The Red Rocket

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.

It all started when Benson’s cousin, Lance, came over for lunch and broke the door off the fridge. He was just opening the fridge to see if there was any cheese and the door came off. “It came off in my hand!” he said, very surprised.

So Benson’s mother had to get a new fridge.

It came in a very big box, twice as tall as Benson was high, even when he was standing on his tip-toes.

“Can I have the box to play with?” he asked his mother.

“Of course you can,” his mother said.

Benson painted the outside red all over with black buttons and rocket burners, so it looked just like a great big red rocket. He even poked lots of holes in the sides with one of Aunt Lillibet’s knitting needles so the light would shine in like little stars when he was inside.

It was so tall that he had to climb onto a chair to get onto the table to get in at the top, and then it was a long way down to jump, but when he was inside, it felt like a real rocket. He decided to paint some rocket controls on the inside of the rocket, and then he realised there was a problem. His paints were outside the rocket and he was inside. And he didn’t know how he was going to get out.

“Hey!” he called. “Can someone help me get out of this rocket?”

Aunt Lillibet came along and heard him. She said, “Was that you calling, Benson?”

“I can’t get out,” Benson said from inside the rocket. “Can you help me?”

“Well, apart from the fact that you borrowed one of my knitting needles without asking, and BENT it,” she said, “I think it’s better for a young wombat to use his brains and try and work out how to get out of a fix that he got himself into because he didn’t think first, instead of expecting someone to come along and help him.”

“Does that mean you’re going to help me?” Benson said.

“No,” she said, and walked off.

Benson sat in the bottom of a very tall, dark box and thought. He couldn’t dig his way out because the bottom of the box was made of strong, thick cardboard. He couldn’t climb out because there was nothing to stand on. He couldn’t chop a hole in the box because he didn’t have anything to chop with. He sat and thought.

Then he had a good idea. He stood up, and leaned as heavily as he could on one side of the box. It started to lean, and then the whole box tipped over with a crash. It landed on its side and Benson crawled out through the top.

He gave himself a little pat on the back. “Aunt Lillibet was right,” he said to himself. “I’m glad I worked that out by myself.”

He stood the box up again, and cleaned up the mess the paints had made when the box crashed into them. Then he thought he should try and straighten Aunt Lillibet’s knitting needle for her. He took it outside and found a rock to hit it with, but that didn’t work. He put it between two flat pieces of wood and jumped on it, but that didn’t work either. All he got was a bent knitting needle with another bend in it and the top snapped off. Then he had a good idea. If he got the other knitting needle and bent it just the same, Aunt Lillibet could do some short, curvy knitting with them.

He went inside to ask Aunt Lillibet for the other needle, but he couldn’t find her anywhere. Then he heard a muffled voice coming from inside his rocket. “Hello? Is anyone there?” it said.

Benson climbed onto a chair and got up onto the table and looked inside the box. “Aunt Lillibet? Did you climb into my rocket without asking?” he said.

“Don’t just stand there,” Aunt Lillibet said angrily. “Help me! I can’t get out.”

“Don’t you think it would be better if you figured out how to get out by yourself?” Benson asked.

“Yes, it would, but this is an emergency,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“An emergency?” Benson said. He looked around for the flashing lights and the sirens but he couldn’t see any. “Are you bleeding?” he asked.

“No,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I need to go to the toilet.”

“Oh, that sort of emergency,” Benson said. “Okay, just hold on a minute.”

“I AM holding on,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Hurry up!”

Benson got down off the table and went across to the other side of the room. Then he ran across the room as fast as he could and threw himself at the box. It fell over on its side with a crash.

Everything was quiet for a minute, and then Aunt Lillibet’s voice said, “Was that the best thing you could think of, Benson?”

“You said you were in a hurry,” Benson said.

Aunt Lillibet crawled out of the box with her hat on crooked and her glasses hanging off one ear. “Thank you, Benson,” she said. She went off to the bathroom.

Benson stood the rocket up again. He climbed up onto the chair and got onto the table, and then he stopped and thought. He got back down again and went and got his scissors. He cut a door the shape of a rocket hatch in the side of the rocket, and then he went inside and shut the door.

The Bouncy Red Ball

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

One day Benson was playing outside when a shiny red ball fell out of the sky and hit him right on the nose.

“Ow!” he said. He looked around, but he couldn’t see anybody.

It was a very nice red ball. He bounced it a couple of times on the ground and it bounced straight back into his hand. He threw it hard at a big eucalyptus tree and it boinged straight back to him. He threw it again, really hard, but this time he just missed catching it. It flew past him and he heard a voice say, “Ow!!”

His friend Mick came around the corner, rubbing his nose. “I was just walking along,” he said, “and this ball came out of nowhere and hit me on the nose!”

“Did it?” said Benson.

Mick looked hard at him. “It wasn’t you, was it?” he asked.

Benson said, “It’s not my ball. It looks like a good ball, though.”

“Yeah,” said Mick. He bounced it on the ground a few times. “It bounces really well. Do you want to play catch?”

Mick threw the ball to Benson and Benson threw it back. Sometimes Mick threw it down on the ground first, then it bounced up so high that Benson had to jump up to catch it. The seventh time, it went so high that Benson couldn’t catch it. It flew over his head into the bush. They both heard a voice shout, “Ow!!!”

There was a scrittering noise and Benson’s possum friend, Nils, came scampering down the tree. “This ball came out of nowhere and hit me on the nose,” he said.

“Really!” said Benson.

“Did you throw it at me?” Nils asked.

“I wouldn’t do a thing like that,” Benson said.

Nils asked Mick, “Is this your ball?”

“No,” Mick said. “It looks like a great ball, though. Do you want to play?”

“All right,” Nils said.

They played catch, and then they played Possum-in-the-Middle. Then Nils got the ball and threw it high up into the air. They heard an angry voice shout, “Oww!!”

Nils ran and hid behind the tree. His sister, Nella, came scrambling down the tree, rubbing her nose.

“This ball just came out of nowhere and hit me on the nose,” she said. “Did you throw it?”

“It wasn’t me,” Mick said.

“I didn’t do it,” Benson said.

Nella looked at the ball. “It feels like it would bounce really well,” she said.

“We’ll play with you,” Mick said.

“Okay,” Nella said. “Nils!” she yelled.

Nils popped out from behind the tree. Nella asked him, “Do you want to play with us?”

“Sure,” Nils said. They played Possum-in-the-Middle for a while, and then they tried to see who could make the ball bounce the highest. Nella bounced it really hard, and it zoomed away into the bush.

They heard a deep, growly voice say, “Owww!!!”

The four of them looked at each other and then they all ran off, as fast as they could.

Pick Me!

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

One morning Benson was drawing space planes and his mother was fixing the leg of the table where Benson and Mick and been playing Crocodile Hunters a bit too wildly the day before.*

(* Crocodile Hunters is a game where one person (or more) is the crocodile and the other is a hunter. They wrestle and tumble and if the hunter wins, they tie the crocodile up to something like a table or a chair and poke them with feathers and if the crocodile wins they eat the other person’s lunch.)

Aunt Moss came home from her Wild Knitters group and sighed. “I won’t be able to take Benson to his saxophone lesson tomorrow. They’ve asked me to organise the Knitting stall at the festival next month, so I’ll be busy every afternoon for the next two weeks.”

“What are you selling at the stall this year?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“We’re going to sell odd socks,” Aunt Moss said. “Everybody always has plenty of them to donate, and everybody always needs them.”

“That’s a good idea,” Benson’s mother said. “I can’t take Benson to his lesson either. I’m demonstrating how to prune native flowers for the Bushcare group, and after that Gordon has asked me to take over the Cheese-making group while he’s away.”

She turned to Aunt Lillibet and asked, “Would you be able to take Benson to his lesson tomorrow, Lillibet?”

Aunt Lillibet put down her book and took her glasses off.

“Why doesn’t anybody ever ask me to run something or to be in charge of something?” she complained. “I know as much about cheese-making as you do, and I’ve been pruning native trees since before you were born. And I could organise an odd-sock stall with one hand tied behind my back!”

Benson’s mother said brightly, “I’m asking you now!”

“It’s not the same thing at all,” Aunt Lillibet grumbled, but she took Benson to his lesson.

The saxophone teacher was choosing students to play at the festival. Benson hoped very hard that she would choose him. He had been practising and practising. He was sure he was the loudest player in the class.

The teacher chose four of the students, but she didn’t choose Benson. Actually the teacher didn’t choose him because he was the loudest player in the class and when he played you couldn’t hear anyone else, but Benson didn’t know that.

Everyone clapped. Benson felt very disappointed, but he clapped with everyone else, and tried hard not to show how disappointed he really was. He didn’t want the other four to feel bad.

He put his saxophone away sadly and wondered if he should take up the gong instead. He remembered what Aunt Lillibet had said about never being picked for anything, and he knew how she felt.

The next day he was at the playground with Mick and Bonnie Lou, and Alejandro came up.

“I’ve got some bad news,” he said. “You know how my mother was going to organise a day out for everyone at the butterfly farm next week? Well, she’s too busy and she won’t be able to do it any more.”

Everybody loved going to the butterfly farm. The butterflies were amazing, and there was a really good ice cream shop right next door.

“Can’t we ask someone else to do it instead?” Benson said.

“Good idea. I’ll ask my mum,” Mick said.

Benson said, “I think we should ask Aunt Lillibet.”

“No way!” Mick said. “She’d make us write down the names of all the butterflies and then she’d check our spelling!”

Alejandro said, “She’s always cranky, and she keeps yelling at us to be quiet. I think we should ask Mick’s mother.”

Benson knew that Mick’s mother would make up funny rhymes out of the butterflies’ names, and show them how to be as still as statues so the butterflies would come and land on their shoulders. But he remembered how Aunt Lillibet said that no-one ever asked her to do anything. He said, “No, I think we should ask Aunt Lillibet. It’s her turn.”

“Oh, all right,” Mick said.

They all went to see Aunt Lillibet. Benson said, “Aunt Lillibet, would you like to organise a day out for everyone at the butterfly farm next week?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Absolutely not! I’ve got better things to do than take a bunch of noisy young wombats to a butterfly farm, shouting and arguing and rampaging around, and frightening all the butterflies.”

Benson was very surprised. “But you said no-one ever picked you to do things! I thought you’d be happy that we asked you to be the one to organise it.”

“I am happy,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’d have to be crazy to take you and Mick and all your rambunctious friends to a butterfly farm, but it’s nice to be asked.”

Rock Painting

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

Aunt Lillibet’s friend Gordon was very excited. “I’ve found a cave with ancient rock paintings on the walls!” he said. “They’re probably thousands of years old!”

“Paintings of rocks?” Benson said.

“No,” Gordon said, “paintings of ancient animals and things. Very very old things.”

“Who painted them?” Benson asked. “Very very old people?”

“No, of course not,” Gordon said, getting cross. “They were painted by artists, hundreds of years ago. Probably thousands of years ago.”

Benson’s mother was very interested. “That’s amazing! Where did you find the cave?” she said.

“It’s near Grass Tree Gully,” Gordon said. “I can’t tell you exactly where because it’s a secret. We don’t want lots of people going up there. They might draw on the walls or do things to spoil the paintings when no-one’s looking. But I’m taking a group up there tomorrow, if you want to come.”

In the morning they all got their hats and their water-bottles and set out, with Gordon and Fenella. It was a long walk, through a lot of bush with no track. When they got close, Gordon said, “Now remember these paintings are very very old and very important, so no-one is allowed to touch them, or get too close to them, or even breathe on them very hard. Especially you, Benson!”

Fenella said, “We have to show respect for the ancient peoples who did these wonderful paintings, and we have to make sure they’re kept safe for future generations to come.”

Everyone nodded seriously.

The cave with the paintings wasn’t really a cave at all. It was more like a long wall tucked under a long rock shelf that hung over it, keeping the rain and the sun off.

Benson loved the paintings. They were red and orange and brown, mostly painted with clay and sand mixed with water. There was a big kangaroo, and lots of bony fish, some of them so old they were nearly faded away. There were even some wombats drawn on the walk with black charcoal. He went up to have a closer look.

“Keep back!” Gordon said loudly.

“I wasn’t going to touch it,” Benson protested. “Why is that little wombat wearing a hat?”

Gordon said, “It’s not a hat. That’s an ancient wombat called a diprotodon. Their heads were that shape.”

Gordon wouldn’t let them stay very long, in case they wore the paintings out by too much looking.

When they got home, Benson couldn’t wait. He knew where there was a big rock on the track to the creek. He got some clay from the creek and took it to the big rock and started painting. He was just making a beautiful pademelon when he heard a shout and a big hand grabbed him by the shoulder.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Gordon yelled.

“I’m doing rock painting,” Benson answered.

“You young vandal! You’re defacing public property, that’s what you’re doing!” Gordon roared. “You’re destroying the beauty of nature! You’re… doing graffiti!!”

He hauled Benson away and dragged him home. “I caught this young scoundrel defacing a natural rock face with graffiti!” he said to Benson’s mother.

Benson was shaking with fright and shame. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought I was just doing rock painting.”

Aunt Moss said meekly, “I’m sure he didn’t mean to do any harm.”

Benson’s mother said, “Why don’t we go and see for ourselves?”

Gordon led them back to the rock that Benson had painted on. “See?” he said. “It’s appalling!”

