trying to gently whoosh the bee away without making it angry. He slipped on some moss on the track behind him and fell backwards into a huge pile of wet, slimy leaves.
Aunt Lillibet laughed so much she had to grab onto a branch and sit down. Benson tried to get up, but he slipped over again on the leaves. When he sat up, he had leaves stuck to his head and coming out of his ears, and leaf slime all down his back. He looked at himself and he started to laugh too. He threw handfuls of leaves up into the air and let them rain down on him, and he rolled over and over in them. He burrowed deep into the pile, smelling the dank, earthy smell, then he lay down on top of the soft pile of leaves and looked at the sky.
After a while, he said, “I think it’s time to go home, Aunt Lillibet.”
“Oh, all right,” Aunt Lillibet said. She was really feeling much better. They went home, with Benson dripping leaves and dirt and slime every step of the way.
“Oh dear, Benson, what happened to you?” Aunt Moss said, when they got back.
“He’s been nature-bathing, can’t you tell?” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I think he needs a proper bath,” Benson’s mother said. “And then there’ll be muffins AND carrot cake!”
Benson smiled happily and went off to have his bath.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, happy wombat hole, with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother made some particularly good banana and carrot muffins. They smelled so good, warm and golden, that Benson couldn’t wait to eat them. But his mother said, “These are too good to keep to ourselves. Let’s take them over to Nanna’s and share them.”
Benson was disappointed. Warm muffins straight from the oven were nearly his favourite thing, but then visiting Nanna was even more favourite, so he said, “Okay,” and off they went.
His mother let him carry the muffins, wrapped in a clean tea-towel, so he could breathe in their wonderful muffiny smell as they walked along. But as they walked under a big gum tree, a nestful of wasps noticed the lovely smell too, and came down to investigate.
Benson was afraid of wasps. One had stung him on the nose once and he still remembered how much it hurt. When he saw the wasps, his heart jumped and he started to run. Then he tripped and fell over flat on his tummy, with the muffins underneath him.
His mother managed to shoo the wasps away, and she helped Benson up. His leg was bleeding, and the muffins were completely squashed. Benson started to cry. He didn’t know which was worse, his hurt leg or the ruined muffins.
“Never mind,” said his mother. “Nanna will fix everything.”
Nanna was overjoyed to see them, as she always was. “Benson, what’s the matter?” she said.
He showed her his leg, and the squashed pile of muffins. Nanna smiled. “Don’t worry. We can put one of my special band-aids on it,” she said. She washed his leg, then put a band-aid with a bright, smiley face on it.
“There!” she said. “Now those muffins: they’ll be perfect for making a wonderful trifle. All we have to do is make some jelly and whip some cream.”
Benson helped Nanna make mulberry jelly and they sat down to wait for it to set and turn into jelly. Benson said, “Nanna, how come you’re always so happy? Even when the most beautiful muffins aren’t muffins any more?”
Nanna smiled. “I’ll tell you a story,” she said. “A long time ago, I had a very special friend named Cora. Everyone loved her. She was so full of joy, it made you happy just to be with her. I used to wonder what it was that made her so happy all the time.
“One day, she said to me, ‘My darling daughter, Maribelle, has just had a new baby. Would you like to come and see him with me?’ I said, ‘But Cora, it looks like it’s going to rain.’
“Cora said, ‘What’s a bit of rain? We can wear our gumboots and take an umbrella.’ So we did. We’d only just set out when it started to rain. Not just rain, it poured down. I wanted to turn around and go back, but Cora said, ‘It’s only a bit of rain. It will be wonderful for the garden.’ So we kept going.
“Then Cora stepped in a big puddle of mud. Her boot got stuck so her foot came right out of it, and she slipped over and got covered in mud.
“I said, ‘We’ll have to go back now,’ but Cora said, ‘It’s only a splash of mud. Don’t you love the feel of mud when it squishes between your toes?’ Then she smiled and started stamping in all the puddles. ‘It can’t get any worse, so I might as well enjoy myself,’ she said.
“But then it did get worse. A big gust of wind blew our umbrella inside out and snapped the handle off. The rain poured down on us. ‘Oh no, we’ll be soaked!’ I said. Cora said, ‘Lovely!’ and lifted her face up to the rain. ‘It will wash all the mud off.’
“We kept on going, getting wetter all the time. I was cold and miserable, but Cora was still happy and excited. Then we finally got to Maribelle’s house, and I found out why.
“Maribelle was so happy to see Cora that she didn’t notice we were both wet and muddy. She and Cora hugged and talked and laughed and took turns holding the baby and kissing him and telling each other how big and strong and beautiful he was. And that’s when I realised what it was that made Cora so happy. It was love.”
Benson said, “Is that all? Love?”
Nanna smiled and gathered him up onto her lap and kissed him. “Yes, Benson, just love. Ordinary, everyday love.” Then she said, “I think that jelly should be set by now, don’t you?”
They spread the squashed muffins in the bottom of a bowl and tipped the jelly on top, then they spread cream all over everything. Nanna got them a big spoon each and they tried it. It was wonderful.
“I think this is even better than just muffins,” Benson’s mother said.
Nanna said, “I think you’re right. It really is a great trifle.”
Benson just nodded because he had his mouth full. While he was eating, he thought about things. He said, “Nanna, is it because you love me that you’re happy all the time?”
“It absolutely is,” Nanna said. She kissed him on the nose and smiled at him.
Benson looked down at his smiley band-aid and he smiled back.
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.’
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss went to the fruit shop, and Benson went with them. “First of all we need a nice, ripe avocado,” Aunt Lillibet said. There were stacks and piles of fruit and vegetables everywhere in the shop. Aunt Lillibet found a pyramid of shiny green avocados and gently squeezed one to see if it was ripe.
Mr Pretty, who worked in the shop, came over and said, “No handling the produce, please.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “How can I tell if the avocado is ripe if I don’t squeeze it?”
Mr Pretty said firmly, “No handling, please. All fruit that is handled must be paid for.” He noticed Benson leaning close to the rows of oranges, breathing in their lovely orangey smell. “No touching, young man!” he called loudly.
Benson stood back. “I wasn’t touching,” he said.
“And no smelling, either,” Mr Pretty said. “Move away from the fruit, please!”
Aunt Lillibet didn’t want to buy an avocado that was too hard, or too soft. “I’ll have some celery instead, please,” she said.
Mr Pretty gave her a bunch of celery. “There you are,” he said.
“I only want half a bunch, thank you,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“We don’t have any half-bunches,” Mr Pretty said.
Aunt Lillibet grasped the bunch of celery and snapped it in half. “You do now,” she said. She put the half-bunch of celery in her basket. Mr Pretty’s mouth dropped open.
“And we would like some eggs, please,” Aunt Lillibet said. She moved over to the shelf where there were boxes and boxes of eggs. There were boxes of small eggs, and boxes of medium-sized eggs, and boxes of large eggs.
Aunt Moss said, “Benson usually has a large egg for his breakfast, but I only want a small one. But we need medium-sized ones to make a cake.”
Mr Pretty said, “Then you’ll need three boxes of eggs.”
“But that’s too many eggs!” Aunt Moss said. “Three whole boxes!”
Mr Pretty said, “You can’t buy eggs one at a time, you know. You have to buy a whole box.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “We’ll see about that.” She picked up a box that was marked ‘X-Large Eggs’ and took some out. She put in some small eggs, and some medium eggs from other boxes. “There. One box of eggs.”
“You can’t do that!” Mr Pretty said.
“I have done it,” Aunt Lillibet said. She plucked the pen out of Mr Pretty’s pocket and crossed out ‘X-Large’. Mr Pretty tried to grab his pen back. They tussled for a minute, then Mr Pretty’s elbow bumped a big stack of rockmelons. They rolled everywhere, and unbalanced a wall of watermelons that Mr Pretty had spent the whole morning stacking up. The watermelons thundered down like a green avalanche, tumbling across the floor, heading straight for Benson.
Benson backed away but the largest watermelon hit him right in his middle. He fell over backwards, into a huge crate of pineapples.
Rough, scaly pineapples scratched him, and poked sharp, spiky leaves into all his soft parts. “Ow!” he said. “Ow – help – ow!”
Aunt Moss said, “Benson! Are you all right?”
Mr Pretty was furious. “Would you kindly remove that young wombat from my pineapples?” he said to Aunt Lillibet.
Aunt Lillibet said, “If Benson is hurt, I will hold you completely responsible! What sort of shop do you call this? I should report you for unsafe displaying of fruit!”
“That young wombat is completely out of control,” shouted Mr Pretty. “Coming in here, interfering with the displays, and now playing with the pineapples!”
“Playing?” yelled Aunt Lillibet. “Your pineapples could cause him a serious injury! First you assault him with watermelons, and now he’s trapped in a crate of dangerous fruit!”
They all looked down at Benson in the middle of a sea of pineapples. He was lying very still, because whenever he tried to move, another pineapple spike poked him. There was a tiny scratch on his ear already.
“He’s bleeding!” Aunt Moss screamed.
“There, I told you!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Those pineapples are a danger to customers!”
“If that young vandal gets blood on my pineapples, I’ll never be able to sell them,” Mr Pretty said. “You’ll have to pay for all of them.”
“Pay for them?” Aunt Lillibet bellowed. “You’ll be the one paying, for medical treatment and for psychological damage! He may never be able to look at a piece of fruit again!”
“Could someone help me out?” Benson asked quietly.
Everyone stopped yelling. “How are we ever going to get him out?” Aunt Moss said. “If we try to move one pineapple, the rest will fall on him. Oh, poor Benson!”
“There’s only one thing to do,” Mr Pretty said. “We’ll have to take the sides of the crate off.”
He took hold of one side of the crate and Aunt Lillibet got the other one and they both pulled. The sides came off the crate, and pineapples rolled everywhere. Benson lay on the floor. “Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” he said, but he wasn’t really hurt. He pulled a pineapple spike out of his shoe, and rubbed his nose carefully.
“Benson, are you all right?” Aunt Moss said, checking him all over.
“I think so,” Benson said.
“All my pineapples!” Mr Pretty moaned. “Bruised and battered, every single one!”
Aunt Lillibet was looking at the pile of pineapples consideringly. “Have you got any jars?” she asked.
“Jars?” said Mr Pretty, looking at Aunt Lillibet as if she must have gone crazy.
“Moss, don’t you have a recipe for pineapple jam?” she asked.
“Oh, yes!” Aunt Moss said. “And pineapple relish, and I believe you can make a very tasty chutney with pineapple skins.”
It was a lot of work, peeling and chopping so many pineapples, not to mention the cooking and boiling and stirring, but in the end they had jars and jars of shining, golden jam and delicious relish. Benson made labels for them all, with a picture of a wombat juggling pineapples on the front.
Mr Pretty lined them up on his shelves, and everyone who came into the shop wanted to buy some. He said it was because of his excellent pineapples, but Aunt Lillibet said it was because the jam was so good. But Benson thought it was really because of the cute labels.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet went to see Uncle Elton, and Benson went with her, to play with his cousin, Elmer. Uncle Elton was fixing the rake that Aunt Lillibet had broken when she accidentally raked a rock hidden inside a pile of leaves.
“I’ve fixed your rake,” Uncle Elton said, “and I’ve made a few modifications.”
“That means he’s added some things to make it better,” Elmer told Benson.
“I’ve put on a new handle, twice as long as the old one,” Elton said excitedly. He always got excited about inventing things and having great ideas. “Now you can reach up into the tree and rake the leaves even before they fall!”
“I don’t want to rake the leaves that haven’t fallen down,” Aunt Lillibet said, “only the ones that are making a mess on the ground.” She took the rake and tried it out. “It’s much too long, and much too heavy,” she said.
“I can fix that,” Uncle Elton said. He took his saw and zazzed off the handle so it was hardly as long as Aunt Lillibet’s arm. “There! Much lighter and easier to use!”
“Now it’s too short! I have to bend over to reach the ground!” Lillibet said. “Really, Elton, this is useless. You’ll have to put a new handle on it.”
While Uncle Elton put a new handle on the rake, Benson and Elmer played knights and dragons with the old bits of handle. By the time he was finished, it was lunch-time and Benson was getting hungry.
“Would you like to stay for lunch?” Elton said. “It’s nothing special, just a light, fresh salad.”
Uncle Elton like to cook, but he also liked to try out new ideas, and when he tried out new ideas to eat, you had to watch out. Aunt Lillibet thought a fresh salad should be pretty safe. “Yes, we’d love to,” she said.
They all washed their hands and set the table while Elton got the salad ready.
Benson was very hungry, and the salad looked delicious. He started eating straight away. Aunt Lillibet was a bit more careful. “What’s in it?” she asked.
“Mostly lettuce and tomatoes,” Elton said, “and some chopped broccoli. And a little bit of parsley.”
“Anything else?” Lillibet asked.
“No, except for a few slices of avocado. And a sprinkling of fennel seeds,” he said.
“And that’s all?” Lillibet said.
“Yes, that’s all,” Elton said.
“Nothing else at all?” Lillibet said, still peering at the salad.
“Absolutely nothing else,” Elton said. “Except the weevils.”
Benson already had his mouth full of salad. He stopped chewing suddenly.
“Did you say weevils?” Aunt Lillibet said.
“For added protein,” Elton said happily. “They’re perfectly fresh.”
Aunt Lillibet looked closely at the salad bowl. “So fresh they’re still moving,” she said. She put her fork down.
Benson looked at his plate. Now that he looked, he could see little white weevils squirming around among the leaves. Then he saw that one of the weevils was only half a weevil. That could only mean one thing. His stomach turned over.
He put his hand over his mouth. He said, “I think I’m going to be…”
“Don’t speak with your mouth full, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said.
