Decisions, Decisions

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

Benson spent the morning digging. When his tummy told him it was just about lunchtime, he came in to wash his hands. His mother and Aunt Moss were in the kitchen.

Aunt Lillibet was sitting at the table, perfectly still, not doing anything. On the table there were two plates, one on each side of her. She kept looking at one, then at the other one.

Benson said, “Aunt Lillibet, what are you doing?”

Aunt Lillibet sighed. “I made a beautiful turnip and sweet potato pie with green banana chips.” She pointed to the plate on her right. “And I also made some pasta with spinach and elephant ear stalks and okra.” She pointed to the plate on her left. “Now they both look so delicious, I can’t decide which one to eat.”

Aunt Moss said, “The pie looks very good, but the pasta looks wonderful.” Aunt Lillibet picked up her fork and turned towards the pasta.

Benson’s mother said, “The pasta smells delicious, but the pie smells amazing!”

Aunt Lillibet turned to the pie, then she put down her fork and sighed. “If I eat one, I’ll be too full to eat any of the other one,” she said. “I can’t decide.”

Benson said, “Why don’t you have a little bit of both?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Have you ever tried having a little bit of turnip pie, or a little bit of spinach and okra pasta? It’s impossible! Once you start eating, you can’t stop at just a little bit.” She looked from one plate to the other and sighed.

Benson said, “I could taste them for you if you like, so then you’d really know which one is better.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Hmmm. It’s worth a try, I suppose.” She gave the fork to Benson.

He put a small piece of pie on his plate and ate it slowly and thoughtfully, rolling the pastry around on his tongue. “I’d give it nine out of ten,” he said. “Delicious.”

He put a small amount of pasta on his plate and ate it piece by piece, savouring every bite. “Yummy,” he said. “I’d give it nine out of ten too.”

“That’s no help,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Maybe I didn’t eat enough,” Benson said. “I’ll try again.” He put a larger piece of pie on his plate and ate it up. “No, I was wrong, the pie is definitely nine and a half out of ten.”

He put some more pasta on his plate and ate it up. “Fantastic!” he said. “I’d give it nine and a half out of ten too.”

Aunt Lillibet groaned.

Benson said, “I’ll just check the pie again.” He cut a very large piece of pie and and ate it. “Beautiful!” he said. “This is a ten out of ten. What was I thinking? But then the pasta might taste better now that it’s cooled down a bit.” He piled pasta onto his plate and started eating.

“Fantastic!”he said. “This pasta definitely deserves ten out of ten. I’ll just try the pie again.”

“Stop!” said Aunt Lillibet. She took the fork away from Benson. “If you keep going, there’ll be no pie and no pasta left. I know what I’ll do. I won’t eat anything for lunch, and when it’s time for dinner, I’ll be so hungry I’ll be able to eat both.” So that’s what she did. Benson’s mother and Aunt Moss had a lovely mango and finger lime salad for lunch, while Aunt Lillibet sat in front of her plates and didn’t eat anything. Benson didn’t eat much either. He wasn’t really hungry.

At dinner-time Aunt Lillibet was so hungry, she piled ALL the pie and ALL the pasta onto her plate and started eating. “Delicious! Wonderful! Fantastic!” she said. She ate up every single bit. She was so full that her tummy was bumping against the edge of the table.

“That was absolutely delicious!” she said.

Benson’s mother said, “I’m glad you enjoyed your dinner so much. I’ve made something special for dessert tonight.”

She got two big plates out of the pantry. “There’s fig and plum chocolate pudding, with extra chocolate sprinkles and cream on the top, AND there’s caramel popcorn coconut cake, with honeycomb pieces and orange cream cheese icing.” Benson’s eyes grew rounder and rounder.

His mother put the plates on the table in front of Aunt Lillibet. “Now, Lillibet, which one would you like?”

Mountain Climbing

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.

One day Benson’s Uncle Elton came over with Benson’s cousin Elmer. “I’m taking Elmer climbing up on Black Mountain,” he said. “I thought Benson might like to come along too.”

“Mountain climbing?” Benson said. He wasn’t too sure about mountain climbing. Walking was fine, digging was great, but climbing up a steep mountainside wasn’t so good for a solid young wombat.

“Don’t worry, it’s easy,” Uncle Elton said. “I’ve been up and down it hundreds of times. It’s not really a mountain, more like a tall hill.”

Benson’s mother said, “I’ve heard it can be quite a difficult climb.”

Uncle Elton said, “We’ll only go up halfway, just the easy part, then we’ll stop and have some lunch and come down again. Elmer’s really excited, aren’t you, Elmer?”

Elmer nodded enthusiastically. “It’ll be great. Dad says we might see an eagle’s nest!”

Benson liked the idea of lunch. It was starting to sound as if it could be fun.

His mother still looked worried. “Are you sure it will be safe?” she said.

“Yes, of course!” Uncle Elton said. “I’ve got all sorts of ropes, all the safety equipment you need for climbing. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of him.”

Benson made his favourite lime-butter-and-apple sandwiches and his mother helped him pack his backpack with oranges and nuts in case he needed a snack. He got his hat and his water-bottle and they set out.

It was a long way to Black Mountain. They went through a deep gully and then up a hill and along the top of the ridge. After a while Benson said, “I think I’ve got a blister.”

Uncle Elton said, “Oh, have you?” and kept walking.

Benson sat down and got a band-aid out of his backpack and put it over the blister. It felt much better.

They kept going along a narrow track through thick bush, until they came to the bottom of the mountain. “Here we are!” Uncle Elton said. “Are we all ready?”

It was then that Benson looked in his backpack and made a terrible discovery. “I’ve left my lunch at home!” he said.

“That’s a shame,” said Uncle Elton. “I’m sorry but Elmer and I have only got enough for ourselves.”

The thought of climbing up a mountain and there being no lunch when they got there didn’t make Benson feel happy.

He had an idea. Along the way they had passed a plum tree covered in fruit. He went back and filled up his backpack with plums and some wild spinach he found growing nearby.

He went back to where Uncle Elton and Elmer were waiting. “Okay, I’m ready,” he said.

Uncle Elton tied a strong climbing rope around himself, then he tied it to Elmer and to Benson. There were special clips that the rope passed through, so they were all joined together safely. “Off we go!” said Uncle Elton.

Climbing was hard. They went up and up, over sharp rocks and slippery stones. Elmer was a good climber, but Benson was heavier and slower. After a while he got very hot, and he was glad he had his water-bottle. After a lot of climbing, when Benson’s feet were sore and his legs were tired, Uncle Elton said, “Here we are!”

They were on a flat part covered with grass halfway up the mountain. The view was amazing.

They sat down and ate their lunch, looking out over all the trees. Benson ate his plums and his spinach, and shared his oranges and nuts.

When all the lunch was gone, Uncle Elton said, “Who wants to keep going up to the top?”

Benson looked up. The next part of the mountain was very steep and rough.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I think I’ll just stay here.”

Uncle Elton said, “Come on, it’s not that far! You’ve made it this far, the next bit will be easy. Think of how good it will feel, knowing that you’ve made it all the way to the top.”

Benson wasn’t so sure.

Uncle Elton said, “Elmer’s coming, aren’t you, Elmer?”

Elmer nodded. If his father said it was easy, he was sure it would be.

Benson didn’t want to be the only one staying behind if Elmer was going. “Okay,” he said.

“Good boy!” Uncle Elton said. “You and Elmer go ahead, and I’ll follow behind, in case either of you needs a hand.”

Elmer said, “Dad, there’s a knot in my rope and it’s digging into me.”

Uncle Elton took the rope off Elmer and tried to untie the knot but it was too hard. “We don’t really need ropes for this bit anyway,” he said. “It’s not that far. We’ll be fine so long as we’re careful.”

He got all the ropes and stuck them in his backpack. “Right, let’s go!” he said.

Elmer started climbing first, and Benson followed. It was much steeper and slipperier, and Benson had to stop all the time and get his breath.

Then Elmer yelled, “I think I can see the eagle’s nest!” He started climbing over towards it.

Uncle Elton said, “That’s great, son! Be careful now, the mother eagle might be still around.”

Benson kept going, but the next rock he put his foot on was loose. It came out and his foot slipped. He could feel himself starting to fall.

“Help! Help!” he yelled.

“Hang on! I’m coming!” Uncle Elton shouted.

Just then Elmer lost his hold and started to slip. “Dad! Dad!” he yelled. “Help me!”

Uncle Elton was halfway between Benson and Elmer. He couldn’t help them both.

“Dad! Help me!” cried Elmer. Uncle Elton went towards Elmer and grabbed him.

Benson couldn’t hold on. He slithered down the mountainside. His feet scratched wildly at the rocks but they couldn’t get any grip. He fell down, and down.

Then he felt warm, strong arms around him. A voice in his ear said, “I’ve got you!”

He opened his eyes and he was looking into his mother’s face.

“It’s all right, you’re safe now,” she said.

Benson clung onto her with all his arms and legs. “I was falling,” he said. “I couldn’t hold on.”

“I know,” she said. “It’s all right now. You did your best but the rocks are loose and slippery.”

They climbed slowly down the mountain to the grassy patch. Benson’s mother stayed beside him and helped him every step of the way.

Uncle Elton helped Elmer down, and they all sat down on the grassy patch together.

“I’m sorry, Benson,” he said. “I couldn’t get over to you fast enough. I had to help Elmer.”

“What about the safety equipment?” Benson’s mother said.

Uncle Elton hung his head. “I thought we could do without it.” He looked up and when he saw the look Benson’s mother was giving him, he looked down again quickly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have known better.”

Benson said to his mother, “How did you come to be there, just when I needed you?”

His mother said, “I was worried, so I followed you. I was just behind you the whole way.”

“The whole way?” Benson asked.

“The whole way,” she nodded.

“When I got the blister?” he asked.

“Mmm-hmm,” she nodded.

“When I didn’t have my lunch?” he asked.

“I was there too,” she said.

Benson thought. He said, “I don’t suppose you brought my lime-butter-and-apple sandwiches, did you?”

His mother smiled. “Actually, I did,” she said.

And they all sat on the grass on the side of the mountain, sharing the sandwiches and feeling how wonderful it was to be there.

Gliding

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 day Benson was over at Nils and Nella’s house playing hide-and-seek, when he saw something white flash between the trees up high, and he heard someone call, “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!”

“What was that?” Benson said.

“It’s just a sugar glider,” Nella said.

“There’s sugar, gliding through the trees?” Benson asked, amazed.

“No, stupid, not sugar, that’s just what he is, a sugar glider,” Nils said. “They eat lots of nectar so they’re called sugar gliders, but they’re just a kind of possum, really, except for the gliding.”

“Yeah, I think they’re kind of cousins of ours,” Nella said. “But their tails are straight, so they can’t hang or swing at all, and they’re not great at jumping so they have to fly.”

“Fly? They fly?” Benson said, his eyes shining. “Can they show me how?”

“It’s not exactly flying,” Nils said. “It’s more like jumping with their arms spread out, so they glide down.”

“I can do that!” Benson said. “I can jump with my arms out. But I don’t glide, I just drop, plonk.”

“Hang on,” Nils said. He shouted, “Whipple, come here!”

There was another flash of white, gliding across to the tree beside them with a “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!” Then a little possumy head poked up and a squeaky voice said, “What?”

Nils said, “This is Benson. He wants to know how you glide.”

“It’s easy,” Whipple said. “I just spread out, like this, and then I jump off.” The skin on his back reached all the way from his wrists to his ankles, so when he stretched out his arms and his legs, he looked like a little furry mat, with hands at two corners and feet at the other two.

“You want to watch?” Whipple asked. He ran up the tree beside them. For a possum, he was tiny, so he was very light and quick. When he got up high enough, he spread out his arms and legs till his skin was stretched out flat like a hairy leaf. He jumped off and glided across to another branch and then to another one and another one, calling, “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!”

Benson looked down at his own short arms and legs. He started thinking about how he was going to glide through the trees.

He thought about it all the way home, and all the time when he was going to sleep, and he was still thinking about it when he woke up in the morning.

At breakfast time he said, “I’m going to glide.”

“Slide?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“No, GLIDE,” Benson said. “Through the trees. Like a sugar glider. I just have to figure out how.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Wombats can’t glide. It’s impossible.”

Aunt Moss said, “Don’t spoil it for him, Lillibet. It doesn’t hurt to dream.”

Aunt Lillibet snorted. “Dream, huh!” She went and got a big sheet of paper and a rock. “Benson, see this piece of paper?” She dropped the piece of paper and it floated from side to side and gently floated down to the floor. “That’s a sugar glider.” She picked up the piece of paper and wrapped it around the rock. She dropped it and it fell straight down and hit the floor with a bang. “That’s you,” she said.

Benson looked at the piece of paper and thought. He went into the bathroom and came back with a towel tied to his ankles and his wrists. “I think this will work,” he said.

He climbed up onto a chair, spread out his arms and his legs and jumped.

Aunt Moss gave a little, “Eep!”

Flumppp! Benson landed flat on the floor on his tummy. Aunt Lillibet said, “Told you so.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh Benson, are you all right?”

Benson got up off the floor. “I need to get higher,” he said. He climbed onto the chair and then he climbed onto the table.

Aunt Moss closed her eyes and held her breath.

Benson stretched his arms and legs as far as he possibly could, and jumped.

Flummmppp! He landed flat on the floor.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Never in a million years.”

Aunt Moss said, “Benson, dear, I don’t think that’s very safe!”

Benson said, “If I could just get a bit higher.” He put the chair on top of the table and started to climb up.

His mother came in just then. “What’s making all this noise? It sounds like someone dropping mattresses.”

Benson explained, “I’m gliding, just like a sugar glider.”

His mother looked at him, and the towel, and the chair and the table. “No, Benson,” she said. “This is a very bad idea. Sugar gliders are tiny, and very light. Wombats are big, solid animals. If you jump from something that high, you’ll break something, your arms or your legs.”

Benson had a stubborn look on his face that his mother recognised. She said, “Come on, put the towel away and we’ll go to the playground.”

Benson got his hat and his water-bottle and they set off. He kept thinking about sugar-gliders, and he felt more and more disappointed. He could imagine the feeling of flying through the air, light as a feather, looking down on the earth, and it made him sad that he would never be able to feel like that.

His mother said, “Hop on the swing and I’ll give you a push.”

Benson climbed onto the swing and his mother started to push him. She pushed strong and hard, until Benson was swinging higher and higher through the air. She pushed harder and harder, until he was so high he could see the playground spread out underneath him. The wind rushed through his hair and he felt as light as a feather. “Yippppeeeee!” he shouted. It was just like flying.

Spelling

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

Benson was writing a letter. “How do you spell alphabetically?” he asked Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Lillibet didn’t know exactly, so she asked, “Why do you want to know?” while she thought about it.

“I’m putting it in my letter to Nanna,” he said.

“What are you writing about that’s alphabetical?” Aunt Lillibet said. She was having a hard time remembering where the ‘h’ went exactly.

“Nanna likes interesting words, so I thought I’d just put it in,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss said, “I think you just put ‘alphabet’ and then add some bits on the end.”

“Anyway, you shouldn’t use big words if you don’t know what they mean,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I do know what it means,” Benson said. “It’s like the books in the library. The ones on the first shelf have names that start with A, and then the ones that start with B come next, and then C and all the other letters of the alphabet, in the right order, so you can find a book if you want it.”

“Why don’t you put in a word that you can spell?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Like what?” Benson said.

“What about ‘cantankerous’?” she said. Now that was a word she knew how to spell.

“What does that mean?” Benson asked, writing it down and spelling it wrong, with two ‘c’s and a ‘g’.

“Sometimes Mr Fenn says that Lillibet is cantankerous,” Aunt Moss said. “I think it means…”

“Never you mind,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Aunt Moss said, “If you really want a big word, what about ‘watermelonlessness’?”

“What does that mean?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“It means not having any watermelon,” Aunt Moss said.

“Is that a real word?” Benson asked, writing it down and looking at it.

“If you know what it means and you can spell it, doesn’t that make it a real word?” Aunt Moss said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t just make words up, Moss. If everyone could just make words up whenever they wanted to, there’d be so many words that all the dictionaries would explode!”

“You did it yesterday, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said. “You said Aunt Moss’s soup was the ultrahorriblest soup you’ve ever had.”

“That’s different,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Extreme situations call for extraordinary measures. That mushroom and lemonade soup was extra-super-revolting.”

Benson wrote that down too. “Can you make up a new word if there isn’t one for what you want to say?” he asked.

“I do, all the time,” said Aunt Moss. “Sometimes I have an idea and there just isn’t a word for it. Like ‘comfortablefulness’, when things are as comfortable as they can be. When it’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone’s sitting around the table, talking happily together, and there are fresh chocolate and raspberry muffins waiting to be eaten, that’s comfortablefulness.”

Benson stopped writing and thought about muffins, fresh and warm and steaming. Then he started to think about cake, and blueberry pie, and he forgot all about writing, until Aunt Moss said, thoughtfully, “‘De-uglification’ is a useful word, when you’re trying to make things less ugly, like when your mother cut the plastic spiders off Aunt Lillibet’s hat.”

“But then Aunt Lillibet got all the plastic spiders back out of the bin and glued them back on again,” Benson said. “That’s what you call ‘re-spiderising’.”

“I prefer to call it ‘re-beautification’,” Aunt Lillibet said smugly, “making things beautiful again.”

Aunt Moss and Benson looked at each other and shrugged.

Benson said, “What about words for things that you think of that nobody’s thought of yet? Like window-elbows, and wheelbarrow-seatbelts, and cloud-cushions, and skyfish?”

“No!'” said Aunt Lillibet. “Definitely not! Impossible!”

Aunt Moss said, “What about ‘impossibilisation’, when someone says that something’s impossible when they haven’t even tried it yet?”

“I think that’s quite enough, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “It’s definitely enough. I can’t fit any more into my letter.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t possibly write a letter to someone that’s just a lot of words.”

“Isn’t that what a letter is?” Benson said.

“You know what I mean,” Aunt Lillibet said. “If you just have a list of made-up words it doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes sense to me,” Benson said. He started reading out the letter he had written to Nanna. “‘Have you ever seen a cantankerous skyfish? You’d better be careful in case they try to re-spiderise your window-elbows. If they did, that would be extra-super-revolting. Have you got any cloud-cushions? I think cloud-cushions make lots of comfortablefulness, and they’re very slithersoftish.'” He looked up from the letter. “I made that last one up,” he said modestly.