“It’s a pademelon,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, this is a place that everyone uses – it belongs to everyone. It’s not a place where you can do paintings without permission.”

Benson hung his head.

Gordon said, “That’s right. If we wanted a painting here, we’d form a committee to decide who was going to paint it and what it would be of, and what sort of paint they would use, and there would have to be regular progress reports and site visits and approvals. You can’t just paint on a rock face!”

Benson said, “I’m sorry,” in a small voice.

His mother said, “You’d better clean it off straight away.”

Benson scrubbed and scrubbed until his hands were sore. It took much longer to clean it off than it did to paint it on. At dinner time he was so tired he could hardly eat anything. Aunt Moss wasn’t eating either. Then she said suddenly, “I have a confession to make. I did it!”

“What did you do, Aunt Moss?” Benson’s mother asked.

“The rock painting in the cave at Grass Tree Gully,” Aunt Moss said. “It was me!”

“But Gordon said it’s thousands of years old,” Benson said. “You’re aren’t that old, are you?”

“It isn’t thousands of years old,” she said. “It’s old – I was about your age when I did it, but it’s not that old.”

Benson’s eyes grew bigger and rounder. “You’re a vandal, Aunt Moss? You did graffiti?”

Aunt Moss looked horrified. “Oh no!”she said. “I had permission to do it. I asked the owners first.”

“You asked the traditional owners?” Benson’s mother asked. “How did you do that?”

“I asked Nanna,” Aunt Moss said simply.

“Nanna is the traditional owner?” Benson said, amazed.

Aunt Moss nodded. “She’s one of them, around that part of the country. She said it would be all right so long as I showed respect for the land and the rocks I was painting on.”

“I thought I recognised that little wombat in the hat,” Benson’s mother said. “It’s Lillibet, isn’t it?”

Aunt Moss nodded. “Lillibet always had a thing for hats, even when she was very young.”

Benson thought about the paintings, the kangaroo and the fish and the wombats that were so beautiful and looked as if they had been there forever. “I think you were very respectful, Aunt Moss,” he said.

Then he thought some more. “Do you think I could get permission?” He was already thinking about the things he’d like to paint: Pascoe and her mob, and Aunt Moss’s turtles.

Aunt Moss said, “I don’t see why not.”

Benson’s mother got up. “Come on, Benson,” she said.

“Where are we going?” he said.

“To see Nanna,” she said. “Right now.” And off they went.

Rubber Gloves Up!

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

Benson’s friend Roly came over to help him build a new design for an automatic potato peeler and afterwards they had lunch together.

Benson’s mother looked at all the half-peeled and hardly-peeled potatoes and said, “I think we’ll have potato soup for lunch.”

“Oh,” said Roly.

“Don’t you like soup?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“It gets up my nose a bit,” Roly said. “It’s not really echidna food.”

“Then I’ll make a nice lentil and coconut and potato casserole,” she said. “It’s very easy to make, but it’s difficult to wash up. It sticks to the dish like concrete.”

The casserole was delicious, but then it was time to wash up. Aunt Lillibet put on her pink rubber gloves and got her super-heavy-duty dish-scrubber and set to work.

She scrubbed and scrubbed, and then she stopped. “I’ve scrubbed a hole right through these rubber gloves,” she said.

She took them off and was going to throw them in the bin, but Roly said, “If you don’t want them any more, could I have them?”

Benson said, “What do you want rubber gloves with a hole in them for?”

“Oh, nothing,” Roly said, going all pink. He took the old gloves home with him.

The next day Benson went over to see Roly to ask him about something, and he heard Roly talking to someone. When he looked around the other side of the ant-hill, he saw Roly talking to two pink rubber gloves. He had stuffed them with grass so they stood up straight with their pink fingers waving in the air, and he was chatting to them as if they were old friends.

“What are you doing?” Benson asked.

Roly jumped, and looked embarrassed. “Nothing,” he said.

“Are you pretending those rubber gloves are echidnas?” he said.

“No,” said Roly. Then he said, “Well, kind of.” He looked even more embarrassed.

The rubber gloves didn’t look anything like echidnas. They were bright pink and soft and rubbery, not brown and sharp and pointy.

“Why?” Benson asked, amazed.

Roly wriggled a bit and said, “Sometimes I get a bit lonely for other echidnas, to talk to about echidna things, you know, like ants and the best way to get sand off your tongue, that sort of thing.”

Benson said, “You can talk to me about echidna things any time you want.”

Roly said, “I know, but most of the time we talk about wombat stuff. I like wombat stuff okay, digging holes and things, but just sometimes I feel like talking about echidna things.” He stopped talking because he thought he might be hurting Benson’s feelings.

Benson thought about what Roly had said all the way home, and then he talked to his mother about it. They talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and together they came up with a plan.

The next day, Benson went over to see Roly again. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. “It’s an invitation to a party at my place. It’s an echidna party, just for echidnas.”

Roly said he would love to come, but he wondered what sort of party it would be. He only knew one other echidna, and that was his friend Snippet. Two echidnas wasn’t really enough for a party.

The next day he brushed his spines nicely and went over to Benson’s place for the party. When Benson opened the door, he was wearing a stuffed green rubber glove tied to his head. Benson said, “This party is only for echidnas. Are you an echidna?”

“I’ve been an echidna ever since I was born,” Roly said proudly.

“You can come in, then,” Benson said.

Snippet, Roly’s echidna friend, was there, and Snippet had brought a friend called Snickle that Roly hadn’t met yet, from the other side of the creek.

Benson’s mother came up with a bowl full of shiny black ants. She had pink rubber gloves on her ears, and rows of rubber glove fingers stuck on her back. “Would you like an ant?” she asked Roly.

“Yes, please!” said Roly. His tongue went zot-zot-zot. “Mmm, delicious!” he said.

“Termites, anyone?” said Aunt Lillibet. She had yellow rubber gloves tied all over her hat. Even Aunt Moss had green rubber glove fingers standing up in a row all down the middle of her back. She looked more like an unusual dinosaur than an echidna, but Roly didn’t say anything. He was too busy trying out all the wonderful echidna food.

There were plates of ants in all different colours and flavours, green ants and red ants and brown ants, and there were sugar ants and beetle larvae cookies for dessert. There were separate plates of chocolate sprinkles and poppy-seed muffins for the rubber-glove echidnas, and cookies without the beetle larvae.

They blew rubber gloves up like balloons and played rubber glove soccer and rubber glove tennis with them, and they drew faces on the fingertips and played finger puppets with them. Everyone said it was the best echidna party they had ever been to. Snickle had such a good time that she invited everyone to come to her birthday party the week after.

When it was time to go home, Roly said to Benson’s mother, “Thank you for the echidna party. It was amazing.”

She gave him a hug, carefully, and said, “I know you miss your mother and your home, Roly. But even though we’re only wombats, we love you, and our home is your home, as long as you need it.”

Roly hugged her back, and gave her the very last sugar ant.

The Stick

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.

Everyone was going to Nanna’s place for a quilting bee.

“What’s a quilting bee?” Benson asked his mother.

“It’s when everyone gets together and helps make a quilt,” she said. “You know, like the quilt that Nanna made for you.”

Benson had a beautiful quilt on his bed that was made of squares and triangles of all sorts of different coloured materials. “Why would they put bees in it?” he asked.

“They don’t put bees in it, they work like bees, you know, all busy and buzzy,” his mother said. “Anyway, this quilt is not for a bed, it’s for the library.”

“There’s going to be a bed in the library? That’s a great idea!” Benson said. He loved going to the library, and sometimes he really did wish he could sleep there.

“No, there isn’t going to be a bed at the library,” his mother said. “It’s to decorate the wall, in lots of different colours for Harmony Day.”

“Can I help?” Benson asked.

“No, you cannot,” Aunt Lillibet said very firmly. “Quilting takes years of practice. We’re not letting children with sticky fingers spoil it.”

Aunt Moss said, “Aunt Lillibet is an excellent quilter. She likes things to be perfect.”

“Quilting is for experts,” Aunt Lillibet said, “not for people with three thumbs who don’t know one end of a needle from the other.”

Aunt Moss sighed. “I’m not allowed to quilt. I’m only going to help choose the colours,” she said.

Benson’s mother said, “I’m only going to help with morning tea.”

Benson said, “What am I going for?”

Aunt Lillibet looked at him. His hands and feet were grubby from digging a hole before breakfast, and there were sticks and leaves in this hair from chasing a lizard out of the compost heap, and there was a dribble of cranberry yoghurt on his tummy from breakfast.

“You’re going to keep out of the way,” Aunt Lillibet said.

They set off together, Aunt Lillibet carrying her needles and thread, and Benson’s mother bringing a basket of lentil and cucumber sandwiches. Benson was lagging behind.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Hurry up, Benson, you’re holding everyone up.”

Benson had found a long straight branch that had fallen off a gum tree. “I found a stick,” he said. “I think it might be useful.”

“A stick?” Aunt Lillibet said. “Put that dirty old thing down. It’s just going to get in the way.”

Benson didn’t say anything. It was a very good stick, smooth and not too long or too short, just the right size.

His mother called from up ahead, “The creek is pretty full. It might be too deep for us to cross.”

Benson said, “I’ve got a stick we could use to measure how deep the water is.” He gave the stick to his mother and she stood it up straight in the deepest part of the creek.

“It’s not as deep as I thought,” she said. “It will be okay to cross here.” She gave the stick back to Benson and they crossed the creek.

Aunt Lillibet sniffed. “Throw that muddy old stick away, Benson! Your hands are filthy.”

Then Aunt Moss said in a worried voice, “There’s a big spider’s web right across the path.”

Benson said, “Don’t worry, Aunt Moss, I’ll take care of it.” He swooshed his stick through the air and swept the spider’s web out of the way. “There you are,” he said. “All safe now.”

Aunt Lillibet snorted. “Sticks, huh! A complete waste of time!” Then she tripped on a rock and fell over. “Ow, my ankle!” she said.

Benson’s mother helped her up. “Will you be able to walk all right?” she asked.

Benson said, “You can use my stick for a walking stick if you like.”

“I’m perfectly all right,” Aunt Lillibet said, but she wasn’t really. Her ankle hurt and she couldn’t walk very well.

Benson said, “If you get tired, you could hold on to the end of my stick and I could give you a tow.”

“No, thank you, I’ll be fine,” Aunt Lillibet said, limping along slowly.

It took them so long to get to Nanna’s that the quilting was nearly all done by the time they got there.

“Poor old Lillibet!” Nanna said. “Why don’t you sit down and have a nice cup of tea? Moss can help me finish the last bit of quilting.”

Aunt Moss was very pleased to be allowed to help with the quilting. Benson’s mother got the sandwiches out of the basket and made camomile tea for everyone. When it was finished, Nanna said, “All it needs now is a nice, straight stick to hang it up with.”

Benson gave a little cough. “Actually, I happen to have a very nice stick that I brought with me.” He got his stick and showed it to Nanna.

“Hmm, it’s a bit muddy at one end and there are cobwebs at the other end, but if we clean it up, I think it will do very nicely,” Nanna said.

She and Benson gave the stick a good scrub. Then she tied a piece of string from one end to the other and hung the quilt over it carefully. It was perfect.

Everybody stood back and looked at it. “I think that will look very nice hanging on the wall at the library,” Nanna said.

Benson agreed. Aunt Lillibet sniffed.

Ear Mites

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 when Benson went to the playground, someone new was there. He was a young wombat like Benson, but he didn’t look the same. Benson went up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Benson.”

The other wombat said, “Hi. My name’s Rodney.”

Benson said, “Is there something wrong with your nose?”

Rodney felt his nose and looked worried. “I don’t know. Is there?”

Benson said, “It’s kind of hairy.” It actually looked a if he had run into a wall and squashed it flat, but Benson didn’t say that.

Rodney said, “Maybe it’s because I’m a hairy-nosed wombat.”

“Oh,” said Benson. “Do you want to come and play in the sand-pit?” They both went over to the sandpit and started digging a tunnel to the North Pole.

Arlette, who was another wombat Benson knew but they weren’t really friends, waved to him from the other side of the playground. “Come over here,” she called. “Twiss and me want to tell you something.” Twiss was her sister.

Benson left Rodney at round about Iceland and went over. Arlette came up close and whispered, “You shouldn’t be playing with that strange wombat.”

“Why?” Benson said.

“Because he’s not from here,” she said. “He’s different.”

“You’re different,” Benson said. “You’re a girl.”

Twiss said, “His face is different. Look at his hairy nose.”

Benson said, “Mr Fenn has hair sticking out of his nose and his ears. What’s wrong with having a hairy nose?”

Arlette folded her arms and said, “How do you think we get all those diseases and stuff? From wombats who aren’t from here, that’s how!”

“What diseases?” Benson said. “Are you crazy? He’s just a wombat, like us.”

Arlette was angry. “Just you wait!” she said. “When your nose goes flat and giant hairs spring out of it, and you get the mange and die, then you’ll know I was right!”

Benson ignored her and went back to the sandpit.

The next morning when he was having breakfast, his ear was really itchy. He rubbed it and scratched it all day. By dinner time both his ears were itchy and it was driving him crazy.

“Why are you scratching your ears like that?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“They’re itchy,” Benson said. He shook his head, trying to shake the itchy feeling off.

“Let me have a look,” his mother said. She looked carefully into his ear. “Ear mites!” she said.

“Oh no!” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What’s wrong with my ears?” Benson said. “Am I going to get sick?”