He went to get up and rush to the bathroom, but Aunt Lillibet pushed him down again. “We’re still in the middle of eating lunch, Benson,” she said.
Benson couldn’t help himself. The salad in his insides came rushing back up again. He vomited everywhere.
“Benson!” Aunt Lillibet screeched. She was so embarrassed she didn’t know where to look. “I’m so sorry, Elton. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. Such disgusting behaviour!” She took Benson’s hand, the one with the least amount of vomit on it, and took him home at once.
When Benson’s mother saw him covered in vomit and smelling like a walking compost heap, she said, “What happened?”
“Benson behaved in the most appalling way at Elton’s!” Aunt Lillibet said. “He vomited all over everyone and everything. I’ll never be able to look Elton in the face again! I’m so embarrassed! I was mortified!”
Benson’s mother put him in the bath and listened while he told her the whole story. He said, “I saw the half of the weevil and I knew I must have eaten the other half, and I could kind of feel it worming around inside me, and I couldn’t help it, it just all came vomiting up.”
His mother nodded. “If your stomach wants to bring something up and get rid of it, there’s not much you can do about it,” she said. “Never mind, I’m sure Uncle Elton understands. I’ll go and see him tomorrow.”
The next day she went to see Uncle Elton. When she came back, she said to Aunt Lillibet, “I explained everything to Elton, and he understands completely. I invited him and Elmer to come and have lunch with us.”
“Oh no!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I can’t face him, after what Benson did! I’m absolutely mortified!”
Benson’s mother said, “Don’t worry, it will be fine. Just don’t mention salad in front of Benson.”
She and Benson made a very nice pumpkin and zucchini pie, and squeezed some oranges to make orange juice.
“This is yummy,” Uncle Elton said, “isn’t it, Elmer? Even without the extra protein. I’m sorry the little weevils disagreed with young Benson. I must say, Elmer and I love them, don’t we Elmer?”
Elmer was starting on his second piece of pie. He said with his mouth full, “Not so much the weevils. I never eat them, anyway. I always brush them off the leaves onto the floor.”
Aunt Lillibet couldn’t help herself. She snorted loudly. Unfortunately she had just taken a big mouthful of orange juice. Orange juice sprayed out of her mouth, and out of her nose, all over the table. There were streaks of orange juice all down her front.
She went bright red. Benson said, “Do you need a handkerchief, Aunt Lillibet?”
Aunt Lillibet got up from the table and rushed into her room and slammed the door.
“Oh dear,” Uncle Elton said. “That was a bit embarrassing, wasn’t it? Still, it could happen to anyone.”
Benson said, “I don’t think she’s embarrassed. I think she’s absolutely mortified!”
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.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, comfy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet joined a jogging club. She had a jogging t-shirt and special leggings and jogging wristbands and a special hat, just for jogging. It had a hole on each side for her ears and big, yellow, tinselly bobbles on it.
Every morning she put on her jogging clothes and her jogging hat. She waited by the front door for her friend Gordon to come jogging past. He always wore his headband and his jogging shorts and his special air-conditioned jogging shoes. He would stop outside, jogging on the spot, and Aunt Lillibet would go jogging out to meet him and they would jog off together down the track.
When they got to Fenella’s house, they would both jog on the spot until Fenella came jogging out. Then the three of them would jog off along the track until they got to Bliss’s house. At Bliss’s house, they all went inside and had a cup of tea because they were all puffed. Bliss never went jogging because of her Bad Leg.
Benson asked his mother, “Why do people go jogging?”
“Exercise,” his mother said. She was hanging the washing on the clothes-line in the sun.
“Like when Mick comes over and we’re getting noisy and you say that we need to go outside and get some exercise?” he asked. “Has Aunt Lillibet been getting too noisy?”
“No, it’s more like they all enjoy having a reason to go to Bliss’s house and have tea and cake,” his mother said.
Aunt Lillibet went jogging with her jogging club on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday it rained, and she said that cold water was very bad for warm muscles so she stayed in bed. On Saturday, Bliss came over with some terrible news.
“The most dreadful thing has happened!” Bliss said. “Gordon has gone blind!”
“Blind?” Aunt Lillibet said. “You mean he can’t see anything?”
“Not a thing!” Bliss said. “He’s completely blind!”
Aunt Lillibet couldn’t believe it. “I can’t believe it!” she said. “How did it happen?”
“It was so sudden,” Bliss said. “One minute he was getting ready to go jogging, and the next minute it was as if all the lights went out at once. He can’t see a thing!”
“How terrible!” Aunt Lillibet said. She was shocked. “You don’t think it had anything to do with all the jogging we’ve been doing?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Bliss said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve always thought that too much exercise is bad for you. You wouldn’t catch me jogging!”
Aunt Moss was very upset when she heard the news. “Poor Gordon!” she said. “He’ll need someone to look after him, and feed him and help him put his clothes on, and lead him around anywhere he wants to go.”
“Like a guide wombat,” Benson said.
“Yes,” Aunt Moss said, “someone to make sure he doesn’t run into things or fall into a hole.”
Benson’s mother said, “It’s very sad. Poor Gordon!”
Later on, Gordon came walking slowly down the track, with his arms held out in front of him. Fenella was holding onto one arm and saying, “Mind the fence!” and “Be careful of the rock!” and “Sorry – didn’t I tell you there was a hole there?” Everyone came out to see him, and tell him how sorry they were that he couldn’t see.
“I’m very sorry, Gordon,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
Gordon said sadly, “I’m afraid we won’t be able to go jogging any more, Lillibet. I can’t even go for a walk by myself!”
“Why does he have his eyes covered up?” Benson whispered loudly.
Aunt Moss shushed him and said, “Sometimes blind people do that.”
Benson’s mother looked at Gordon, and then she looked again. She said, “Just a minute, Gordon.” She went up to him and lifted the covering off his eyes.
“I can see! I can see!” Gordon shouted. “It’s a miracle!” He was so excited, he jumped up and down, and gave Fenella a big, smacking kiss. Fenella went all pink.
Everyone clapped and cheered. They all patted him on the back and said how happy they were that he was cured, then they all went back to Gordon’s house and had a big party to celebrate.
Benson said to his mother, “That was amazing, what you did. How did you fix Gordon’s eyes?”
His mother said, “It was nothing, really. He wasn’t actually blind. His headband had just slipped down over his eyes.”
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.
Aunt Lillibet’s cousin Ruby sent her a present. Aunt Lillibet was very excited until she opened it up. “Oh, it’s an apron,” she said, disappointed.
“That’s nice,” Benson’s mother said. “That will keep your clothes clean when you’re cooking.”
Aunt Lillibet was frowning. She put the apron on. “Look at this,” she said. The apron had a smiling cow right in the middle of Aunt Lillibet’s chest. Benson fell off his chair laughing.
“Have you ever seen such a dopey cow?” Aunt Lillibet said. Then she had an idea. “I know! I’ll give it to Elton. He’ll love it!” She wrapped the present up again and took it over to Uncle Elton’s place.
“I’ve brought you a present,” she said to Uncle Elton.
“A present? For me? Thank you!” Uncle Elton said. He was very excited. He unwrapped the present. “An apron, with a nice, happy cow on the front! I can wear it when I’m working in my workshop! Thank you very much, Lillibet!”
When Aunt Lillibet had gone, he put on the apron and went straight to his workshop. He was building a desk for his son, Elmer, with wheels so that he could take it outside, and six different cup-holders. He starting sawing a piece of wood, and then zazz! He slipped and sawed right across the apron.
“Oh no!” he said. “I’ve ruined my new apron!” Then he had an idea. “I know! I’ll cut off the ripped part and make it into a nice wrap for Polly’s new baby.” He got his scissors and made a nice square for wrapping the baby up in. Then he took it over to Polly’s place.
“I’ve brought a present for baby Rosie,” he said.
“A present?” Polly said. “Oh, it’s lovely,” she said. “A wrap with an adorable cow on it! Thank you, Elton!”
She wrapped Rosie up in it. “There! Aren’t you the cutest little wombat?” she said.
Rosie sicked up her milk all over the wrap. “Oh no!” Polly said. She popped the wrap into the washing machine. Unfortunately there was a pair of purple socks in the wash, too. When Polly took the wrap out, it was a murky purple colour, and it had shrunk, too.
“Yuck!” she said. “That colour will look awful on Rosie! Besides, it’s too small now.” Then she had an idea. “I know, I’ll give it to Shelley to use as a duster.”
She wrapped it up and took it to Shelley’s. “A present? For me?” Shelley said. “Thank you, Polly! But it’s much too nice to use as a duster.” Then she had an idea. “I know! It would make a beautiful quilt for a doll.”
Shelley got another piece of fabric for the back, and folded the sides over and put some stuffing inside to make it thick and soft, then she sewed it all together. She wrapped it up and took it to Bonnie Lou’s house.
Bonnie Lou was very excited to get a present. “What is it?” she asked.
“It’s a quilt for a doll,” Shelley said. “I made it myself.”
Bonnie Lou said thank you very nicely because she knew it was polite to say thank you when someone gave you a present even if you didn’t like it, but as soon as Shelley was gone, she let her face look as disappointed as she felt. “I don’t play with dolls any more! I’m not a baby,” she said. Then she had an idea. “I know! I’ll make a pin-cushion for Aunt Lillibet. She’ll love it!”
She hunted around in the recycling until she found a small, round tin. It used to have tea-leaves in it, until her brother Mick played frisbees with the lid and bent it in half. She stuffed the quilt into the tin really tightly, so that only a bit stuck out at the top. Then she wrapped it up and took it to Aunt Lillibet’s.
“I’ve made something for you,” she said. “It’s a pin-cushion.”
“A pin-cushion?” said Aunt Lillibet. She unwrapped the present and smiled. “Thank you, Bonnie Lou, it’s just what I wanted! Look, it has that dopey cow right in the middle, just where you stick the pins. I love it!”
“I thought you would,” Bonnie Lou said. And they smiled at each other.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day there was a Mishap in the kitchen. Benson’s mother was cooking some rhubarb in the big stewpot but she had to go out to a meeting, so she asked Aunt Moss to watch it, but Aunt Moss accidentally dozed off. When Benson’s mother got home, all that was left was a black mess burnt to the bottom of the pot, and a nasty smell all through the house.
“I’m sorry,” Aunt Moss said, holding her nose. The smell really was awful. “I tried scrubbing it as hard as I could, but it just wore a hole in the bottom of the pot.”
Benson’s mother picked up the pot and held it up to the light. She could see right through the hole in the bottom. “You’re right, Moss. Never mind, it will make a nice plant pot now.”
Aunt Moss clapped her hands. “Oh yes! If we took the handles off, and decorated it, we could give it to Elton. He loves unusual plant pots.”
Uncle Elton had parsley growing out of a teapot, and pansies growing in a gumboot.
Aunt Moss asked Benson if he would help her decorate the stewpot. “Uncle Elton loves birds, so if you draw some birds, I’ll cut them out and stick them onto the pot.”
“Okay,” Benson said. “What birds should I draw?”
“Let’s have a look in Aunt Lillibet’s bird book and choose our favourites,” Aunt Moss suggested. They got the book and started turning the pages.
“I like this turkey,” Benson said, “and the owl.”
“Oh, yes,” said Aunt Moss. “They both look friendly and cheery.”
“There won’t be room for a turkey and an owl too,” Benson said. “The pot’s not big enough.”
“I know!” said Aunt Moss. “We can put the pot in a big paper bag to take it over to Elton’s. We’ll put the turkey on the stewpot, and you can draw a friendly owl on the bag.”
Benson went to his room and set to work. He drew a fat, red turkey with bright, yellow eyes and skinny black legs, then he started drawing a cheerful owl with big round eyes, on the paper bag. He was trying to get the beak right when Aunt Lillibet came along.
“Benson, could you come and help me weed the broccoli, please?” she said.
Benson said, “Sorry, Aunt Lillibet, I can’t. Aunt Moss told me to draw a stewpot turkey.”
“What?” Aunt Lillibet said. Her face went a funny purple colour.
Benson remembered that old people sometimes don’t hear very well, so he said it a bit louder. “She said to draw a stewpot turkey, and a smiley owl bag.”
“Well, really!” Aunt Lillibet said. She marched off.
At lunchtime, Aunt Lillibet wasn’t talking to anyone. Aunt Moss said, “Lillibet, I’m going to Elton’s this afternoon to take him a new plant pot. Would you like to come?”
“Why would you want to go with a smelly old bag like me?” Aunt Lillibet said, angrily.
Aunt Moss was very confused. “What are you talking about, Lillibet?”
“Isn’t that what you told Benson that I am?” Aunt Lillibet said, getting more and more angry. “A stupid turkey, and a smelly old bag! “
Aunt Moss was very upset. “I would never say things like that, Lillibet!”
“Well, that’s what Benson said you said!” Aunt Lillibet shouted.
“No, I didn’t!” Benson said.
Benson’s mother said, “Calm down, everyone. Benson, what did you say to Aunt Lillibet?”
“Nothing!” Benson said. “All I said was that Aunt Moss told me to draw a turkey to put on the stewpot, and a smiley owl on the paper bag.”
His mother thought hard. “Did you tell Aunt Lillibet that Aunt Moss said to draw a stewpot turkey?” she asked.
“That’s right,” Benson said.
“A stewpot turkey?” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’ve never heard of any such thing!”
“And what else were you drawing, Benson?” his mother asked.
“I drew a smiley owl on the paper bag,” he said.
“A smiley owl bag?” his mother said slowly and clearly.
Aunt Lillibet’s face was red. “Oh,” she said. She felt very silly. She turned to Aunt Moss and said, “I’m sorry I said those things to you, Moss.”
“That’s all right, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss. “It was only a little misunderstanding.”