Aunt Moss listened thoughtfully. “It’s very interesting, even though I’m not exactly sure what all of it means. I think Nanna will like it.”

“That’s what I think,” Benson said.

“Altogether too much watermelonlessness,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Lost and Found

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 was walking along one day when something fell out of the sky and hit him on the head.

“Ow!” he said.

He looked around for what had hit him and he found a small, bright green ball. He picked it up. It was firm and slightly fuzzy. He threw it on the ground and it bounced back up to his hand, straight and fast. He threw it at a tree, and it bounced back and he caught it. It was a pretty good ball.

He threw the ball at the tree lots of times, up high and down low and in the middle. Sometimes he caught it and sometimes he missed and had to go and look for it.

He was having fun playing his game when he heard a voice say, “That’s my ball. Give it back.”

It was Arnette, a girl he knew but he wasn’t really friends with.

“I found it,” he said, “so it’s mine.” He kept on playing.

“I lost it. It’s mine,” Arnette said. “I was playing with it and it bounced away.”

“But you lost it,” Benson said, “and I found it so now it’s mine.”

Arnette said, “You found my ball that I lost. Give it back.”

Benson thought about it. Just because he found it didn’t make it his. He gave the ball back to Arnette. “Here,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said. “Do you want to play handball with me?”

“Okay,” said Benson.

Arnette hit the ball on the ground and when it bounced, Benson hit it back and then Arnette hit it back again. Sometimes Benson missed and had to run after the ball, and sometimes Arnette missed and Benson had to run and get the ball anyway. It was a pretty fun game.

Then they heard a voice say, “You’ve got our ball. Hand it over.”

It was Nils and Nella. They were hanging out of a tree by their tails.

Arnette hid the ball behind her back. “What ball?” she said.

“That one you’re playing with,” Nils said. “It’s ours. We were playing with it, and it bounced away.”

“How do I know it’s yours?” Arnette said. “A ball is a ball.”

“It’s green and fuzzy and about this big,” Nils said, holding his hands apart about the size of the ball.

Benson got the ball from behind Arnette’s back. “Like this?” he said.

“That’s it,” Nella said.

“Where did you get it from?” Arnette said.

“Nella gave it to me,” Nils said.

Arnette’s face fell. “I guess it’s yours, then,” she said. She gave the ball back to Nils. “Here,” she said.

“Thanks,” said Nils. Then he said, “Hey, do you guys want to play cricket with us? I’ve got a stick we can use for a bat.”

They played cricket. Benson was the wicket-keeper, and Nils had the first bat because he was the one who found the stick. Nella was a really good bowler and Arnette was a mean fielder. Every time Nils hit the ball, Arnette had to run after it. If Nils didn’t hit the ball, Benson had to run after it. After a while Benson wished Nils would hit the ball more often.

Then they head a voice say, “Excuse me, I think you’ve got my ball.” It was Mr Fenn.

Nella wrapped her tail tightly around the ball. “This is our ball,” she said.

Mr Fenn said, “I think it’s mine. Could I have it back, please?”

Nils said, “This isn’t your ball, it’s ours.”

Mr Fenn said, “Where did you get it?”

Nils said, “Nella gave it to me.”

Mr Fenn said to Nella, “Where did you get it from?”

“I found it,” Nella said. “It was in the sandpit all by itself and no-one wanted it so I got it.”

Mr Fenn said, “I had a ball just like that in my pocket this morning. I went for a walk near the playground, and when I got home it had fallen out of my pocket. I think you must have found my ball.”

“Maybe it’s a different ball that just looks like yours,” Nils said. “How do you know it’s yours?”

“I scratched my name on my ball,” Mr Fenn said. “If it is my ball, it should have F-E-N-N in small letters.”

Everybody peered at the ball. Once you looked, you could see wombat claw marks spelling F-E-N-N, Fenn.

“You’re right, it is your ball,” Nils said. He gave the ball back to Mr Fenn. “Here,” he said.

“Thank you,” said Mr Fenn. “My friend Gordon and I are just going to play tennis together. Would you like to come and be ball-boys and ball-girls and run after the ball for us and bring it back when we hit it out of the tennis court? There’ll be oranges, and lemonade.”

“I will, I will!” said Nils and Nella.

“Me too!” said Arnette.

Benson said, “Um, I think I might just go home and have a rest.”

Waddle

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

One day Benson’s mother came home from her Bushcare group looking worried. She went into the kitchen where Aunt Lillibet was making a rockmelon smoothie for Benson and his friend, Roly.

Benson’s mother said, “We found a baby echidna in a little burrow near the paperbark gully. It looks like he’s been abandoned by his mother.”

“Abandoned?” Benson said, shocked. “You mean his mother just went away and left him?”

“It’s more likely that something happened to her,” his mother said. “Mother echidnas make a special burrow for their puggles when they get too spiky to be carried in their pouches. The mothers go off to get some ants for themselves, but they always come back to give their babies their milk.”

Benson said, “Maybe she forgot where the burrow was.”

“More likely a snake or a feral cat,” Aunt Lillibet said quietly. She didn’t want to frighten Roly.

Roly’s eyes grew big and round, and his snout started to tremble. “Cats!” he whispered.

“What’s wrong with cats?” Benson asked. The cats he had read about in stories were soft and furry and curled up in front of the fireplace, purring. Sometimes when he was full of lemon delicious pudding and he had his warmest socks on, he felt a bit like a contented cat himself.

“Claws!” Roly said, “and horrible sharp teeth! They slink around in the dark with their green eyes and their whiskers and they kill soft baby animals whose spines haven’t grown yet.”

Benson didn’t like the sound of that at all. “But cats live in houses, and eat food out of tins, don’t they?” he said.

“Feral cats are different,” Aunt Lillibet said. “People dump them in the bush when they’re kittens and they grow up wild. They eat anything they can find, birds, lizards, mice – anything they can catch. They’re expert hunters.”

Benson thought of a baby puggle alone in a burrow in the middle of the bush, with a hungry cat slinking through the bush towards it.

“We should go and get the puggle,” he said very firmly. “Right now.”

His mother said, “It’s not that easy. He’s very little and he’s frightened of strangers. I tried to pick him up but he dug himself in further and I can’t get him out without hurting him.”

Roly said, “I’ll do it. He won’t be frightened of me.”

“I’ll come too,” Benson said. “I’m not scary.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “What about the cat? If it was a feral cat that took the mother echidna, it’s probably hanging around, looking for a soft juicy puggle.”

“Don’t, Lillibet!” Benson’s mother said, shuddering.

Roly said, “If there is a cat, then the sooner we get the baby echidna, the better.”

Benson’s mother knew that Roly was right. It was dark now, and if a cat found the little puggle, nothing could save it. They set off straight away.

They took the track that led down to the paperbark gully. Benson’s mother led the way and Benson followed her with Roly getting a lift on his back.

When they got to the trees near the puggle’s burrow, Roly went up by himself to talk to the little echidna.

“Hello,” he said in a quiet, friendly way. “What’s your name?”

The little echidna had dug himself so far into the ground that only the very tip of his nose was showing and two little button eyes. He sniffed, and whispered, “Waddle.” He was so frightened he could hardly talk.

Roly sat down by the side of the burrow and talked to him quietly and gently until the little puggle stopped shaking. He asked him about his mother, and when she had gone away.

Over in the trees, Benson was feeling worried, as if a big old water dragon was doing somersaults in his tummy. “Can’t Roly just grab him and run?” he asked his mother.

“Shh!” said his mother sharply. “I think I can hear something!”

The water dragon in Benson’s tummy started jumping up and down. “Is it a cat?” he whispered.

His mother didn’t answer. Instead she walked softly over to Roly and murmured to him, “We have to go, now!”

Roly nodded. He said to the little echidna, “Waddle, it’s time to go now. How would you like a special ride on a nice, friendly wombat? And some lovely warm milk?”

The little echidna let Roly pull him out of the burrow. Roly helped him climb onto Benson’s back, and he climbed onto Benson’s mother’s back. They set off through the bush as quickly as they could.

A couple of times Benson thought he could see something dark slipping between the trees just beside them and he tried to hurry a bit faster, but the little puggle had never had a ride on a wombat before, and he kept slipping off. Benson kept having to stop and hitch him up again. He was very glad when he saw his front door just up ahead.

Aunt Lillibet opened the door for them, and Benson tipped the little puggle off his back. Then he heard a sharp, “Meowwrr!” Five sharp claws swished past him with a fierce hiss. The cat was there, nearly on top of him.

There was no time to think. Benson pushed the puggle inside and scrambled in after him. Right behind him, he heard his mother shout, “Get inside, Roly!” then Roly tumbled in after to him.

They heard spitting and howling just inside the doorway, then there was a sharp crack and a long yowl, and the sound of a cat running away.

Benson’s mother came in and shut the door firmly. “It’s gone,” she said.

“Are you all right?” Benson asked anxiously. “What was that noise?”

“I’m fine,” his mother smiled. “A wombat’s backside is made tough and hard for a reason. Claws and teeth hardly even make a scratch. The cat tried to get past me so it could get at little Waddle, so I just lifted up my rump and squashed its head against the roof.”

“You squashed the feral cat’s head?” Benson asked, amazed that his mother would do such a thing.

“Just a bit,” his mother said. “Just enough so it won’t try and break into a wombat hole again, not while the wombats are home, anyway.”

She made some warm milk for Waddle, and hot chocolate for everyone else. Roly played with little Waddle until he got sleepy, then they found a soft blanket to cuddle him up in. Roly said quietly to Benson, “I think your mother is the bravest person I know.”

Benson’s mother lifted Roly up onto her lap with tears in her eyes and said, “It’s all right to be brave when you’re not frightened, but I knew you were so frightened of that cat and yet you stayed with Waddle and talked to him so calmly – I’ve never seen anyone as brave as you were! You were amazing!” She gave him a special kiss on the end of his little snout, and Roly went pink all over.

The White Wombat

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

One day Benson was exploring in the bush down by the creek with his friend, Roly, when they heard a noise like an animal calling for help.

“What’s that?” Roly said.

“Let’s go and investigate,” Benson said. Benson liked the idea of ‘investigating’. It made him think of detectives and alligators.

They followed the sound until they came to a clearing. Someone had put up a tent and made a camp-fire. There was a metal cage on the grass under a big mahogany tree, and inside the cage there was a small echidna.

“It’s Snippet!” Roly gasped.

Benson knew that Snippet was Roly’s best echidna friend. “What’s he doing in a cage?” Benson said.

As soon as Snippet saw them, he cried, “Roly, get me out of here, please!”

Roly said, “What happened? How did you get put in a cage?”

Snippet said, “A man grabbed me and put me in this cage and locked it. You’ve got to get me out of here, quick, before he comes back.”

Roly looked at the cage. It looked very strong, and it had a big padlock on the door.

Just then Benson heard someone coming. He hissed, “Roly! Quick, we’ve got to hide!”

Roly slipped into the bushes, and Benson scampered in beside him. A man came into the clearing. He went over to Snippet’s cage and said, “Hello there, my little echidna friend! You’re very cute, did you know that? You’re going to make someone a very good pet, and I’m going to make lots of money!” He got a stick and poked Snippet. Snippet curled up into a ball, and the man laughed. Then he went into his tent, singing a song about stealing sheep.

Benson whispered to Roly, “This is bad. We have to save Snippet.”

“What are we going to do?” Roly whispered back.

“I’ll bite the man on the leg, and you get Snippet out and run away,” Benson said.

Roly thought for a minute. “I don’t think that will work,” he said. “The man will put you in the cage instead. Besides, there’s a big lock on the cage. How will I get Snippet out?”

They both thought a bit more. Benson said, “I think the only way to save Snippet is with brains and sneakiness. You be the brains, and I’ll do the sneaking.”

“Okay,” Roly said. “This is what I think. What would the man want more than a cute little echidna?”

“Two cute little echidnas?” Benson said. “A banana and coconut sandwich?”

“A white wombat,” Roly said.

Benson looked around. “Do you know any white wombats?” he said.

Roly said, “Well, you’re a wombat, and there’s lots of white clay down on the banks of the creek.”

Benson smiled. “I knew it,” he said. “Brains and sneakiness.”

They went quietly down to the creek and Benson rolled himself in the clay until he was covered all over. “How do I look?” Benson said.

Roly said, “Spooky. A bit like a very short polar bear. Your nose is still black, though.” Roly patted a blob of clay on Benson’s nose. “There, now you’re perfect. This is what I think we should do,” he said.

They talked and thought and talked again until they had a good plan worked out. “The man will have to open the cage to feed Snippet,” Roly said. “As soon as he unlocks the cage, you walk along where he can see you. That will make him stop what he’s doing and try to catch you. You run away, and I’ll get Snippet out while he’s chasing you.”

It sounded like a good plan, Benson thought, except for the running and chasing part. He wasn’t a very fast wombat. “Just wait a minute,” Benson said. First he dug himself a short tunnel. Then he dragged a short hollow log over to the opening of the tunnel.

“I’m ready,” he said.

They waited in the bushes until it was time for the man to feed Snippet. When the man unlocked the cage, Benson walked out of the bushes, right where the man could see him.

The man stopped what he was doing and stared at Benson. “A white wombat!” he said. “That’s amazing! Come here, little wombat! I’ve got a special cage just for you!”

The man came after him. Benson started to run, but the clay had gotten harder while he was waiting in the bushes, so his legs would hardly move.

“Run, Benson!” Roly shouted. Benson clumped and staggered along as fast as he could, with the man chasing after him.

Roly grabbed Snippet and they both ran into the bush and dug themselves into the ground as quickly as they could. In a few seconds they were safe and snug underground.

Benson could hear the man getting closer and closer until he was right behind him, but just up ahead he could see the hollow log. Just as the man went to grab him, Benson slipped inside the log.

The man laughed. “Hah!” he said.”I’ve got you now!” He picked up the hollow log, thinking that Benson was inside, but Benson had already sneaked out the other end and was hiding in the tunnel he had dug in the ground.

The man carried the log back to his camp. He tipped the log up, but no wombat came out. “Where did you go?” he said. Then he noticed that Snippet was gone too. He shouted and stamped around and searched the bush around his camp, but Benson and Roly and Snippet were long gone. He shouted some more angry words, and then he packed up his tent and went home.

Benson went home too. When his mother saw him covered in clay, she said, “Benson! What have you done to yourself?”

“Oh, nothing much,” he said. “This is just my disguise for rescuing echidnas and stuff.”

A Bird on Your Head

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 when Benson was at the playground with his friend, Mick and his sister Bonnie Lou, a bird came and landed on his head.

Mick said, “Watch out, Benson, there’s a bird on your head.”

Benson said, “What kind of bird is it?”

Mick said, “A big one, with a long sharp beak. Get it off!”

Benson tried to look up and see the bird, but whenever he tipped his head up or around, the bird hung on to his head with its claws and he could only see the tip of its beak.

“It could be useful to have a bird on your head,” Benson said. “What if you got a tick? The bird could get it and eat it.”

“If it spread its wings out, it would be nice and shady,” Bonnie Lou said.

“That’s right,” said Benson. “I think I’ll train it.”

“That’s dumb,” said Mick. “What would you train it to do?”

“Stuff,” Benson said. “Maybe a guard bird, or a look-out bird.” He imagined a bird flying above him, then coming down to perch on his head and tell him that there was a snake up ahead, or a blackberry bush covered in blackberries.

“What do you know about training birds?” Mick said. “You don’t know anything about birds.”

“Well, I think you just be polite and ask it to do something, and if it does it, you give it a reward to say thank you,” Benson said.

“What sort of reward?” Bonnie Lou asked. If it was something good like chocolate, she wouldn’t mind being trained herself.

“Maybe I’ll give it some of my pear and parsley sandwich,” Benson said. He broke off a tiny piece of sandwich and held it up to the bird. The bird snapped it up.

“Are you going to train it to do tricks?” asked Mick. “Like juggling, and balancing a ball on its nose?”

“I think it’s pretty smart already,” Benson said. “It picked me, didn’t it? And I’m the one with the sandwich.” He gave the bird another tiny piece.

“Birds are dumb, anyway,” Mick said.

“They are not!” Benson said. “Watch this.” He asked the bird, “If I had two apples and Mick ate one and Bonnie Lou ate one, what would I have left?”

The bird said nothing.

“See?” Benson said. “I told you it was smart.”

“It just said nothing,” Mick said.

“That’s because it was the right answer,” Benson said. He asked the bird, “What if I had a big bowl of custard and I ate half and Mick ate half, what would be left?”

The bird said nothing. Benson said, “Correct!” He gave the bird another piece of sandwich. “You’re a pretty smart bird,” he said.

“He’s not smart!” Mick said. “He’s just not saying anything.”

“He’s waiting for a hard question,” Benson said. “Anyway, I bet he knows when something’s funny.” He said to the bird, “What do you call a wombat that steals things? Nick.”

Bonnie Lou said, “He’s smiling!”

“See? I knew he was smart,” Benson said. He asked the bird, “What do you call a wombat that’s good at fixing things? Andy.”

The bird gave a little chuckle. Bonnie Lou giggled, but Mick said, “That’s not even funny.”

“Yes, it is,” Benson said. “The bird thinks so. What bird is the best at digging holes? A miner,” he said. The bird chortled deep in its throat.

“I know one,” Bonnie Lou said. “What animal sounds like a bell?”

“A ding-o,” said Benson.

“A du-gong,” Bonnie Lou said.

They both laughed.

Mick said, “That’s just stupid.”

Bonnie Lou shouted, “It’s not stupid, you’re stupid!”

Mick shouted back, “You’re stupid, and that bird’s stupid!” Then he shouted at Benson, “And you’re the stupidest of all!”

He went to give Benson a push, but the bird on Benson’s head snapped its long sharp beak suddenly. Mick jumped back and fell over on his bottom.

The bird opened its mouth and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Hairy Nose 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.

Aunt Lillibet’s friend Gordon came over to ask Benson something. He said, “It’s Hairy Nose Day soon, you know. The committee has decided that this year we want something very special to celebrate all wombats everywhere.”

“What’s a committee?” Benson whispered to his mother.

“It’s a group of people who like meetings,” his mother whispered back.

Gordon coughed importantly. “As I was saying, the committee had a meeting and decided to have a mural painted.”

“A Muriel? Is that one of Aunt Moss’s friends?” Benson whispered.

“No,” his mother whispered, “it’s a painting on a wall.”

“Like I get in trouble for doing?” Benson asked.