“It’s all right,” his mother said, “don’t worry. Ear mites are just little tiny bugs that get inside your ears and bite them and make them itchy. They don’t hurt you, and they don’t make you sick.”

“My ears aren’t going to fall off?” Benson asked.

“No, Benson,” his mother said. “We’ll get rid of these in time. It’s just a bit of a nuisance, that’s all.”

“A bit of a nuisance?” Aunt Lillibet said. “We have to wash all the sheets and blankets and pillows, and all his clothes and his hat in hot water and then we have to vacuum all the floors and all the furniture.”

“There’s no use complaining,” Benson’s mother said. “We just have to do it. But first we’ll deal with the ones in Benson’s ears.”

“Do you have to wash my ears in hot water too?” Benson said.

“No, Nanna’s got a special mixture for getting rid of ear mites,” his mother said.

Nanna came over with a bottle of her special mixture. “It’s mostly olive oil,” she said, “with a few drops of peppermint to kill any germs, and calendula for healing, and lavender to soothe your poor scratched ears.” She rubbed his ears gently with the oil. It didn’t hurt at all. Benson thought it smelled lovely.

His mother and Aunt Lillibet washed everything that could be washed and vacuumed everything else. Aunt Lillibet sat down, exhausted. “That’s that!” she said. “Please don’t bring any more ear mites home again!”

The day after, Benson went to the playground again. Rodney was in the sandpit and Benson was just going over to play with him, when Arlette yelled out from the other side of the playground, “Don’t go near him! He’s got bitey-mites! You’ll catch mites if you play with him!”

Rodney went all red. He got put of the sandpit and went over to his mother and they both left.

Benson went over to Arlette and said, “What did you say that for?”

“It’s true!” she said. “Everyone keeps getting ear mites since he came.” She leaned over and said in his ear, “He gave them to you, didn’t he?”

“I don’t know where I got them from,” Benson said. “Maybe I got them from you!”

Arlette sniffed. “No way!” she said. “My mother says I’ve got beautiful clean hair.”

That night at dinner-time, Benson’s ears were itchy again. His mother had a look at them and said, “Oh no! Not again! Ear mites!” She went and got Nanna’s special mixture and started rubbing and cleaning Benson’s ears again.

“Arlette said it’s because of Rodney,” Benson said. He told her all about what Arlette had said. “And Rodney got upset and went home,” he said sadly.

“So you didn’t play with Rodney at all yesterday?” she asked. “Then you couldn’t have caught them from him. Ear mites can jump from one wombat to another, but you have to be really close, about as close as two wombats whispering.”

Benson’s eyes opened wide. “You mean I caught them from Arlette?”

“Probably,” his mother said. “I’d better go and see her mother.”

“You’d better take some of Nanna’s special mixture,” Aunt Lillibet said.

The next day when Benson went to the playground, Rodney was in the sandpit but when he saw Benson coming, he got out and went over to his mother. Benson went over and said, “Hi, Rodney. Do you want to come and play in the sandpit?”

Rodney said, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get mites if you talk to me?”

Benson said, “No, I’m the one who had the mites. I hope you didn’t catch them from me.”

A smile spread over Rodney’s face. “No, I’m okay. No mites here.”

“Me neither,” Benson said. “Come on!” and they went off to dig in the sandpit together.

The Leaky Tree

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

Benson had a secret. It was such a good secret, he could hardly stop himself talking about it.

“You’re going to love it,” he said to his mother, and then he clapped his hand over his mouth.

His mother was busy working. She looked up from her papers and said, “What am I going to love?”

“Nothing,” Benson said. He really really meant not to say anything, but he couldn’t help himself. The words just came bursting out. “What I’m giving you for Mother’s Day,” he said. Then he put both hands over his mouth to try and stop any more words coming out.

“Is it a surprise?” his mother said.

Benson still had his hands over his mouth, so he just nodded.

“You don’t want me to know?” his mother asked.

The words came bursting out again. “It’s really special! I thought of it all by myself,” he said.

“Stop!” his mother said, putting her hands over her ears. “Don’t say any more!”

“I can’t help it,” Benson said.

“Why don’t you go and tell someone else?” his mother suggested. “Tell Aunt Moss.”

“No, Aunt Moss wouldn’t remember it was a secret and she’d start talking about it in the middle of something,” Benson said.

“Well, tell Aunt Lillibet then,” his mother said.

“Aunt Lillibet can’t keep a secret!” Benson said. “She thinks if she tells someone the secret and tells them not to tell anyone, it’s the same as keeping the secret.”

Benson’s mother thought. “When I was little,” she said, “if I had a secret that was just bursting out of me, I used to go to a big old gum tree in the back yard and tell the old tree all about it.”

“A tree?” Benson said. “A tree can’t hear you.”

“Don’t you believe it,” his mother said. “A tree can be a very good listener.”

Benson thought it was a pretty silly idea, but the secret got harder and harder to keep, so he decided to give it a try. He found an old red gum in the middle of a clearing, with no bushes around where anybody could be hiding. He looked behind the tree and up in the branches to make sure there weren’t any birds or possums or anything listening. Then he sat down under the tree and told the tree all about his secret.

The very next day Aunt Moss said to him, “Oh, Benson, what a lovely idea! Your mother will love it!”

Benson said, “How did you find out about my secret?”

“Lillibet told me,” she said. “But don’t worry, she told me it was a secret and not to tell anyone else.”

Just then, Aunt Lillibet came out of her room. Benson said to her, “Did you tell Aunt Moss my secret?”

Aunt Lillibet looked a bit guilty. “She promised not to tell anyone,” she said.

“How did you find out about it?” Benson asked. “I must have been talking to a leaky tree.”

“Everyone knows,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I heard it at my sewing group this morning. Nella’s mother said that Nella heard it from a couple of crickets who were under the bark of the tree. You know how crickets are. They can never keep a secret.”

Just then Benson heard his mother coming. “Don’t say a word to her!” he whispered to Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet.

“Cross my heart,” Aunt Lillibet said solemnly. “Unless Nella’s mother says something, or Teresa or Delia or Gordon, and then I can’t promise anything.”

“Oh dear!” said Aunt Moss. “I hope I don’t forget and let something out without thinking!”

Benson’s mother came into the kitchen. She was wearing big pink fluffy ear-muffs over her ears.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Why are you wearing those ear-muffs?”

Benson’s mother didn’t hear her.

Aunt Lillibet stood in front of her and shouted.

Benson’s mother said, “Sorry, Lillibet, I can’t hear you.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Take those ear-muffs off and you’ll be able to hear me!”

Benson’s mother said, “It’s no use talking to me, I can’t hear a thing with these ear-muffs on. I’m going to keep them on until Mother’s Day, so I don’t accidentally hear anything and spoil the surprise.”

“That’s just being silly,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I’m sorry, Lillibet, I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” Benson’s mother said.

She kept the ear-muffs on all the time except when she was in the shower, and then she sang very loudly so that she couldn’t hear what anybody was saying.

On Mother’s Day she finally took them off. The first thing she heard was Benson saying, “Happy Mother’s Day!”

She gave him a hug and said, “Now, do you want to tell me your secret?”

He nodded. “I made up a song for you.” And he sang it to her.

“I’m a little wombat, short and round.

I love to dig big holes in the ground.

But my very favourite thing to do

is to tell you, I love you!”

Benson’s mother was so happy she cried. “That’s the nicest song anyone has ever made up for me,” she said. “I love it!”

Aunt Lillibet said she thought it was very nice, and Aunt Moss cried too.

Benson’s mother said, “It makes me want to sing a song to you too.” So she did.

“I’m a mother wombat, big and strong.

You make me happy, all day long.

You’re my favourite wombat, because you’re you!

Most of all, I love you too!”

Benson was amazed. “That’s a very good song, nearly as good as mine,” he said. He sang his song again to see and he agreed with himself. Everyone clapped and Aunt Moss cried again.

Then Benson’s mother said, “I know, let’s go and sing it for Nanna!” So they did, and she loved it too.

Benson and the Box

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 woke up early and went out to the kitchen before anyone else was up, to get a drink of water. In the middle of the kitchen there was a box.

It was a big box, just bigger than Benson. It was brown cardboard, with no writing on it. Benson wondered what was inside it. Maybe it was a puppy. He put his ear up against the box and listened hard. It was completely silent. Not a puppy then, he thought, sadly, unless it was a very quiet one, or it was asleep. Maybe it was a new piano, or a cupboard full of books. He gave the box a little push. It slid along the floor lightly and easily. Not a piano then, Benson thought, and not books.

Maybe it was a whole box of chocolate buttons, or oranges! Benson put his nose up to the box and sniffed hard. It smelled like cardboard and plastic. Not oranges then, or chocolates. He sighed.

He stood on tippy-toes to see if there was anything on top of the box. He could see something white that looked like a label. He went and got a chair and climbed up so he could see what the label said. It said, FOR AUNT MOSS.

Now Benson knew that you should never ever open someone else’s packages or letters. He would have to wait until Aunt Moss came out and opened it herself. On the other hand, he could see a tiny little hole right on the corner. He put his eye up against the hole and peered in. All he could see was small white things.

Maybe someone had sent Aunt Moss a whole box of snow! he thought. He wished Aunt Moss would come out before it melted. They could make a snowman, or have snowball fights.

He noticed that the sticky tape across the top was unpeeling itself just a little bit. If someone gave it a little pull, not a big strong pull, just a bit of a tug, it might unpeel a bit more, and then he could see inside a bit more.

He took the end of the sticky tape and pulled it just a little bit. Nothing happened. He pulled harder. The sticky tape came off in his hand and Benson fell head-first into the box. The flaps fell shut on top of him. He was inside the box, completely in the dark.

It wasn’t full of snow, he could tell that straight away. Snow was cold and wet. These small white things were warm and soft. There were also a lot of them. There was a whole boxful, and they didn’t leave much room for a sturdy young wombat. Benson couldn’t move his arms or his legs or his head. He couldn’t turn himself up the right way. He was stuck upside down in the box.

“Help,” he said quietly.

He didn’t really want Aunt Moss to come and find him in the box. He hadn’t exactly opened it, but in a kind of a way he had, even if it was by accident. Maybe he could burrow his way out, he thought.

He started to dig. Bits of plastic went everywhere, up his nose and into his ears, but every time he moved some of the bits out of the way, more fell in to take their place. He was deeper into the box, and jammed tighter.

“Help!” he said, a bit more loudly. He heard a noise, and he stopped to listen.

His mother and Aunt Moss had come into the kitchen. “This box was delivered for you yesterday evening,” Benson’s mother was saying to Aunt Moss.

“My friend Shelley said she would be sending me a surprise,” Aunt Moss said. “I wonder what’s in it?”

Benson thought to himself that it was a bigger surprise than she was expecting. He gave a little cough and said, “Hello? Could somebody give me a hand, please?”

Aunt Moss said, “There’s something talking inside the box! Do you think Shelley sent me a talking parrot?”

“I don’t think so,” Benson’s mother said.

“It could be a lyre-bird,” Aunt Moss said. “Lyre birds can mimic all sorts of sounds.”

“I don’t think it’s a lyre-bird,” Benson’s mother said. She lifted up the flap and peered into the box. Benson’s feet were sticking up out of the white plastic packing pieces. “Benson, is that you?” she said.

Benson wriggled his toes to say yes. His mother said, “Are you coming out?”

Benson wiggled his toes sadly, to say he had tried but he couldn’t.

“I suppose we’d better get you out, then,” his mother said. She took one foot and Aunt Moss took the other. Benson wriggled his toes wildly. He was very ticklish.

“One-two, pull!” his mother said. She pulled and Aunt Moss pulled, but Benson was too heavy and the sides of the box were too high. They stopped pulling. “This is going to take some thinking,” she said.

“We could push the box over,” Aunt Moss said.

“Yes,” said Benson’s mother, “if we were very strong and we didn’t mind whatever is inside getting broken. I’ve got another idea.”

She tore a hole in the side of the box. Lots of small white pieces of packing plastic poured out onto the kitchen floor. Benson poked his head out through the hole. “Hello,” he said. “Is it time for breakfast?”

“It will be, once you’ve swept up all these pieces of plastic,” his mother said. “What are you doing inside Aunt Moss’s box?”

“Nothing,” Benson said. “Just waiting around for breakfast, I suppose.”

“Did you climb up on that chair and get into the box?” his mother said.

“I climbed up and the box sort of opened up and swallowed me,” Benson said. “Anyway, it was a nice surprise, wasn’t it, Aunt Moss?”

“Yes, dear,” Aunt Moss said, “but not the surprise I was hoping for. Are you all that’s in the box?”

“I don’t know,” Benson said. He figured that the mess in the kitchen couldn’t get any worse, so he tipped the box up. Hundreds and millions of pieces of plastic went everywhere all over the kitchen. The mess in the kitchen got much, much worse.

At the very bottom of the box there was something small and round. Benson picked it up and gave it to Aunt Moss. “Oh!” she said. “How lovely!” It was a snow-globe. She shook it, and tiny pieces of snow inside the snowglobe started swirling around.

“Is that all?” Benson said. He sighed. He looked around the kitchen and sighed much louder. Then he had an idea. “Before I clean all this up, can I go and get Roly so we can play snowglobes in it?” he asked his mother.

“No,” his mother said firmly. “No, no and no.” She could imagine little pieces of white plastic spread all over the house. “But you could dig a big square hole in the back yard and pile all these pieces into it and pretend it’s a swimming pool.”