“I should have known you would never say things like that,” Lillibet said. “I think I was a bit of a stewpot turkey, and a silly old bag.”
“Oh no, you’re not stupid, Lillibet, and you’re not silly!” Aunt Moss said.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a comfortable, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were cooking, and Benson was playing one of his favourite games, Guess-What’s-Cooking-by-the-Smell-in-the-Kitchen.
“Is it banana bread, and apple pie?” he said.
“Close,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Banana cake, with walnuts and cranberries.”
“And baked apples with cinnamon and sultanas,” Aunt Moss said. “What an excellent nose you have, Benson!”
Benson sniffed happily. “Are we eating them for lunch or afternoon tea?” he asked.
“Neither,” his mother said. “We’re taking them over to Rodney’s place. His mother just had a new baby.”
“Another baby?” Benson said. “Everyone’s always having babies. Why do we have to give them all the best food? Babies don’t even eat cake!”
“Benson,” his mother said, “every new baby is a wonderful gift. A new little person in the world is always something to celebrate. Who knows what they might grow up to be? Maybe a famous writer!”
“Or an engineer,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“Or an artist,” Aunt Moss said.
Benson sighed. Babies were just blobs, he thought. Sometimes they were noisy blobs and sometimes they were smelly blobs, but they were always just blobs.
“Are you coming to see the baby?” his mother asked.
“Absolutely,” Benson said, thinking about the banana cake and the baked apples they were taking, not to mention the food that the other visitors would be bringing. “I wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
When they got to Rodney’s house, the baby was asleep, so Benson had to be quiet. He got some of the banana cake and a whole pile of sandwiches and went outside. He took them around to the back door where there was a nice sunny spot to eat them in and he could make as much noise as he liked. The back door was open, and someone was throwing books and pillows and toys and all sorts of good stuff out the door. It was Rodney’s sister, Ada.
She climbed on top of the pile of stuff and sat down with her arms folded, looking extremely grumpy.
“What are you doing?” Benson asked, eating the banana cake.
“When you get a new baby, you have to throw out all the old stuff, to make space for the new stuff,” she said. “Like me.”
“They’re throwing you out?” Benson said.
“They might as well,” Ada said. “Rodney’s the eldest, so they’ll keep him, but now there’s a new baby sister, what do they want me for?”
Benson said, “Ada, every baby wombat is a special gift. You were a baby wombat once, so you’re a gift too.” He wondered if he had said it right. It didn’t sound the same as when his mother said it.
“Nobody wants me,” Ada said. “Everything’s about the baby. The baby’s so cute, she’s the most beautiful thing in the world, be quiet the baby’s sleeping, I can’t play with you now because I’m busy with the baby. What sort of a name is Rosebud, anyway?”
Benson didn’t know what to say. “The thing is,” he said, “mothers go a bit weird when there are babies around. Even Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. I don’t really understand it. What’s cute about a baby? They can’t talk, or ride a bike, or dig.”
“They can’t play games,” Ada said. “All they do is cry and sleep.”
They both thought about babies. Ada had one of Benson’s sandwiches.
She said, “If a giant eagle flew over right now and picked me up and flew away with me, I bet my mother wouldn’t even notice I was gone.”
Just then a giant eagle, floating overheard, saw two plump young wombats sitting in the sun. It zoomed down out of the sky.
“An eagle!” Benson yelled.
“My baby!” came a cry from inside the door. Ada’s mother rushed out and grabbed her.
Benson threw the rest of the sandwiches at the eagle and they all ran inside.
The eagle landed and pecked at the sandwiches. “Cheese and fennel, yuck!” he said, and flapped away.
Ada’s mum said, “Where have you been, sweetheart? I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She wrapped Ada in a big, warm hug.
Ada smiled up at her. “I was just explaining to Benson about babies,” she said.
Her mother said, “The baby’s awake now, and everyone says she looks just like her big sister. Do you want to come and hold her?”
Ada nodded. “Thanks for the sandwiches, Benson,” she said. Then she ran inside, yelling, “I’m coming, Rosie!”
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Benson said to his mother, “I think I’ll make a picture book, about elephants.”
“Elephants?” his mother said. She was busy trying out a complicated new recipe for walnut and lentil surprise.
Benson nodded. “I like elephants. I think elephants are a lot like wombats,” he said.
“Are they?” his mother said.
Benson said, “They’re both round, and friendly, with hardly any tails.”
“Is this book just going to have pictures, or will there be words too?” she asked.
“Both,” Benson said.
His mother helped him fold some sheets of paper in half and staple them down the middle to make a book. Benson got his coloured pencils and set to work.
On the first page he drew lots and lots of green grass, really tall green grass. He wrote underneath, “Elephants hiding in the long grass.” On the next page he drew a big pile of peanuts next to a jar of peanut butter. Underneath he wrote, “Favourite food of elephants.”
He turned the page over and started drawing big black bars from the top of the page to the bottom. He asked his mother, “How do you spell ‘jail’?”
His mother was stirring the egg whites carefully into the lentils. “Some people spell it ‘j-a-i-l’, and some people spell it ‘g-a-o-l’. Or you could put ‘prison’, and then you don’t have to decide.” She tipped the mixture carefully into a dish. Then she looked up and said, “Why is there a jail in a book about elephants?”
“Because elephants think cages are like prison,” Benson said. He wrote, “Elephants don’t like cages. It’s like being in prison.”
On the next page he drew a deep waterhole, full of blue water. He put, “Elephants are good at swimming underwater because they can breathe through their trunks.”
He was up to the last page in the book, so he drew a saxophone and some drums and a big gong. He wrote, “The Elephant Band” at the bottom. “There,” he said. “Finished!”
His mother put the dish into the oven and closed the oven door. “Can I have a look at your book?” she asked.
“Sure,” said Benson. “It’s really good.”
His mother looked at all the drawings and read every page. “Benson,” she said, “this is a picture book about elephants, right? Where are the elephants?”
Benson said, “Well, on this page, they’re hiding in the grass, and on this page they’re under the water.”
His mother said, “What about the Elephant Band?”
“They all got thirsty playing, so they went to get a drink of water,” Benson said.
His mother said, “Don’t you think if you were reading this book to a little wombat, like Zip or Ada or little Quentin, they would expect to see a picture of an elephant?”
“Maybe,” Benson said. “But I can’t draw elephants.”
“You can’t draw elephants?” his mother said.
“I can’t get the trunks to look right, and their knees are always wrong,” Benson said. “When I try to draw them, they always end up looking more like a dinosaur with camel legs.”
His mother thought about it. She said, “Let me have a try.” She took Benson’s grey pencil and drew something that looked a lot like a wombat, on the front cover of his elephant book.
Benson had a look. “That’s a very good try,” he said. He actually thought it wasn’t even a very good drawing of a wombat, but he didn’t want to hurt her feelings. “It’s not much like an elephant, though, is it?” he said.
His mother said, “It’s a bit elephantish, around the bottom.”
“The legs are too short and it’s got no trunk,” he said. He rubbed out the four stumpy wombat legs and drew longer, wrinkly elephant legs. He frowned. “I got the knees all wrong again,” he said.
His mother drew long socks on the elephant, that came right up over its knees. “Is that better?” she asked.
Benson smiled. “It’s better, but it’s still got no trunk,” he said. He drew a long trunk hanging down to the ground in front of the elephant. It looked like a garden hose. “See? It’s all wrong.”
“What if the elephant has its trunk up in the air?” his mother suggested.
Benson rubbed out the garden hose trunk and drew a wavy, upwards trunk.
“That’s a good trunk,” his mother said. And it was, actually. “Don’t elephants have bigger ears than that?” she asked.
Benson rubbed out the small, wombatty ears that his mother had drawn, and gave the elephant big, flappy ears. It looked a lot more like an elephant now.
His mother said, “I don’t think you’re terrible at drawing elephants, I think you just need more practice.” She opened his book. “Here’s a good place to start,” she said.
Benson set to work again. He drew two elephants hiding in the long grass, with just their top halves showing, so he didn’t have to worry about the knees. He drew elephants in party hats sitting down eating the peanuts with their trunks. He drew a sad elephant behind the bars, with its trunk drooping sadly like a garden hose. Then he drew a big happy elephant driving a bulldozer, breaking the bars down.
On the page with the waterhole, he drew two elephants spraying each other with water, and another invisible elephant under the water with just the tip of its trunk showing.
On the very last page he drew an elephant playing the saxophone, and another elephant hitting the drums with drumsticks held in his trunk, and seventeen elephants dancing.
When he was finished, not one more elephant could fit on the pages. He and his mother sat down and read the book together, from the beginning to the end. They both loved it.
“You must be tired after all that drawing,” his mother said. “How about an elephant snack?”
“An elephant snack?” Benson said.
“Celery sticks with peanut butter, and peanut butter sandwiches,” his mother said.
“Yes, please!” Benson said.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother came into his room, where he was making a machine for scaring snakes, out of an old hairbrush and banksia seed pods. She said, “I’ve got some very sad news. You know my friend Lulu, Nils and Nella’s auntie? A terrible thing has happened. Her little one, Button, has died.”
“Died?” Benson said. “How could she die?” Button was just a baby possum. Dying only happened to really old people.
“There was an accident and she was run over by a car,” his mother said. He could tell by her voice that she was really sad.
“We’re going to go to Lulu’s place, so put your shoes on and make yourself look nice,” she said.
“What are we going to do?” Benson asked.
His mother said, “We’re going to help Lulu say goodbye.”
“Oh,” he said. It felt pretty strange. How do you say goodbye to a dead person?
They set off for Lulu’s place. His mother had made a cake and a vegetable casserole.
“Why do we need to take all this food?” he asked.
“All Lulu’s friends and family will be coming,” his mother said. “It helps to have people around who love you, when something terrible happens and you feel really sad.”
They talked about Button, and how sad Lulu must be. Benson said, “What happens when someone dies?”
His mother said, “Usually their body just gets worn out, and breaks down. Their heart stops and everything just stops and their body dies. With Button, she was injured so badly that her heart just stopped and she died.”
Benson said, “I mean, when you’re dead, what happens to you?”
His mother said, “Well, usually your body gets buried, and after a while it just goes back to the earth. But your spirit, the part of you that makes you you, that part can’t die the way your body does.”
Benson thought of Button, how she was the only possum he knew that could hang upside down by one leg and spit at the same time, and how she liked peanut butter so much she would put her whole face into the jar.
His mother said, “Some people think that when you die, your spirit goes to heaven and is completely happy for ever and ever. Some people think that the your spirit stays alive in people’s hearts and their memories.”
“What do you think?” Benson said. He was imagining being happy for ever, having all the custard he wanted and all the oatmeal-and-raisin cookies he could eat and no washing up. New holes to dig every day, and sunshine and stories and all the people he loved around him. It made him feel happy just thinking about it.
“I think,” his mother said, “that if I died, all the joy and peace and happiness in the world wouldn’t be enough without you, my precious darling, so no matter where I was, I wouldn’t be far away from you.”
Benson smiled at her and held her hand tight.
“Did it hurt Button when she died?” he asked.
His mother said, “I think it probably hurt very much, but only for a second, and then it was over.”
Benson waited until his mother stopped crying and blew her nose. Then he asked her the question that was really bothering him. “Am I going to die?” he asked.
“Yes, of course!” she said. “Everybody dies, every animal, every tree, every leaf, every ant – everything finishes its life and dies. But wombats live for a long time.”
Benson thought about it. Aunt Lillibet was very very very old. It would be a long long time before he was that old.
“What are we going to do when we get to Lulu’s place?” he asked.
His mother said, “I’m going to help Lulu get Button ready to be buried. We’ll wash her and make her all nice, and wrap her in her favourite pink blanket. Mr Fenn has dug a beautiful grave for her, and we’ll bury her there under her favourite tree.”
When they got to Lulu’s house, it seemed like everybody was crying. Lulu hugged Benson’s mother and they both cried. Lots more people came with more casseroles and cakes and pies.
When it was time, everyone gathered around the place where they were going to bury Button. Lulu was carrying her, and Benson’s mother had a little fluffy rabbit that was the toy Button had had ever since she was a baby. Nella wanted to sing a song, but she kept crying instead of singing, but nobody minded. Benson’s mother said a prayer, and some people closed their eyes and prayed too and everyone else looked down and thought about Button.
Benson’s mother asked if anyone wanted to say anything but no-one could really talk. It seemed like everyone was crying. Benson thought someone should say something, so he stepped forward and said, “Button was just little, but she was cute and funny, and she was our friend and it’s really sad that she’s died. But the real part of her is never going to be far away, even if she’s in heaven because this is where heaven is, where the people who love her are.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he stopped talking.
Benson’s mother touched Lulu on the shoulder and said, “It’s time now.” Lulu put her gently into the grave, with her fluffy rabbit. Some people who had brought flowers put them in the grave and said goodbye to Button quietly. Lulu said goodbye last of all, and Benson thought she was never going to stop crying. Benson’s mother took her hand at last, and brought her back to the house with everyone else. Mr Fenn stayed behind to fill in the grave and make everything nice and tidy.
On the way home, Benson’s mother said, “I’m glad you said those things about Button.”
Benson said, “It was like everyone was feeling so much they couldn’t say anything.”
“That’s exactly right,” said his mother, “and what you said was exactly right too.”
Benson smiled at her and held tight to her hand.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a tidy, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning after breakfast, Benson was getting ready to go to the park when his mother said, “I’m sorry, Benson, I can’t take you to the park after all.”
Benson said, “But it’s Alejandro’s birthday, remember? I’ve even got a present for him!”
His mother said, “I’m sorry, but there was a big thunderstorm over on the other side of the creek last night, and lots of animals had their homes damaged. I have to go and help organise food for them, and find places for everyone to stay.”