Gordon said in a loud voice, “The mural will remind everyone of all the great things wombats do for our community. A painting to celebrate wombatness!”

“Wombatness?” Benson’s mother said.

“You know, everything that makes wombats special!” Gordon said.

“Where is it going to be?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“That’s a secret,” Gordon said. “No-one will see it until we unveil it, on Hairy Nose Day.”

Early the next morning, Benson got his backpack and filled it up with his paints and brushes, and his mother made him a lettuce and banana sandwich. He got his hat and his water-bottle and he and Gordon set off.

They walked a long way, until they came to a big road full of cars and trucks whizzing past. It was so noisy that Benson had to shout, “Where is the wall I’m supposed to be painting on?”

“There!” Gordon said. He pointed to a big grey concrete wall on the other side of the road.

“Over there?” Benson said. “How do I get over there?”

“You wait until there are no cars coming and then you run!” Gordon said.

“What?!” Benson squeaked.

“Now!” Gordon yelled. He gave Benson a huge push and shouted, “Run!”

Benson landed in the middle of the road with hundreds of cars zooming past. He was sure he was going to be squished into wombat jam at any minute. His mother had told him over and over that he should never run on the road so he stopped still and scrunched up into a small wombat ball.

A car came screaming towards him but then it jammed on its brakes just before it got to him. It stopped so close that Benson could feel its hot breath on him. The people started to get out, saying, “It’s a wombat! Did you hit him? Is he dead?”

Benson opened his eyes. For just a second there were no cars coming, so he walked quickly to the other side of the road. He lay down flat on the grass, waiting for his heart to stop pounding.

A voice said, “Wow! That was close!”

Benson opened his eyes. There was a big wombat standing next to him. He said, “I saw that! You were so lucky!”

Benson looked back at the busy road, and he felt sick.

“What are you doing here anyway?” the big wombat asked him.

“My name’s Benson. I’m supposed to be painting a picture on the wall,” Benson said.

The wombat said, “I’m Gizmo. Wow! I’ve never met a painter before. What are you going to paint?”

Benson looked at the big grey wall. He said, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought of it yet.”

Gizmo said, “Wow! You can paint something you haven’t even thought of! That’s incredible”

Benson got his paints out and tried to think of what he should paint, that showed what wombats did that was so important.

Gizmo said, “Hey, can you do something for me?”

“Sure,” Benson said. “What do you want me to do?”

Gizmo held up a small, round rock. “Can you paint a name on this rock for me? It’s for my brother, Gomez.”

Benson asked him how to spell it, and then he wrote it carefully on the rock. “What do you want your brother’s name on a rock for?” Benson asked.

“It’s what we do when someone gets killed crossing the road,” Gizmo said. “See all these stones?”

Along the grass there was a row of stones, each of them with a name or a picture of a flower or a heart on it. There were so many of them, Benson was shocked. “All these animals were killed crossing the road?” he said. “Your brother too?”

Gizmo nodded. “He thought he could get across the road, but he didn’t make it.” He put the rock down with all the others.

Benson said, “If the road is so dangerous, how do you get across it?”

“I don’t,” Gizmo said. “I was born on this side.”

Benson felt a bad sinking feeling in his stomach. How was he going to get home again? He looked at the big wall, and he looked at his paints, and an idea started to grow in his mind. He said, “Are you good at digging?” And he told Gizmo his idea.

Gizmo smiled. He said, “I’ll go and get some mates to help.” Benson started painting. He painted all day, while Gizmo and his friends dug and dug. He painted a big wombat pushing its way out of a big tunnel that he had dug, and next to the wombat he painted lots of other animals, koalas and wallabies, and lizards and possums and echidnas.

In the afternoon Gordon came back and stood on the other side of the road. “Have you finished yet?” he shouted across the noise of all the trucks and cars and motorbikes.

Benson shouted back, “Nearly, but I can’t come home yet,” and he told Gordon the reason why. Gordon looked at the traffic, and he looked at the painting. He said, “You know, it will be finished faster if I get some more wombats to work on this side.” He trundled off, and came back in a little while with Mr Fenn and Benson’s mother and Uncle Elton and lots more friends. They all started digging on their side of the road.

By the end of the day, the tunnel under the road was finished. All the wombats and the other animals started crossing from one side to the other under the busy road, smiling and saying hello to each other.

Benson’s mother came through the tunnel to Benson’s side. “That’s a good painting,” she said.

“Just one more thing,” Benson said. He got his biggest brush and painted a sign at the top of the painting that said, ‘Hairy Nose Tunnel’.

“There, it’s finished,” he said, and they walked safely through the tunnel and went home.

Penguin

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.

Aunt Moss’s friend, Shelley, had a party to celebrate Earth Day, and everyone had to come as an animal.

Benson said to his mother, “I want to be a penguin.”

“That’s easy,” she said. She gave him a long white t-shirt that covered his tummy and came down to his feet, and her old black cardigan to cover his arms and all the way down the back, trailing a bit behind like a penguin tail. She gave him a black beanie to cover his ears, and black socks for his feet, and she made him a beak out of cardboard.

“There,” she said, “now you’re a penguin. If you keep your arms against your sides and stick your hands out like this, and walk as if your legs are glued together, you’ll look exactly like a penguin.”

Benson loved his penguin outfit. He had a great time at the party being a penguin, and when he got home, he didn’t want to take it off. He wore it to bed and in the morning he still didn’t want to take it off. “I like being a penguin,” he said.

His mother said, “That’s nice, dear. Here’s your porridge.”

“Penguins don’t eat porridge,” Benson said. “They only eat fish.”

“Fish?” said his mother. “We don’t have any fish.”

“Penguins only eat fish,” Benson said firmly.

His mother tried cutting some bread in the shape of fish and some cheese slices too. “Since you’re not actually a really truly penguin,” she said, “you could eat fish that aren’t really truly fish.”

“No,” said Benson, “I AM really and truly a penguin. I have to have really truly fish. And I want to drink sea-water.”

His mother found some fish paste way up the back of the cupboard. She made him a fish paste sandwich and gave him a glass of salty water.

Benson ate the fish paste sandwich, but only because he was very hungry. The salty water was so awful, he decided he wasn’t thirsty after all.

He kept being a penguin all day, and he slept in his penguin suit that night and the next day he was still a penguin. He spent all day in a bath full of cold water. He didn’t go out and dig even once.

His mother made him tuna salad for lunch and dinner, and salmon sandwiches for breakfast. His white t-shirt got very grubby, and his black beanie was tight and scratchy, but he didn’t take them off.

His mother made him a nice snack of ice cubes. “Why do you want to be a penguin, Benson?” she asked.

“Because everyone says penguins are adorable,” Benson said, crunching on his ice cubes, “cute and adorable.”

“Wombats are cute and adorable too,” his mother said.

“Wombats are ordinary,” Benson said. “Everyone’s a wombat. I’m an adorable penguin.” It sounded like ‘amorable benben’ because his tongue was frozen.

His mother gave him a kiss. “Whatever you think,” she said.

Benson went back to the bathroom and sat in the water. It was very cold. His toes and his ears were cold, and his beak was soggy and starting to melt. He wished he could read his library book but he didn’t think penguins would read books about excavators. After a little while, he heard talking and laughing coming from the kitchen. He got out of the bath, wet and dripping, and went into the kitchen.

His mother was there with Roly, eating lemon myrtle and macadamia muffins.

“Hi, Benson,” Roly said. “Do you want to come outside and dig?”

Benson said, “Penguins don’t dig.” Then he started to cry. Big tears ran down his face and dripped off his nose.

“What’s the matter?” his mother said.

“I love digging,” he said, “and I HATE tuna salad.”

His mother picked him up and gave him a big cuddle.

Benson said, “I love being a penguin, but I love all the things wombats do, digging and eating porridge and muffins, and lying in the sun.”

Roly said, “You could be a kind of wombat-penguin, a penguin that digs, or a wombat that likes eating fish.”

His mother said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a penguin or a wombat, or a wenguin or a pombat, or an orangutan or even a Komodo dragon, you’ll always be adorable to me.”

Benson gave a watery smile. “Maybe I could be a wombat today, and tomorrow I’ll be a penguin again.”

“That sounds like a very good idea,” his mother said. “Would you like a muffin?”

“Yes, please,” Benson said. They all sat down and ate muffins, and then Benson and Roly went outside and dug all afternoon.

Roly said to Benson, “I wonder what it’s like being a Komodo dragon?”

Music in your Head

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

One morning Benson woke up and there was a song stuck in his head.

He went out to see his mother. “There’s something stuck in my head,” he said.

“Did you put something in your ear?” she said sharply.

“No,” he said.

“Did you put something up your nose?” she said.

“No,” he said. “It’s music. There’s a song stuck in my head.”

His mother relaxed. “Is that all?” she said. “That’s all right, then.”

“It won’t stop playing,” Benson said. “It just goes round and round and round, like this: ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands….”

“That’s enough,” his mother said. “I don’t want it stuck in my head, thankyou.”

“I can even hear the ‘clap clap’ at the end,” Benson said.

“It’ll probably be gone after breakfast,” his mother said.

It wasn’t gone after breakfast. “It’s still there,” Benson said. He stood on one leg and tipped his head over to one side and hopped.

“What are you doing?” his mother said.

“That’s what I do if I get water in my ear,” he said.

“Is it helping?” she asked.

He stopped hopping and checked. The song was still playing in his head. “No,” he said.

He blocked one nostril and blew hard through the other one.

“What are you doing now?” his mother asked.

“That’s what you tell me to do when I get something in my eye,” Benson said.

“Is it working?” she asked.

Benson stopped blowing his nose and listened inside his head. “No,” he said.

“Why don’t you go and read a book? The music will probably stop as soon as you forget about it and stop paying attention to it,” she said.

Benson went to his room and read his library book which was all about a bunyip who didn’t know he was a bunyip. The song in his head kept playing all the time he was reading, and when he finished the book, the song was still going. He closed the book with a sigh and went out to see his mother.

“It’s still there,” he said.

“What if you try playing the saxophone?” she suggested. “Playing music must stop music playing in your head, don’t you think?”

Benson got out his saxophone and played for a bit. The song in his head stopped. He breathed a sigh of relief. While he was putting the saxophone away, the song in his head started up again, exactly where it had left off before.

He went out to see his mother.

“Is it still there?” she asked.

“It went away for a bit but it came back,” Benson said.

Aunt Lillibet asked, “What’s the matter?”

“Benson has a song stuck in his head,” his mother said.

“Is it something nice?” asked Aunt Moss. “I always seem to have some music or other playing in my head. I don’t know where it comes from. Sometimes even two things at the same time.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “If it was anyone else, it would drive them crazy, but not you, Moss.”

Benson started to say, “It’s…” but Aunt Lillibet clapped her hands over her ears.

“Don’t say it!” she said. “I don’t want it stuck in my head!”

“I know,” said Benson’s mother. “Sing something that you really like, until that gets stuck in your head instead.”

“Okay,” Benson said. He thought of his favourite song and he started to sing it. His mother joined in, and Aunt Moss. When he got to the end, he checked inside his head again.

“You were right,” he told his mother. “It’s gone!” He went off to his room, humming his favourite song. “That’s much better,” he said.

“Anything would be better than ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’,” his mother said.

“Oh no! Why did you have to say that?” Aunt Lillibet said. She quickly stood on one leg and hopped and blew her nose. “It’s no use,” she groaned. “Now it’s stuck in MY head.”

Not Going on Holidays

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

In the summertime, nearly everyone went away on holidays. Benson’s friend Mick and his family were going to the beach for a week, and Alejandro and his family were going camping at a lake, and Uncle Elton and Elmer were going to a holiday camp in the national park.

Benson asked his mother, “Where are we going for the holidays?”

“I’m sorry, Benson,” she said, “Aunt Moss still isn’t well enough to go anywhere, and Aunt Lillibet and I don’t want to leave her by herself.” Aunt Moss had been very sick, and she still had a bad cough. Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet were worn out from looking after her.

“Can’t Nanna look after her?” Benson asked. He didn’t want to stay home for the whole holidays.

“I don’t want Nanna to catch what Aunt Moss had,” his mother said.

Benson was really disappointed. Not only were they not going anywhere, all his friends were going away and there’d be no-one to play with.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You and Benson could go somewhere. I can look after Moss.”

Benson’s mother said, “That’s very kind, Lillibet, but I know you’re just as tired as I am. This year we’ll just have a nice, restful holiday at home.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You know what they say, a change is as good as a holiday.”

Benson said, “But staying home isn’t a change, it’s the same as we are now.”

Benson’s mother was thinking. “You know, Lillibet, that’s not such a bad idea.” She turned to Aunt Moss, who was wrapped up in two blankets, with three boxes of tissues. “Aunt Moss, if you could go on holiday anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

Aunt Moss said wistfully, “I’ve always wanted to go to Spain.”

Benson had never heard of Spain. “Is it near the beach?” he asked.

“It’s a whole different country on the other side of the world,” his mother said. “They have wonderful music and dancing, and fantastic food, rice and beans and oranges…”

“Oranges?” said Benson. He liked oranges.

“Oranges everywhere, in the streets and the cafes, even painted on the buildings,” his mother said.

“So many beautiful buildings,” Aunt Moss sighed.

“Bull-fighting!” Aunt Lillibet said. Her eyes lit up. She put two fingers on her head like horns and said, “Olé!”

Benson’s mother said, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we go to Spain for our holidays – right here!”

Benson liked the first part of the idea, but not the second part.

“Here is boring,” he said.

“Just wait and see,” said his mother. “I’ll be in charge of food. Benson, you can be in charge of art and architecture.”

“What’s that?” Benson asked.

“It’s buildings and things,” his mother said. “Aunt Moss knows all about it.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Can I be in charge of bull-fighting?”

“No,” said Benson’s mother, “you can be in charge of music.”

Everyone set to work. Aunt Moss told Benson about all the beautiful buildings in Spain and he painted bridges and archways and buildings with oranges painted on them on big sheets of paper and stuck them up on the walls. Before long the whole room started to look like they were actually in Spain. Then she told him about the most famous artists in Spain, and he painted bulls and battles and put them up on the walls too.

His mother cooked a big pan of yellow rice with sultanas and nuts and things, and a big pot of beans, and orange cake and orange juice and orange pancakes.

Aunt Lillibet made an amazing dress covered in ruffles, and a red cape. She sent Benson over to Mr Fenn’s place to ask if he could play his guitar for them. Aunt Lillibet put on the ruffly dress and Mr Fenn played the guitar really fast, and Benson’s mother had jars full of rice to be maracas and Aunt Moss hit two spoons together for castanets. Everyone danced and laughed until they couldn’t dance any more.

Then Aunt Lillibet got the red cape, and Mr Fenn pretended he was a bull and ran at the cape while Aunt Lillibet twirled it around and everyone shouted “Olé!” and stamped their feet as hard as they could. Then Benson had a turn at being the bull and then Aunt Lillibet wanted to be the bull and she ran around snorting and yelling, “Olé!” until Benson’s mother said that was quite enough and it was time to eat.

They all sat down and had rice and beans and cake. After lunch Aunt Lillibet wanted to play bull-fighting again, but Benson’s mother said it was time for Aunt Moss’s nap and they could all do with some quiet time.

Mr Fenn went home and Aunt Lillibet had a nap too, and Benson drew oranges all over the buildings in the pictures on the walls, and in one corner he painted a bull-fighter with a red cape and a lady in a ruffled dress.

Just before bedtime Benson’s friend Mick came around to say goodbye before they went on their holidays. “You must be mad that you’re not going anywhere,” he said to Benson.

“No,” said Benson, his eyes shining. “Today we went to Spain, and tomorrow we’re going to Italy! I’m going to build a giant leaning tower and we’re going to stick paintings on the ceiling. We’re going to have spaghetti and macaroni and cannoli and ravioli, and Nanna is going to come over and sing opera and teach us to say things in Italian. Aunt Lillibet wants to fill up the kitchen with water and paddle a boat around, but I don’t think she’s allowed.”

Mick said, “Oh. Sounds boring,” but it didn’t sound boring at all. “I’ll see you after the holidays, then,” he said.

Ciao!” said Benson.

Getting Elmer Down

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 Moss made some of her very best lime butter, and she decided to take some over to Uncle Elton. “Elton loves lime butter,” she said.

“Everyone loves your lime butter,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson nodded enthusiastically. He went over to see if there was a spoon or a saucepan that needed licking.

“I’ll come with you to Elton’s place,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson has grown out of his racing-car pyjamas, and I think they will fit Elmer.” Benson’s cousin Elmer was younger and smaller than Benson.

“Can I come?” Benson said. He had finished licking the last bits of lime butter off the spoon and the saucepan, and he expected there could well be some lime-butter-tasting and maybe even some lime butter sandwiches over at Uncle Elton’s place.

They all put on their hats and took their water-bottles and set out. Aunt Moss took two jars of lime butter.

Uncle Elton was pleased to see them, and extremely pleased to see the lime butter. “Wonderful!” he said. “Excellent!” He gave Aunt Moss a kiss and thanked her.

“Why don’t we have a cup of lemon grass and aniseed tea and I’ll make some lime butter sandwiches?” he said.

Benson volunteered to hold the jar while Uncle Elton made the sandwiches but Uncle Elton said he could manage.

They were just about to sit down and try the sandwiches when a fleck of dust dropped onto the plate.

Uncle Elton looked up. “Look at that nasty, dirty spiderweb on the ceiling,” he said.

Everyone looked up except Benson who was keeping a firm eye on the sandwiches.

“I’ll just get the duster and get that down,” Uncle Elton said. He whisked the plate of sandwiches out of the way, onto the kitchen bench. Benson went over to watch them and make sure nothing happened to them.

Uncle Elton poked at the cobweb with the feather duster but it was too high to reach. He said, “Elmer, climb up on the table and see if you can reach it.”

Elmer climbed onto the table, but the spiderweb was still out of reach. “I know,” said Uncle Elton. He went outside and fetched the ladder, and set it up on top of the table.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Aunt Moss said.

“It’ll be fine,” Uncle Elton said. Elmer climbed to the top of the ladder, but he still couldn’t reach the spiderweb.

Uncle Elton said, “I know!” He got a stool and balanced it on top of the ladder.

“Elton, I don’t think that’s safe,” Benson’s mother said. Aunt Moss went pale and closed her eyes.

Uncle Elton said, “Don’t fuss, ladies! Elmer might not be as good a digger as Benson is, but he’s the best climber I know. Go on, Elmer, show them!”