So Benson did. He dug a square, shallow hole outside, and then he carried buckets and buckets full of the plastic pieces out and tipped them into the hole, and he and Roly spent the whole morning playing in it.

When is a Pancake Not a Pancake?

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 woke up early and he was hungry. He went out to the kitchen and decided to make some pancakes.

“Pancakes are easy,” he thought to himself. He imagined a pile of fresh pancakes lying on his plate, covered in golden syrup and lemon juice. He could almost smell them.

He got the big bowl out of the cupboard.

“Flour,” he said to himself, “that’s the first thing I need.” He opened the cupboard and looked high and low but he couldn’t find the flour anywhere.

“Oh well, ” he thought, “there’s some icing sugar – it’s white and it looks like flour, so it must be nearly the same as flour.” He tipped a cup of icing sugar into the bowl.

“Now I need an egg,” he thought. He looked in the fridge and he looked in the cupboard but he couldn’t find any eggs anywhere.

“Oh, well,” he thought, “here’s a passionfruit. It’s round and it’s about the same size as an egg. It’s probably nearly the same.”

He used his strong claws to open up the passionfruit and he tipped all the seeds and the delicious juice into the bowl.

“Now the last thing I need is milk,” he said to himself. He looked in the fridge but there was no milk, not even a drop. “Here’s some orange juice,” he said to himself. “It’s cold and you can drink it like milk. I’ll use that instead.” He poured some orange juice into the bowl and mixed everything together until it looked about right. It had lots of seeds in it from the passionfruit, but it smelled really good.

He got the big frying pan out and put it on the stove.

Just then his mother came into the kitchen. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m making pancakes,” Benson said.

His mother looked into the bowl. She sniffed. Then she dipped her finger into the mixture in the bowl and tasted it.

“What did you put in it?” she asked.

“Well, there was no flour and no milk and no eggs, so I used icing sugar and passionfruit and orange juice instead,” Benson said.

His mother said, “I used all the flour and the last egg and the rest of the milk last night, making a cake for Aunt Lillibet’s belly-dancing group.”

She tasted the mixture again. “You haven’t made pancakes,” she said. “You’ve made passionfruit icing.”

“Have I?” Benson said. “How did I do that?”

His mother said, “When you’re cooking, you can’t use different things just because they look the same or because they’re the same shape or the same colour. You have to use the right ingredients. You wouldn’t use washing powder instead of flour, would you?”

“No,” said Benson.

“Or glue instead of milk?” his mother asked.

“No way,” Benson said.

“Or a ping-pong ball instead of an egg?” she said.

“No, that’d be silly,” Benson said. He looked at his pancake mixture that wasn’t pancake mixture at all. “I suppose I’ll have to throw this away then,” he said.

“No, don’t do that” his mother said. “It’s really good passionfruit icing. We can put it on the cake I made.”

Benson helped her spread the passionfruit icing on the cake. Then she put the bowl and the spoon in the sink. “I think Aunt Lillibet and her friends are going to love that,” she said. “Next time I go shopping I’ll get some flour and milk and eggs, and then we’ll make pancakes properly.”

Benson remembered something. “I’m still hungry,” he said.

“Have an apple,” his mother said.

Benson’s Diary

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

At the beginning of the year, Aunt Lillibet gave Benson a present. “It’s a diary,” she said.

It was a book with no pictures, and no stories, just dates and days of the week in boxes on every page. “What’s a diary?” Benson asked.

“It’s to help you be more organised,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You write down the important things that happen each day, so you don’t forget.”

“What sort of things?” Benson said.

“All the important things you need to remember,” Aunt Lillibet said. “For instance, I write down all the things I’ve planted in the garden and what the weather’s like, and how many carrots came up this year and whether the cabbages were as big as last year – all sorts of interesting things.”

Benson couldn’t imagine a more boring book. He asked his mother, “Do you have a diary?”

“Yes,” she said. “It tells me what meetings I have to go to, and reminds me about birthdays and special celebrations. Sometimes I write down interesting things that have happened, like the big storm, and Nanna getting a new washing machine.”

Benson looked at his new diary, with all its blank pages. It was like a big empty year stretching out in front of him with nothing at all happening in it. It was so awful that he decided to do something about it straight away. He went and got his pencils.

He started on the first page, and he wrote, “Today.” He drew a picture of himself writing in his diary and drawing a picture of himself writing in his diary and drawing a picture. He turned over the page and wrote, ‘Tomorrow’. He drew a picture of himself writing ‘Tomorrow’ in his diary, and then he remembered that tomorrow he wouldn’t write ‘Tomorrow’ because it would be today tomorrow.

He thought about the next day and the next day, and he decided that after so much writing he would probably want to go outside and do some digging, so he wrote, ‘Digging’ and next to it he drew a big hole. It went under the clothesline, past the garden, under the fence, along to Roly’s best termite mound, past the fallen tree with the tree-house, around by the blackberry bushes and then home again.

It was such a good tunnel that it went over lots of pages. Benson found he was already up to next week. He remembered it was Roly’s birthday soon so he wrote ‘Roly’s birthday’ and he drew a picture of a cake. It was really hard deciding what kind of cake to draw, until he had a great idea. There were lots of birthdays in a year, and everyone could have a different cake.

He drew a marshmallow and pineapple cake for Aunt Lillibet’s birthday, and a mandarin caramel pillow cake for Aunt Moss. For his mother he drew an enormous chocolate-raspberry-raisin cake and he wrote ‘with silver sparkles on top’ because he didn’t have a silver pencil.

He thought Roly would probably like an ant cake, so he drew lots and lots of ants piled up in the shape of a cake. The ants kept walking off so he drew little tracks all over the page that overflowed onto the next page and the next page.

He stopped for a rest and got himself an apple and a drink of water. Keeping a diary took a lot of work, he thought.

He knew that winter was always in the middle of the year, so he opened the diary right in the middle of the book and wrote, ‘Winter. Wear warm socks and hat. Wear gumboots, if it rains.’ Gumboots made him think about sploshing in puddles so he drew big splotches of mud all over the next page. That made him think of soup, warm, steaming, delicious soup. He drew himself sitting at the table with his hat and his socks on, eating a big bowl of soup. He couldn’t remember if his favourite soup was leek and potato or tomato with beans, so he drew both, and then he drew a big plate of cornbread and a cup of hot chocolate, and then he drew himself lying down with a full tummy.

After winter came spring, so he drew all the flowers in the wild-flower garden and wrote their names beside them. After spring was summer, his favourite time of the year. He wrote down, ‘Go swimming. Dig. Eat watermelon. Go to creek. Dig. Go to playground. Ride bike. Dig.’ The list got longer and longer until he had to stop because he was at the back cover of the book.

He looked back through the diary. There were still lots of blank pages. That meant lots of room to try out things he’d always wanted to do. He wrote ‘hang-gliding’ on one page, and ‘sailing’ on another one and then his imagination went wild: ‘space travel’, ‘become invisible’, ‘rescue koalas from giant dinosaur’, ‘cook pavlova big enough for everyone we know’, ‘float on clouds’, ‘dig swimming pool for Nanna’, ‘fly helicopter’. Before long, every single page was filled up.

Benson put his head down on the table, exhausted. His mother came in to see what he was doing.

“I’m writing in my diary,” he said.

His mother picked it up and looked through all the pages. She said, “Some people write things down in their diary after they’ve done them, but this is a wonderful idea.” She turned to the page where it was her birthday and a smile spread over her face.

Underneath the picture of the cake, it said, ‘Have pancakes with lemon and sugar and butter. Go and see Nanna and have cake. Fly to Jupiter. Walk home in moonlight.’

She said, “It’s a long time to wait till my birthday. Why don’t we do this now?”

Benson jumped up, not tired any more.

His mother said, “Except for flying to Jupiter. I’m not sure how we’ll manage that. But we can talk about it.”

They had pancakes and made a chocolate-raspberry-raisin cake with silver sprinkles and took it to Nanna’s and had a lovely time eating it. They talked about flying to Jupiter all the way there, and all the way home again, in the moonlight.

Aunt Moss’s Kayaking Lesson

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

One morning, Benson’s uncle Elton came over. “Guess what?” he said. “The most tremendous thing has happened!”

“What’s happened?” Aunt Lillibet said. “You found your missing purple sock?”

“No, nothing like that,” Uncle Elton said.

“You found a tame elephant and we’re all going for a ride?” Benson said hopefully.

“No, better than that,” Uncle Elton said. “A friend of mine from up north has given me his kayak! Isn’t that wonderful? We can all go kayaking and paddling on the creek!”

Aunt Moss clapped her hands together. “How lovely!” she said, dreamily. “I’ve always wanted to paddle along the creek, listening to the little frogs, trailing my fingers in the clear brown water and watching the baby fish swimming down below.”

Benson said, “Can we go try it now?”

“Just a minute,” said his mother. “Do you have life-jackets?”

“Yes, of course,” said Uncle Elton. “Well, one life-jacket, anyway. Actually it’s a bit small for me.” Then he said brightly, “But it fits Elmer perfectly. And I can swim, anyway.”

They all went down to the creek. Benson’s mother went because she was worried that there weren’t enough life-jackets. Aunt Moss went because she thought it would be beautiful to watch someone gliding along the water in a kayak, and Aunt Lillibet went because she expected someone would fall in and she didn’t want to miss it. Benson went because he loved anything to do with the creek.

Uncle Elton said he would go first and show everyone how it was done.

“Have you paddled a kayak before?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“No, but it’s very easy,” Uncle Elton said. “You just sit on it and paddle. Watch me.”

He climbed onto the kayak and sat down. The kayak tipped onto its side and Uncle Elton fell into the creek. Aunt Lillibet hooted with laughter.

Uncle Elton got out of the water. He was completely soaked. “Sometimes the balance takes a bit of getting used to,” he said. He climbed onto the kayak again and sat down. The kayak tipped over the other way and Elton fell into the water again. Aunt Lillibet roared laughing.

Uncle Elton climbed out of the creek, even wetter than before. “There must be something wrong with this kayak,” he said. “It’s obviously faulty.”

Elmer said, “Can I have a go?”

“You can have a try if you like, son,” Uncle Elton said, “but I think it’s got a leak or something.”

Benson’s mother helped Elmer put the life-jacket on, and then he climbed onto the kayak very carefully and sat there. The kayak floated nicely without tipping over. “Well done!” Uncle Elmer said. “Maybe it just needed warming up.” He handed Elmer the paddle.

Elmer paddled on one side, then the other side. The kayak stayed perfectly still. Elmer’s arms were so short that the paddle didn’t actually reach the water. Aunt Lillibet laughed so much the tears ran down her cheeks.

Uncle Elton helped Elmer off the kayak. “There’s something wrong with the paddle, too,” he said. “Maybe it’s made for a left-handed person.”

Aunt Lillibet wiped her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with the paddle,” she said. “It’s the paddler that’s got it wrong.”

Uncle Elton said, “Why don’t you show us, then, if you know so much about it?”

Aunt Lillibet took the paddle and climbed aboard the kayak. “There’s nothing to it,” she said. She dug the paddle into the water and gave a mighty sweep. A flood of creek water swooshed up and over her. It poured over her hat and down her face and over her nose.

She climbed back off the kayak and wiped her glasses. Her hat was flopping down over her ears and its feathers were drooping into her eyes. “This kayak is ridiculous,” she said. “You should take it away and burn it.”

Uncle Elton said, “It’s probably an ocean-going kayak. Why didn’t I think of that before? No wonder it won’t work in the creek.” He said to Elmer, “Sorry, son, it was a good idea but it’s just not going to work. Let’s go home, everybody.”

Benson could see that Aunt Moss was really disappointed. “Did you want to have a turn, Aunt Moss?” he asked her.

Aunt Moss looked as if she really wanted to but she wasn’t sure if she should. “If Elton says there’s something wrong with it, I probably shouldn’t,” she said. “It might not be safe.”

“Can you swim?” Benson asked her.

“Oh, yes,” Aunt Moss said. “I actually have my bathers on under my frock, just in case.” She showed Benson her yellow swimmers with bright pink flowers on them.

“Then you’ll be okay if you fall off,” Benson said. “Didn’t you tell me that if you don’t try, you’ll never know?” He smiled at her and she smiled back.

Benson helped her pull the kayak right up to the bank of the creek, so it sat in the shallowest part of the water. Aunt Moss climbed aboard and sat down right in the middle. The kayak bobbed a bit but it didn’t tip over. Benson handed Aunt Moss the paddle. She straightened her shoulders and used the paddle to push off from the bank. The kayak slid into the middle of the creek.

She paddled on one side then on the other. The kayak moved along smoothly. She paddled a little more strongly and the kayak sped along, moving swiftly down the creek.

“Aunt Moss! Where are you going?” Uncle Elton shouted.

Aunt Moss turned the kayak around and paddled back. “I think I’ll just see where the creek takes me,” she said. She turned the kayak around again and paddled away serenely.

Benson sat down on the bank of the creek. He said, “When she comes back, I’m going to ask her to show me how to do it.”

“Me too,” said Elmer.

“Me too,” said Uncle Elton.

“Good idea,” said Aunt Lillibet. And they watched the kayak as it sped out of sight down the creek.

Want to listen to Benson’s own podcast on Spotify? Search for ‘Stories of Benson the Wombat, his family and friends’ and listen to stories read aloud by the author.