Benson looked so disappointed that his mother said to Aunt Lillibet, “Lillibet, do you think you could possibly take Benson to the park instead of me?”
Aunt Lillibet thought about the park, which would be boring, and the weather, which was perfect, and all the children who would be at the park, which would be annoying, and wearing her new hat with the marshmallows and snail shells on it, which would be fun. “Yes, all right,” she said.
The park was full of young wombats and their mothers and grandparents and aunties. Everyone looked at Aunt Lillibet’s hat with surprise, and she was very pleased. Benson ran off to give Alejandro his present, which was a drawing of two dancers. Alejandro loved it. Then they both went to the slippery slide to play with Mick and his sister, Bonnie Lou.
Benson’s friend Rodney came, with his mother and his little sister, Ada. Rodney gave Alejandro an excellent present. It was a long, long ribbon tied to a stick. It made beautiful loops and waves when Alejandro twirled it around, and when he danced, he could twirl it around himself like a waving sea.
Aunt Lillibet found a tree that no-one was sitting under and she sat down and closed her eyes for a quiet nap. Then Rodney’s mother, Polly, came up and said, “I’ve left Ada’s hat at home. Would you mind watching her and Rodney while I run home and get it? I’ll only be five minutes.”
Aunt Lillibet woke up and said, “Mmmpf? Yes, all right.”
Polly hurried off. Ada sat down under the tree next to Aunt Lillibet and started looking for flowers to make a daisy chain with. Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes again.
Benson and Alejandro had a go on the see-saw. Then Alejandro’s baby brother, Quentin, suddenly started crying. Not really crying, more like bawling his eyes out.
Aunt Lillibet woke up again and said, “What? Is that a fire engine?”
Quentin’s mother, Amelie, said, “No, a bee stung poor little Quentin on his foot.”
Mick’s mother, Delia, said, “I have some ointment at home that’s excellent for bee-stings. Why don’t you bring him back to my place and we’ll put some on his foot?”
Amelie thought that would be a good idea. She asked Aunt Lillibet, “Would you mind keeping an eye on the children while we’re gone? We’ll only be five minutes.”
Aunt Lillibet thought they couldn’t take that screaming baby away fast enough. “Yes, all right,” she said. Both the mothers hurried off with Quentin. Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes again.
Benson came running up. “Can you push us on the swing?” he asked.
“No, I’m much too busy,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’m watching all the children, Mick and Bonnie Lou, and Alejandro. And Rodney and Ada,” she remembered.
“That’s a lot of watching,” Benson said.
Aunt Lillibet thought so too. “It’s…” she counted on her fingers, “… five children altogether.”
Benson said, “Don’t forget me.”
“I meant six,” Aunt Lillibet said. She looked around the playground and counted. “One, two, three, four, five. Only five! There’s one missing!”
“Did you count me?” Benson said.
“Wait, I’ll count again,” she said. “You, and Mick, and Alejandro, and Rodney, and Bonnie Lou – that’s five!” She ticked each one off on her fingers. “Ada! I’ve lost Ada!” she said. She jumped up and looked around the whole playground. There was no Ada anywhere.
“Quick!” she said to Benson. “Get everyone to look for her! She could have fallen into the creek and drowned! She could have climbed up a tree and fallen out and hurt herself. She could have been taken by a pack of wild dogs!”
“Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said calmly.
“Don’t just stand there!” Aunt Lillibet said. “There’s a child missing! What if a herd of tigers is roaming around, looking for a child to eat? Or there’s a bear behind a tree, just waiting to snatch her up and carry her away to its lair?”
“Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said, “it’s okay. Ada is right here. She’s holding your hand.”
Aunt Lillibet looked down. There was Ada, holding onto her hand, wearing a very pretty daisy chain on her head.
“Oh!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Where have you been? You shouldn’t have been hiding from me like that!” She sat down, feeling quite shaky around the knees.
Just then Polly came back with Ada’s hat, and Delia and Amelie came back with baby Quentin, whose foot felt much better.
“Thank you for minding the children,” they said. “Were they any trouble?”
“No trouble at all,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I knew they’d be fine with you,” Delia said. “You’re so calm and experienced.”
Benson opened his mouth to say something, and Aunt Lillibet glared at him, but all he said was, “Is it time for the birthday cake yet?”
“Definitely,” Amelie said. She brought out the cake. It was covered in pineapple and pawpaw and mango cream. All the children rushed over, and they sat under the tree and ate every bit of it, except for one extra-large piece that Amelie saved for Aunt Lillibet.
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 Wonderful Wombats Day, and everyone was celebrating. There was going to be a big ceremony at the community centre, and Nanna was getting a special award for Helping People.
“It’s a wonderful award,” Benson’s mother said. “Nanna is the very best person in the world at helping people.”
Benson said, “I’m going to make something very special to give her.” Everyone was giving Nanna presents, but Benson wanted his to be the best present of all.
He hurried down to the creek and got some clay. He took it home and started making it into a model of a wombat that looked just like Nanna. It was only half-done when Aunt Lillibet called, “Benson, I need you!”
Benson went to see what she wanted. She said, “I’m making Nanna a hat. I need you to hold it up while I glue on the eggshells and pin the pumpkin seeds on.”
Benson held the hat on for Aunt Lillibet, but he wriggled and squirmed all the time, because he wanted to get back to making his model.
Aunt Lillibet said, “Can’t you stand still for one minute? I nearly poked myself with a pin just then.”
Benson said, “Is this going to take much longer? Anyway, I don’t think you should put the banana skins on it. They look like lizards’ tongues.”
Aunt Lillibet whipped the hat out of his hands and said frostily, “If you haven’t got time, I’m sure I can manage by myself.”
Benson went back to his room, but his mother called him from the kitchen. “I hope you don’t want me to help you too,” he said. “I’m too busy.”
His mother was making caramel icing for the fairy cakes. She put down her spoon and said, “No, I wasn’t going to ask you to help. I just wanted to say that the way you help people is just as important as what you do for them. You know Nanna is always patient and kind whenever she helps people?”
Benson nodded. He remembered how Nanna was always helping him with things, and she never said she didn’t have time.
His mother said, “If you’re impatient, or unkind, then it’s nearly as bad as not helping at all, isn’t it?”
Benson thought about Aunt Lillibet struggling with the glue and the pins and everything while he kept wriggling. “I suppose so,” he said.
He went back to Aunt Lillibet’s room. He asked her if she needed any help.
“Are you sure it’s not too much trouble?” Aunt Lillibet said. Her mouth was full of pins and she had glue everywhere.
“It’s no trouble,” Benson said. He stood patiently wearing the hat while Aunt Lillibet glued and snipped and arranged, until she was quite finished.
“There!” she said. “It’s finished. What do you think?”
“It’s very nice,” Benson said. “I think Nanna will love it. I’m glad you took the banana skins off.”
“I didn’t think they would suit Nanna, and besides, they were getting slimy,” Aunt Lillibet said.
Benson went back to his own room, but the clay for his model had all dried out. It was as hard as a rock. “Bother!” he said. “I know, I’ll make her a painting instead.” He got out his paints and a container of water and a big piece of paper and set to work.
There was a loud yell from the kitchen. “Benson, help!” his mother shrieked.
He jumped, and accidentally knocked the container of water over. It went all over his painting. “Bother!” he said. He ran into the kitchen.
His mother was holding a saucepan with foam rising up over the top of it. “Quick!” she said. “Can you bring me that pan, please?”
Benson got the pan, and put it on the bench. His mother poured the foam into it just before it overflowed. “Phew!” she said. “Thank goodness you came in time.”
“What are you making?” Benson asked.
“It’s honeycomb, Nanna’s favourite,” his mother said.
“Are you going to put some nuts in it?” Benson asked. “Nanna loves nuts, and cranberries, too.”
“That’s a good idea,” his mother said. Benson helped her sprinkle nuts and cranberries on top of the honeycomb, then he went back to his room. The painting was ruined.
“Oh well, I’ll do a drawing for her instead,” he said to himself. “It won’t be the best present, but it will be better than nothing.”
Just then he heard Aunt Moss calling, “Benson, do you have a minute?”
He sighed, and went to see what she wanted. “It’s this wool,” she said. “I’m trying to finish these leg-warmers for Nanna, but the wool keeps getting in a big tangle. If you could hold your arms out like this, it would be a big help.” She stretched the wool between his hands, and kept knitting. It took ages and ages, but Benson didn’t wriggle or complain. Finally she was finished.
“Thank you, Benson,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
His mother called from the kitchen, “Time to go everyone! We have to hurry or we’ll be late.”
“But what about my drawing?” Benson said.
“I’m sorry, Benson, there’s no time for that,” his mother said. “We have to go.”
There was a big crowd there, and everyone had presents for Nanna, all except Benson. He hung back behind everyone else, hoping Nanna wouldn’t notice. Aunt Lillibet gave her the hat and Nanna thought it was beautiful. Aunt Moss gave her the leg-warmers and they fitted perfectly. Benson’s mother gave her the honeycomb and Nanna loved it.
Then Nanna called, “Benson!” He had to go up in front of everyone with empty hands.
“I haven’t got a present for you, Nanna,” he said, sadly.
Nanna smiled at him as she always did, as if she loved him more than anything else in the world. “You’ve already given me so much,” she said. “I know how you helped Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and your mother. Thank you, Benson.” And she gave him the most enormous hug.
They all had fairy cakes and honeycomb and told stories and laughed and had a wonderful time. It was the best Wonderful Wombats Day ever.
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.
Aunt Lillibet loved hats. She loved making hats, and decorating hats and wearing hats. Sometimes she would lie in bed at night and dream up new types of hats.
One hot, sunny afternoon, she was going outside to work in the garden. “I’d better wear my hat,” she said to herself. She put her new hat on, then she went into the kitchen to fill up her water-bottle. She went into the laundry to get her favourite trowel, then she went back to her room to get her gardening gloves. She got the carrot seeds she was going to plant, and then she was ready.
Benson’s mother came out to the kitchen. She said, “It’s very hot outside. Don’t you think you should wear your hat?”
“I am wearing it,” Aunt Lillibet said, but when she felt her head, she found she wasn’t. “Drat!” she said. “I had it a minute ago. Now where did I put it?”
She looked everywhere. “Where could I have left it?” she said.
“Maybe it flew off by itself,” Benson’s mother suggested.
“Don’t be silly,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Hats don’t fly.”
Benson’s mother wasn’t so sure. She remembered when Aunt Lillibet had made a hat out of a real bird’s nest with real eggs in it. When the eggs hatched, the baby birds flew off and took the hat with them.
Benson came out to get a snack from the fridge. “What are you looking for?” he asked.
“Aunt Lillibet’s lost her hat,” his mother said.
“Do you want me to help you look for it?” he asked. “I’m an excellent finder. I once found seven socks under my bed in one day, and an old sandwich.” It was the smell of the old sandwich that had made him look under the bed in the first place.
“Thankyou, Benson, that would be lovely,” his mother said.
“What does it look like?” he asked.
Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s very creative and daring, perfectly unique and original.”
Benson thought that wasn’t a very helpful description. It could look like anything. “Is this it?” he said, holding up a round thing that was blue and white, with orange spots and two horns.
“No, Benson, that’s a Viking helmet I’m knitting for Nanna,” Aunt Lillibet said, with a withering look. “It’s my hat we’re looking for. Try to concentrate.”
They kept looking. Benson’s mother found something under a chair that looked like a saucepan with three handles. “Is this it?” she said.
“No, that’s a saucepan with three handles,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Elton left it behind last time he visited. It doesn’t look anything like a hat!”
“Of course not,” Benson’s mother said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Aunt Moss came in, looking sleepy after her nap. “Have you lost something?” she asked.
“Aunt Lillibet’s lost her hat,” Benson said.
“I put it down somewhere and now I can’t find it,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“Are you sure you’re not wearing it?” Aunt Moss said. “I’m always losing my glasses that way, and they’re on the end of my nose all the time.”
“Of course I’m not wearing it, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Can’t you see?”
“Oh, is that your hair?” Aunt Moss said.
“Why don’t you look in the laundry, Moss?” Benson’s mother said.
Aunt Moss went into the laundry. She came out in a minute and said, “Is this it?”
“No, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said coldly. “That’s a broken plant pot.”
“Oh, I see that now,” Aunt Moss said, putting it down.
“Found it!” Benson said. He held up something the shape of a bucket, covered with paper streamers and rubber caterpillars.
“Don’t be silly, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said. “That’s a model of a tropical island that I’m making for Earth Day. It’s obviously not a hat.” She took it away from Benson and looked at it admiringly. “Although come to think of it, it would make a very nice hat, with some chicken wire here and there.”
Benson said, “If you took the paper streamers and the caterpillars off, it would make a good bucket.”
Aunt Lillibet’s face started to go red. Benson’s mother said quickly, “You know what everyone says: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Benson said, “What does that mean? How can you have beauty in your eye?”
His mother said, “It means different things look beautiful to different people.”
Aunt Lillibet sniffed and said, “Sometimes I think no-one in this family has any taste at all, except me. Could we just focus on finding my hat for now? It must be here somewhere.”
All this searching was making Benson hungry, so he went to the fridge to get a carrot. There was a pile of burnt toast on a shelf in the middle of the fridge. “What’s this doing here?” he said. “Shouldn’t it be in the compost heap?”
“There it is!” Aunt Lillibet said, very pleased. “I knew I hadn’t lost it. I just put it somewhere.”
“This is your hat?” Benson said. It didn’t look a thing like a hat. It looked like a stack of very black toast.
Aunt Lillibet put it on her head and smiled. “It looks good on me, don’t you think?” she said.
Benson couldn’t think of anything to say that didn’t sound rude, so he didn’t say anything. His mother said, “It’s very original.”