Elmer went up the ladder and then he climbed onto the stool. Balancing carefully, he swept the spiderweb off the ceiling with the feather duster.

Uncle Elton clapped. “Well done, Elmer! See, I told you he was a great climber!”

Elmer was still standing on top of the stool balanced on the top of the ladder standing on the table. “Dad,” he said in a small voice, “I don’t think I can get down.”

“You’ll be fine,” his father said, but Elmer wasn’t. When he tried to get down, the stool wobbled and the ladder shifted and the table shook.

“Elmer, stand still!” Benson’s mother said quite sharply. She and Aunt Moss grabbed the legs of the ladder and held it firmly.

“I’ll come up and get you,” Uncle Elton said, but when he tried to get onto the table, the ladder jerked and the stool wobbled even more. Elmer gave a frightened sort of squeak and Uncle Elton got down again quickly.

Aunt Moss said thoughtfully, “This reminds me of an old riddle about an elephant.”

Benson’s mother said, “You mean, ‘How do you get an elephant out of a tree?'”

Benson knew that one. He said, “You make him sit on a leaf and wait until autumn.” He was taking very good care of the lime butter sandwiches.

Uncle Elton said, “This is no time for joking!”

Aunt Moss said, “No, I was thinking of ‘How do you get down off an elephant?'”

Benson’s mother said, “You don’t get down off an elephant, you get down off a duck.”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Aunt Moss said. “You don’t get down.”

Uncle Elton was wringing his hands. “But we don’t have any elephants or any ducks. How are we going to get Elmer down?”

“We’re not,” Benson’s mother said. “We’re going to get him up.” She pointed to the ceiling above Elmer’s head. “If you go outside and dig down from the top, you should be able to lift him out that way.”

Uncle Elton said, “But how will I know where to dig?”

Benson’s mother said, “If Elmer thumps on the ceiling with the handle of the feather duster, you should be able to hear it from outside. Try it, Elmer.”

Elmer hit the ceiling as hard as he could. It made a loud thump. “Good boy, Elmer!” his father said. “Keep on thumping, I’ll get you!”

He ran outside and ran back and forth, trying to hear where the thumping was loudest. When he found the spot, he started to dig.

Inside, bits of dirt and dust rained down on Elmer and everybody and everything. Benson decided that there was only one safe place for the lime butter sandwiches.

In a few minutes, a hole appeared in the ceiling, and in another minute Uncle Elton’s face popped through. “Dad!” shouted Elmer.

“Hang on, son, I’m nearly there!” Uncle Elton said. He made the hole bigger and bigger, until it was big enough to lift Elmer through. He reached in and pulled Elmer up out of the hole. “Got you!” he said. Everybody cheered.

When they were all inside again and the stool had been lifted down and the ladder, and all the dirt was swept up, Elmer said, “But what are we going to do about the hole in the ceiling?”

Uncle Elton said, “I think it’s a perfect place for a skylight, don’t you? Now, where are those sandwiches?”

Wombat Pizza

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

Benson’s friend Mick and his little sister Bonnie Lou came over to play, and Benson’s friend Roly was there too, and Benson’s mother said they could make a big pizza for lunch. She made some pizza dough and everyone had a turn rolling it out. Benson picked it up and tried to twirl it around to make it spread out into a big circle. He threw it up into the air and it came down splat on his face.

Mick and Bonnie Lou laughed. Benson’s mother peeled the dough off his face. It still had the shape of his nose and his ears in it.

“Look,” said Mick, “wombat pizza!”

Benson’s mother straightened it out and made it a nice circle. “Everyone can pick their favourite topping,” she said.

Mick said straight away, “Mushrooms.”

“I hate mushrooms!” Bonnie Lou said.

“That’s okay,” Benson’s mother said. “We’ll put mushrooms on one side and no mushrooms on the other. What are you going to have, Bonnie Lou?”

“Fairy floss and ice-cream,” Bonnie Lou said.

Mick said, “You can’t put ice-cream on a pizza. It will melt everywhere.”

“Well, sultanas and strawberry jam, then,” Bonnie Lou said.

Benson’s mother made a line across the middle of the pizza. “Roly, what’s your favourite topping?” she asked.

“Ants, of course,” he said. He had already been outside and collected some bull-ants in a cup. He tipped them out onto the pizza.

“Hey! Your ants are walking onto my side of the pizza!” Bonnie Lou said.

The ants spread out all over the pizza, and all over the table.

Benson’s mother thought that maybe one big pizza wasn’t such a good idea. “Everyone can have their own small pizza,” she said. She rolled the dough back up again and divided it into four balls and gave them one each.

They all tried to make a nice round pizza shape, but it wasn’t easy. Bonnie Lou’s was full of holes and Roly’s was fat at one end and not at the other, but Benson’s mother said it didn’t matter really. Benson made a kind of circle and put two triangles at the top on the sides. “These are going to be the ears,” he explained.

“What are you making?” his mother asked.

“A wombat pizza,” he said. He went to the cupboard and got some coconut and the chocolate sprinkles.

“Wait,” said his mother. “I’ve got an idea.” She put some of the coconut into a frying pan and cooked it until it turned brown and smelled delicious.

Benson said, “Perfect.” He spread cream cheese all over his pizza, and then he sprinkled brown coconut all over it. He thought it looked just like wombat fur. He used his fist to make a nose-sized dip in the middle, and he put the chocolate sprinkles in the dip.

Roly’s tongue shot out, zot, zot, zot-zot-zot-zot, and ate up all the sprinkles.

“Hey, stop that!” Benson said.

“Sorry, Benson,” Roly said. “They look so much like ants, I got carried away for a minute.”

Benson put some more sprinkles on where the nose was supposed to be.

Bonnie Lou was impressed. “It looks actually like a wombat,” she said.

“What about the eyes?” Mick said.

Benson got two cherries and squooshed them onto the pizza. “There!” he said.

“No, they’re the wrong colour,” Bonnie Lou said. “They should be brown.” She took the cherries off and gave them to Mick and he ate them. Then she got two big raisins and put them on Benson’s pizza instead.

“That’s good,” Benson said, “but it needs a mouth, a smiley mouth.”

“How about raspberries?” Bonnie Lou said.

“Good idea,” Benson said. He made a curvy row with the raspberries, and the wombat pizza was smiling.

Benson was very excited. “This is going to taste great,” he said.

“I want to make a wombat pizza too,” Bonnie Lou said.

“Me too,” Mick said, “but I’m putting mushrooms on mine.”

So Bonnie Lou made a wombat pizza with a sultana necklace and a strawberry-jam smile and chocolate buttons for eyes, and Mick made his with mushroom ears and broccoli eyes and chunks of cheese for teeth. Roly made an echidna pizza covered with grated carrot and zucchini, with chocolate sprinkles on top.

Benson’s mother put all the pizzas in the oven. After a while, when they started to smell amazing and they could tell they were done, she took them out and let them cool down a bit. Roly sprinkled ants on top of his because he said everything tastes better with ants, and they took them outside to eat them. They were the most delicious pizzas they had ever eaten.

The Little Koala and the Hailstorm

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

It was a hot summer’s day and everyone was outside. Aunt Lillibet was picking caterpillars off her rhubarb plants, Aunt Moss was practising her ukulele and Benson was digging. His mother put down the papers she was reading and looked up at the sky.

“It looks like there’s a storm coming,” she said. “I don’t like the look of those clouds.”

Benson looked at the clouds. They were heavy and dark purple, and moving very quickly.

Just then Pascoe, the story-teller, came bounding up. She was panting so hard she could hardly talk. “Big storm coming,” she panted. “Very bad. Big hailstones. Danger for everyone.”

Everyone knew that Pascoe remembered all the stories of thunderstorms and floods and fires for generations. If Pascoe said there was a dangerous storm coming, everyone listened.

Benson’s mother said, “I’ll go and warn Teresa and Mr Fenn straight away.” In a storm, lots of animals took refuge in wombat holes because they were safe places.

Pascoe nodded. “I’ll tell the possums to spread the word to the other animals,” she said. “There’s not much time.” She bounded away.

There was a great flash of lightning and a deep rumbling growl of thunder.

“My tomatoes!” Aunt Lillibet squeaked. “My beans!” She ran to the garden.

Benson’s mother said to him, “Go down to the back door and make sure it’s clear. If the storm is very bad, a lot of animals may need to come in for shelter. Then stay inside where it’s safe.” She hurried off.

Aunt Moss said, “I’ll start making sandwiches.”

Aunt Lillibet came up with her arms full of tomatoes and beans. “I’ll make a big pot of soup,” she said.

Benson went inside and went all the way down to the back door and cleared away the weeds and long grass. He could see the storm coming closer. The purple clouds had turned a weird green colour, and they were coming down very low. The thunder got louder and louder, and the lightning was so bright it hurt his eyes.

The wind was so strong that the trees and the bushes were swaying wildly. Benson saw an old gum tree in the bush start to lean over, and then it fell down with a crash. As it was falling, something small and grey dropped out of it. It was a young koala, not much bigger than a baby.

“Hey!” Benson shouted. “Come inside! There’s a storm coming!”

The baby koala didn’t know anything about storms or wombats. All he knew was that the sky was flashing and making big loud noises and he wanted his mother. When he saw Benson shouting and waving at him, he ran away as fast as he could.

There was a huge crash of thunder and big lumps of hail started to fall out of the sky. Benson could see that if one of the hailstones hit the little koala, he could be badly hurt. Someone had to go after him and bring him in to where it was safe. Benson looked around, but there was no-one there except himself. He ran out into the storm to get the koala.

The hailstones rained down on him so hard that it felt as if someone was throwing great big rocks at him. He could hear the koala screaming with fright. He ran towards him but as soon as he got close, the koala started to run back towards the trees again.

“No!” Benson shouted. His mother always told him to keep away from trees in a thunderstorm because that’s where lightning struck. He caught the koala’s hand and pulled him back, away from the trees. Heavy curtains of rain started to pour down, so heavy that Benson couldn’t see where to go. He put his arms over his head and shouted as loud as he could, “Help! Help!”

From a long way away he heard a voice. “Benson?”

“Help! Help!” he yelled with all his might.

“Benson!” the voice called, coming closer. “Where are you?”

“Here!” Benson shouted. “We’re over here!”

He kept shouting, and then he could see his mother running through the rain towards him, and her warm, strong arms wrapped around him. “This way!” she shouted. She picked up the baby koala with one hand, and they ran together through the rain and hail, with lightning flashing all around them. Then with a jump and a tumble they were safe inside the wombat hole.

Benson stood there, panting and dripping, and grinning from ear to ear. It felt so good to be in a safe, dry wombat hole. It was already crowded with lots of people Benson knew, Nils and Nella and their mother, and their smallest cousin, Wilbur, and lots of lots of little dunnarts. Pascoe was there too, eating soup and listening to everyone talking about how they were nearly caught in the storm and they only just made it to the wombat hole in time.

Benson’s mother got a blanket for the baby koala and they wrapped him up, safe and warm. Aunt Moss made a very big sandwich for Benson, and got some warm milk for the baby koala, but the koala kept crying for his mother.

Benson said, “Don’t cry. As soon as the storm is over we’ll go and find your mother.” But the little koala wouldn’t stop crying.

Pascoe picked up the baby koala and put him on her lap, and called all the little ones to sit in a circle. “It’s time for a story,” she said. “This is the story of the Little Koala and the Hailstorm. When everyone is sitting quietly, I’ll begin.” Everyone was very quiet. Even the baby koala stopped crying and looked at Pascoe to see what she was going to say.

Pascoe said, “It was a hot summer’s day, and everyone was outside. The little koala was in a big old gum tree with his mother, when suddenly a great wind shook the tree. The tree fell over and the little koala fell onto the ground. There were big flashes of lightning, and great big rocks made of ice were falling down out of the sky. But worst of all, there was a big, brown hairy monster shouting at the little koala. The koala tried to run away, but the monster grabbed him.”

Benson listened to the story, amazed. He didn’t remember a monster at all.

Pascoe kept telling the story. “The monster yelled and shouted, and then another monster, even bigger than the first one, came and picked the koala up. The koala was very frightened. He shut his eyes and cried and cried. The monsters took him to a deep, dark hole, and wrapped him up in a blanket. But the koala didn’t need to be frightened, because they weren’t bad monsters, they were nice, friendly wombats.”

Benson’s eyes opened wide. Did the little koala really think that he was a monster?

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was a big, soft, grey koala, looking very worried and upset. “Has anyone seen my baby?” she asked. Then she saw the little furry bundle snuggled up on Pascoe’s lap. “My baby!” she cried, and ran and gathered him up into her arms. “My baby,” she murmured softly. And the little koala smiled and hugged her as tightly as he could.

Our Wonderful Waterways

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.

Every year on Our Wonderful Waterways day, there was a big picnic for everyone down by the creek. Everyone brought their picnic blankets and they ate waffles and watermelon and watercress sandwiches, and they paddled and swam in the creek.

When they all got to the creek, it was deeper than Benson had ever seen it. There was white foam on top of the water in lots of places, and it was so noisy they could hardly hear themselves.

Benson’s mother was worried. She talked to all the other grown-ups. “We’ve had so much rain, the creek’s running really fast. It isn’t safe to swim.”

Everyone agreed. “No swimming, and no paddling,” they all said to the young ones. “It’s too dangerous.”

Mick said, “It looks fine to me. I could wade across easily.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It may look all right, but when the water is running this strongly, it could knock you off your feet. I’ve seen it before, young wombats thinking it’s not that fast, and they take one step and then whoosh! They’re gone!”

“Gone?” said Bonnie Lou.

“Gone,” Aunt Lillibet nodded, “never to be seen again.”

All the children stepped back from the edge. Mick threw a stick in, just to be certain, and the water grabbed it and sucked it under in a second.

They put the picnic blankets under the trees a long way from the rushing water. While they were eating the waffles and the wild rice with wasabi, Benson felt something itchy on his leg. He looked down and there was a black, slimy thing like a finger made of mud on his leg. One end was stuck to his leg, and the other end was waving around in the air.

“You’ve got a leech on your leg,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Just flick it off.”

“Eeuywwh!” Mick said, moving back. “It’s slimy and ugghh!”

Arlette picked the leech off Benson’s leg. She waved it in front of Mick. “Look, a slimy, sucky leech,” she said.

Mick backed away. “Don’t put it on me!” he said.

Arlette followed him, waggling the leech. “It wants to suck your blood!” she said.

Mick turned and ran. Arlette chased after him, waving the leech. Her little sister Twiss was right where Mick was running, and he crashed into her. She fell over backwards, and toppled into the creek.

Arlette screamed. Everyone ran over. They yelled to Twiss to try to swim, but the water grabbed her and tumbled her over and over.

“Float on your back!” Benson’s mother shouted, but the noise of the water was too loud. Twiss struggled, trying to get her head out of the water, but it was too strong for her. She disappeared under the water.

“I’m going in after her,” Benson’s mother said. She turned to Zali’s mother, Teresa. “You’re the fastest,” she said. “Run and get Fenn, as fast as you can, and tell him to bring a rope.”

Teresa flew off, running as fast as the wind. Benson’s mother said to him, “Take care of Zip and Zali,” and then she jumped into the water.

Benson’s heart leapt into his mouth. Twiss was gone, out of sight, and his mother had jumped into the water. She was a strong swimmer but the creek was very deep and very fast. Benson just wanted to go after her and bring her back.

Aunt Lillibet said sharply, “Everyone away from the edge! We don’t want anyone else falling in! Benson, mind the little ones.”

Benson got Zali and Zip and held onto their hands tightly. He watched his mother swim across the creek to where Twiss had gone under. The power of the water crashed her against the rocks in the creek and dragged her back, but she kept going. She dived under the water, and Benson held his breath. He waited, hoping and hoping, and then he saw her head come up out of the water, and her arms, holding Twiss.

She turned on her back straight away, holding Twiss tight against her chest. She kept her feet up, to push away any sticks or rocks that got in the way. The rushing water pushed them along faster and faster, down the creek.

Then Mr Fenn came running up, with Teresa, carrying his strongest rope. They ran along the side of the creek until they found a place where the water was a bit quieter. “Over here!” Mr Fenn shouted to Benson’s mother. She started to swim towards the spot, holding Twiss tightly with one arm.

Teresa and Uncle Elton held on to one end of the rope, and Mr Fenn took the other end and waded into the water as far as he dared. The water snatched and shoved at him, trying to push him over, but he used his claws to grab on to the rocks in the bottom of the creek.

Little by little, Benson’s mother swam closer. Mr Fenn threw the rope and she caught it and held it tight. Then Mr Fenn started to pull. Uncle Elton and Teresa pulled too, as hard as they could. The water pulled back and Benson’s mother nearly let go of the slippery rope, but Mr Fenn pulled harder and then they were safe, with Mr Fenn’s strong arms around them.

Twiss was okay, once they gave her a good rub-down with a blanket and wrapped her up warmly. Benson kept holding Zip and Zali’s hands to make sure they didn’t get near the water, until Teresa came over and picked them both up and hugged them.

Benson’s mother was dripping with creek water but Benson didn’t care. He hugged her as tight as he could, and then Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss hugged her, and then Mr Fenn hugged her and then everyone hugged Twiss and Uncle Elton hugged everyone. When finally all the hugging was over, they all sat under the trees together, a long way from the water, and ate walnut and white chocolate muffins and the rest of the watermelon, and talked about the creek and how happy they were that everyone was safe, until they all felt much better.

Benson said to his mother on the way home, “Jumping into the creek was very brave, wasn’t it? But I wasn’t proud of you, I was just frightened.”

“Twiss was the brave one, I think,” his mother said. “She didn’t panic, she just held on, and she was even more scared than I was.”

“Were you scared?” Benson asked, surprised.

“Really, really scared,” his mother said.

Benson thought about that. Then he stopped and gave her a very special hug.

Ronda, or Getting Old

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.

Benson’s mother went to a meeting called the Community Association every month, and she usually took Benson with her. At the meeting they talked about the most boring things Benson could think of, like how many garbage bins there should be at the park and whether the fire safety sign needed to be bigger. Benson usually took a book to read.

One time he finished his book before the meeting ended. He looked around for something to do. Everyone was discussing whether they should have a roster for weeding the garden outside the library – boring. He looked at the person next to him. She looked as bored as he was. She was kind of grey all over, with dull grey eyes. She never said anything, and no-one ever said anything to her.

Benson said, “Hello.”