The Endling

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 after breakfast, Benson went out to ride his bike. He hadn’t gone very far when he noticed something lying under some bushes at the side of the track. He got off his bike and went to have a look. It was a little mouse.

At first he thought it was dead, but then he saw it move a tiny bit. It was very thin and looked really sick. Benson knew his mother would know what to do, so he carefully slid his hanky underneath it and picked it up by the four corners and carried it home.

As soon as she saw it, his mother said, “Oh, the poor thing!” It was hardly as long as Benson’s hand, and it weighed about as much as a leaf.

Benson’s mother looked at the mouse all over, then she said, “I’m sorry, Benson, there really isn’t anything we can do. He’s very, very sick.”

“Is he going to die?” Benson asked.

His mother nodded. “All we can do is make him comfortable. We can’t make him better.”

They got a very soft towel and put it in a small box and laid the little mouse in it.

Aunt Lillibet looked at it carefully and said, “I think it might be a blue-grey mouse. I haven’t seen one for years and years. I thought they were all gone.”

“Nanna will know,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, would you go and see Nanna and ask her if she can come?”

Nanna stopped what she was doing straight away and came with Benson. “Oh, dear,” she said, “this must be little Timmy. I knew his grandfather, many years ago, before the big drought. They were the last family then, and Timmy and his sister Tippy were just babies.”

Aunt Moss said, “I heard that Tippy died in the big bushfires, so Timmy must be the only one left.”

Benson said, “What do you mean, the only one?”

Nanna sat down and Benson sat down beside her. “Not so long ago, when I was a girl, there were lots and lots of blue-grey mice, hundreds, maybe even thousands. But they’ve gradually all died out.”

“What made them die?” Benson asked. “Did they get sick, like this one?”

“No, they didn’t get sick,” Nanna said. “Some of them died in the droughts, and some of them died in bushfires. For some of them, the places where they lived were turned into farms, so there was no food for them, and they starved to death. Sometimes the farmers put out poison, because they didn’t want mice eating their grain. Some of them were killed by foxes, or by feral cats or wild dogs.”

Aunt Moss said, “After a while there were hardly any left, and one by one they died too. Timmy is the very last blue-grey mouse.”

“The last one?” Benson said, horrified. “And then there’ll be no more? Not even one?” Benson couldn’t believe that a whole family of animals would be completely gone and never come back again.

“It’s called being extinct,” Nanna said. “It’s a terrible thing. It’s happened to lots of animals over the years. Nobody looked after them, and they all died out.”

Benson huddled down next to Nanna and thought about animals disappearing off the earth, like stars going out in the sky.

“What about wombats?” he said, suddenly worried.

Nanna smiled. “There are lots and lots of wombats, don’t worry,” she said. “There was a time when people tried to kill as many as they could, but now it’s not allowed.”

“Kill them?” Benson couldn’t believe his ears. “People wanted to kill wombats?” He thought about Elmer and Zali and little Zip, and Aunt Moss. “Why? Who would want to kill a wombat?”

“Oh, people have different ways and different ideas,” Nanna said. “Wombats can be a nuisance for farmers, digging holes and pushing down fences. That’s why you should always try to use the wombat gate in a fence.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “We’ve got some cousins in the north of the country, who were very close to becoming extinct. They’re hairy-nosed wombats.”

“What?” Benson couldn’t believe it. Tiny tiny mice he could imagine being eaten up by foxes and cats, but how could big strong wombats die out? “What happened to them? Did someone kill them?”

“Some of them,” Nanna said. “Some of them had their homes destroyed by farmers and builders, so they had no food and no shelter and they died.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Now there’s a specially protected place for them, with fences to keep wild dogs and cats out, where they can live peacefully and have plenty of food, and no-one is going to hurt them.”

Benson thought about the great big bush where he lived, the creek and the hills. He was glad he didn’t have to live inside a fence to be safe.

The little blue-grey mouse stayed in his soft little nest for the next couple of days, and then he died quietly. Lots of other animals came to say goodbye, possums and dunnarts and koalas and echidnas and lots of rats and other kinds of mice. Some of them brought flowers, and some of them just stood quietly, feeling sad.

Benson’s mother said to them, “This is a sad day for everyone, not just for us but for the whole world. Timmy was just a very little mouse, but he was all of the blue-grey mice left in the world. The same thing could happen to any one of us, no matter how big or small we are. It might be bushfires, or floods, or losing our homes somehow. Because once a creature is gone, it’s gone forever.”

Benson looked at all the different animals and birds who had come to say goodbye to the mouse, and he tried to imagine what it would be like with no koalas, or no echidnas, or no wombats. “What are we going to do?” he asked his mother.

“All we can do is look after the bush and look after each other,” his mother said. “The rest is up to other people.”

Want to listen to Benson’s own podcast? Search for ‘Stories of Benson the Wombat, his family and friends’ and listen to stories read aloud by the author.

The Soccer Ball

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 and his mother were going to the big park to have a picnic. Benson made some sandwiches with almond butter and watercress and celery, and his mother made some cheese sticks and cut up some watermelon. They put everything into a big basket and they got their hats and water-bottles and set off.

It was a beautiful day. Zali and her mother and little Zip were at the big park too, and Arlette and Twiss, and Mick and Bonnie Lou and their mother as well.

Mick said to Benson, “Look what I found.” It was a ball the size of a small watermelon, and it had a word written on the side, that said ‘soccer’.

“Wow,” said Benson. “What’s it for?”

“You play soccer with it,” Mick said. “I saw some people playing a game once. You kick the ball and run a lot.”

“Sounds great” said Benson. “Let’s do it.”

Mick kicked the ball and they both ran after it. They kicked it some more and fell over it and ran into each other. “This is great,” Benson said, panting. “You’re really good at soccer.”

“I know,” Mick said. They both stopped to get their breath back. “But I think we should have a goal.”

“I thought the goal was to kick the ball,” Benson said.

“But you have to kick it somewhere, like between two trees, and then you have a goal,” Mick said. They looked around and picked two trees far enough apart. Mick took a run-up and kicked the ball right between them. “Goal!!” he said. Benson cheered and gave Mick a pat on the back. Then Benson had a go. He kicked the ball seven times and missed every time.

Bonnie Lou came over to see what they were doing. “Can I have a go?” she asked.

“No, this is a boys’ game,” Mick said.

“Awwrrrr,” Bonnie Lou growled. She grabbed the ball away from Mick and gave it a big kick. It went right between the trees, first go. “Goal!” she yelled.

Mick said, “Go away! It’s my ball, and I say you can’t play!” He kicked the ball to Benson and Benson kicked it back. Bonnie Lou ran in between them and kicked the ball back the other way, all the way to the other side of the park,

She picked two trees close together and said, “This is my goal,” then she kicked the ball between the trees and yelled, “Goal!”

Mick went and grabbed the ball back. “You’re not playing! Go away!” He kicked the ball back towards his two trees. But Zali was walking between the trees, and the soccer ball bounced off her bottom.

“No goal!” Bonnie Lou said. “It didn’t go in!”

“Not fair!” yelled Mick. “Zali was in the way!”

Bonnie Lou told Zali to stay between Mick’s trees and every time he tried to kick the ball in, she should stop it going in. “Zali’s my bottom-stopper,” she said. “She’s going to stop you getting goals.”

Mick said, “Well, Benson’s going to be my bottom-stopper, aren’t you, Benson?”

Benson wasn’t sure about this. “Why can’t you be the bottom-stopper?” he said.

“Because I’m better at kicking than you are,” Mick said, which was true so Benson didn’t argue any more. He went and stood between Bonnie Lou’s trees.

Bonnie Lou said, “Awwrrrrr,” and kicked the ball really hard towards Benson. Benson saw it coming and jumped out of the way. “Yay! Goal!” yelled Bonnie Lou, dancing around.

Arlette and Twiss came over to see what the dancing was about.

“No girls!” Mick said, grabbing the ball.

Bonnie Lou said to Arlette, “You two can be on my team, if you like. We have to get the ball away from Mick and kick it at Benson.”

“Okay,” said Arlette. She grabbed the ball away from Mick and ran towards Benson. Mick tried to get it back from her, but she threw it to Twiss. Twiss passed it to Bonnie Lou, and Bonnie Lou put the ball down and kicked it hard, right at where Benson was standing between the trees.

Benson didn’t have time to run. He just curled up with his hands over his head. The ball hit him right between the ears and bounced out again.

“No goal!!” yelled Mick.

“Awwwrrrrrrr,” growled Bonnie Lou. She tackled Mick and threw him onto the ground and jumped on top of him.

Arlette said, “Where’s the ball gone?”

Bonnie Lou stopped jumping on Mick and they both looked around. Zali was sitting in the middle of the field, taking big bites out of the soccer ball. “No, Zali!” Mick shouted, but it was too late. The ball wasn’t a ball any more.

Arlette said, “It was a stupid game anyway.” She and Twiss and Bonnie Lou went to see if there was any watermelon left.

Benson thought that was a very good idea. He and Mick got some leftover cheese sticks and mushroom patties, and sat under the tree to eat them. Mick said to Benson, “We need to find another ball. Maybe we could use a coconut?”

Benson imagined Bonnie Lou kicking a coconut at him and shook his head fast. “How about a nice soft pillow?” he suggested.

“No way,” Mick said. “Maybe a watermelon?”

“That could work,” Benson said, imagining the watermelon hitting the ground in front on him and breaking open and pieces of juicy watermelon going everywhere. “That could definitely work.”

Listen to Benson stories read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Echidna on a Skateboard

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

Benson went to visit his friend, Roly, one day, to have a chat about things. He liked talking to Roly because Roly knew things, and he always listened without interrupting, and he always had interesting things to say.

Roly was packing. Benson said, “Where are you going? Are you moving somewhere?”

Roly said, ‘Not exactly. I’m going on a trip.”

“Where to?” Benson asked. “Can I come?”

Roly didn’t want to hurt Benson’s feelings. He tried to think of how to explain. “This is a trip I want to go on by myself,” he said. “I’m not a little puggle any more and I’ve got a kind of feeling inside that I want to go to different places and see different things.”

Benson asked, “Why do you have to go by yourself?”

Roly said, “I just want to. I want to go and see where my mother came from.”

Benson thought about it. “Do you think you can walk that far?” Roly couldn’t walk very well because his back legs didn’t really work.

Roly wrinkled up his nose. “It’s a bit of a problem, but I’ll manage somehow.”

Benson had an idea. “What about wheels? Wouldn’t that make it easier?”

Roly said, “Yes, but I can’t ride a bike, you know.”

“No, I was thinking more of a skateboard,” Benson said. “We could go and ask Hazel. Hazel’s really good at making things.”

Benson asked his mother, and they all went to see Hazel. Benson explained. “Roly is going on a long trip, and I thought it would be easier if he had some kind of wheels, like maybe a skateboard.”

Hazel looked at Roly and walked all around him, thinking, and trying out ideas. “I think we can work something out,” Hazel said at last. “Come around to my workshop.”

In the workshop, Hazel had an old broken skateboard. Hazel took the wheels off the broken skateboard, and found a piece of board that was nice and smooth. Benson’s mother measured Roly from one end to the other and from side to side, and then Hazel sawed the board to the right size, sanded all the rough parts off, and screwed the wheels on. It looked very cool, like a short, flat skateboard.

“Try this for size,” Hazel said.

Roly climbed on and lay down flat on his tummy. His front paws hung over the sides and he could reach the ground easily. He pushed off, and the skateboard started to move.

Roly lifted his paws off the ground and the skateboard zoomed along. The wind rushed past his ears. He felt like singing. He ran straight into Hazel’s rhubarb bush and fell off.

Hazel said, “Oops! I forgot to give it brakes!”

Benson looked through Hazel’s wood pile and found a stick about the right size and Hazel trimmed it and planed it a bit so it would fit Roly’s paw comfortably. Roly practised using it to slow the skateboard down, until he could stop whenever he wanted, and even steer around corners.

“This is perfect!” he said. “Thank you very much.”

He rode his new skateboard all the way home. Benson had to run most of the way to keep up with him.

The next day Roly left on his trip. Benson’s mother made him some lillypilly jelly sandwiches, and Aunt Lillibet made him her special chocolate raspberry date muffins.

Benson said, “I’ve got something for you too.” It was an echidna-sized helmet, made out of a coconut shell. “For when you go really fast,” he said.

Roly gave him a big hug. “Thanks, Benson. I’ll be back soon.” He climbed onto his echidna-board and sped off.

Nanna’s Holiday

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 Nanna had a cough that wouldn’t go away. It made her very tired. Sometimes she was so tired, she couldn’t work in the the garden and she just sat inside all day resting.

Benson’s mother was worried about her. She talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss, and they all agreed that something should be done. “She needs a proper rest,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“A nice holiday,” said Aunt Moss.

“That’s a good idea,” said Benson’s mother. “A holiday at the beach. I’ll talk to her and see what she thinks.”

“Can I go on Nanna’s holiday?” Benson said.

“No, Benson, Nanna needs a proper rest, so she can get over this cough and get back to her old self,” his mother said.

Benson thought Nanna wouldn’t like anyone thinking her self was old. He thought it would be better if she could get back to her younger self.

Nanna was lying down then they got to her house. Benson’s mother told her their idea for a holiday and asked her what she thought.