Aunt Moss said, “It’s unique, and creative.”
“That’s just what I think,” Aunt Lillibet said, admiring herself in the mirror.
Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, why did you put it in the fridge?”
“It’s hot outside,” Aunt Lillibet said. “This way I’ll have a nice, cool head when I work in the garden.” She put on her gardening gloves and got her seeds and her trowel and went off, wearing a pile of burnt toast on her head.
Hairy Nose Day 2022
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, tidy wombat with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning everyone was sitting at the table eating breakfast. Benson had porridge with stewed plums and almonds, and then he had some toast with mulberry jelly, and he was just drinking his banana smoothie, when Aunt Moss said, “I had the most horrible dream last night. I dreamed I was being chased by a wombat with a giant hairy nose.”
“Cheese,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Eating cheese at bedtime will always give you nightmares.”
“But I didn’t have any cheese,” Aunt Moss said, crunching on her crumpet with avocado and tomato. “I was so frightened. It was so big and brown and hairy, and it kept coming after me.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It was only a dream, Moss. Don’t make such a fuss.”
“Sometimes dreams are real,” Benson said. “Once I dreamed it was raining tomatoes, and when I woke up, my red bouncy ball had fallen off the shelf onto my pillow.”
“It’s lucky you didn’t try and eat it,” said Aunt Moss. They both had a little giggle about trying to eat a red bouncy ball.
“Dreams are just dreams,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Don’t be so silly.”
Just then there was a low, rumbling sound and a loud ‘flummp’. A whole pile of earth fell onto the table right in front of them. When they looked up, a giant hairy nose was poking through the roof over their heads.
Aunt Lillibet screamed and grabbed her bowl of porridge and held her hat on with her other hand and ran for the front door, pushing Benson and Aunt Moss in front of her. “Get out, get out!” she yelled. “It’s coming for us!”
Benson noticed that his mother hadn’t moved at all. She was staring at the brown, hairy shape that was coming through the ceiling.
He had a terrible thought. He stopped suddenly. Aunt Lillibet ran into him and dropped her porridge bowl. “What are you doing, Benson?” she shouted. “Get out of the way!”
Benson said, “Wait! If that’s the wombat’s nose, what’s outside?”
Aunt Lillibet’s eyes boggled. She threw her hat in the air and ran shrieking into her bedroom and slammed the door.
Aunt Moss said, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” and ran around in small circles.
Benson’s mother said, “It’s all right, Moss, calm down. It’s not a hairy nose. I think it’s just the root of a big gum tree that’s broken through the ceiling. All those straggly hairs are just little rootlets.”
Benson looked hard at the big lumpy shape. It was easy to see that it was just an old root, covered in lumps of dirt. It actually looked more like an elbow than a nose. “What about my banana smoothie?” he said. There was dirt all over the table, and Benson’s smoothie was a cup of mud.
“Let’s think about making you another smoothie later,” his mother said.
Benson started to get worried again. “Why? Is the tree going to fall down on us?”
“No, this trees must have hundreds of roots holding it up,” his mother said. “This is just one of its arms. But I do think we’re going to have to dig a new kitchen. And we’re going to need help.”
She and Benson went to see Mr Fenn and Shelley to ask them to help, while Aunt Moss went to ask Gordon and Uncle Elmer. Before long they were all pacing around, measuring things with bits of string and talking about complicated things like solar orientation and geo-physical stability. Benson had an apple and waited.
“So we’ll start about here,” Mr Fenn said, “and dig this way,” he pointed with his arms, “and go across that way, and finish about there.”
Benson’s mother nodded. “That way it will connect up to the other rooms but it will be out of the way of the rest of the roots of the tree,” she said. “We’ll block off the old doorway for safety, and make the new front door just here.”
They began digging. Benson and Aunt Moss and Uncle Elmer got everything out of the old kitchen, and when the new kitchen was finished, they moved everything back in again.
“This is lovely!” Benson’s mother exclaimed. “It’s so big and roomy, and there’s so much light from the new front door.” Everyone came in and she started making sandwiches for everyone. “Benson, as soon as you’ve finished, you can make a new sunning spot outside the front door. It will get much more sun than the old one.”
Benson said, with his mouth full of parsley and broccoli sandwiches, “Aunt Lillibet will be happy. It’s a lot closer to her vegetable garden.”
Everyone stopped and stared at him. They had forgotten all about Aunt Lillibet. “Her door is all blocked up with dirt,” Aunt Moss said. “Oh no! She’ll be trapped inside her room!”
“No problem,” Mr Fenn said. “We’ll just go right through that wall there and make her a new door.”
They dug fast and hard, and then Shelley gave a big kick with her back feet and broke a hole in the wall of Aunt Lillibet’s room.
Aunt Lillibet was hiding under her bed, fast asleep, with her biggest knitting needle in her hand.
“You can come out now, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said.
Aunt Lillibet woke up with a start. “Get away from me, you great big hairy monster! You’re not getting me with your giant hairy nose!”
“Don’t worry, Aunt Lillibet,” he said. “It wasn’t a giant hairy nose at all. It was more like a gum-tree’s hairy elbow.”
They took her out to the lovely new kitchen, and Benson’s mother made banana smoothies for everyone. Aunt Lillibet had a nice cup of camomile tea and felt a lot better.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson was digging a hole in the backyard one day, humming a little song to himself about a bear that he had read about in a book, when he heard a voice say, “Psst! Hey, kid!”
He looked up and saw two galahs perched in a tree. One of them said, “Do you know a big wombat called Fenn?”
“Mr Fenn?” Benson said.
“That’s the one,” the galah said. “You see, we want to give him a nice surprise. Do you think you could give us a hand?”
“Sure,” Benson said. “What do you want me to do?”
“Well, here’s the thing,” the galah said. “My mate Rosie and I have got a nice custard tart that we want to give him, but the problem is, all you wombats look the same to us.”
Rosie, the other galah, said, “Rosco and I will hide in the bushes, and when Mr Fenn comes along, you give us a wink to let us know that it’s him, and then we can give him the surprise.”
“Okay,” Benson said. It sounded like a very nice idea. Anyone would love to be surprised with a custard tart.
Actually, the two galahs were planning to play a trick on Mr Fenn because he had chased them out of his loquat tree the day before, and yelled at them for biting holes in the fruit.
“Make sure you don’t say anything to him,” Rosco said. “We don’t want you to spoil the surprise.”
“I won’t say anything,” Benson said.
The galahs hid in the bushes and Benson kept a lookout. Before long, he heard someone coming down the track. It was his new friend, Rodney. He was just about to call out, “Hi Rodney,” when something tickled his nose. He shut his eyes and sneezed.
Rosco and Rosie yelled, “Now!” They flew up and dropped a custard tart right on top of Rodney.
The custard smooshed down Rodney’s face and bits of pastry dropped all over him. Rosco and Rosie fell over each other laughing.
“What did you do that for?” Benson shouted. “That’s not even Mr Fenn!”
“But you winked!” Rosco said.
“That wasn’t a wink, it was a blink!” Benson said. “I sneezed.”
Rodney was still standing in the middle of the track, covered in custard tart. “What happened?” he said to Benson. “Is it raining custard tarts?”
“No, not exactly,” Benson said. “Sorry, Rodney.”
Rodney licked the custard off his nose and scraped it off his face and ate it. He picked the pastry out of his hair and ate that too. “Mmm, yum,” he said. “Maybe I’ll wait here in case it starts to rain again.” He looked up at the sky, to see if there were any custard tart clouds up there.
Benson said to Rosco, “You didn’t say you were going to drop the tart on top of Mr Fenn.”
“That was Rosie’s fault,” Rosco said. “She let go of her side and it slipped out of my hand. Don’t worry, we’ve got a whole bag full of tarts.”
Benson didn’t believe him. “You’re not going to give him a surprise, you’re trying to play a trick on him, aren’t you?”
“We think he’ll be pretty surprised,” Rosie answered.
Rosco said, “You just concentrate on winking. Otherwise you might get a sharp nip on the ear.”
Just then they heard another wombat coming down the track. This time it was Mr Fenn!
Benson decided he wasn’t going to wink, no matter what. But a crumb of pastry got into his eye and scratched and tickled. He tried really hard, but his eye scrunched up and blinked, all by itself.
“This is him, Rosie!” Rosco yelled. “Come on!” They flew up into the air with another custard tart, and dropped it right over Mr Fenn’s head.
Benson shouted, “Mr Fenn! Look out!”
Mr Fenn looked up and saw the custard tart falling out of the sky. He stepped back smartly and bumped into Rodney. The custard tart landed right on Rodney’s head. The two galahs laughed so much they could hardly fly. They swung upside from a branch and laughed until they cried.
“Yippee! Another one!” Rodney said happily. He scooped the custard out of his ears and ate it, and picked up all the pieces of pastry he could find. “This is a great place,” he said. “It never rained custard tarts where I used to live.”
Mr Fenn said sternly, “That’s enough, you galahs! No more tricks! Now hand over those tarts!”
“Chill, chill!” Rosco said, but he handed over the rest of the tarts. He and Rosie flew off to tell the other galahs about their clever trick.
Mr Fenn gave all the rest of the tarts to Rodney. “I think you deserve these,” he said. Rodney was so pleased, he skipped all the way home.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning after breakfast, Benson’s mother started baking a cake. The lovely smell filled the whole wombat hole. It was just ready to come out of the oven when Nanna arrived. She said to Benson, “I’m going to visit some old friends. I think it would be good if you came with me, Benson. They’d love to chat to someone younger for a change.”
Benson’s mother said, “You can take the cake for morning tea if you like. It’s pumpkin and date.”
“Okay,” Benson said. If the cake was going, he was going too.
Nanna said, “It might be a good idea to bring your drawing things with you, so you’ve got something to do while I’m talking to my friends.”
Benson put his pencils and his pencil-sharpener and lots of drawing paper in his backpack, and got his hat and his water bottle. Nanna put the cake in a basket and they set off.
Nanna’s friends lived in a deep, dark wombat hole. They were all sitting in a dark room, not doing anything, except for one of them who was asleep in a chair and snoring. There were no pictures on the walls, and no nice smells like cake, or orange juice. Nanna said to them, “This is Benson. We’ve brought you some cake.”
The first one, whose name was Waldo, said, “We don’t get many visitors these days. Not like the old days, when we were famous all over the country.”
“What were you famous for?” Benson asked, while he ate his cake.
“We used to be the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats,” Waldo said. “Bub over there used to stand at the bottom because he was the biggest and strongest, and Jerome and I used to balance on his shoulders, and Hope would balance on top of our heads and do all sorts of fancy back-flips and double-reverse-pike jumps.”
Jerome grunted, “We don’t do any of that now, though,” he said. “Past it.” He had another slice of cake.
“What do you do now?” Benson said. The cake was really very good. He hoped Nanna’s friends wouldn’t eat it all.
“Nothing,” Jerome said. “Past it, really.”
Hope said, “I used to wear a sparkly pink costume, and a crown with plastic diamonds.” She sighed. “I loved that costume,” she said sadly. She went to pick up another slice of cake.
“Can I see it?” Benson asked.
“Yes, if you like,” Hope said. She put the cake down and went into her room and put her costume on.
Benson thought it was beautiful. “My Aunt Moss has a pink leotard like that. She wears it when she does aerobics at the community centre.”
“Aerobics?” Hope said. “Like this?” She did a complicated walk-over pirouette with two half twists and a tuck-hop-skip at the end.
“More like this,” Benson said. His lifted his hands up straight in the air and brought them down again.
“Aerobics, hah!” Hope said. “I could teach them a thing or two.”
Waldo said, “Why don’t we show him our quick-step shuffle-off, Hope?” He and Hope started dancing across the room, flinging each other from side to side. They lifted Benson up and balanced him on their shoulders, then they spun him around and sat him on top of a lamp.
Benson said, “Wow! You’re amazing!” in between panting.
Jerome said, “They’re not as fast as they used to be but they’ve still got it. Not like me. I’m past it, I’m afraid.”
“Past what?” Benson said.
“Everything,” Jerome said. “It’s my knees, you know. Gone completely.” He took another piece of cake and ate it sadly.
Benson looked at Jerome’s knees. They looked as if they were still there. He said, “If you can’t dance or balance any more, what are you going to do now?”
Jerome said, “Not much, really. I always thought that when I retired from the acrobatics, I’d write a book about some of the things we used to do, and the places we went. But I don’t think I’ve got what it takes.”
Benson got out a piece of drawing paper and gave it to Jerome. He gave him his third-best green pencil and said, “Here. Now you have.”
“What, me? Write a book? Now?” Jerome said.
“Why not?” Benson said.
Jerome looked at the pencil and the paper. “You’re right. Why not?” he said. He put his head down and started writing.
Hope said, “You know, I think I’d make a good aerobics teacher.”
“I think so too,” Nanna said. “Why don’t you go and talk to the people at the community centre?”
Waldo said, “Do you think anyone would be interested in dancing lessons? I bet Hope and I could show them a thing or two.”
“I’m sure you could,” Nanna said. “I think lots of people would love to learn, once they saw you and Hope dancing.”
Waldo said, “What about you, Jerome?”
Jerome didn’t even look up from his piece of paper. “Don’t bother me now, Waldo,” he said. “I’ve only just gotten started on this history of the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats.”
There was no cake left, so Benson figured it must be time to go home. In the corner, Bub gave a really big snore and woke himself up. “Oh, are you going?” he said. “You should come again sometime, young fellow. You really liven the place up.” He rolled over and went back to sleep.
When they got home, Benson’s mother said, “Would you like to give me a hand in the kitchen, Benson?”