She looked around, as if she couldn’t believe he could be talking to her.

Benson said, “I’m Benson.”

She just stared at him, shocked that someone was talking to her.

Benson said, “This is pretty boring, isn’t it?”

She said in a kind of rusty voice, “Hello.”

Benson thought that was a good start. “What’s your name?”

“Ronda,” she said.

“It’s a very nice day, isn’t it, Aunty Ronda?” Benson said. He knew that it was good manners to call older ladies Aunty, and he knew it was good manners to talk about the weather.

Ronda said, “Yes.”

Benson was running out of things to say. “What do you like to do?” he asked.

Ronda said, “Nothing much.” Benson was just about to say all the things he liked to do, swimming in the creek, riding his bike, drawing, digging big holes, digging little holes, eating, when Ronda said, “I used to work in a shop when I was younger.”

Benson said, “Like a supermarket? Or a cake shop?”

“Not that kind of shop,” she said. “It was a motorcycle shop.”

Benson was rapt. “You used to sell motorbikes?”

“Not so much sell them,” she said. “I used to repair them, and re-build the engines to make them more powerful.”

Benson’s eyes sparkled. “Motorbike engines? Powerful?” He asked her about how fast they could go, and what was the biggest one she had ever made and how many spanners she had and all sorts of cool stuff. The meeting kept going, but neither of them paid any attention to it.

Benson said, “Why did you stop working there?” He couldn’t imagine any reason why someone would give up such a brilliant job.

“I got too old,” Ronda said.

“Too old?” he said. “How did you know you were too old?” He imagined looking at himself in the mirror and discovering that he was old. “Did you feel old? Did you get all wrinkly and needed someone to hold your arm so you could walk?”

She said, “It’s the way people look at you. They look at you like they think you’re too old to do things any more.”

“What people?” Benson asked.

“Oh, just people,” Ronda said.

Benson felt very sad for her, being too old to do something she loved. The meeting ended and he said goodbye, and then he said, “I’m sorry you’re so old.”

A few days later he was at the playground, when a black shiny motorbike came roaring up. The rider took off her helmet which was black with red flames painted on the sides, and Benson could see it was Ronda inside.

“Would you like to come for a ride, Benson?” she said.

“Would I!” Benson said. He ran and asked his mother and she said yes, and he ran back to the bike. Ronda gave him her spare helmet and he climbed on the back of the bike. They sped off in a cloud of petrol and flying dirt.

They roared down the track. The wind blew Benson’s ears flat inside the helmet, and made all his hair lie down. It was like flying, except much noisier and bumpier. Benson loved it.

When they came back, Ronda did a big skid in the dirt and stones flew up everywhere. Benson climbed down and straightened his ears up again and said thank you. He said, “Can I have a ride again another day, if you’re not too old?”

Ronda laughed and said yes, and zoomed off.

Mick and Alejandro and Ralph and Arlette all crowded around Benson. “Who was that? Was that a real motorbike? Can we have a turn?” they demanded.

Benson said proudly, “That’s Ronda. She’s an old friend.”

Simple Things

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

One morning Benson’s mother asked him to take some things over to his cousin Lance’s place. “Lance has a Very Special Friend coming for lunch, and he needs some mushrooms and oranges.”

Benson took the mushrooms and a big bag of oranges to Lance’s. Everything was extremely clean and tidy. There was a beautiful table-cloth on the table, and Lance’s best plates and glasses, and there was some screechy violin music playing.

Benson said, “Everything looks very tidy!”

Lance said, “My friend, Wilma, is coming for lunch, and I want everything to be nice for her.”

“What are you having for dessert?” Benson asked. “Is it oranges?” Dessert was his favourite part of lunch.

Lance said, “No, the oranges are for ambience.”

“Ambience? Like if someone has to go to hospital?” Benson said.

“Not ambulance, AMBIENCE,” Lance said. “I’m going to scrape bits of orange skin off and put it in my spray gun and spray the air with it, so even the air will smell delicious!”

Benson wasn’t so sure. He thought eating the oranges would be more delicious. “What are you going to do with the mushrooms?”

Lance said, “I’m going to make mushroom dust to sprinkle on the milk-thistle custard tarts I made.” He opened the bag of mushrooms, and his face fell. “Oh no! They’re the wrong colour! ” he said,

Benson peered into the bag. “What’s wrong with them?”

“They’re too white! They need to be off-white, to go with the zucchini foam.” He looked at his watch. “If I hurry, I can pick some more and be back before she gets here.” He grabbed a basket and raced off.

Benson sat down to wait. He wondered if cousin Lance would miss one of the oranges. Then he heard a knock at the door.

When he opened the door, there was a very pretty wombat outside. She had red eyelashes, and shiny diamond sparkles on her fingernails. “Hello, I’m Wilma,” she said. “Is Lance here?”

Benson said, “He had to go and get some mushrooms. I’m Benson.”

Wilma said, “I’m a bit early. I didn’t want to get lost – I’ve never been to a place like this before, way out in the country.”

Benson didn’t know what he should talk about to a pretty wombat with red eyelashes, so he said, “Would you like something to eat?”

“That would be lovely,” Wilma said.

Benson looked around the kitchen. “Um, the only thing I know how to make is damper,” he said. “Cousin Lance showed me once.”

“Damper?” said Wilma. “What’s that?”

Benson said,”I’ll show you.” He got out Lance’s biggest bowl and tipped in some flour. He put in a pinch of salt and some butter.

Wilma was looking at Lance’s shelves, stacked full of shiny equipment. “Which machine are you going to use?” she said.

“You don’t need a machine,” Benson said, “you just use your fingers.” He showed her how to rub the butter into the flour with her fingertips until it was all mixed in.

“Now we add the water,” he said.

“How much water?” Wilma said.

“Just enough,” Benson said. “Sometimes it’s a bit more, it just depends. If I put in too much water, I just add some more flour.”

He mixed in some water and stirred the dough until it made a nice doughy blob. He plopped the dough onto an oven tray and patted it down into a nice flat circle. “There,” he said.

“Is that all?” Wilma asked.

“No, you have to cook it first,” Benson said.

They put the tray into the oven. “Now we wait,” Benson said. He looked at the table that Lance had made so beautiful. He didn’t want to make a mess on it. “I know,” he said, “let’s eat it outside.”

“Can you do that?” Wilma asked.

“Sure,” Benson said. He got Lance’s picnic blanket and they put it under the big ironbark tree near the orange jasmine bushes. Wilma sniffed the air suspiciously. “What’s that smell?” she said.

Benson sniffed. “It’s just the bush and the flowers, and the eucalyptus smell from the gum trees.”

Wilma sniffed again and breathed in deeply. “I like it,” she said.

Then she stopped suddenly and looked worried. “What’s that noise?” she said.

“That’s just magpies singing,” Benson said, “and some lorikeets chatting to each other. It’s just birds, don’t worry.”

Benson was getting a bit thirsty with all this work. He had an idea. “Do you like orange juice?” he asked Wilma.

“Yes, have you got some?” she asked.

“We can make some,” he said.

They went inside and got the orange squeezer and cut the oranges in half and squeezed the juice into two plastic cups Benson found in the cupboard. “This is the best orange juice I’ve ever had,” Wilma said.

When the damper was done, Wilma got it carefully out of the hot oven. Benson tapped it on the top, and then he tapped it on the bottom. “That’s how you can tell if it’s cooked,” he told Wilma. “It’s perfect.”

Wilma cut two big pieces of damper. Benson got the golden syrup and two spoons. “Why do we need two spoons?” Wilma asked.

“So we can do this,” Benson said. He dipped one spoon into the golden syrup and trickled it in swirly patterns on top of his piece of damper. Then he put the spoon in his mouth and licked it clean. It was delicious.

They took their damper and their orange juice outside and ate it under the ironbark tree. It was just about all gone when Lance came running up.

“Wilma!” he said. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you got here!”

“That’s okay,” Wilma said. “Benson’s been looking after me. We made damper, and orange juice.”

“Damper?” said Lance. He thought of all the trouble he’d gone to, to make a special lunch for her. He looked at the old picnic blanket, and the cups Benson had put the orange juice in.

“It was lovely!” Wilma said. “Everything here is lovely.” She looked around and sighed. “I could live here forever!” she said.

“Really?” Lance said. “I was going to ask you about that.”

Benson decided it was time to leave them alone together, so he thoughtfully took the last piece of damper and set off for home.

The Strawberry Ladder

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.

Benson went over to his friend Mick’s place to play one day. They were playing outside with Mick’s sister Bonnie Lou, when they heard a noise in the bush like someone crying. They all went into the bush to find out who was making the noise.

They saw a lyre-bird standing there crying, and in front of her was a big old goanna. The reason the lyre-bird was crying was that the goanna had taken the lyre-bird’s egg out of her nest and he was just about it eat it.

“Don’t, you mean old goanna!” Bonnie Lou shouted. “Put that egg down!”

The goanna laughed. “Why should I?” he said. “I’m hungry, and this egg looks delicious.”

The lyre-bird cried, “Please give me back my egg! It’s the only one I have.”

The goanna said, “Now let me think. What would make me give you back this egg? Hmm.” He had a nasty yellow eye, and a nasty flicking forked tongue.

“I know,” said the goanna. “I’ve always wanted a ladder to make it easy for me to pick my strawberries. If you get me a strawberry ladder, I might give you this egg.”

“But – ” Benson started to say, but Bonnie Lou jumped up straight away.

“I’ll get you one, just wait!” she said, and she ran off.

The goanna grinned. “Nothing in her head but dust,” he said. He opened his mouth ready to crush the lyre-bird’s egg.

“Wait!” cried the lyre-bird. “Please don’t eat my egg!”

The goanna said, “Hmm, let me see. What might make me give you back this egg?” His nasty yellow eye-lid flickered over his beady eye. “I know,” he said. “If I had a big glass of turtle milk, it might be so delicious that I wouldn’t want this egg.”

“I’ll get you some,” said Mick. “Just don’t eat the egg.”

Benson said, “But turtles – ” but Mick had already run off.

The goanna chuckled. “Not even half a brain between the two of them,” he said. He flickered his nasty tongue over the egg and opened his mouth full of nasty yellow teeth, ready to take a bite of the egg.

“Oh, please don’t eat my egg!” cried the lyre-bird.

The goanna stopped and looked sneaky. “You know,” he said, “what I’d really like is a nice fresh kangaroo egg. A big juicy kangaroo egg would be better than an old lyre-bird’s egg any day.”

Benson said, “As a matter of fact, I just happen to have one right here in my pouch.”

“No!” said the goanna. “You can’t have!”

“If you don’t believe me, why don’t you come and look?” Benson said.

“A real kangaroo egg?” said the goanna.

“Uh huh,” Benson nodded. “Right here in my pouch.”

“Let me see,” said the greedy old goanna. He dropped the lyre-bird’s egg and waddled over to Benson.

As soon as the goanna let go of the egg, the lyre-bird ran and grabbed it and carried it back to her nest and sat on it.

The goanna was too busy looking all over Benson to notice. “Where’s your pouch, then?” he asked.

Benson laughed. “Nothing in his head but fresh air!” he said.

The goanna growled and swung his nasty tail to smack Benson but just then Mick and Bonnie Lou came running back with their mother. She had a big bucket of cold water, and she threw it over the old goanna. “Go away and stop frightening the children!” she shouted at him.

“Arrrk!” yowled the goanna. He was soaking wet, from head to toe. He waddled away into the bush as fast as his legs would carry him.

Zali’s Rock Garden

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

Aunt Moss got out her paints and sat down at the table ready to do some painting.

Benson said, “Can I do some painting too?”

Aunt Moss said that he could, and Benson said, “Do you want me to get some paper to paint on?”

“I’m not painting on paper today,” Aunt Moss said. “I’m going to paint these nice little rocks. Your friend Zali is making a rock garden, and I thought it would be nice to paint some special rocks for her, to make her garden look nice.”

Benson said, “Why would you paint rocks?”

Aunt Moss showed him some of the rocks she had. “See how this one is smooth and round? It reminds me of a wombat, so I’m going to paint it to look like a little wombat. And this one is square around the edges, so I’m going to paint it like a little car.”

“Okay,” Benson said. He sat down and started painting.

After a while Aunt Moss said, “What are you doing, dear?”

He said, “I’m painting this rock.” He had painted a rock brown and grey. It looked like a rock.

Aunt Moss said, “Oh. I think it’s more interesting if we paint the rocks to look like something else.” She showed him the rock she had painted to look like a wombat. It was brown all over, with a tiny black dot for an eye, and tiny black claws. “See?”

“Okay,” Benson said. He painted his rock green all over instead.

Aunt Moss said, “What are you painting this time?”

He said, “It’s a green rock.”

Aunt Moss sighed. She took Benson’s green rock and painted black lines back and forth across it. “Isn’t this more interesting?” she said.

“It looks like a turtle!” Benson said.

“That’s right,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson took another rock and painted it white all over.

“What is that, dear? A white rock?” Aunt Moss asked.

“It’s an egg,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss took the white rock and painted a face on it.

Benson said, “Why did you paint a face on my egg?”

She said, “I thought it would be more fun this way. Besides, what if an animal saw your rock and thought it was an egg and tried to eat it?”

Benson rubbed out the face, then he drew a zigzag line down the middle of the rock to look like a crack and painted a very small dinosaur popping out of the crack. “No-one would want to eat it now,” he said.

He took another rock and painted it red all over.

Aunt Moss said, “What if someone thinks that’s a ball and throws it at someone else?”

Benson said, “I haven’t finished yet.” He painted a sign on the red rock that said, ‘This is not a ball, it’s a rock.’

When the paint was dry, they took all the rocks over to Zali’s place.

“Oh, they’re lovely,” said Zali’s mother. “Benson, why don’t you take them outside and give them to Zali? She’s in her rock garden.”

Benson went to find Zali. She was sitting beside a pile of rocks, staring at something. “Hi, Zali,” he said.

“Shhhh!” Zali said, still staring.

Benson looked to see what she was staring at. There was something scaly under the rocks, that slithered a bit. “A snake!” he yelled. He grabbed Zali’s hand and tried to pull her away.

“Shhh!” Zali said, pulling her hand back. She pointed at the rocks.

Benson looked closer. The scaly thing lifted up its head and poked out a long blue tongue.

“Oh, it’s a blue-tongue!” he said, very relieved. He sat down next to Zali to watch.

The big, fat lizard scratched a bit under the rocks, and snapped up an insect.

Zali smiled. “Lizard,” she said. She poked her tongue out and in again.

Benson said, “Well, Uncle Lizard, I’ve brought you some things to play with.” He put the painted rocks on the ground in front of the lizard. “This one is a little car, and this is a tiny little wombat, and this is a kind of turtle and this is an egg but I wouldn’t eat it if I were you.”

Zali picked up the red rock and went to throw it. “NO, Zali!” Benson said. “It’s not a ball. See? It says right here.”

Then Zali tried to bite it. Benson said, “It’s not a tomato either.” He took the rock and rubbed it in the dirt to get the red paint off. “It’s just a rock,” he said.

Zali smiled and put it in the rock garden for the lizard. The lizard poked out his tongue to smell the rock, and then he went back to sleep. Zali picked up the tiny little wombat rock and gave it a kiss and put it in her pocket.

Turning Left

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

One day Aunt Lillibet said to Benson, “I want to make some cheese and herb scones, but I need some wild mint. I want you to go pick some for me – it will only take five minutes. There’s a great big patch out under the muntry bushes beside the big rock.”

“What big rock?” Benson said.

“The big rock shaped like a bear lying down, you know!” said Aunt Lillibet. “We’ve been there dozens of times!” She was in a hurry. Benson’s mother was bringing a friend home for lunch and Aunt Lillibet had promised to make scones, but she had been reading a very exciting story about rabbits and had forgotten the time. “Hurry up, now!” she said to Benson.

“I don’t know where the rock is,” he said.

“You just go down the track to the first crossing and turn left and keep going,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson put on his hat and took a basket for the mint and set off. He went down the track and when he came to the first crossroad he turned left. He knew it was left because that was the hand he didn’t draw with.

He went along and then he came to another crossroad. He said to himself, “Aunt Lillibet said keep going so that means keep turning left,” and he turned left. He went along and after a while he came to another crossroad, and he turned left again.

He saw lots of rocks but none of them were very big and none of them were shaped like bears. One was shaped like a tea-pot, and lots of them were shaped like rocks.

After a while he came to another crossing and he turned left again. He went along a bit more and there was his house!

Benson was astonished. “How did that get there?” he said.

He went inside and there was Aunt Lillibet, waiting impatiently. “Well, where’s the mint?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Benson said. “I turned left, like you said, but I couldn’t find any rock shaped like a bear. I saw one shaped like a tea-pot – was that it?”

“Of course not!” said Aunt Lillibet. “You just weren’t looking! Go back and look properly this time. It’s a big rock shaped like a bear – you can’t miss it!”

Benson set off again. He went slowly along the track, looking as hard as he could. He found a lizard that was shaped like a leaf, and a leaf that was shaped like a fan, and an ant hill that looked exactly like an ant hill, but no rocks that looked like bears, or lions, or tigers.

He kept turning left like before, and he ended up back home again. He went inside and said to Aunt Lillibet, “I couldn’t find it. Maybe someone moved it.”

“You’re just being silly,” she said. “Who could move a great big rock like that?”

“I don’t know,” said Benson. “A great big strong giant with a great big spade?”

“What am I going to do without any mint?” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “I looked really hard, like you said, but there wasn’t any mint anywhere. All I could find was a patch of nasturtiums, and some dandelions, and some mulberries.” He showed her his basket, overflowing with orange nasturtiums and bright yellow dandelions and purple mulberries.

Aunt Lillibet was quite pleased to see what Benson had gathered. She stopped being angry and they set to work. Aunt Lillibet made dandelion salad and nasturtium jelly and Benson washed the mulberries and put them in a nice bowl.

When Benson’s mother came home with her friend, they said, “Nasturtium jelly! How unusual!” but everyone ate it and it tasted just fine.

The Bushranger

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.

One morning when Benson was just finishing his breakfast – chopped carrot and lemongrass and sweet potato – his mother said, “Benson, I wanted to make some bread this morning but there’s no wattle seed left. Would you mind going and collecting some for me, please?”

Benson got a bag for the wattle seed and set off. He took an apple with him for a snack in case he got hungry.

He went along the track where the best wattle trees were, and he collected a whole bag full of seeds. Then he set off for home again. He was just thinking about eating his apple when he heard a voice say, “Stand and deliver!”