“It sounds lovely,” Nanna said “All of us going to the beach together, collecting shells, paddling, chasing crabs, going for long walks…”

“No, not all of us, ” Benson’s mother said, “just you. You wouldn’t get a proper rest with all of us around. You’d be cooking and running around after us and you wouldn’t get any rest at all. You know you wouldn’t.”

Nanna said, “I suppose you’re right.” Benson and his mother helped her pack, and she went off on her holiday, all by herself.

For the first few days Benson didn’t think about Nanna at all. Then he got a book out of the library about sharks, and he started to worry.

“What if Nanna gets bitten by a tiger shark, or a blue whale, and there’s nobody there to save her?” he said to his mother.

“Nanna only goes into the water up to her knees,” his mother said. “She’ll be perfectly safe.”

“What if a tsunami comes, like a giant wave, and whooshes her over and the tiger sharks come and get her?” Benson said.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” his mother said. “You don’t have to worry about her. She’ll be lying on the sand having a nice rest, I’m sure.”

“But she’ll get sunburnt!” Benson said.

“She always wears her hat and her long-sleeved shirt and her sunglasses, and puts her sunscreen on,” his mother said. “She’ll be fine.”

“What if she forgot to take her hat?” Benson said.

“She didn’t,” his mother said. “I packed it myself.” Then she said, “Benson, is something wrong? Why are you so worried about Nanna?”

Benson burst into tears. “I miss her!” he said. “I miss Nanna!” He sobbed and sobbed.

His mother put her arms around him and gave him a long hug. “It’s all right, you’ll see her again soon,” she said.

“But not soon enough!” Benson bawled, crying all over his mother’s nice clean apron.

She sat down and lifted him onto her lap, and gave him a hanky to blow his nose. “Maybe we need to go and visit Nanna at the beach,” she said.

Benson nodded, and tears splashed all over his mother’s nose.

“Okay, let’s go,” she said.

Benson was glad his mother was the kind of person who did what they said they were going to do straight away, without dithering around. They packed some things in a backpack, some cheese crackles and green apples and fresh feijoas, and they got their hats and their water-bottles and they set off.

When they got there, Nanna was sitting on the beach with her hat and her shirt and her sunglasses on, looking sadly at the waves. When she saw Benson and his mother, she was so happy she cried.

“Benson!” she said, “I missed you so much!” She hugged him, and then she hugged his mother. “I missed everyone. A holiday by yourself is nice, but a holiday with people you love is a real holiday.”

They sat on the sand and ate feijoas and apples, and Benson’s mother decided that it would be a good idea to stay and share Nanna’s holiday, so they did. Benson paddled and made a giant sea-weed castle, and made sea-monsters on the sand out of shells. They went for long walks and Nanna had long naps on the beach while Benson and his mother played volleyball and had competitions to see who could dig the longest tunnel and the biggest hole. At the end of every day, Benson was very tired, and Nanna was more and more rested.

Benson’s mother said to her, “It’s good to see you getting back to your old self again.”

Benson said, “I think she’s more like a new self,” and Nanna gave him a hug.

A Splinter in Your Finger

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 trying to build a fort out of old pieces of wood, and he got a splinter in his finger. “My finger hurts,” he said to his mother. “It’s got a splinter in it.”

His mother said, “Let me see.” It wasn’t a big splinter, but it was buried deep in his finger. Only a little bit was showing. His mother said, “Hold still and I’ll see if I can pull it out.”

“No!” Benson said. “It’ll hurt!”

“If you don’t let me get it out now, it will hurt more later,” his mother said. But Benson wouldn’t let her touch it.

“Well, you could put it in your mouth and suck it, and it might get soft enough for you to get it out yourself,” his mother said.

Benson put his finger in his mouth and sucked it for a long time, but it didn’t help. His finger hurt more and more.

Aunt Lillibet said, “That’s a bad splinter you’ve got there. It must hurt a lot. Let me get my sewing needle and I’ll get it out in two seconds.”

She got a small sharp needle ready to get the splinter out, but as soon as she took hold of his hand, Benson jerked it away. “No!” he said, “it’s going to hurt!”

“It will hurt a lot more if you don’t let me get it out,” Aunt Lillibet said. But Benson wouldn’t let her touch it.

His finger started to get red and swollen. “It really hurts!” he complained.

Aunt Moss said, “You could try soaking it in a bowl of hot water with salt in it. Then you might be able to pull it out more easily.”

She got a bowl of really hot water and took Benson’s hand. “No!” he yelled. “It’s too hot! It’s going to hurt too much!” He pulled his hand away and wouldn’t let her touch it.

By now his finger was really hurting. It was all red and tight and it wouldn’t stop hurting. “Make it stop!” he cried to his mother.

“I’ll get my tweezers,” she said. “It will only hurt a little bit and then it will be over.”

She got her tweezers and took Benson’s hand. “No!” he said, and pulled his hand away. “You’re going to hurt it!”

She took his hand again gently, and said, “Just let me look at it.” She looked at his finger very carefully. The splinter was sticking out just a tiny bit.

“Aunt Lillibet,” she said, “were you going to make a jelly cake for lunch?”

“A jelly cake?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Oh yes,” Aunt Moss said, “a jelly cake with passionfruit icing!”

Benson said, “What’s a jelly cake?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Oh, you know, you make a cake and then you cut it in half and put jelly in the middle and then you put the other half on top and put icing on top of that. Sometimes you can put pineapple in the jelly, if you want, or peaches.”

“Peaches?” Benson said. This cake sounded really good.

“And make sure you put sprinkles on top, Lillibet,” Aunt Moss said. “And maybe some chopped up almonds, and some chocolate curls?”

“Chocolate curls?” Benson said. It made him hungry just thinking about it. “What are they?”

“Oh you know,” Aunt Lillibet said, “when you get a big piece of chocolate and you scrape some off the top and it curls up like a ribbon. You can make lots of them and put them on top of the icing on the cake. But that’s not the best part.”

“There’s a better part?” Benson said. “Better than cake with jelly and peaches and icing and sprinkles and chocolate curls?” He couldn’t wait to hear what could be better than that.

His mother gave a sharp tug and pulled the splinter out. “There!” she said.

“Ow!” said Benson.

“The best part,” Aunt Lillibet said, “is that the splinter is out of your finger.”

Benson looked at his finger. There was a small hole where the splinter used to be, but that was all. It felt much better already.

He looked at Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and his mother. “Were you just making it up about the cake so you could get the splinter out without me noticing?” He felt very disappointed. Now that the splinter was out, he forgot how much it had hurt, but he hadn’t forgotten what the cake was going to be like.

“Maybe,” said his mother. “But I think Aunt Lillibet might make us a jelly cake for lunch, if you ask her nicely.”

Benson asked very very nicely, and Aunt Lillibet made a wonderful jelly cake. She even let Benson make the chocolate curls.

Mushroom Marmalade

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

One morning when Benson was having breakfast, his mother said, “I think we’ll go and visit Nanna today.”

Benson said, “Can I make something special for her?”

His mother said, “That would be lovely. Do you need some help?”

Benson said, “No, I don’t think so.” He set to work in the kitchen, chopping and mixing and stirring.

When his mother came in later and said it was time to go, he held up a big jar. “I’ve made mushroom marmalade!”

“Mushroom marmalade!” his mother said. “How did you make it?”

“I got some mushrooms and I mixed them up with some marmalade,” Benson said. “It’s going to be a surprise for Nanna.”

His mother said, “Hmm, it will definitely be a surprise.”

After the kitchen was clean again, they got their hats and their water-bottles and set off to see Nanna. It was a beautiful day, and they talked about all sorts of things as they walked along.

All of a sudden, Benson grabbed his mother’s arm. “A bear!” he said, hardly breathing.

“A what?” his mother said. “You mean a koala?”

“No,” Benson said, “a really truly breathing giant black bear! Over there!” He tried to point over to a spot in the bush and hide behind his mother at the same time.

His mother said. “Benson, I don’t think there are any bears in the bush. In fact, I’m sure there aren’t.”

“Look, just beside the big rock!” Benson said. “It’s a big black bear, and it looks hungry and mean. We should run home again, now, fast!”

His mother peeled Benson’s fingers off her arm and said, “Just wait here a minute.” She walked over to the big rock and looked closely. “It’s just an old burnt tree,” she said. She tapped the bear on the shoulder, plok, plok, plok. “See?”

Benson peeked out from behind his fingers. “Are you sure?” he said.

His mother said, “Yes, absolutely certain. Come and see for yourself.”

Benson went over slowly, ready to run if the tree turned out to be a bear after all. Up close, it was just a broken-down tree that had been all burnt on one side.

Benson said, “It might have been a bear, and then I would have saved us.”

“It might,” said his mother. “It all depends on how you look at it. Anyway, I’m glad it wasn’t.”

They kept going along the track, and Benson kept thinking of what he would have done if it had been a bear, and wondering how fast bears can run and whether they were afraid of wombats.

Nanna was very happy to see them. “The only thing is,” she said, “I haven’t had time to do any shopping, and all I’ve got for morning tea is bread. I can make some nice bread sandwiches, if you like.”

“What’s a bread sandwich?” Benson asked.

“You get two pieces of bread and you put a piece of bread in between them,” Nanna said. “It’s very nice, if you like bread.”

Benson said, “It’s a good thing I brought you a surprise, then!” He held up his jar. “Mushroom marmalade! I made it myself!”

“Thankyou, Benson, that was very kind of you,” Nanna said. She looked at the jar. “Mushroom marmalade!” she said. “Well, that’s something I’ve never had before.”

“No-one has,” said Benson. “I invented it. I think it will be great. Everyone loves marmalade, and everyone loves mushrooms, so why not have them together?”

“Sounds like a great idea,” Nanna said. “Let’s try some.”

She made mushroom marmalade sandwiches for everyone and they started eating.

Benson took a great big bite, then he stopped. It was not a great sandwich. In fact, it was probably the worst sandwich he’d ever tasted.

He put the sandwich down. “It tastes like lumpy orange slime with bits of gooey sponge in it. It’s terrible!” He felt really disappointed. “It wasn’t a very good surprise, was it?”

Nanna said, “It depends on how you look at it. It was a lovely surprise that you made something for me.”

Benson’s mother said, “And it actually tastes surprisingly bad.”

Nanna said, “And think of how surprised the chickens are going to be when I give them these sandwiches!”

There was a kind of hole in Benson’s tummy where he was hoping morning tea would have been, but he really didn’t want to eat any more mushroom marmalade. “Maybe we could have a bread sandwich?” he asked.

Nanna said, “I’ve got a better idea.” She picked the bits of mushroom out of the marmalade and wiped the marmalade off them and she made mushrooms on toast that only tasted slightly weird, and then they had toast-and-marmalade for dessert.

“The best thing is,” she said, “now we know what NOT to have with marmalade.”

“Oh, I can think of LOTS of things not to have marmalade with,” Benson said.

“Well, that’s no surprise,” his mother said.

The Landslide

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

Aunt Moss was going to visit an old friend who lived a long way away in another valley. Benson’s mother said, “I’m worried about Aunt Moss going all that way by herself. Benson, why don’t you go with her, for company?”

“What’s company?” Benson asked. He imagined it might be a new kind of pudding, maybe with cranberries, or butterscotch sauce.

“It means someone to talk to, or just someone to be with,” his mother said.

“Is that all?” said Benson. He thought about visiting Aunt Moss’s friends. Usually there was a lot of talking, but there was often cake or cookies that went along with the talking. “Okay,” he said. Benson got his hat and his water-bottle, and he and Aunt Moss set out.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and they walked a long way, talking about things. They came to the top of a long ridge, where the land on the other side stretched down and down and down, very steeply. Aunt Moss said it was an old quarry.

“What’s a quarry?” Benson asked.

Aunt Moss said, “A long time ago, people came with big diggers and dug a great, great big hole. They wanted to find coal or something, I don’t remember what. When they found it, they dug it out and then they went away and left this big hole behind.”

The quarry stretched down and along and across nearly as far as Benson could see. There were no trees or bushes, just banks covered in rocky dirt. He peered down to see if he could see the bottom.

Aunt Moss was just saying, “I think we should be very careful, Benson,” when Benson felt something very strange under his feet. He felt as if he was falling but he wasn’t. The land under his feet was falling, and Benson was sliding with it.

Aunt Moss screamed, “Come back!” She reached out and grabbed Benson but they couldn’t stop sliding. The dirt slid away down the slope and they both went with it, tumbling over and over. Benson slid faster and faster, as if he was part of the falling hill-side, then he suddenly banged into something and stopped. Aunt Moss crashed into him and stopped too. The earth slid over them and past them, until it slowed down and stopped too.

There was a heavy blanket of earth on top of Benson. He couldn’t move his arms or his legs, and he couldn’t breathe. Aunt Moss dug and scraped as fast as she could. At last she made a space for Benson’s head to come out, and he could breathe again. She kept digging until his front feet were free, and then he could dig himself out.

He shook his head hard to get the dirt out of his ears, and spat it out of his mouth. “What happened?” he said.

“It must have been a landslide,” Aunt Moss said. “Some of the hill-side just slid away, down into the bottom of the quarry. When there are no trees or plants to hold the soil together, it gets loose and sometimes chunks of it just slide away.” She was very tired from all the digging.

Benson felt around. There was loose dirt all around them, but under his feet there was something solid.

“I think we must have run into an old tree under the dirt,” Aunt Moss said. “That’s what saved us.” They could see their hats, way down at the bottom, so far away they looked like tiny little specks.