Benson lay down flat on the floor. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve been talking and dancing and helping people write stories all morning. I’m too tired. I think I’m past it!”
“Too tired even to help me make pancakes?” she said.
And Benson found he wasn’t past it at all.
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 a beautiful day and everyone was at the playground. Benson was in the sandpit, making a sand angel. He lay on his back and waved his arms up and down in the sand, and moved his legs from side to side. Twiss came over to see what he was doing
“What are you doing?” she said.
“You’re being inquisitive, aren’t you?” Benson said. ‘Inquisitive’ was a new word he had learnt from Aunt Lillibet. She used it when she meant ‘sticky-beak’ but she was too polite to say so.
Twiss went back to her sister Arlette, who was on the swings. “Benson called me a name,” she said.
“What did he call you?” Arlette said.
“In… I can’t remember, but it was mean,” Twiss said.
“Boys are always mean, especially Benson,” Arlette told her. “Let’s follow him and see if we can get him into trouble.”
On the way home from the playground, Benson stopped at Mr Fenn’s orange tree, to see how the oranges were getting on. Benson loved oranges. The ones on Mr Fenn’s tree were just turning from green to orange. Benson put his face up to them and smelled their orangey smell. He started dreaming about orange cake and orange jelly, and fresh oranges with the juice dribbling down his chin. Then he noticed a slug making its way up the trunk of the tree. He lifted it off carefully.
“What are you doing?” Arlette said, suddenly stepping out from behind a bush.
Benson jumped, and dropped the slug. “Nothing,” he said.
“Were you going to eat that slug? Eeyuwww!” she said.
“No, of course I wasn’t!” Benson said indignantly.
“You were!” Twiss said. “We saw you! You were going to eat a live slug! That’s disgusting!”
Arlette said, “We’re going to tell everyone that you eat slugs!”
“I don’t! I didn’t!” Benson protested, but Arlette and Twiss ran off down the track, giggling.
At dinner-time, Benson was eating his eggplant and raisin stew and thinking about whether camels have one hump or two, or three if they’re lucky, when Aunt Lillibet said, “What’s this I hear about you catching slugs and eating them, Benson?”
“What?” his mother said.
Benson went all red.
Aunt Moss said, “I’m sure it’s just a very silly rumour. That’s what I told everyone at my book club.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Rumours can do a lot of damage, you know. Gordon and Fenella were talking about it at folk-dancing this afternoon. I told them it wasn’t true, but I don’t know if they believed me.”
“It’s not true!” Benson said. “I’d never eat a slug! Yucckkk!”
Benson’s mother said, “How could a rumour like that even get started?”
Benson said, “I was just looking at Mr Fenn’s oranges, and there was a slug climbing up the tree and I picked it off, that’s all. Arlette said I was going to eat it, and they said they’d tell everyone.” He felt upset and angry all at the same time. He didn’t want people to think that he’d eat a slug.
He said, “I’m going to tell everyone something terrible about Arlette, to get her back. I’ll tell everyone she eats spiders. “
“Benson!” his mother said sharply. “That would be a very bad thing to do. First of all, it would be saying something that isn’t true, and besides that, it would be mean and unkind. Do you want to be a wombat who does mean, nasty things to other people?”
“No,” he said, although he did kind of want to, to Arlette and Twiss. “What am I going to do, then?”
His mother said, “Do what you always do. Be yourself. Everyone will soon realise it’s all a made-up story, and they’ll forget about it in no time.”
Aunt Lillibet said darkly, “I don’t know. People will believe all sorts of things, even if they’re not true.”
His mother said, “Just give them time. The truth will come out. Everyone who knows you, knows you wouldn’t do a thing like that.”
Benson tried, but it was hard. The next day at the playground, no-one would play with him. Rodney ran off and wouldn’t play with him, and Elmer looked the other way and pretended he wasn’t there. Alejandro got on his bike and rode off, and the girls stood together and whispered to each other about him. Only Zali treated him the same as she always did. Benson went home in tears.
On the way home, he stopped at the orange tree again. Just the smell of the oranges made him feel better. “It’s all your fault,” he said to the tree.
Then he heard Arlette behind him. “See? He’s doing it again! He’s come to get some more yummy slugs!” This time it wasn’t just Twiss with her, but Rodney and Ada, and Elmer.
Benson’s face went very red. “I’m not!” he said. “I don’t eat slugs!”
“Well, what are you doing here then?” Arlette smirked.
“I was just talking to the tree,” Benson said. It sounded silly when he said it out loud.
Arlette laughed. “No-one’s going to believe that!” she said.
Mr Fenn came out of his front door. “Why not?” he said. “I talk to it all the time. And I pick slugs off it if I see them, just like I saw Benson doing the other day. You know, people who tell stories about other people better make sure they’re telling the truth, Arlette, otherwise they could get in big trouble.”
Arlette went red this time. “Come on, Twiss, let’s go,” she said. “Wait till we tell everyone that Benson talks to trees!”
Benson watched them go, feeling even worse than before. Mr Fenn said to him, “Now, young Benson, have you ever thought about growing your own orange tree?”
“Me? My own orange tree?” Benson said. He imagined oranges hanging off a tree in his own back yard. “Could I?”
“I think you’d be good at it,” Mr Fenn said. “I’ve got a young seedling you can have, if you think you could look after it.”
“Yes, please!” Benson said happily. All of a sudden he didn’t care what Arlette or Twiss said about him. “If they want to tell people that I talk to trees, well, let them,” he said.
Mr Fenn grinned. “There are a lot worse things than talking to trees,” he said. “Like spreading nasty rumours about other people.”
They took the seedling back to Benson’s place and Mr Fenn helped him plant it in the ground. Benson watered it, and looked after it, and he talked to it every day.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a warm, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson was rummaging around in the recycling bin while Aunt Lillibet was trying to have breakfast.
“What are you doing, Benson?” she asked. “I’d like to have my breakfast in peace, if you don’t mind.”
“I need a big piece of coloured paper,” Benson said. “We’re going to make kites at the library today, to celebrate Children’s Day.”
“Kites!” said Aunt Moss. “How lovely!”
Benson said, “Miss Evangelina said we all had to bring a big sheet of coloured paper, and some sticks.”
Aunt Lillibet put down her spoon and thought. “I’ve got just the thing,” she said. She had a big box under her bed that was overflowing with scraps of fabric that she was going to make something out of one day, or left over from something she had made another day. “Here!” she said, pulling out a piece of shiny fabric. “This will be perfect.”
The piece of fabric was a kind of browny green, with purpley-maroon swirls on it. It looked like a pool of slime at the bottom of a muddy creek. Yuck, Benson thought. He said, “Miss Evangelina said to bring paper.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “This will be much better than paper, trust me.”
Benson remembered the last time Aunt Lillibet had said, “Trust me,” when she had made beetroot burgers with rhubarb and fish paste and said they would be delicious. They weren’t.
He said, “Um, do you have a red piece? Or white?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “This is the only piece I have. It’s silk. I’ve been saving it for something special. It will be absolutely beautiful, trust me.”
Benson’s mother called from the door, “Come on, Benson, we’re already running late!”
Horrible as it was, it was better than nothing. Benson grabbed the piece of silk and ran to catch up with his mother and they set off.
When they got to the library, everyone else had already started making their kites. Mick had a big piece of red paper. Arlette and Twiss had plain white, but then Arlette got out her Young Wombat’s Scrap-booking Kit and started gluing sequins and glitter and party bows all over hers.
Benson’s cousin Elmer had brought a big sheet of bark instead of paper. “Dad thinks it should be all natural,” he said.
Benson brought out his piece of silk. Miss Evangelina said, “Oh, that’s… unusual. I’m sure it will be fine, Benson.”
Arlette snickered and said, “What colour do you call that, sludge?” Twiss laughed. She was gluing bits of painted pasta onto her kite.
Everyone had to cut their paper into a diamond shape and sticky-tape their sticks on. The piece of silk was hard to cut because it was slippery and it kept sliding everywhere. Benson used miles of sticky-tape to try to get the silk to stick on to his kite-sticks, but in the end, he tied it on with pieces of string. When he finished, it was floppy and saggy like a dead cabbage leaf.
Miss Evangelina said, “You’ve all done an excellent job! Umm, even you, Benson. Now we’re going to line them up on the table against the wall, and Hazel is going to judge which one is the best.”
Hazel came in and walked up and down in front of the row of kites. Arlette’s was pink and glittery, and Twiss’s had a yellow smiley face made out of pasta. Mick had had an accident with the scissors, so his was more like a triangle than a diamond. Elmer couldn’t cut his piece of bark at all, so it was shaped like a piece of bark. Benson’s stood at the end, droopy and sludgey. He was so embarrassed he wanted to sink through the floor.
Hazel said, “I can see you’ve all put a lot of work into your kites, but the problem is, they won’t fly.”
“Fly?” said Miss Evangelina. “What do you mean?”
“You know, fly! Up in the air!” Hazel said. “That’s what kites are for, they fly!”
“Do they?” said Miss Evangelina, completely surprised.
“But none of these will,” Hazel said. “The pink one and the smiley one are too heavy, and the red one is the wrong shape, and this piece of bark – is this meant to be a kite, or a canoe? But this one,” Hazel said, picking up Benson’s, “with a bit of work, this one might actually fly.”
“Really?” Benson said, getting excited.
“First of all, it needs a tail,” Hazel said.
Everyone helped make a tail for Benson’s kite out of the scraps of silk he had cut off. “And now we need a long kite string,” Hazel said. Miss Evangelina got some very strong string out of the library cupboard and Hazel showed Benson how to tie it on to the kite-sticks.
“All we need now is some wind,” Hazel said. They all went across the road to the park, where the wind was stirring the lavender bushes.
Hazel showed Benson what to do. He had to lift the kite high above his head, as high as he could reach, and wait for the wind to catch it. Then he let it go, but he kept holding on tight to the string. The wind lifted the kite up and up, until it was sailing high in the sky, tugging at the string in Benson’s hand. With the sun behind it, the green silk glowed like the bush at sunset, and the purpley swirls danced like flames.
“Ohh!” everyone said. “It’s amazing! Incredible!”
Benson thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson’s mother said, “Mick’s auntie is sick, and his mother has to go away for a while to look after her. She needs someone to look after Mick and Bonnie Lou while she’s away.”
“Can Mick come and stay with us?” Benson said. He started thinking about all the fun things he and Mick could do together, digging, and riding their bikes, and building cubby houses and stuff.
“Mick’s going to stay with his cousins,” his mother said, “but Bonnie Lou’s coming to stay with us.”
“Bonnie Lou?” Benson said, disappointed. Bonnie Lou was no fun. She was always complaining, and wanting to have things her own way, and she got mad really easily.
When she arrived, it was worse than Benson had thought. She had to sleep in his room, and she started complaining as soon as she walked in. “Can’t you move your stuff off the floor?” she said. “Where am I going to put my things?”
“I like my stuff on the floor,” Benson said. “Why did you bring so much stuff, anyway?”
“I had to bring my paper dolls with me because I’m in the middle of making them, and I brought my wild-flower book in case I need it,” Bonnie Lou said. She swept Benson’s rock collection off his shelves and put her things there instead.
“Hey, leave my things alone!” Benson said.
“It’s just a bunch of dirty, old rocks,” Bonnie Lou said. “If you put your saxophone under your bed, there’d be a lot more room.”
“I can’t put it under my bed,” Benson said.
“Why not?” Bonnie Lou said. She looked under his bed. “Eeyuuwww!” It was crowded with dirty socks and an old ant farm, and Benson’s favourite hat and a flipper. Bonnie Loud climbed under, and heaved everything out. She put the socks in the wash and the flipper in the cupboard with the other flipper. Benson put his hat on.
“So that’s where that was,” he said.
“You should give that ant farm to Ralph,” she said. “He loves bugs and things.” She shoved the saxophone under the bed. “There!” she said. There was a lot more room now, but she filled it up straight away with her scooter and her skipping rope.
The next morning, Benson started to think that having Bonnie Lou to stay was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Everyone was eating breakfast, and she suddenly said, “Benson, you talked in your sleep.”
“I don’t talk in my sleep!” he said. He was sure he’d never heard himself talk in his sleep.
“You did!” she said, giggling. “You said ‘This pillow needs a tomato.'” Everyone laughed, except Benson. He felt silly. He went outside to dig.
Bonnie Lou came out and said, “Do you want to ride your bike while I ride my scooter?”
“I’m busy,” Benson said grumpily.
“Do you want to play pirates?” she asked.
“I told you, I’m busy,” he said.
Bonnie Lou went inside, feeling disappointed and lonely. After a lot of digging, Benson went in to get a drink. Bonnie Lou was sitting at the table with Aunt Lillibet and they were making sharks out of salt dough. It looked like fun. “Can I do that too?” he asked.
“Not with those dirty hands,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“I thought you said you were busy,” Bonnie Lou said. She made a fat octopus with long twisty legs.
Benson went outside again, feeling even grumpier. In a little while Aunt Moss came out, wearing an eye-patch. Benson said, “Do you want to look at the hole I’m digging, Aunt Moss?”
“Not just now, dear,” she said. “Bonnie Lou and I are playing pirates. I just came out to get some celery to make a cutlass.” She picked a long stick of celery and went inside again.
Benson kept on digging his hole, but his heart wasn’t in it. He went inside to see if it was lunchtime yet. Bonnie Lou and his mother were in the kitchen, making banana bread. Benson cheered up straight away. “Can I help?” he said.
“We’ve just finished,” his mother said, “but you can help with the washing-up if you like.”
“No, thanks,” Benson said. He went into his room and got out his paper and his pencils and spread them out all over the floor so Bonnie Lou couldn’t come in even if she wanted to.
His mother looked in and said, “Bonnie Lou and I are going to take your old ant farm over to Ralph’s place. Do you want to come?”