The voice came from high up in a big old gum tree.

“What do you mean?” Benson said. “Deliver what?”

“That’s what bushrangers say,” said the voice. “It means give me your apple.”

It was actually a very nice Pink Lady apple, and Benson didn’t see why he should give it to someone who didn’t even say please. “It’s my apple,” he said. “Get your own.”

The voice said, “Throw it up into the tree, or else!”

Benson said, “Or else what?”

All of a sudden a big gumnut flew down out of the tree and hit Benson on the nose. “Ow!” he said. Another gumnut hit him on the ear, and two more hit his back. “Ow! Stop it!” he shouted.

“I’ll stop if you give me your apple,” the voice said.

Benson threw his apple up into the tree. He heard the voice say, “Got it!” and then there was a crunching sound and a “Mmmm, yummy,” and then Benson heard someone scamper off through the branches of the tree.

“You meanie!” he shouted.

He walked all the way home, very upset.

“A bushranger took my apple,” he said to his mother.

“What?” she said.

“A bushranger in a gum tree,” Benson said. “He threw big sharp gumnuts at me and made me give him my apple. See?” He showed his mother the bump on his nose where the gumnut had hit him.

“We’ll see about that,” said his mother, taking off her apron. “Come on!”

They went back to the place on the track where the gum tree with the bushranger was, but there was no sign of anyone.

“Hmm,” said Benson’s mother. “Let’s go home. I’ve got an idea.”

The next morning they set off again. Benson took another apple, and his mother took a big green honeydew melon.

When they got to the tree, a voice said, “Stand and deliver!” just like the day before.

Benson shouted, “You’re not getting my apple this time!”

The voice said, “Give me that apple, or you know what will happen.”

Benson’s mother stepped under the tree and called, “Oh, Mr Bushranger, are you sure you don’t want this lovely big green apple instead? It’s much bigger than that little apple.”

The voice said, “Throw it up into the tree.”

Benson’s mother threw the melon up into the tree. The voice said, “Got it!” and then, “Uh-oh.”

There was a lot of crashing, and a possum clutching a big honeydew melon fell out of the tree and landed on the ground in front of Benson and his mother,.

“You’re a very naughty possum,” Benson’s mother said, “and I’m telling your mother!”

She took him by the fur at the back of his neck and marched him straight off to tell his mother what he’d been doing. His mother was very angry with him, and made him go straight to bed. For the whole next week he had to help his mother take food to other animals that didn’t have enough to eat.

On the way home, Benson said to his mother, “Bushranging is just stealing, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is,” she said, “and hurting people so you can steal from them is even worse.”

Benson felt the end of his nose and nodded.

How Many Ducks?

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.

As the summer days grew longer, Benson and his family decided to go on a camping trip with some other families. At the camping ground, they built a big camp fire and cooked corn and potatoes and damper with golden syrup, and made a big stew full of sweet potatoes and carrots and lentils. When everyone was as full as they could possibly be, they all sat around the camp fire, watching the flames and putting sticks on now and then.

Mr Fenn started to sing old folk songs about shearers and bushrangers, and everyone joined in. Aunt Lillibet sang a song about heather and thyme that nobody knew and everyone listened politely until she was finished.

Alejandro went to sleep and Bonnie Lou was going to sleep too, snuggled up against her mother. Benson was wondering if there were any potatoes that everyone had overlooked, somewhere among the coals. Mr Fenn said, “Does anyone know any good riddles?”

Benson knew lots of riddles, but he could never remember the answers.

Roly whispered to him, “What are riddles?”

Benson said, “You know, tricky questions, with tricky answers. Like, why did the chicken cross the road?”

“To get to the other side?” Roly said.

“That’s right!” Benson said. “You’re really good at this!”

Mr Fenn said, “I’ll start. The best riddle wins the last piece of damper. Are you ready? What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?”

Mick said, “A woolly jumper.” Mick was good at riddles. He remembered all the answers. “My turn,” he said. “What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with an elephant?”

“Great big holes all over the country,” Mr Fenn said.

Everybody laughed and Bonnie Lou woke up. She said, “Can I have a turn? What do you call an echidna that’s afraid of ants? An eek-chidna.”

Mr Fenn laughed and asked her, “How do you know the ocean is friendly? Because it waves to you.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I know an old riddle that my mother used to ask. ‘Two ducks behind a duck, two ducks in front of a duck, and a duck in the middle. How many ducks?”

“Seven,” Mick said straight away.

“Six?” said Bonnie Lou.

“In the middle of what?” said Benson.

“It’s seven, definitely,” said Mick. “Two and one and two and one and one, that’s seven.”

Aunt Lillibet shook her head. “No, it’s not seven.”

Mick got some stones and started lining them up and counting in his head.

“Is is ducks doing ballet?” Bonnie Lou asked hopefully.

“Five!” shouted Mick, waking everyone up. “It’s five, look!” He had five stones lined up. “Two ducks in front of the middle one, and two ducks behind the middle one, and the middle one. One, two, three, four, five!”

“That’s very good, Mick,” said Benson’s mother, but Aunt Lillibet shook her head.

“No, that’s not the answer,” she said.

Mick said, “Yes it is! It must be!”

Benson didn’t really care. Ducks in woolly jumpers were crossing the road inside his head, making him sleepy. Next to him, Roly said quietly, “It’s not five.”

Benson woke up, and said more loudly than he meant, “It’s not five.”

Mick jumped on him and sat on his head. “How would you know?”

Benson wrestled with Mick for a minute until he could get his face free, and then he said, “I don’t know, but Roly does.”

Roly didn’t want to say anything in case Mick jumped on him next, but Mr Fenn said, “What do you think it is, Roly?”

Roly said, “I think it’s three.”

Mick laughed. “How could it be three? Can’t you even count?”

But Mr Fenn said, “Show us what you think, Roly.”

Roly got Bonnie Lou to sit in front of Benson, and then he got Mick to sit behind Benson. “Look,” he said. “Mick and Benson are in front of Bonnie Lou, that’s two in front of one, and Benson and Mick are behind Bonnie Lou, that’s two behind one, and Benson is in the middle. Three.”

Mick looked, and counted, and looked again. He changed places with Benson and counted again until a big smile spread over his face. “It is three!” he said. He said to Roly, “That’s really smart.”

Aunt Lillibet nodded. “Three is the right answer. I think Roly should get the last piece of damper.”

Roly was very pleased. “I think we should share it,” he said. “Who wants to share it with me?”

“Me!” said Mick.

“Me!” said Benson.

“And me!” said Bonnie Lou. And they all did.

Ken and Kenny

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 back in the sun, in the sunny spot just outside the front door when he heard a kind of scritching noise. He opened his eyes and there were two bush turkeys scratching around in Aunt Lillibet’s garden.

He got up and went over. “Hi,” he said. “What are you two doing?”

The bush turkeys stopped and looked at him. “You’re not him,” they said, and went back to scratching. Two of Aunt Lillibet’s carrot seedlings came out of the ground and went flying.

“I’m not who?” Benson said. He watched them dig up a baby potato. “You’d better stop doing that,” he said, “or Aunt Lillibet will be mad.”

“Is she the one?” the first turkey said.

“What one?” Benson said.

One of the turkeys said, “I’m Ken and this is Kenny. We want to see the big wombat.”

“Yeah,” said the other turkey. “We want to see the big wombat.” The turkeys went back to scratching. Another carrot seedling and a young tomato plant flew out of the ground.

“What big wombat?” Benson said. “Mr Fenn?”

“No, not him,” said one of the turkeys, Ken or Kenny. They both looked exactly the same and Benson couldn’t tell them apart.

The other turkey said, “We saw this sign up on the road that had a picture of a wombat with “1 km” underneath. That’s a really big wombat, one kilometre long. We want to see the big wombat.”

Benson thought. “I think that means that there are wombats for the next one kilometre,” he said.

Ken and Kenny looked around. “Do you see that many wombats?” one of them said.

The other one said, “Nah, just this one. That can’t be right.”

The first turkey, Kenny or Ken, said, “No, show us the really big wombat, the one that’s one kilometre long.”

Benson said, “But there isn’t one.”

The turkeys paid no attention to him. They kept scratching around in the garden. They dug up a whole row of leeks and Aunt Lillibet’s favourite rhubarb plant.

Benson went inside and got Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Lillibet got the broom and went outside. “Shoo, you turkeys!” she said. “Get out of my garden!”

The turkeys shooed, but not very far. When Aunt Lillibet whooshed Ken, or Kenny, with the broom, Kenny, or Ken, scooted around behind her and went back to the garden. When she swished Kenny, or Ken, the other one nipped back into the garden.

“We’re not leaving until we see the big wombat,” Ken said, or Kenny.

“All right, then,” said Aunt Lillibet. The turkeys stopped scratching and waited.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, you go and wake up the big wombat, but be careful. You know how she gets cranky when you wake her up.”

Ken and Kenny got closer together, feeling a bit worried.

Aunt Lillibet whispered to Benson. Benson nodded and scampered off.

Aunt Lillibet said to Ken and Kenny, “Come on, then, but you’d better not get too close. She doesn’t like turkeys, and she hates anyone messing up her garden.”

The turkeys followed her around to the back door of the wombat hole. “See?” said Aunt Lillibet. Aunt Moss’s back legs were sticking out of the back door, waggling. All the turkeys could see was the back half of a wombat.

“Now come up to the other end,” Aunt Lillibet said. The turkeys followed her up to the front door. Benson’s mother put her head out and growled in a very fierce voice, “Who’s been digging up my garden?”

The turkeys looked at Aunt Moss’s legs way down at the back door, and Benson’s mother’s head, all the way up at the front door, and they grabbed each other in fright.

“That’s the biggest wombat I’ve ever seen!” said Ken, or Kenny.

“Let’s get out of here!” said Kenny, or Ken, and they ran off as fast as they could go.

The Quandong Tree

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 morning Benson was making himself a sandwich with macadamia butter and celery and lettuce. He took it outside to sit in the sunshine where his friend Roly was zotting ants with his speedy tongue. Nils and Nella, the twin possums, came racing up.

“The quandongs on the big tree are ripe,” they shouted. “We’re going up to get some. Do you want to come?”

The big quandong tree was very special. Every year everyone waited for the fruit to be ripe and then they went and ate as much as they possibly could, and carried home as much as they could possibly carry.

“Sure,” said Benson, “as soon as I finish my sandwich.”

Nils and Nella looked at the delicious sandwich. “Can we share your sandwich?” they asked.

Benson considered. “You can have half,” he said.

Quick as a flash, the sandwich was gone.

“Hey, where’s my sandwich gone?” Benson asked.

Nils and Nella looked everywhere. “I don’t know,” said Nils. “We only had half.”

“You both had half,” Roly said. “A sandwich only has two halves.”

“How do you know?” Nils said. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?”

Benson said firmly, “He is smart.”

He went inside and quietly made another sandwich, but this time he ate it in the kitchen. He asked his mother if he could go with Nils and Nella.

His mother thought that was a good idea. “If you bring some back, I’ll make quandong ice-cream.”

Everyone loved quandong ice-cream.

His mother gave him a big bag to put the quandongs in. Benson got his hat and his water-bottle, and they all set off.

There was so much fruit on the big quandong tree that the branches were weighed right down. Benson and Roly ate the ones that had fallen on the ground, and Nils and Nella roamed all over the tree, stuffing themselves with quandongs until they were so full they fell out of the tree.

Benson filled up the bag his mother had given him and they set off for home.

When they came to the creek, Nella said, “I’m too full to swim. Benson, can you carry me over?”

Nils said, “Me too! Can you carry me too?”

The creek wasn’t very deep so Benson could wade over easily, but he couldn’t carry two possums full of quandongs at the same time. He said, “I’ll carry Nella over first, and then I’ll come back for Nils.”

He put the bag of quandongs down and picked Nella up. Straight away, Nils opened the bag and started eating the quandongs.

“Hey!” Benson said. He dropped Nella and grabbed the bag away from Nils. “I’m taking these home to make ice-cream, remember?”

Nils said, “Sorry, I forgot.”

“I think I’d better take you first,” Benson said.

He picked Nils up and stepped into the creek. In a second, Nella opened the bag and started eating the quandongs.

“Hey!” Benson shouted. He dropped Nils and grabbed the bag away from Nella. “What are you doing?”

“Sorry,” Nella said. “I couldn’t help it.”

Benson said, “I think I’d better take the bag over first.”

He picked up the bag of quandongs and carried it safely across the creek and came back. “Okay,” he said, “now I’ll take Nella over.” He picked up Nella and then he stopped. If he left Nella on the other side of the creek with the quandongs while he came back to get Nils, he knew for an absolute fact that there wouldn’t be one quandong left by the time he carried Nils across. They would all be in Nella’s tummy. And if he took Nils across, it would be just as bad. The quandongs would end up in Nils’s tummy.

He looked at the possums and they looked at him. They looked across the creek at the bag of quandongs. Benson could see them getting hungrier.

He turned to Roly. “Do you have any ideas?” he said.

Roly said, “Can I whisper?”

Benson whispered, “Why do you want to whisper?”

Roly whispered, “I don’t want Nils to say that I think I’m smart again.”

“There’s no use pretending you’re not smart,” Benson said. “Everyone knows you’re really clever.” He said in a loud voice, “Roly’s got an idea.”

Roly went pink.

Nils said, “Roly always thinks he’s so smart,” but Benson looked very hard at him and he stopped and muttered, “Sorry, Roly.”

Roly said, “You should take Nils over first.”

“Yes!” said Nils.

“But he’ll eat all the quandongs,” Benson said. He didn’t think it was such a good idea.

Roly said, “Not if you bring the bag of quandongs back with you. Then you leave the bag here with me and you take Nella over, and then you come back and get the bag of quandongs.”

Benson thought it over. A smile spread over his face. “That’s a great idea!” he said. “How did you think of it?”

“Oh, I read it in a book somewhere,” Roly said.

“There’s only one thing,” Benson said. “How will you get over the creek?”

“Easy, I’ll just swim over,” Roly said, and he did.

Everyone got across the creek safely, including all the quandongs. There were enough to make heaps of quandong ice cream, and everyone had plenty. It was delicious.

Going South

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

It was a very hot summer, so hot that Benson spent day after day inside because it was too hot to play outside or ride his bike or even to dig. Even deep inside the wombat hole it was too hot to do anything.

Benson’s mother was sick of cooking and cleaning and doing the washing. “It’s too hot for all this work,” she said. “I’m taking a holiday. Let’s go away somewhere,” she said to Benson.

“How about we go to the beach?” Benson said.

“No, it’s too hot for the beach,” his mother said. “The sand would burn our feet, and there would be crowds of people.”

“How about going to the mountains?” he said.

“No, it’s too hot to climb all that way,” his mother said. “I know. Let’s go south.”

She packed some things into a bag, and they both got their hats and their water-bottles and said goodbye to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and set off.

They walked and walked a long way through the bush, for a long time. They came to a valley filled with tall, tall trees with smooth, white bark. “Is this south?” Benson asked.

“No,” said his mother, “not yet.”

They kept walking, through deep forests and thick bush, along tracks that Benson had never seen before. They came to a wide, smooth, shining lake. “Is this south?” Benson asked.

“No, not yet,” his mother said.

They kept on walking, up hills and down into valleys and up hills on the other side. Benson started to get very tired. All this walking was making him hotter than he had been at home. They saw some mountains in the distance, with a covering of white snow on the very top. “Is this south?” he asked.

“No, not yet,” his mother said.

They kept on walking. Benson’s feet were tired, and his water-bottle was nearly empty. He was just about to say that he thought going south was a bad idea when they came to a great wide sea. Cold blue waves washed against the shore and stretched away as far as he could see. He stood and stared. “Is this south?” he asked.

“Nearly,” his mother said.

They got into a big boat and sailed over the huge waves, up and down. Benson started to get very cold. “Is this south?” he asked, his teeth chattering.

“Just about,” his mother said.

Then they came to a place where giant mountains of ice rose out of the sea, and enormous blocks of ice bobbed in the water around them. Snow started to fall, like fluffy white rain. Benson gazed around, catching flakes of snow on his tongue and shivering. A penguin slid down the side of an ice hill and plopped into the water.

“Is this south?” Benson asked.

“Yes,” said his mother, “this is south.” She opened the bag and got out their warm, puffy jackets, their scarves and their woolly hats.

“Beautiful,” she smiled, looking around. “Now this is what I call going on holidays.”

Creekweed

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.

Benson’s uncle Elton invited everyone to come for lunch.

Benson said, “Do we have to go?” Uncle Elton was not a very good cook.

“Of course we do,” said his mother. “It would be rude not to. Besides, he’s been trying out a new recipe that he says we’re going to love.”

“That’s what he said about his mushroom ice-cream,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“And his scrambled eggs with peanut butter,” Benson said.

“I quite liked those scrambled eggs,” said Aunt Moss. “Sort of crunchy.”

“Oh, Moss,” said Aunt Lillibet, “you always have to say something nice, don’t you?”

“I can’t bear to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson asked his mother, “Is it okay to tell a lie if you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?”

His mother said, “You should always tell the truth. But there are ways of telling the truth so that you don’t hurt their feelings. For instance if you asked me if I liked Aunt Lillibet’s hat, I could say that it was interesting or creative, or it shows an independent spirit.”

“Instead of saying it’s ugly or weird or it looks like a dead frog,” Benson said. “Like telling the truth, but not the whole truth.”

Uncle Elton was very excited to see them. “We’re having something amazing for lunch, full of vitamins and minerals – you’re going to love it!”

Aunt Lillibet didn’t like the sound of this. “What are we having exactly?” she asked.

“It’s creekweed!” Uncle Elton said.

“Creekweed?” said Aunt Lillibet. “You mean weed, from the creek?”

Uncle Elton nodded enthusiastically. “That’s right. Cousin Lance told me all about it, and you know he’s an excellent cook. He gave me some of his recipes, and I made up some of my own. Sit down, and I’ll bring out the first course.”

Benson sat next to his cousin Elmer, who was eating oranges. “Do you want one?” he asked Benson.

“Aren’t we just about to have lunch?” Benson asked.

“Yep,” Elmer said. “That’s why.”

Just then Uncle Elton brought in a huge pot of soup. “Creekweed soup!” he said proudly.

It was green and grey and slimy. Benson picked up his spoon and had a tiny taste. He had never tasted anything worse in his life. Elmer kept dipping his spoon into his soup, but it never got any emptier. Benson decided to do the same thing.