Benson looked up. The top of the quarry was a long way up. “How are we going to climb out?” he asked.

Aunt Moss said, “I don’t think we can climb out. The earth is still so loose, we could easily start another landslide.”

“What are we going to do?” Benson said. He had finished being shocked and now he was scared. He didn’t dare to move, in case he started to slide down the hillside again. “Should we shout for help?”

They both shouted as loudly as they could, but their voices sounded very small.

Aunt Moss felt in her pockets. “I’ve got my whistle,” she said. She blew as loudly as she could, but it sounded like a little peep in the great big space of the quarry.

“What else have you got in your pocket?” Benson asked. He was hoping she would say muffins, or a carrot cake.

“Just my tape measure and a hanky in case I need to blow my nose,” Aunt Moss said.

“Why do you have a tape measure?” Benson asked.

“I put it in there this morning after I was measuring the aspidistra to see how much it had grown,” she said. “What do you have in your pocket?”

“A lot of dirt,” Benson said. “And a sultana sandwich from yesterday, and a stone shaped like a frog.”

They both thought about what they had in their pockets and what they wished they had in them.

“I’ve heard of people sending messages by flashing lights at each other,” Aunt Moss said. “My tape-measure is very shiny – we could try reflecting the sunlight with it.”

Benson took the shiny metal tape measure and pointed it at the sun and wriggled it a bit. It made some flashes, but then the sun went behind a cloud.

“I could wave my hanky,” Aunt Moss said. They took turns waving it for a while, but Benson didn’t think it was such a good idea. It was very small and white, and there was no-one in the quarry to see it.

It got hotter and hotter. “How are we ever going to get out of here?” Benson said.

“Don’t worry,” Aunt Moss said, “I’m sure someone will come and find us. We just have to be patient, and try very hard not to move.”

It was very hard trying not to move. Every time they moved even a little bit, more dirt slid down. Benson started to get very hungry. He got the old sultana sandwich out of his pocket and brushed the dirt off it, and they divided it in half very carefully. Aunt Moss gave Benson the biggest half and they ate it. Even with the dirt, it tasted wonderful.

After a long time, it started to get dark and cold. Benson was worried that they would never get out of the quarry, but he didn’t tell Aunt Moss in case it made her worried. After a long time, he went to sleep, even though he was really hungry, with Aunt Moss holding him tightly, in case he slid down the side of the quarry while he was asleep.

When Benson woke up, it was very early and very cold. He was nice and warm, with Aunt Moss’s arms around him, but she was hot and shivering at the same time. “Aunt Moss, are you okay?” he asked.

“I don’t feel very well,” Aunt Moss said, “but don’t worry. I’m sure someone will come soon. Just hold on a bit longer.” She closed her eyes as if she was falling asleep. Benson was worried. He gave her a little shake but she didn’t wake up.

“Aunt Moss!” he said loudly, and shook her hard. She didn’t move.

It was then that Benson saw the earth moving, not far away from them.

“Aunt Moss, wake up!” he shouted. “It’s happening again!” He shut his eyes very hard and clung onto her as tightly as he could.

Then he felt strong hands on his shoulders and he heard a voice say, “It’s all right, Benson, you’re safe now.”

Benson opened his eyes. It was Mr Fenn. He seemed to be inside the hill itself, reaching out of a perfectly beautiful wombat hole, right beside them. He lifted Benson up, and Benson felt his feet dangling in the air. Then he was pulled safely inside the wombat hole beside Mr Fenn.

“Mr Fenn!” Benson said. “How did you get here?”

“We’ve been digging all night to get close enough to you without bringing down more of the dirt,” Mr Fenn explained. “Everyone helped, your mother and Elmer and Teresa and Delia, even young Mick.”

“You have to help Aunt Moss,” Benson said. “I think something’s wrong with her. She won’t wake up.”

“Don’t you worry, young man, I’ll get her out,” Mr Fenn said. He reached his strong arms out of the tunnel and grabbed Aunt Moss. “Come on, Mossy, let’s get you out of here and home safe,” he said.

Aunt Moss stirred and opened her eyes. “Benson!” she said.

“He’s safe,” Mr Fenn told her. “You’ve done a good job. Now it’s your turn. Hold onto me.”

Aunt Moss held onto Mr Fenn and he pulled her up into the tunnel where Benson was waiting. They moved along the tunnel to the other end where everyone was watching and waiting for them to come out. When they saw Aunt Moss and Benson, they clapped and cheered. Benson’s mother kept hugging him and wouldn’t put him down, but he didn’t mind at all.

Aunt Lillibet had a big pot of hot soup ready, and hot chocolate, and Benson had two bowls full of soup and three cups of hot chocolate before he was ready to talk again. “How did you find us?” he asked.

Mr Fenn said, “There was an eagle high above the quarry and he noticed something flashing in the side of the hill. He told some cockatoos who were passing over, and they remembered they had heard a whistle and someone shouting. They told the magpies, and the magpies flew over and saw something white waving. So they let the kookaburras know, and the kookaburras flew past and saw the two of you, so they told the possums and the possums told everyone.”

“You’re safe now, and that’s all that matters,” Benson’s mother said, and gave him another hug.

Benson nodded, full of hot chocolate and soup. “Yes, we’re safe now, all because of Aunt Moss’s pockets.”

Fireworks

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.

One night after dinner, Benson and his mother were just doing the dishes when they heard a big bang outside. “What was that?” Benson said.

They both stopped and listened. There was another loud bang, and a long whistling noise.

Benson’s mother said, “I think I know what it is. It’s fireworks.”

“Fireworks?” Benson said. Fire in the bush always meant danger, and people running and hiding and smoke everywhere. “Should we get some water and go and put them out?” he asked.

His mother shook her head. “Fireworks are like tiny coloured lights that sparkle in the sky,” she said. “They shoot up with a big bang, and then they hang there in the sky for a few seconds and then they go out.”

“What are they for? Where do they come from?” Benson wanted to know.

His mother said, “I don’t know exactly. Most of the animals don’t like them. The noise is very frightening, and the coloured lights dazzle their eyes so they can’t see. Some of them get very scared.”

Benson said, “Do you think we should hide under my bed?”

“There’s no need to hide,” his mother said. “It’s just lights and noise.”

Just then there was another loud bang, and then a whole lot of bangs in a row. Benson put his hands over his ears, and thought that hiding under his bed wasn’t such a bad idea.

His mother said, “When I was little, I used to imagine fireworks were really cicadas.”

“Cicadas?” Benson said. “How can they be?”

“I used to imagine all the cicadas getting together for a big celebration, like a festival of colours,” she said. “They’d paint their wings in bright shiny colours, red and yellow and green and pink and blue, and put glitter on them, then they’d fly up into the air and make patterns like stars and flowers. They’d even have competitions to see who could make the prettiest patterns in the sky.”

Benson started to imagine hundreds of cicadas making flower shapes and star shapes in the night sky. “But why do they have to make all that noise?”

His mother said, “I imagined that that was how they got high up in the sky. They would all stand on one end of a long board, like a see-saw, and then someone would drop a rock on the other end and they would fly way up into the sky.”

There was another bang and Benson jumped. He tried to imagine it was a big rock hitting the end of a board, and hundreds of painted cicadas flying up into the sky.

His mother said, “You know how cicadas get really noisy at this time of year? I used to imagine it was because they were all getting together to talk about what they were going to do at the festival. And afterwards, they kept on talking about it for weeks, and arguing about who made the best patterns.”

“I wish they didn’t have to make such a big noise when they fly up,” Benson said. It made his tummy all jumpy.

His mother said, “I think I’d better go and see Teresa and the rest of the Bushcare group, and ask them if they can keep a look-out for sparks, just in case. You can come along, if you like.”

“Outside?” Benson asked nervously. He didn’t want to go outside where the noise would be even louder, but he didn’t want to be by himself either.

“It’ll be fine,” she said. “Remember, it’s just lights and noise.”

Benson went with her as far as the door, and peeked out. All of a sudden there was a big scary bang and a whoosh, and brightly coloured sparkles filled the whole sky. Benson’s heart jumped and he just about ran inside, but they were so beautiful that he didn’t want to miss seeing them. There was another sharp bang, and this time there was a giant shining fountain of blue and white sparks in the sky. Benson thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful. Then there were three bangs in a row, and three red flowers with sparkly yellow edges exploded in the sky. He forgot about being scared and just looked and looked.

“Maybe I’ll come along, just as far as Zali’s place,” he said. If he held on tight to his mother’s hand, the bangs weren’t so loud.

Before they even got to Zali’s place, they could hear Zali screaming almost as loud as the fireworks. Her mother was trying to get Zali to stop screaming and come out from under the bed. “Benson, could you try?” she asked. “Zali might listen to you. She’s so upset I can’t get her to listen to anything I say.”

Benson suddenly felt very brave. He put his head under Zali’s bed and said, “Hey, Zali.” Then he said in a much louder shout so she could hear him over the noise she was making, “Hey, Zali! Do you want to come and see the cicadas?”

Zali stopped screaming for a minute. “Cicadas?” she said, fearfully.

Benson nodded. “All sparkly, up in the sky. Do you want to see?”

Zali came slowly out from under the bed. Benson held her hand and they went to the door together.

There was a huge bang and a sparkly silver ball filled the sky. “Bang!!” Zali screamed and made a dive for the bed.

“No, Zali, look!” Benson said. He got a spoon and balanced it over a stick on the ground, like a see-saw. He put a pile of leaves in the round end of the spoon, then he banged down on the handle. The leaves all flew up into the air. “See? Bang!” He did it again. The leaves flew into the air. “Cicadas fly up in the air!”

Zali watched. “Bang!” she said. She picked up the stone and dropped it onto the handle of the spoon with a thud. “Bang!” she said. She threw the leaves up into the air. “Cicadas! Bang!” she said.

There was a boom, and red and green wheels of light shone out and twinkled in the sky. “Bang!” shouted Zali happily. “Bang!”

“Bang!” shouted Benson. “Boom, boom, bang!”

He took Zali’s hand and they stood watching the fireworks, side by side. “Cicadas,” Zali said. “Pretty.”

Sandpit Wars


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 when Benson’s mother took him to the playground, there was a new wombat sitting in the sand-pit. Benson went up to say hello.
“Hi, my name’s Benson,” he said. The other wombat didn’t say anything. He was big, with very dark fur, and he looked a lot older than Benson.
Benson tried again.”Have you just moved here? What’s your name?”
The other wombat stared at Benson for a minute, then he said, “Callum.”
Benson said politely, “Hi, Callum,” then he climbed into the sandpit and started to dig. Benson loved digging. Nothing else in the world made him as happy as digging.
He felt a thump in the middle of his back. He looked around. Callum had kicked him! Callum said, “Get out!This is my sandpit.”
“No it’s not,” Benson said. “The sandpit’s for everyone.”
Callum stared at him for a minute, then he put his head down and rushed at Benson. He hit him right in the middle of his tummy and pushed him over the side of the sandpit.
Benson sat on the ground, stunned. His tummy hurt where Callum had hit him, and his bottom hurt from where he landed on the ground. He got up and shook himself. Callum was looking at him, smiling a nasty little smile.
Benson walked off to the swings. He swung backwards and forwards, worrying about what he should have done. Should he had have pushed Callum back? Should he have told him he had to let him play in the sandpit? But Callum was bigger and heavier than he was, and scary.
His friend Mick arrived and came over to the swings. Benson told him what had happened. Mick said, “That’s not fair. I’m going to tell him.”
He went over to the sandpit, and said loudly, “You can’t kick people out of the sandpit. It’s for sharing.” Callum looked at him with mean eyes, and kicked sand in his face. Then he pushed Mick right over. Mick was so shocked he couldn’t think of anything to say. He went back to see Benson at the swings.
Benson said, “Maybe if we wait for a while, he’ll go somewhere else.” So they waited, taking turns on the swings, but it wasn’t so much fun any more.
In a little while, Zali and her mother arrived, with her baby sister, Zip. Zali’s favourite thing was the sandpit. She went straight over and started to climb in. Callum shouted, “Get out of my sandpit!” but Zali didn’t understand. She lifted her little sister Zip into the sandpit with her.
Callum yelled and then he charged at Zali with his head down. He knocked her over, flat on her back. Zali started to cry. Callum turned towards little Zip.
Benson couldn’t stand it any more. “Hey!” he shouted. “Leave her alone!”
Callum looked at Benson with his flat black eyes. “You wanna fight?” he said.
Zali was crying and little Zip was sitting in the corner of the sandpit looking frightened. Benson didn’t think, he just said, “Okay.” If that was what he had to do, that was what he had to do. His stomach turned over and over and he felt sick. He was so scared he wanted to cry.
Callum got out of the sandpit and walked towards Benson, going ‘chika-chika’ and hissing. Benson’s feet walked backwards without him telling them to. Then he felt his backside going up in the air and his feet coming off the ground. Callum’s feet were coming off the ground too, and he was yelling, “Hey! What’s happening?”
Mr Fenn was holding them both up in the air by the seat of their pants. “What’s going on here?” he growled.
Benson was so happy to hear Mr Fenn’s voice, he nearly cried. “He pushed us!” he said. “He hurt Zali, and Mick and he was going to hurt Zip.”
Mr Fenn put them both down on the ground. He gave Benson a little shake. “No, Benson,” he said, “not ‘he’. Start with ‘I’.”
Benson swallowed and started again, slowly. “I… was going to fight him. I didn’t want him to hurt Zip.”
“That’s better,” Mr Fenn said. He turned to Callum. “Do you have anything to say?”
Callum didn’t say anything. He just looked angry.
Mr Fenn said, “This is a playground for everyone. Everyone should be able to feel safe here. Everyone shares the swings, they share the sandpit, they share everything. Understand?”
Callum nodded. He still looked very angry and fierce.
“If you don’t want to share, you’ll have to go somewhere else,” Mr Fenn said.
Callum looked at Benson as if he were thinking of jumping on him and biting his ears off, but he still didn’t say anything. He looked at Mr Fenn, his big strong shoulders, and his calm, determined face. After a while he nodded, and turned around and walked out of the playground.
Benson was so relieved, his legs folded up underneath him and he flopped down on the ground.
Mr Fenn said to him, “That was a very bad idea, Benson.”
“He started it,” Benson said. “I couldn’t just stand there when he was hurting Zali, could I? And there was little Zip, too.”
“Did you try talking to him?” Mr Fenn said. “Did you ask an adult for help?”
Benson shook his head.
“Fighting is always a bad idea,” Mr Fenn said. “If you lose, then the bully just keeps on bullying. If you win, then you’ve beaten someone and you’re the new bully. That’s not the way to get someone to change their mind. And someone always gets hurt.”
Benson didn’t like that idea. He particularly didn’t like the idea of losing, and Callum going back to hurting little Zip. He thought about it, then he nodded. He said, “I’m sorry.”
Mr Fenn gave him a pat. “Okay. Now why don’t you go and play in the sandpit with Zali?”
And Benson did.