“I’m too busy drawing,” he said, keeping his head down. He didn’t want to go anywhere with Bonnie Lou, and or do anything Bonnie Lou was doing. “Why did she have to come anyway?” he said to his mother. “She ruins everything.”
His mother looked at him, and said, “Don’t you think Bonnie Lou might be feeling a bit lonely?”
“How could she be lonely?” Benson said. “Everyone’s doing fun things with her all the time.”
At bedtime, Benson got into bed without even speaking to Bonnie Lou. He kept his eyes shut and pretended to be asleep even when she tried to say goodnight to him. After a while, he heard a kind of sniffling noise, like someone was crying with their face in their pillow. Then he heard Bonnie Lou’s voice whimpering very softly, “I want my mum.”
Benson couldn’t stand it. He felt terrible about all the mean things he had said and done, when Bonnie Lou was feeling lonely and homesick the whole time. He called softly, “You can come and sleep in my bed with me if you want to.”
Bonnie Lou stopped crying. “Can I?” she said. She padded across to his bed and he made room for her. She snuggled up against him, and they both went to sleep straight away.
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.
Benson and Aunt Lillibet went to Uncle Elton’s to take him a bowl of rainbow jelly and a jumper that Aunt Moss had knitted for Benson’s cousin Elmer, with a big yellow truck on the front. Elmer loved it, especially the truck. On the way home, Aunt Lillibet said, “Look at all this rubbish, littering up the bush!”
Benson looked around. There were plastic bags caught in the bushes, and bits of paper and rubbish all along the track.
“It’s disgusting!” she said. “Look! There are plastic coffee cups and drinking straws and old bottles lying everywhere. Why don’t people take their rubbish home with them?”
“Maybe their houses are already full of rubbish and if they take any more home, their houses will explode and the rubbish will go everywhere,” Benson said.
“Something has to be done about this,” Aunt Lillibet said. As soon as they got home, she got out some paper and a pen. “I’m going to write to the bushcare group and tell them they need to do something about all the rubbish in the bush. And then I’ll write to the Tree Protection committee, and the Volunteer Fire Brigade, and the Animal Welfare people. All this littering has to stop!”
She sat down and wrote letter after letter, and sent them off. The next day she had another idea. “Benson, you can help me make some leaflets to tell everyone to stop littering, and we’ll put them in everyone’s letter-boxes.”
Benson was happy to help. He drew lots of pictures on Aunt Lillibet’s leaflets, of animals tangled up in plastic or hurting themselves on broken glass, or accidentally eating pieces of rubbish and getting sick. Then he helped Aunt Lillibet put them in everyone’s letter-boxes.
When they got home, Aunt Lillibet had an even better idea. “Signs!” she said. “I’ll make lots of signs and put them up on all the trees!” She got big pieces of paper and big paint-brushes and painted lots of signs that said, ‘Littering is for Losers!’ and ‘Rubbish Ruins the Bush!’ and ‘Stop it – Don’t Drop it!’ She stuck them on trees and bushes and fences everywhere.
Then she had an even better idea. “I’ll make a giant banner!” she said. “It will be so big that no-one will be able to miss it!” She made a banner as big as a sheet, and she used all Benson’s paints, writing, ‘The Bush is our Home – Don’t Mess it Up!’ It was so big she had to get Aunt Moss and Benson and his mother to help her tie it up between two trees on the side of the track.
“There!” she said. “Now they’ll get the message!” She went home to wash the paint off her hands and have a rest.
Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother looked at the banner, and said to each other, “She’s right, we should do something about it.”
So they set to work picking up all the rubbish they could find and making a big pile. Before long, other animals saw what they were doing and came to help them. Mr Fenn and Shelley and Uncle Elton and Elmer and all the possums and even the dunnarts joined in. Mr Fenn got some big bags and they filled them up to the top with bottle tops and plastic bags and straws and empty containers. The cockatoos and the kookaburras helped them too, picking out bits of rubbish that had caught in the trees and dropping them into the bags.
When they were finished, everyone looked around happily at their clean, safe environment, and told each other how nice it was to have everything so clean and sparkling.
When Benson and his mother and Aunt Moss got home, Benson went to tell Aunt Lillibet. “Come and look, Aunt Lillibet,” he said. “Every single bit of rubbish is gone!”
They went out and walked down the track together. “Beautiful!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Everyone’s done an excellent job!”
Just then a great big gust of wind swirled through the bush. It tore every one of Aunt Lillibet’s signs off the trees and ripped them into pieces and threw them everywhere. It pulled the banner off the trees and tangled it up, high in the branches.
The clean, tidy bush was covered with bits of rubbish. Aunt Lillibet stared at the mess. She suddenly felt as if she needed to sit down.
Benson looked around, and then he went and got a big, empty, garbage bag. “It looks like you’ll be needing this,” he said. “Let’s get to work. Littering is for losers, you know.”
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a clean, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Aunt Lillibet wanted to make mulberry jelly, so she sent him over to Mr Fenn’s to see if he had any ripe mulberries on his tree. Mr Fenn’s tree was bursting with mulberries, and he let Benson fill his basket up. On the way home, Benson saw Ada, his friend Rodney’s little sister, poking at something under a bush with a sharp stick. It was two tiny little kittens.
“Don’t!” Benson said. He grabbed the stick away from her. “You’ll hurt them!”
“They’re just cats,” Ada said. “Everyone hates cats – they’re cruel and mean.”
Benson said, “They’re just babies. They’re not going to hurt anyone.”
“All cats are bad,” Ada said. “My mother says so.”
Benson said, “I’m not going to let you hurt them, anyway.” He picked them up and put them in his basket and went home.
As soon as Aunt Lillibet saw the kittens, she said, “Cats! Disgusting!”
Aunt Moss said, “Baby kittens! Oh, they’re so sweet!” She picked one up and cuddled it.
Benson’s mother said, “Where did you get them?”
He said, “They were in the bush, and Ada was poking them with a stick.”
“Someone probably didn’t want them, so they dumped them in the bush and left them to die,” his mother said.
Aunt Lillibet said, “You should have left them there.”
Benson was horrified. “You mean, let them die?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Feral cats are cruel and vicious.”
“Look at them, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss. “They’re just helpless little animals, like any other animal. You can’t abandon them to die!”
“Cats are cats,” Aunt Lillibet said. “They’re hunters and killers.”
Aunt Moss said, “That’s if they grow up wild in the bush and they don’t know any better. If you look after them properly, I’m sure they’d be perfectly beautiful animals.”
“They’d be cats, and cats are killers,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It’s just what they are.”
Benson’s mother asked him, “What are you going to do about them, Benson?”
“Me?” he said.
“You saved them, so they’re your responsibility,” she said. “They’re very young, so they’ll need feeding every couple of hours if they’re going to survive.”
Benson said, “What? Don’t cats just lap up milk from a saucer?”
“Not when they’re this young,” his mother said. “You’ll need to feed them through the night, too.”
Benson’s eyes opened wide. Night-time was for sleeping.
“Don’t worry, Benson, I’ll help you,” Aunt Moss said.
Benson’s mother said, “You need your sleep, Moss. It’s Benson’s responsibility.”
Benson thought about it. Then he made up his mind. “We can’t just let them die,” he said.
For the next week it felt like all he thought about was kittens: feeding them, cleaning up after them, keeping them warm, mixing up milk for them, and feeding them again. It was very hard work. He couldn’t remember the last time he got to go outside and dig.
Then one morning there was a sharp knock at the door. It was Ada’s mother, Polly, and Aunt Lillibet’s friend, Gordon. Benson was in his room, playing with the kittens, dangling a woolly sock while they tried to jump up and catch it. Gordon’s voice said, “I’ve heard that you’re keeping cats here secretly.”
Benson’s mother said, “It’s no secret. My son rescued some animals who were being mistreated. He brought them home to be looked after.”
Polly said to Gordon, “See? I told you they had cats!”
Gordon said, “Cats are a menace to all native wildlife. They should be taken away and destroyed.”
Benson was listening to them in his room, and his stomach dropped. He felt cold all over.
“Destroyed?” Benson’s mother said.
“Yes, destroyed,” Polly said. “Put down. Killed. They’re vicious killers. My son Rodney was attacked by a cat when he was a baby. It nearly killed him.”
Benson looked at the two tiny little furry bundles. One of them had its head inside the sock, and the other one was trying to climb in too. It was hard to imagine them slinking around, springing out on baby wombats and attacking them.
“I’m sorry Rodney was hurt,” Benson’s mother said.
“Well?” Gordon said. “Where are they?”
Benson’s mother called, “Benson!” He came slowly out of his room, with his eyes down.
Gordon said, “You can hand over those two savage animals right now.”
Benson’s mother asked Gordon, “What will you do with them?”
“The kindest way to put them down is to drown them,” he said. “It’s quick, and they don’t suffer.”
Benson said, “You can’t kill them! They’re just babies!”
“Baby kittens grow up to be killer cats,” Polly said.
“These ones won’t!” Benson insisted.
“There’s no argument, cats don’t belong in the bush,” Gordon said. “Hand them over.”
Benson looked at the two faces, Gordon’s hard and determined, Polly’s angry and upset. He looked at his mother with tears in his eyes and said, “Please?”
His mother looked at him for a long minute, then she said to Gordon, “We’ll take care of it.”
Gordon said, “You’re not going to keep them? You know it can’t be allowed.”
Benson’s mother repeated firmly, “We’ll take care of it,” and she took Gordon and Polly to the door and closed it behind them.
Benson said shakily, “Then we can keep them?”
His mother said, seriously, “Benson, think about what will happen when they start to grow up. What would you do if they caught a bird, or a lizard, and killed it?”
Benson didn’t want to think about it. “But not yet,” he said. “They only drink milk.”
“Benson,” his mother said, looking at him sadly.
He put his head down. He went into his room and put the kittens in their box and gave it to his mother. Then he went and lay down on his bed and cried and cried.
At dinner time when he came out, his mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were in the kitchen.
“Did you get rid of them?” he asked his mother.
Aunt Moss gave a little scream. “The kittens! Oh no! You didn’t!”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s good riddance, if you ask me.”
“How can you be so cruel, Lillibet?” cried Aunt Moss. “They’re animals, just like you and me. Poor little things!”
Tears started to well up in Benson’s eyes again.
“Calm down, everyone,” his mother said. “I took the kittens…” Benson put his hands over his ears. He didn’t want to hear what she was saying.
His mother lifted his hands off his ears. “Don’t you trust me?” she said. “I took the kittens to a place where they take care of homeless kittens and find homes for them when they’re big enough.”
“They’re not dead?” Benson said joyfully.
“They’ll be looked after by people who love cats, and the bush animals will be safe too,” she said.
Benson hugged his mother. “Thank you,” he said.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a very comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One afternoon, Benson went out to dig a hole shaped like a cave, for the little dunnarts to play pirates in. Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were in the garden. Aunt Moss said, “I love violets, don’t you? They’re so pretty.”
Aunt Lillibet sniffed. “They pop up everywhere, like weeds.”
“Like little surprises,” Aunt Moss said. “And they smell so lovely.”
Aunt Lillibet sniffed again, then she looked harder at the flowers. “What’s that under the violets, Moss?” She lifted up the leaves of the violet plants. There were a whole lot of little fern-shaped leaves.
“Oh no!” Aunt Moss said. “Not horseweed!”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s definitely horseweed. Moss, how could you let this happen?”
Benson came over to see what the trouble was. “What’s horseweed?” he asked.
“It’s a noxious weed,” Aunt Lillibet said. “That means it’s like poison for a garden.”
Benson sneezed. “Does it kill all the plants?” he asked.
“No, it doesn’t actually kill them,” she said. “It hides under them and around them, and then it sucks all the nutriments out of the soil for itself, and the plants die. It grows so fast, it takes over the whole garden in no time.”
Benson peered at the tiny leaves, hiding among the violets. “They don’t look like sneaky evil plants,” he said. “They look sort of cute, like tiny little ferns.”
“Don’t be fooled,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Those weeds will break a gardener’s heart. One day you have a healthy garden full of vegetables and flowers, and then before you know it, all you have is dead plants, and horseweed spreading everywhere.”
“My poor violets,” Aunt Moss said.
“They have to come out, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “The horseweed twines its roots around the roots of the other plants, so you can’t pull up the horseweed without pulling up the good plants.”
She and Aunt Moss set to work, pulling up all the violets. Benson sneezed again, and went inside to get a hanky. When he came out, there was a big pile of weeds. “Do you want me to throw them on the compost for you?” he asked.
“No, if we put them on the compost, their seeds will spread everywhere,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“What do we do with them then?” Benson asked. “Do we dump them in the bush somewhere?”
“Absolutely not!” Lillibet said. “If horseweed gets into the bush, it will take over from the native plants. Then the little animals and the birds will have no food and nowhere to live.”
“What are we going to do then?” Benson asked.
“Well, we could burn them,” Aunt Moss said, doubtfully.
“Not in this bushfire season, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It’s too dangerous. There’s only one thing we can do. Wee on them.”
“Wee on them?” Benson said, amazed.
“Wombat urine is very good for killing horseweed,” Aunt Lillibet said primly. “It’s so full of nitrogen, the weeds just curl up and die. And the good thing is, it’s free, and there’s plenty of it.”
Benson sneezed again.
Aunt Lillibet looked at him and said, “Why are you sneezing, Benson?”
“I just am,” Benson said.
“It’s not the horseweed, is it?” she said. She held a clump of the weeds up to Benson’s nose. He sneezed five times in a row. His eyes started watering, and his head felt all muzzy.
“You poor dear, I think you must be allergic to horseweed,” Aunt Moss said. “You should go inside at once.”