His mother held her breath and took a mouthful, and then another one, but that was all she could manage. Aunt Moss bravely kept eating even though her face got greener and greener.

Aunt Lillibet didn’t even taste it. She said, “Oh, is that a spider under the table?” and when Uncle Elton bent down to look, she tipped half her soup into Aunt Moss’s bowl.

Uncle Elton looked at Elmer’s almost-full bowl and said, “Aren’t you hungry, Elmer?”

Elmer said, “It must have been all those oranges.”

“How did you all like the soup?” Elton said.

Benson’s mother said, “It was very unusual.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve never tasted anything like it.”

Aunt Moss said, “It was very tasty, thank you, Elton.”

Uncle Elton looked pleased. “Wait until you taste the next course: creekweed salad,” he said.

He brought out a dish of unspeakable green and brown and black things. Some of the black things were still wriggling. Everyone stared at it, horrified. Aunt Moss started to look very sick.

Uncle Elton rubbed his hands together. “Who would like to go first?” he asked.

“I’ll have some,” Aunt Lillibet said, surprising everyone. “But I think what it really needs is fish sauce. Have you got any fish sauce?”

“As a matter of fact, I bought some last week,” Uncle Elton said.

“Oh,” said Aunt Lillibet, disappointed.

He fetched the fish sauce and gave it to Lillibet. She sprinkled on a few drops and then she tipped the whole bottle over the dish.

“Oh dear,” said Aunt Lillibet. “What have I done? I’ve ruined the whole salad,” she said, very pleased with herself. “I don’t think anyone could eat it now.”

“Never mind,” said Uncle Elton, “there’s plenty of dessert. It’s my own creation: creekweed pavlova!”

Aunt Moss fainted and slid under the table. Aunt Lillibet said, “Is there any fish sauce left?”

At that moment the front door opened and Cousin Lance came in. “Sorry I’m late, everyone. Did I miss anything?”

Uncle Elton said, “You’re just in time for dessert.” He proudly showed Lance the pavlova. There were dribbles of mud and splashes of frog-spit all over it.

Lance looked at it and said, “Elton, is that creek weed?”

Uncle Elton nodded. “I picked it fresh this morning.”

Lance said, “I said chickweed, not creek-weed. You can’t eat creek weed, unless you’re a duck, or maybe a very robust fish.”

“No?” said Uncle Elton, looking very disappointed.

“No, no way,” said Lance. “It might end up making you quite sick.”

Aunt Moss groaned from under the table.

Lance said, “It’s a good thing I brought this.” He opened the cake-container he had brought. “Mango-coconut-pineapple cake. Would anyone like some?”

“Wonderful!” said Uncle Elton. Benson and Elmer were suddenly very hungry again. Even Aunt Moss climbed back out from under the table. It was absolutely delicious.

When it was time to go home, Uncle Elton gave Lillibet a big container of leftovers.

“Is it leftover cake?” she asked.

Elton said, “No, it’s all the leftover soup since you liked it so much, with extra fish sauce, just for you!”

The Label-Maker

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 Aunt Lillibet came in, quite excited. “Look what I found!” she said. “It was by the side of the road with a sign that said ‘FREE’. It’s a label-maker.”

“What’s a label-maker?” Benson asked.

“It makes labels, obviously,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Like this.”

She typed ‘B-a-t-h-r-o-o-m’ into the label-maker. It went tchk-tchk-tchk and a little label spat out the front, that said, “Bathroom.” She stuck it on the bathroom door.

Benson’s mother said, “That’s a good idea. If any visitors come, they’ll know where the bathroom is.”

Aunt Lillibet typed into the label-maker again and tchk-tchk-tchk, out came another label. This time it said, ‘Benson’s Room’. She stuck it on Benson’s door. “Isn’t it great?” she said.

She printed out another label, tchk-tchk-tchk. It said, ‘Library’. She stuck it on the wall.

“We don’t have a library, Lillibet,” Benson’s mother said.

“We do now,” Lillibet said.

“Ooh, a library of our own,” Benson said. He tried to go into the library, but there was no door and no handle.

“It’s not a library,” said his mother, “it’s just a sign.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “No, this is just a sign.” She printed out a sign that said, “This is a sign,” and stuck it on the ‘Library’ sign.

Aunt Lillibet printed out another sign, tchk-tchk-tchk, and stuck it on the door to her room. It said, ‘Lillibet’s Room. Do Not Enter. Beware the Hippopotamus.’

Benson’s eyes got bigger. “Can I see the hippopotamus?” he said.

“No,” said Aunt Lillibet. She printed out another label that said ‘Angry’ and stuck it between ‘the’ and ‘Hippopotamus’.

“Maybe not, then,” Benson said.

Benson went outside to find his friend Roly. He was sitting by the big ant-hill with a label that said ‘Roly’ stuck over his nose.

Benson peeled it off carefully.

“Thanks,” said Roly, now that he could breathe.

“This isn’t good,” Benson said.

“No,” said Roly. “She tried to label the ants, but they were too quick for her, so she labelled the ant-hill instead.” He showed Benson a label on the ant-hill that said, ‘May contain nuts, dairy and ants. Serving size: one ant.’

Benson went back inside to talk to his mother. She was looking at her hands. There was a label on one that said ‘Left’ and one on the other hand that said ‘Right’. She said, “Lillibet put the label that says ‘Right’ on the hand on her right, so it’s not right at all. Unless maybe I fold my arms.”

“Or you look in the mirror,” Benson said. He picked up an apple out of the fruit bowl that had a label on it saying ‘Fruit bowl. This way up.’ He bit into the apple and stopped. “There’s a label on my apple,” he said.

“I know,” said his mother. “Look at the bananas.” Every banana had a label on it saying ‘Banana. Open this end.’

Aunt Lillibet came out of her room and said, “Benson, could you give me a hand please?” She was trying to stick a label to her face that said, ‘Care instructions: warm water only. Do not tumble dry. Do not iron.’

Just then Aunt Moss came home from visiting her friend, Shelley. “Look what Shelley made for me!” she said. “Beautiful recycled earrings and a bracelet!”

She was wearing silver dangly earrings and a pretty blue bracelet. When Benson looked closer, he could see that the earrings were made of old teaspoons, and the bracelet was made of bottle caps strung together.

“No, Moss!” said Aunt Lillibet. “Those are spoons, not earrings.” She took Aunt Moss’s earrings and put labels on them: ‘a spoon’, ‘another spoon’.

Then she looked at the bracelet. “This isn’t a bracelet,” she said, “it’s only a pile of old bottle caps. See?” she said. She took the bracelet and labelled all the bottle caps one at a time: ‘Please recycle thoughtfully’. Then she put the earrings and the bracelet into the recycling bin.

Aunt Moss looked disappointed. Then she smiled. She took Aunt Lillibet’s label-maker and made a label that said, ‘Bracelet’ and stuck it around her wrist. Then she made two labels that said, ‘Earring’ and stuck one on each ear. “Is this better?” she said.

“No, Moss!” Aunt Lillibet said. “You can’t… they’re just… oh, I give up!” she said, throwing her hands in the air.

Benson’s mother took the label-maker from her gently, and printed out one more label that said, ‘Free’. She stuck it on the label-maker and she and Benson took it outside and left it by the side of the road.

Mandy

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.

Benson went over to his friend Mick’s house to play with Mick’s new tennis set. It was fun, until they had a big fight over whose turn it was to get the ball out of the bushes again. Benson said he thought tennis was stupid anyway, and Mick said Benson was stupid and Benson stamped off and went home.

He was about halfway home when something sharp stabbed into the bottom of his foot. It was a piece of broken glass that someone had left lying on the track. It cut right into his foot, and really really hurt. There was blood everywhere. Benson sat down in the middle of the track and cried.

Someone came up behind him. A warm damp nose touched his hand and a low, growly voice said, “What’s wrong? Do you need help?”

Benson bawled, “I cut my foot!”

A wet warm tongue licked his foot, and the voice said, “Come on, I’ll take you home.”

Benson opened his eyes and looked. The voice belonged to a skinny, bony animal with sores on its back and its sides. It had a long, soft nose and dark brown eyes, but what Benson noticed was its sharp yellow teeth. His heart started to pound wildly and his breath stuck in his throat. It was a dog, and it was going to eat him, for sure. He cried even harder.

The dog lay down beside him and said, “It’s all right, I’m not going to hurt you. My name’s Mandy.”

Benson didn’t know whether to believe her or not, but the dog lay still and she didn’t look as if she wanted to bite him. Her voice sounded kind. “See if you can climb onto my back,” she said.

Benson struggled up onto her back and she got to her feet and they started off.

After a while she stopped. “You’re too heavy for me,” she panted.

Benson tumbled off her back onto the ground. Mandy carefully picked him up by the back of his neck with her teeth. She had to stop every few steps and put him down and rest, but they managed to make it all the way back to Benson’s house.

When they got there, Mandy dropped Benson and lay down exhausted. The front door opened, and Benson’s mother stood there, horrified. All she saw was Benson and a dog, and blood all over both of them.

“Benson!” she screamed.

Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet came running. They screamed and shouted at the dog to go away. Aunt Lillibet got the broom and beat Mandy over the head until she got up yelping and ran away into the bush.

“No! Stop – wait!” Benson said. “She didn’t hurt me, she was helping me.” But it was too late. Mandy was gone.

They carried Benson inside and cleaned his foot and bandaged it up, and Benson told them what had happened.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You were lucky this time. You can never trust a dog.”

Aunt Moss said, “Dogs are dangerous animals. They can’t help it. Dogs and wombats just don’t get on with each other. “

Benson’s mother didn’t say anything. She just held Benson in her lap until he went to sleep.

The next morning, Benson stayed in bed, thinking. Then he got up and went into the kitchen. His mother was making sandwiches. He said, “It isn’t right. Mandy didn’t hurt me, she helped me. I didn’t even say thank you.”

His mother said, “I was thinking the same thing. Do you think you’ll be able to walk?”

Benson tried out his foot. With the bandage on, it felt much better. “I think so,” he said.

“Let’s go then,” his mother said. She packed the sandwiches into a bag and Benson got his hat and his water bottle.

“How are we going to find her?”Benson said.

“We’ll keep looking until we do,” his mother said.

They followed the track that Mandy had taken, deep into the bush. They searched everywhere and asked everyone they met. A couple of possums thought they had heard a dog howling one night, and told them where to go. The bush got thicker and thicker.

After a while they stopped. Benson’s mother said, “Maybe we should come back tomorrow.”

Benson said, “I’ve got an idea.” He took a deep breath and shouted as loud as he could, “Mandy! Mandy! It’s me, your friend, Benson!”

They waited, and then they heard a gruffling noise in the bush, and Mandy came out.

Benson’s mother gasped a little bit and held Benson’s hand to stop herself running away. “We came to say thank you,” she said.

Mandy said, “That’s okay.” She turned to go back into the bush, but Benson’s mother saw that she was very thin and covered in sores and bruises.

“Are you hungry?” she said. “We’ve got sandwiches.”

Mandy was very hungry. She ate the sandwiches in two gulps before Benson managed to get even one.

“What are you doing here?” Benson asked. “What happened to you?”

Mandy said, “The man that had me used to hit me. He used to go away and leave me tied up with no food or water, so I chewed through the rope and ran away.” She seemed sad and angry at the same time.

Benson’s mother made up her mind. “Come on,” she said, “you’re coming home with us. You need proper food and somewhere to rest.”

Benson’s eyes opened wide. “What will Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss say?”

“I don’t care what they say,” his mother said. “This is an animal that needs our help.”

They took Mandy home with them. Aunt Moss screamed and hid in her room. Aunt Lillibet argued, but Benson’s mother wouldn’t listen. She washed Mandy all over and gave her a bowl of milk and some of the lentil and spinach casserole they were having for dinner, and put ointment on her sores and bruises. They made her a bed next to Benson’s, in case she woke up during the night and was lonely.

In the morning, Mandy said she had to go.

Benson said, “Why? Did Aunt Lillibet snore too loudly?”

Mandy said, “You’ve been very kind, but I can’t stay here. I need space to run around, and other dogs to play with. I like to run and bark and chase things. We’re just different.”

Benson’s mother said, “But where will you go? You can’t go back to the man that hit you, and you can’t live in the bush.”

Mandy didn’t know what to do either. She lay down and put her head down on her paws.

Benson said, “I think I’ve got an idea. Remember cousin Lance’s empty wombat hole, up near the river?”

His mother said, “Mandy doesn’t want to live in a wombat hole.”

Benson said, “No, but right beside Lance’s place there was a fence, and a yard, remember? And inside the fence there was a big dog. It was a big yard. I think there would be enough room for two dogs.”

The three of them set off together, but before they even got near the river Mandy sniffed the air and said, “I can smell the other dog from here. I think I can find the way now. Thank you.”

She touched Benson’s mother’s nose with hers, and licked Benson, and then she bounded away.

Are you Okay?

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

Benson was at the playground with his friend Mick and his cousin Elmer. They played Hidey-Go-Catchies for a while which was fun because Benson was good at hiding and he could always sneak home before the others caught him, and Elmer was terrible at hiding so if Benson was in, he could always find Elmer and race him back home.

After a while Zali came, with her mother and her baby sister Zip, so they all went to the big sandpit because Benson loved to dig and Zali loved to sit in a big hole and be covered up with sand, and everyone else loved to pretend to be frightened and run away when Zali made a big growling noise and burst out of the sand.

Then Benson’s friend Phillip came. Benson could tell that Phillip was in a bad mood because he was frowning and he didn’t say hello to anyone. He didn’t help cover Zali up with sand, and he didn’t run away when everyone else did. He just sat by himself, being cranky.

Little Zip went over to him and went ‘Huh, huh!’ but he didn’t smile, but just gave her a push and said, “Go away!”

Mick had brought his frisbee, so they all decided to play frisbee, all except Phillip, who said, “Frisbees are stupid.” When Mick accidentally threw the frisbee so that it hit Phillip in the tummy, Phillip stamped on it and broke it.

“Hey!” said Mick. “I’m telling my mother!”

Benson went up to Phillip and said, “Are you okay?”

Phillip looked at Benson and he gathered up all the angriness inside him and said, as meanly as he could, “Go away, you stupid, fat wombat!”

Benson was shocked. If it had been Mick who said that, Benson would have thought he was just being horrible, but this was Phillip. Phillip was never horrible.

He sat down next to Phillip and said, “What’s the matter?”

Phillip looked at Benson and he said, “Kendall died!” and he burst into tears.

Mick laughed and said, “Your snail died?”

Benson said, “Kendall wasn’t just a snail, he was Phillip’s friend.”

Phillip really cried then, big, noisy, whuffling sobs. Zali came over and patted him. Phillip put his face on her shoulder and cried.

After a while Benson said, “What happened to Kendall?” He thought maybe Phillip would like to talk about it.

Phillip wiped his nose on his arm and said, “We were playing outside and I was hiding from him and a big old goanna came and crunched him up!” He started crying again.

Zali patted him on the back some more. Benson just sat there, feeling sorry for him. Mick whispered to Benson, “Should I go and get him another snail?”

Benson whispered back, “I don’t think so. Kendall was special. They were friends.”

They all sat there with Phillip in the sun until he stopped crying and felt better. “I’m sorry I stepped on the frisbee,” he said.

“That’s okay,” Benson said. Mick wasn’t so sure it was okay. It was his frisbee after all.

“When I get home, I can draw a picture of you and Kendall if you like,” Benson said.

“That’d be nice,” Phillip said.

“Do you want to come and play now?” Benson said.

“No, I think I’ll just sit in the sandpit with Zali,” Phillip said.

Benson and the others went and played with the broken frisbee, which went all right really, even though it had a big crack in it. Phillip sat in the sandpit with Zali and talked about Kendall until he had said everything he could think of to say, and he felt a lot better.

Wombat Picnic Day

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

Once a year all the wombats got together to have Wombat Picnic Day. There were games and races and competitions for everybody, with prizes, and watermelon and ice cream and baked turnips and jelly in five different colours.

This year Benson was going in the Fastest Young Digger race again. He’d been practising for weeks and he thought he was pretty good. Aunt Lillibet was entering the Traditional Lamingtons competition, which she always won, and Aunt Moss had a secret plan to win the Exotic Lamingtons prize.

Benson’s mother was too busy making jelly and making sure there were enough chocolate bars for prizes, to enter any competitions.

“I might go in the seven-legged race,” she said, “if there’s time. That’s always fun.”

“You should go in the Egg-on-the Nose race,” Benson said. “Your nose is the perfect shape.”

The picnic ground was a big, wide open space, flat in the middle for all the races, with lots of trees around the edges for the spectators to keep cool.

“I hope these jellies don’t melt before lunchtime,” Benson’s mother said.

“We could eat them now, if that would help,” Benson said hopefully.

“No, I’m sure they’ll be fine,” his mother said.

They went to watch the judging of the Traditional Lamingtons competition. Mr Fenn was the judge. Benson thought that must be the best job in the world. Mr Fenn looked at every lamington to make sure it was perfectly square and nicely covered in coconut, and the chocolate icing was not too runny. He tasted every one carefully, rolling it around in his mouth and looking up at the sky.

Uncle Elmer’s came last every year. The icing on his lamingtons had all run off into a puddle, and they were such odd shapes that Benson wondered if he had dropped them on the way to the picnic ground.

“Sorry, Lillibet,” Mr Fenn said. “Yours are perfectly square but they taste like cardboard. Did you forget to put the sugar in?”

Aunt Lillibet glared at Aunt Moss. “There wasn’t any sugar left!” she said.

“This year’s winner is… Genevieve!” Mr Fenn announced. Everyone clapped except Aunt Lillibet who muttered, “So much coconut they look like a polar bear in a snow storm.”

“And now the Exotic Lamingtons,” Mr Fenn said.

Aunt Moss held her breath and crossed her fingers.

“Highly Commended to Moss for her Peppermint Cream lamingtons!” Mr Fenn said. Aunt Moss looked very pleased. Aunt Lillibet muttered, “Green lamingtons, I ask you!”

“First prize goes to Babette, for her very unusual Mushroom and Prune lamingtons,” Mr Fenn announced. Everyone clapped.

Aunt Lillibet said to Babette, “Oh, are they lamingtons? I thought you were entering the Make-Your-Own-Meteorite competition.”

Benson’s mother took Aunt Lillibet away before Babette could squash her lamingtons all over Lillibet’s hat.