“I’ve got a better idea,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Come with me, Benson.”
She made him walk all over the backyard. Wherever he started to sneeze, she looked around, and there was another clump of horseweed. “Over here, Moss,” she called. “Bring the spade.”
He sneezed over the strawberry bed, and under the blueberry bushes. He sneezed at the celery patch, and all over the pumpkins.
“All these will have to come up,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Horseweed everywhere.”
“Oh dear,” Aunt Moss said. “All those beautiful pumpkins, and the celery! It’s a tragedy!”
“Never mind, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “We’ll make pumpkin soup for the whole neighbourhood. And I know exactly what to do with the strawberries and blueberries.”
They dug and dug, until all the horseweed was in a big pile in the middle of the backyard. Benson finally stopped sneezing. “I feel like someone left a tap on inside my head,” he said. “My nose won’t stop running.”
“I’ll make you a nice sage-and-horseradish sandwich,” Aunt Moss said. “You’ll soon feel better.” Benson wasn’t so sure.
Aunt Lillibet said, “And there’ll be strawberry tart with blueberry ice-cream for dessert.” That made him feel a lot better straight away.
“You did a good job today, Benson,” she said. “Our very own horseweed detector!”
Benson felt quite pleased with himself. He gave another small sneeze, just to make sure his nose still worked.
Aunt Moss said sadly, “It’s a shame about my poor violets, though.”
Aunt Lillibet said, “Don’t worry, Moss, they’ll come back again. But just remember, everyone, whenever you need to go, go and wee on a weed!”
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, cosy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One morning Benson and his mother were eating breakfast, and Aunt Lillibet came into the kitchen to make a cup of camomile tea. “I’ve got such a headache,” she said. “I’m just going to sit quietly and drink my tea.”
She went and sat in the lounge-room and leaned back and closed her eyes. In a minute, she opened them again and said, “Benson, do you have to crunch your toast so loudly?”
Benson thought about it. “I think so,” he said. “Toast is noisy stuff.” He finished his toast and got an apple out of the fruit bowl. He took a big bite. It was very crisp and juicy.
Aunt Lillibet groaned loudly.
His mother said, “Benson, it might be a good idea to finish your breakfast outside.”
Benson took his apple outside and crunched it as loudly as he liked. When he came in again, Aunt Lillibet complained, “Benson, must you slam the door every time you come in?”
“No,” Benson said. “Sometimes I just bang it.” He banged the door to show her. Aunt Lillibet groaned.
He went over to the kitchen, and Aunt Lillibet said, “Do you have to stamp so loudly when you walk?”
Benson tiptoed across the floor. “Sorry, Aunt Lillibet,” he said.
“You don’t have to shout!” she said.
“Sorry,” he whispered.
His mother said quietly, “Why don’t you go and do something quiet in your room, like reading, or drawing?”
Benson tiptoed into his room. He got his pencils and he started to draw a family of armadillos in a fire truck. His black pencil rolled off the table and slid under the bed. He crawled under his bed to get it, but his bottom accidentally bumped his shelf, and everything fell off with a loud crash.
“Benson!” Aunt Lillibet shouted.
“Sorry!” he shouted back, then he remembered and whispered, “Sorry!” in a tiny voice. He decided to read his book instead. It was a story about some ducks and a cow and a lazy farmer. Benson thought it was very funny.
He wasn’t even up to the end when Aunt Lillibet yelled, “Benson! Do you have to laugh so loudly? It’s impossible to get any peace around here!”
Benson’s mother said, “Is your headache still bad, Lillibet?”
Aunt Lillibet said, “It doesn’t help that I live with the noisiest young wombat on the planet!”
“I think Benson and I might go out for a walk until you’re feeling better,” Benson’s mother said. She and Benson got their hats and their water-bottles and they set off. Benson banged the door, but then he remembered, and he went back and closed it again, much more quietly.
They walked along through the bush, and Benson told his mother all about the book he was reading, and the drawing he was drawing, with the armadillos all in a row on the fire-truck ladder, eating their ice-creams.
After a while, his mother said, “Stop!”
Benson stopped. “What is it, a snake?” he said.
“No, I just mean stop talking,” his mother said. “You haven’t stopped talking since we left home, even for a minute.”
“I thought you liked me talking to you?” he said.
“Of course I love listening to you,” his mother said, “but if you’re always talking, you’re not doing very much listening, and you miss other things around you.”
“Things like what?” Benson asked.
His mother said, “All sorts of things. Just stand still for a minute, and listen.” Benson listened, but he couldn’t hear anything. He opened his mouth to tell his mother, but before he could say anything, she said, “Don’t tell me you can’t hear anything, just listen!”
Benson listened. All he could hear was himself breathing, Then he heard a bird call. He listened, and he heard another bird answer. Then the first bird called again. Another little bird was chirping quietly, and far away he could hear a cockatoo squawking. There were some butcherbirds talking at the top of a tree, and in the distance, he could hear some magpies practising their singing.
The more he listened, the more he could hear. Before long, he began to think there must be hundreds of birds in the bush around them, chattering and chirping and singing.
There was a sudden loud crack, right beside them. “That was a whip-bird,” his mother said quietly. They stood very still, and a big, dark green bird came up and looked at them. Then it flew away again.
“Do you hear that noise like a rusty hinge?” his mother said. “That’s a gang-gang cockatoo, and that ‘chack-chack’ sound is those two king parrots, in the tree over there.” Benson followed the sound and saw two beautiful bright red and green birds chatting to each other on a high branch. Then a big flock of lorikeets flew into the trees overhead and they couldn’t hear anything except their noisy chatter.
“All these birds,” Benson said, “all doing their own bird things, and living their bird lives, talking to each other and singing – they’re being so noisy, they probably don’t even know I’m here.”
“Not if you’re being still and quiet,” his mother agreed. “Sometimes I think we can be a bit like the lorikeets. I don’t think they even listen to each other. They just talk over each other, and get louder and louder and louder.”
When it was time to go home for lunch. Benson remembered to open the door quietly so as not to disturb Aunt Lillibet, but she opened her eyes when he dropped his water-bottle and it bounced across the kitchen floor.
“I’m never going to get any peace,” she groaned. “I think I’ll go outside, away from all this hullabaloo!”
Benson went to his mother’s room and came back with her pink, fluffy ear muffs. “Here,” he said, giving them to Aunt Lillibet. “You’ll need these if you’re going outside. You wouldn’t believe how noisy it is out there!”
Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a neat, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
One day Aunt Lillibet was standing on a chair, cleaning the dust off the top of the fridge. She couldn’t quite reach, so she stood on one leg and leaned over as far as she could. The chair tipped over and she crashed down onto the floor.
“Oww!” she said. “My leg!” Her leg was so sore that she couldn’t walk properly for days. She had to sit in a chair and do her knitting and not go outside to the garden at all. It made her very cranky.
After a couple of days, she said to Benson, “Benson, I’m going to go on a long journey. When I’m gone, I want you to look after the sunflowers for me. “
Benson’s eyes grew very round. His friend Alejandro’s mother had told him once that her grandmother had gone on a long journey, and when Alejandro asked when she was coming home, his mother said that actually she had passed away, and that going on a long journey was just a nice way of saying that someone had died.
Aunt Lillibet’s going to die? Benson said to himself. He asked her, “Are you really going on a long journey, Aunt Lillibet?”
“Yes, very soon,” Aunt Lillibet said.
“A really, really long journey?” Benson asked.
“Yes, really, really long,” she answered. “And when I’m gone, there’ll be a lot of things to take care of.”
“Yes, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said sadly. He couldn’t imagine living without her. “Will it make you sad to leave everything behind?” he asked.
“Not much. I’m going to a very beautiful place,” she said, with a dreamy look on her face.
“What’s it like?” Benson asked.
“Very peaceful, and restful,” she said. “I won’t have to do a thing, and I’ll get to see lots of old friends.”
Benson said, “We’ll miss you.” He went outside feeling sad. He didn’t know what dying was like, but he knew what it was like when one of your friends went away forever. He remembered a place where there were lots of stones arranged in tidy rows, to remember people who had died.
He went and found a nice smooth stone. Then he got his paints and he wrote ‘Aunt Lillibet’ in his best writing. Then he stopped. What should he write after that? Dead and gone?
He thought and thought, then he decided what to put. He wrote it very carefully on the stone.
His mother came to see what he was doing. “What are you doing with that stone?” she asked.
“I made this for Aunt Lillibet,” he said, “for when she dies.”
“Aunt Lillibet isn’t dying,” his mother said.
“Isn’t she?” Benson said, surprised.
Aunt Lillibet was listening and she laughed. “No-one dies of a strained muscle in their leg,” she said.
“But you said you were going on a long journey,” Benson said.
“I am,” Aunt Lillibet said, “as soon as my leg’s better. I’m going to the mountains to visit my cousins, before I get too old to walk that far. I’m not going to die!”
Benson felt very relieved. “Oh. Well, you won’t need this then,” he said.
“What is it?” she said.
“It’s a stone that people have, to remember someone after they die,” Benson said. “I wrote your name on it, ‘Aunt Lillibet’, and then I wrote something else.”
“What did you write?” she asked.
Benson said, “Well, I thought of saying, ‘A noble wombat’, or ‘Loved by Some People’, or ‘A very fast knitter’, but they didn’t seem exactly right.”
Aunt Lillibet humphed. “So what did you write?” she asked.
Benson showed it to her. It said, ‘Aunt Lillibet. A very good gardener. Kind and helpful and funny.’
Aunt Lillibet didn’t say anything for a long time. Benson thought maybe he should have put ‘A noble wombat’ after all. But then she cleared her throat and blew her nose and said, “Well, I’m not thinking of dying any time soon, but this could come in handy one day.”
Benson said, “You can keep it if you like. You could take it with you on your trip.”
His mother said, “It might be a bit heavy to take all that way. Why don’t we put it in her room while she’s away? Then whenever we look in, we’ll see it and think about her having a nice holiday in the mountains.”
Everyone thought that was a good idea, so they did.
Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, cosy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson was lying on his tummy on the floor, drawing elephants. He asked his mother, “Do you think I’m perfect?”
“Mmm-hmm,” she said. She was knitting a chicken, and she was just up to the part where she had to slip one stitch and knit two stitches together five times, and she was trying to count.
Benson said, “Alejandro says I can’t do pirouettes because I’m fat. Do you think I’m fat?”
“I think you’re beautifully wombat-shaped,” she said.
“Are you saying that just because you’re my mother, or do you really think it?” Benson said. “What if I grow up to be huge and lazy like a polar bear? Would you still think I’m perfect?” he asked. The elephant he was drawing had a long, long trunk that was holding a pink flower.
“I don’t think polar bears are lazy,” his mother said. “I think they lie around a lot to save energy because it’s so cold in all that snow and ice.” She cast off some stitches and did some tricky decreasing around the chicken’s underneath.
“What if I grow up to be cranky like… some people are, or mean, like a rat?” he asked. He rubbed out the pink flower and drew a nice daisy instead.
“You’d still be perfect,” she said.
Benson drew a swimming pool around his elephant and gave him a ball to play with. “Arlette says I’m horrible,” he said.
“Why does she say that?” she asked.
“She thinks Mick is horrible too, and Alejandro. Even Elmer,” Benson said.
“I don’t think Elmer’s horrible at all,” his mother said.
Benson drew a stripey roof over the swimming pool so his elephant didn’t get sunburnt, and he drew a big bowl of soup for the elephant’s lunch.
“Mick said I was stupid,” he said.
“Did he?” his mother said.
“I broke his new invention for seeing around corners on his bike,” Benson said. “How was I supposed to know it would snap if you bent it?” The soup bowl went a funny shape, so he scribbled all over it and started a new page. “Do you think I’m stupid?” he asked.
“Not at all,” his mother said. “Everyone makes mistakes. ” She tied off the last stitch, and put some stuffing inside to make it chicken-shaped. Then she sewed it up and cut off the yarn.
“Some people make mistakes by mistake, and some people make mistakes because they’re stupid,” Benson said in a low voice.
His mother got some red wool and threaded it through a needle. “What do you think?” she said.
He drew another elephant, with a big bottom and tiny legs. “I suppose I’m stupid about some things,” he said. He rubbed out the tiny legs and drew nice sturdy legs to hold up the elephant’s big bottom properly. “Nobody’s perfect,” he said.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” his mother said. “Everybody’s perfect.”
Benson looked up from his drawing. “How can everybody be perfect? Alejandro is really mean sometimes, and Mick gets mad at me, and Arlette is never, ever, ever nice to me. Even Zali bites sometimes.” He drew a smile on his elephant. “But she doesn’t mean it. Zali’s pretty perfect, I guess.” He smiled at his elephant and his elephant smiled back. “I’ll never be perfect,” he sighed.
Benson’s mother finished sewing a little red beak on her chicken and two little red dots for the eyes. She put down her needle and said firmly, “I’m your mother and I know you’re perfect.”
Benson stopped drawing and looked up at her. “How can I be? I’m terrible at climbing and I can’t do pirouettes, and I make mistakes in my drawing all the time. And sometimes I’m even mean to Mick. I didn’t even say sorry when I broke his new invention.”
His mother said, “Benson, do you see this chicken I’ve made for little Zip?” She held it up for him to see. It was a little brown chicken with two odd brown wings. It had funny red eyes, and its beak was crooked. “What do you think?” she said, putting it in his hand.
He looked at the little chicken. Its beak was too small as well as being crooked, and one wing was bigger than the other, and the eyes didn’t match. But then he noticed how it seemed to cock its head on one side, and its wings looked like it was clucking about something, and it had a look on its face that made him feel happy inside. It felt warm and exactly shaped to fit his hand.
He smiled at his mother. “It’s perfect,” he said.