There were races for the mothers, which Zali’s mother Teresa won, and races for all the little ones. Bonnie Lou won a prize for Scariest Scarecrow although she really meant to enter Beginner Flower Arranging. Gordon won the prize for Roundest Wombat, and little Zip won Cutest Baby Wombat, but only because Alejandro’s baby brother Quentin bit the judge.

Then it was time for Fastest Young Digger. Benson was really excited. They were all good diggers, except Elmer who was hopeless and came last every year. Ralph usually got distracted by a worm or a slater he found. Arnette was a good digger, but Alejandro and Mick and Benson were the best. Mick was usually superfast, but this year he had eaten so many brussel sprouts in the Brussel Sprout Eating competition that he could hardly move.

Mr Fenn said, “Ready, set, go!” Benson started digging as fast as he could. The dirt was just right, not too wet and soggy and not too dry and hard. He ran into a root and quickly dug around it. He dug faster and faster, until his arms and legs hurt. Then Mr Fenn yelled, “Stop!” Benson stopped and dug upwards out of his tunnel. He looked around.

Mick was way behind, puffing. Alejandro had banged his arm on a rock and stopped a long way back. Arnette was just behind Benson. He had won! He was just about to give himself a big cheer when Mr Fenn announced in a loud voice, “And the winner is… Elmer!”

Elmer? Benson couldn’t believe his ears. He swung around. Elmer was metres ahead of him.

Benson was very disappointed, but he tried hard to smile and went up to shake Elmer’s hand. Then he noticed Elmer’s tunnel. It was starting to sink a little bit. Benson looked harder. The tunnel sank a bit more. Holes were starting to appear all along it.

Elmer had dug his tunnel through sand! No wonder he had been so fast. But all the wombats knew that if a tunnel collapsed, the digger was disqualified.

“Excuse me, everyone,” Benson said, but then he noticed Uncle Elton’s face. He looking at Elmer so proudly, there were tears in his eyes. Elmer had never won anything before, not even Jolliest Joey. Elmer was jumping up and down for joy.

Everyone turned to listen to Benson. Benson suddenly imagined how Elmer was going to feel when his tunnel was disqualified, and how Uncle Elton would feel. Benson would be the winner, and somehow that made it worse. Benson looked at everyone and said, “Um, good work, Elmer.” He shook Elmer’s hand.

Mr Fenn gave Elmer the prize, and Benson cheered just as loud as everyone else. He really didn’t mind not winning. He had dug a really good tunnel and he had loved digging it. Besides, there was always next year.

On the way home, his mother gave him an extra special hug, so special that he wondered if she knew what he had done, but she didn’t say anything so he didn’t either, just hugged her back.

Unbored

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

Benson’s mother was in the kitchen cleaning out the fridge. Benson came out of his room and sat at the table. Then he got up and went outside. A minute later he came in again and went back to his room, but he came out again a few seconds later and stood in the middle of the room, standing on one foot and then the other. Then he lay on the floor and gave an enormous sigh.

His mother said, “What’s the matter, Benson? Are you bored?”

Benson lifted up his head and said, “No, that’s the trouble. I’ve got so many things I want to do, and I can’t decide which one to do first.”

His mother wiped up some spilled beetroot juice. “You’re bothered because you’re not bored?” she asked.

Benson dropped his head back on the floor and stared at the ceiling. “It’s such a beautiful day and I want to go and lie in the sun, but I also want to practise digging for the Fastest Digger competition, but then Aunt Moss has sharpened all my pencils and I can’t wait to do some drawing with them, and I really really want to read my new library book about a bear and a piglet who dig a hole for an elephant. Whichever thing I decide to do, it means I can’t do the other things. It’s terrible!”

He lay on the floor and groaned.

His mother shook her head at him. “What about doing them all at once?”

“That’s impossible,” Benson said. “I can’t lie in the sun and dig a tunnel at the same time, and I can’t dig and draw at the same time because the paper would get all messed up.”

“You could lie in the sun and read your book,” his mother said.

“I can’t, it’s a library book, and I’m not allowed to take library books outside, since last time when the kookaburra stole my library book,” he said.

“Well, which thing do you want to do most?” she said, trying to get some old yoghurt off one of the shelves.

“I don’t know!” said Benson. “I want to do all of them!”

His mother kept on scrubbing at the yoghurt and Benson kept on groaning, until she couldn’t stand it any longer. “While you’re deciding, you can take these out to the compost for me,” she said.

She gave him a big pile of sad spinach and some soggy zucchinis. He carried them out and dumped them on the compost pile. Just then a big raindrop hit him on the nose, then another one and another one, until it was suddenly pouring with rain. He ran inside.

“It’s raining,” he panted. “I can’t go and lie in the sunshine, and I can’t dig!”

“That’s good,” his mother said. “It makes it easier for you to decide.”

Just then Aunt Moss came out and said, “Benson, I’m just going to borrow your pencils to make a birthday card for cousin Genevieve, if you don’t mind.” She took all his nice sharp pencils into her room.

Two seconds later, Aunt Lillibet came out and said, “I love this book you borrowed from the library, Benson. You won’t mind me reading it, will you? It’s too wet to go out into the garden.” She took his library book and went into her room.

Benson opened his mouth and shut it again. He flopped on the floor and sighed as loudly as he could.

His mother said, “Are you still unbored, Benson?”

“No,” he said, “I’m completely bored. I don’t have a thing to do. I’ve never been so bored ever in my whole life.”

“That’s more like it,” his mother said. “You can come and peel all these old apples for me, and we’ll make a really big apple pie.”

“Okay,” Benson said, jumping up. “It’s a good thing I don’t have anything to do, isn’t it?”

The Orange Scrunchie

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

Benson and his friend Roly both belonged to the Library Lovers’ Club. One Thursday when they went to the library, all the Library Lovers were busy cutting and gluing and colouring and drawing. Miss Evangelina, the library lady, said, “Everyone’s making posters for Diversity Day. The very best poster will go right here beside the front door, where everyone can see it.”

Roly asked her, “What’s Diversity Day?”

Miss Evangelina said, “It’s a day when we remember that it’s good to be different, like all sorts of different plants in one garden. Some of us are tall trees, some of us are pretty flowers, some of us are prickly cactuses, some of us are climbing vines. We’re all different and that’s what makes the garden beautiful, and fun to be in.”

Benson wondered what sort of plant he was. A watermelon? Roly was more cactusey. Miss Evangelina was definitely a willow tree, all droopy and drapey.

She gave them a big piece of cardboard to make their poster. They took it over to an empty table and Benson started drawing as many different animals as he could think of. He drew a dinosaur and a water dragon and a gibbon and a walrus and four mice holding hands, and a flying possum and a sneaky Arctic fox. Roly helped with the colouring, and putting expressions on the animals’ faces. After a while he nudged Benson.

“See those girls over there?” he said. “They’re covering their poster with glitter glue and sparkles.”

Benson looked over at the girls. “That’s Arnette and her sister. She doesn’t like me.”

“Why doesn’t she like you?” Roly asked. He thought Benson was wonderful.

Benson shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. He kept on drawing.

Roly kept watching the girls. “They’ve got piles and piles of stickers and stuff. Maybe they would let us use some?”

Benson said, “Maybe.” They went over to the girls’ table.

As soon as they got near, the girls covered all their stuff with their hands. Arnette said to her sister, “Watch out, Twiss, boys steal things all the time!”

Benson said, “We’re not going to steal anything! We just thought you might want to share some of the stuff you’re not using.”

Arnette said, “We don’t share with stealers! Go away!”

Benson said, “You’re just being mean. I don’t steal things.”

Arnette said, “Oh yes, you do! You stole my orange scrunchie!”

“What?” said Benson. “I did not!”

“Yes, you did!” Arnette said. “In the playground one day. I was in the sandpit and you came up and stole my scrunchie.”

Roly said, “Benson would never do a thing like that!”

Arnette said, “He did! You ask my sister.”

Twiss said, “Yeah! I saw you! My mother says not to play with you because you take things.”

Benson said angrily, “Come on, Roly, they’re just making it up. We’ll come back and finish our poster tomorrow.”

When he got home, Benson went to his room and thought about what Arnette had said. He knew that taking other people’s things was wrong. He would never do anything so mean and horrible.

His eyes wandered over his shelves, especially the top shelf where all his old toys sat. In the middle was his furry lion that he used to love when he was a baby. The furry lion had a big orange mane. The more he looked at it, the more he felt something stir in the back of his mind.

He climbed up and got the lion and looked at its mane.

It wasn’t a mane, it was an orange scrunchie.

He felt hot and cold all over. He really had stolen Arnette’s scrunchie. How could he have forgotten all about it?

Right then his mother knocked on the door and came into his room. Quick as a flash, Benson hid the lion behind his back.

“I’m not doing anything,” he said.

His mother looked at him. His face was all red and he was hiding something behind his back.

She sat down on the bed. “Benson,” she said, “I think there’s something you want to tell me.”

Benson felt completely awful. What would his mother say if she knew what he had done? But if he lied to her, it would be even worse. He didn’t know what to do.

His mother looked at him and waited.

Slowly he brought his hand out from behind his back. “It’s Arnette’s scrunchie,” he whispered. “I…took it.”

His mother took the scrunchie and looked at it. “I remember this,” she said. “You were just little, and there was a little girl at the playground with an orange scrunchie and you kept wanting to grab it. I didn’t know you had taken it.”

“I think I grabbed it when you weren’t looking and I hid it until we got home,” Benson said. “I didn’t remember until I saw it just a minute ago.”

His mother said, “You were very little. You probably didn’t realise what you were doing.”

Benson swallowed. “What should I do?” he said.

“Well, first you should give it back and then you should say sorry,” his mother said.

Benson felt sick. Everyone would know what he had done. Roly would know, and Mick and all his friends. Arnette would tell everyone and no-one would want to be his friend any more.

“Can’t I just… forget about it again?” he said.

“You can’t forget now that you’ve remembered,” his mother said. “It would be the same as telling a lie.”

Benson looked at the scrunchie and he tried to tell himself he didn’t really steal it, but there it was.

He took a big breath. “Can you come with me?” he said.

“Of course,” his mother said.

The next day he and Roly went to the library again, and his mother came too, holding his hand. He made himself go up to the table where Arnette and Twiss were. He held out the scrunchie. “Here,” he said. “I took your scrunchie. I’m sorry.”

Arnette looked at the scrunchie and she looked at Benson. “It’s not as nice as I remember,” she said. “You can have it if you want.”

Benson said, “I don’t want it. I don’t even remember why I took it.”

Twiss said, “I’ll have it!”

Arnette said, “I’ve got a better idea.” She looked over at Benson and Roly’s poster. “You’re pretty good at drawing. Why don’t we all make a poster together?”

The four of them sat down together and drew and coloured and pasted and glued, and they made the best poster by far, covered with animals of all shapes and sizes with glitter and sparkly stickers everywhere. And right at the top in the middle was a bright orange sun made out of a scrunchie.

Roly’s Story

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.

Benson’s friend, Pascoe the story-teller, had been very sick and she was staying with them while she was getting better. The days were cold, but there was a warm sunny spot just outside Benson’s front door, and Pascoe sat there in the sun with Benson, telling stories. No matter what Benson told her, about bush turkeys scratching up Aunt Lillibet’s garden or Uncle Elton making a music stand, she could straighten it out into a beginning and an end and an interesting middle.

“Do you know all the stories there are?” Benson asked her.

“Definitely not,” she said. “There are millions of stories, and that doesn’t even count the ones I haven’t made up yet.”

Benson’s friend Roly came over to sit in the sun with them. He had something he wanted to ask Pascoe, but it was hard to think of how to say it.

Pascoe said, “Is there a particular story you’d like to hear, Roly?”

Roly looked very shy, but he said, “Could you tell me my story?”

“The Story of the Brave Little Echidna?” she said. “That’s one of my favourites!”

“No,” Roly said, “I mean, the story of me and my mother. I was just little when she died, and I thought maybe you knew the story of where I came from.”

Pascoe was quiet for a moment, putting the story into the right shape in her head. Then she said, “Some of my stories are made up stories, because an idea comes into my head and I love to make it into a story, but most of the stories I know are not my stories. They belong to everyone. This is the story everyone tells about you and your mother.”

And she told him the story. “Your mother wished for you long before you were born. All the other mother echidnas had little puggles, and your mother longed for a puggle of her own, so when you were born she was very very happy. She called you Roly because she said you looked so cute when you were all curled up.

“You were small and clever and interested in things. She wanted to teach you everything she thought you would need to know. She taught you to be kind and to listen, to be patient, and to be strong when you needed to be. Nothing made her happier than being with you.

“The day the bushfires came, they were the biggest, hottest, fastest fires anyone had ever seen. There was nowhere to run, so your mother pushed you into an old dead tree lying on the ground, and climbed in after you, covering your body with hers. Then the fires came, and burned, everything. Your mother died, and you nearly died.

“When the fires passed there was nothing left but a little half-burned echidna. You couldn’t walk but you dragged yourself along by your paws, looking everywhere for your mother.”

By now, tears were running all down Roly’s little nose onto the ground. Benson picked him up and held him tight.

Pascoe said, “Everyone remembers the little echidna who wouldn’t give up looking for his mother. You travelled a long way, for days and days, and then you came here.”

Roly said, “Benson’s mother took care of me. She was the one who told me my mother was dead.”

No-one talked for a little while. Then Pascoe said, “But that’s not the end of the story.”

“Isn’t it?” said Roly.

“No,” said Pascoe. “After that you made friends with Benson, the Bold and Brave and Intrepid, and you went on adventures together.”

“The Adventure of the Tawny Frogmouth, and the Attack of the Angry Orangutan!” said Benson.

“The what?” Roly said. “I don’t remember that one.”

Benson said, “That one hasn’t exactly happened yet, but it might.”

Roly grinned. “What about the story of the Wombat Who Ate Ant Soup?” he said.

“Like that’s ever going to happen,” said Benson.

Pascoe yawned and said, “I think that’s a story for another day.”

Roly said, “I think I’d like to go back to where my mother died, sometime, and say goodbye.”

Benson said, “I’ll come with you, if you want. We can all go.”

Pascoe said, “That’s definitely a story for another day. I told you that wasn’t the end of the story, didn’t I?”

Benson started to wonder what his story would be like, when Pascoe told it, but he didn’t want to hear it just now. Right now his tummy was telling him it was time for something to eat, so he went inside and made sultana sandwiches for everyone and they sat in the sun and ate them together.

Making Stories

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.

Aunt Moss was in the kitchen, boiling up a big pot of onion skins.

“Are you making soup, Aunt Moss?” Benson asked. If she was, he was pretty sure he didn’t want any.

“No, I’m dyeing this possum fur that Nella’s mother gave me,” Aunt Moss said. “It’s always falling out or getting caught on things, and she collects it for me.”

“Why are you killing the possum fur?” Benson asked.

“Not killing it, dyeing it,” Aunt Moss said. “I’m making it a different colour.” She strained the onion skins out of the water, and then she put a big pile of possum fur into the water in the pot and pushed it down carefully with a stick. In a little while she pulled it out again and it was a nice yellow colour.

“I’m dyeing some of it yellow with these onion skins, and then I’ll dye some of it in different reds and some of it brown and green with these gum leaves and banksia cones,” Aunt Moss said. “Then I’m going to take it my friend Shelley, and she’s going to spin it on her spinning wheel and make it into yarn, and then we’re going to weave a wonderful story.”

Benson said, “Did you say you were going to weave a story?” He thought Aunt Moss must have gotten distracted and forgotten what she was talking about. She did that sometimes, like when she forgot she was washing up and started filling up the kitchen with giant bubbles, or when she started hula-dancing right in the middle of ukulele practice.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said, “we’re going to weave a story.”

“You tell stories, or you read them, you don’t weave them,” Benson said kindly. He knew Aunt Moss was getting very old. Sometimes she got her plate and Aunt Lillibet’s plate mixed up and ate two desserts by mistake.

Aunt Moss said, “There are lots of ways of telling stories. Bees tells stories just by dancing in the air.”

“Bees?” said Benson. “I thought they were just buzzing around.”

“Oh no, they’re telling each other about where they’ve been, which flowers they’ve visited and how delicious the nectar is,” Aunt Moss said. “Magpies tell stories by singing.”

“Singing?” said Benson.

Aunt Moss nodded while she was stirring. “They sing to each other all the time and tell each other about how many beetles they’re going to catch, or if somebody’s seen a fox. They talk about their visitors, and who’s moving in and who’s getting married, all sorts of things.”

It was funny to think of birds telling each other things, when he thought it was just noise. Benson thought about it. He said, “Nanna told me that a tree can tell you about the droughts and the fires and the floods it’s been through if you look at the rings inside its trunk.”

“That’s right,” said Aunt Moss. She carefully lifted the fur out of the pot and put in a big bowl to cool down. It was a lovely bright golden yellow. “Shelley and I are going to weave a story about the bush near her place, with all the plants and trees in greens and browns, and the wild-flowers in all their beautiful colours, and the animals that live there.”

Benson thought about the bush, and he remembered the stories about the bushfires that Pascoe, the story-teller, had told him. He thought of the bright red flames in jagged leaping lines, and the wavy grey smoke hanging over everything. He said to Aunt Moss, “Do you think drawing could be a kind of story-telling?”

“Of course,” said Aunt Moss. “I think all the best drawings tell a story.”

Benson went and got the biggest piece of paper he could find, and all his coloured pencils. He drew trees and fire and wombats hiding underground, and bushes and trees and even the ground on fire, and echidnas and wallabies and koalas trying to get away, and smoke everywhere. He drew and drew until there wasn’t one space left on the paper.

His mother came and looked at what he was drawing. She said, “That’s the story of the bushfire, isn’t it?” She could see red flames, and the orange sky covered in brown and grey smoke.

Benson nodded. “But that’s not all the story,” he said. He went and got another piece of paper and drew blue skies and black trees with fuzzy green around the bottom, coming to life again. He drew green grass growing again and hungry animals coming out to eat the grass, and wombats peeping out of their holes looking for something to eat. He drew lost animals like Roly, and sad animals with no homes, like the koalas. He drew ants and beetles and grasshoppers, and he drew lots of birds sitting in the black branches of the trees, looking down at the beetles and grasshoppers and thinking how delicious they looked.

“This is the next part of the story,” he said.

“And then what happens next?” asked his mother.

“I’m not sure yet,” Benson said. “I think I’ll just keep drawing and see what happens.”