Subscribe to Benson’s own podcast and hear stories from the beginning of the series read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Forgiveness

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

One morning just before lunch, Benson went for a walk down to the creek. His cousin Elmer was there, digging.

“Hi Elmer,” Benson said. “What are you doing here?”

Elmer said, “I’m digging a burrow.”

Benson looked at the hole Elmer was digging. It wasn’t very big, and it was right in the bank of the creek.

Benson said, “You know, if the water comes up, it could easily flood.”

Elmer kept on digging. “It’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s not going to rain, and even if it did, the water won’t come up very far.”

Benson watched him dig. Elmer really wasn’t a very good digger. The hole was too wide and not deep enough, and the dirt was going everywhere. After a while, Elmer stopped, panting.

“Are you just going to stand there and watch?” he asked Benson.

Benson said, “You should dig upwards for a bit, and then dig down deep. That way there’s a bit of a hill to keep the water out. And you should put your shoulders into it, not just scratch with your paws like that.”

Elmer said, “Well if you’re such a great digger, why don’t you do it?”

Benson said, “Sure, I’ll help if you like.” He thought it was the worst wombat hole he had ever seen, but he didn’t want to say so, in case it hurt Elmer’s feelings. He set to work and did some really good digging. The soil was soft and sandy, perfect for digging. In no time he had dug a nice, tidy hole just big enough for one smallish wombat.

“There,” he said, brushing off his paws. “What do you want a burrow for, anyway?”

Elmer said, “To live in. I’m moving out of home.”

Benson was amazed. Elmer was even younger that he was. “Why?” he asked.

Elmer had a look on his face that was partly angry, partly stubborn, and partly embarrassed. He said, “I had a fight with my dad, so I’ve decided to live somewhere else, by myself.”

Benson thought about it. It didn’t seem like a good idea to him. Why would you move out of a warm, safe, comfortable wombat hole with your dad to go and live in a small, damp hole in the side of a creek?

“What did you fight about?” he asked.

Elmer looked even more stubborn and angry. His face was red and he was frowning. “We were going to make some of my favourite bread, you know, with oats and blueberries, but my dad did something to the oven to see if he could get it to add the blueberries automatically, and now it won’t work properly so we couldn’t cook the bread.”

“So why didn’t you just have ordinary bread?” Benson asked. “Or a banana?”

Elmer lifted his chin up. “I wanted bread with oats and blueberries,” he said stubbornly.

“You had a fight about what kind of bread you wanted to eat?” Benson asked.

Elmer put his head down. He mumbled, “I yelled at him.” His face was very red.

“You yelled at your father?” Benson said. He was amazed. He knew Elmer loved his father, and his father loved Elmer more than anything in the world.

Elmer nodded. “I yelled at him and I told him the oven was stupid and HE was stupid. And I kicked the oven and the door fell off.”

Benson was shocked. “Then what did you do?”

Elmer said, “I told him I was leaving, and I left.” His voice wasn’t angry any more. It was kind of sad and sorry. Benson thought that now maybe he wished he hadn’t.

“Why don’t you go back and say you’re sorry?” he said.

“I’m not sorry!” Elmer said. “I’m going to live by myself and do whatever I want.”

Benson looked around. “What are you going to eat?”

“Grass,” Elmer said. “Maybe some roots, or some creek-slime.” He went inside his little wombat hole and curled up with his back to Benson. Benson figured he didn’t want to talk any more.

Benson went home and told his mother all about it.

“He might change his mind when he’s had a chance to think about it,” his mother said.

That night it rained and rained. In the morning, Benson’s mother said, “I’m worried about Elmer. His burrow doesn’t sound like a safe place. Why don’t you go down and see, and take him one of your toasted broccoli sandwiches?”

Benson went down to the creek. Elmer’s wombat hole was full of water and mud. Elmer was standing beside it, dripping and shivering. His fur was soaked and muddy, his ears were dripping, and water was running off his nose. Benson thought he had never seen anyone as wet and muddy as Elmer in his whole life.

Benson said, “Do you want me to help you dig another burrow?”

Elmer opened his mouth and wailed, “I want my Dad!” Big tears rolled down his face.

“Why don’t you just go back home?” Benson said, crunching thoughtfully on his broccoli sandwich.

Elmer said, “I can’t! I said terrible things, and I broke the oven!”

“Just say you’re sorry,” Benson said. “Even if he’s still mad, he might let you live in a dark corner somewhere near the back door. Anything’s better than this!”

Elmer wiped his nose and said, “Okay.”

They started off together. Water sprayed off Elmer with every step he took.

When they got close to Uncle Elton’s place, Benson could see Uncle Elton outside the burrow looking very sad. As soon as he saw Elmer, he ran towards him. He picked up Elmer in his arms and hugged and hugged him.

Elmer cried, and said in a snuffly voice, “I’m sorry, Dad, I didn’t mean it.”

His father said, “I know, son, of course you didn’t. I’ve missed you so much! I was so worried about you.”

They both hugged some more, then Uncle Elton said, “I fixed the oven, and I made your favourite bread, with oats and blueberries. How about we wash all this mud off you and put some warm, dry clothes on, and you can try it?”

Elmer was very, very happy. “Yes, please,” he said.

Uncle Elton said to Benson, “Benson, do you want to come and have some with us?”

Benson absolutely did, so they went inside together and ate until they couldn’t eat any more.

Subscribe to Benson’s own podcast and hear stories from the beginning of the series read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Aunt Moss’s Headache

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

Aunt Moss had a headache. “My head is really hurting,” she said. “I think I’ll go and lie down.”

Benson’s mother made her a nice cup of cardamom and willowbark tea, and Benson took it into her room. Aunt Moss was lying down but she didn’t feel any better. She said, “This pillow is so uncomfortable.”

Benson said, “My pillow is nice and soft. Do you want to try it instead?”

He ran to his room and got his pillow. Aunt Moss tried it, but it wasn’t any better. “Your pillow is lovely and soft, Benson, but it isn’t helping,” she said. “My head still hurts,”

Benson’s mother said, “What if we make you a lovely soft pillow out of a soft pile of leaves?”

“That sounds lovely,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson ran outside and filled up a bag with leaves that were lying on the grass. He took it into Aunt Moss’s room. “Here, try this,” he said.

Aunt Moss lay down on the leaf pillow, but she got up again straight away. “No, this pillow isn’t any better,” she said. “It still hurts my head.”

Benson’s mother said, “I know, let’s get some possum fur and make a pillow out of that. Possum fur is the softest thing in the world.”

Benson ran to his friends, Nils and Nella’s house, and he asked their mum if he could have some possum fur.

“Of course you can,” she said. “Every time Nella brushes her tail, handfuls of fur come out. I’m always picking it up.” She gave Benson a big pile of fur. It was as soft as a cloud. He carried it home and made a beautiful pillow with it, to put under Aunt Moss’s head.

She lay down on the soft possum fur pillow, but she sat up again straight away. “Ow! Ow!” she said. “That hurts!”

Benson said, “Aunt Moss, could I have a look at the back of your head?”

He looked carefully at the back of Aunt Moss’s head, then he reached up and pulled something out of her hair.

“Look,” he said. “This was caught in the hair at the back of your neck.” He held up a hair-clip.

Aunt Moss said, “So that’s where it was! I’ve been looking for that clip for days!” She felt the back of her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all any more!”

Benson’s mother said, “That clip must have been poking into your head all this time and giving you a headache.”

“It wasn’t the pillows that hurt,” Benson said, “it was the clip all the time.”

Aunt Moss said, “Let me see.” She lay down on the possum fur pillow. “It’s beautiful and soft,” she said. “But I think I like my old pillow best.” Benson gave her back her own pillow and she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Benson’s mother took the possum fur away to make into yarn to knit a beautiful soft scarf. Benson took the bag of leaves outside. He filled up another bag with leaves, and then he and Roly played pillow fights until the bags split open and the leaves rained down like a snowstorm.

Quoll

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

Benson and his mother were out shopping. They went past a big paperbark tree and Benson stopped. “What’s that noise?” he said.

His mother looked up into the tree. “Rainbow lorikeets,”she said. “Sounds like they’re having a meeting.”

Benson looked up. The tree was full of brightly coloured birds, green and yellow and orange with bright blue heads and red beaks. There were hundreds of them, all talking and arguing at the top of their voices. It was so loud, Benson had to put his hands over his ears.

“Why are they having a meeting?” he shouted to his mother over the noise of the birds.

His mother listened. “I think they’re talking about possums,” she said. She took Benson’s hand. “Come on,” she said, “they’re always having noisy meetings about something or other. It’s probably nothing.”

But it wasn’t nothing, it was something.

When they got home, Nils and Nella, Benson’s possum friends, were waiting for them. They were very upset.

“What’s wrong?” Benson’s mother asked.

“The lorikeets said we’re stealing their eggs!” Nils said.

“We’d never do that!” Nella said. “Yuck, who’d want to eat a slimy bird’s egg?”

Nils said, “They’re telling everyone we steal their eggs and drop them on the ground and break them.”

Benson said, “That’s really mean. Who would do a thing like that?”

“It wasn’t us!” Nella said.

“No, of course not,” Benson’s mother said. “I think we should go and have a talk with the lorikeets.”

They all set out together and went to the tree where the lorikeets were having their meeting. They were still shouting and yelling, except for one lorikeet who was sniffing sadly, and another one who was patting her on the shoulder and saying, “There, there.”

Benson’s mother raised her voice over the noise. “Could someone tell me what’s going on, please?” she said.

The lorikeets stopped talking and looked down. Then they started all shouting, “Possums! Possums! Get away! Nasty possums!”

Benson’s mother shouted, “Quietttt! If you please!” The lorikeets hushed and listened to her. “Now, would someone please tell me what’s going on?” she said.

One of the lorikeets spoke up. “Nasty possums have been stealing our eggs and eating them!”

“It wasn’t us!” Nils and Nella said together.

Benson’s mother said to the lorikeet, “How do you know it was possums that took the eggs?”

“We saw them! We saw them!” all the lorikeets shouted.

The first lorikeet nodded and said, “That’s right, we saw it. It climbed up the tree and ate our eggs. And now it’s eaten one of Thellie’s babies.”

Everyone looked at the lorikeet who was crying.

Thellie dried her eyes and said, “She was just tiny – she had only just hatched out. I flew off to get her something to eat, and when I came back there was a horrible possum in the tree and it ate my baby!” Thellie started crying again.

Her friend Mavis said, “There, there,” and patted her shoulder.

Benson’s mother said, “What did the possum look like?”

Mavis said, “Like them,” pointing at Nils and Nella. “It had fur and a long tail, and its nose was pink and it had shiny brown eyes.”

“Are you sure?” Benson’s mother said.

Mavis said, “Of course I’m sure! I saw its horrible spotted tail myself!”

“Spotted?” Benson’s mother said. “Did you say it had a spotted tail?”

“That’s right,” Mavis said. “It had brown fur all over, with white spots on its tail.”

“That’s not a possum,” Benson’s mother said. “There’s only one marsupial in the whole country that has a spotted tail, and that’s a quoll.”

“Quoll! Quoll! Oh no! Danger, danger!” shrieked all the lorikeets.

Benson’s mother nodded. “Danger for all of us,” she said. “Quolls don’t just eat eggs and baby birds, they eat frogs and even baby possums and echidnas!”

“Oh no!” gasped Benson. “We’ve got to do something!”

“Save us! Save us!” yelled all the lorikeets at once. Benson put his hands over his ears again. The noise was deafening.

“I’ve got an idea,” Benson’s mother said, “but it might be dangerous.”

“Tell us, tell us!” shouted the tree-full of lorikeets.

Benson’s mother explained her idea to them. They talked and argued among themselves for ages, and then Mavis said, “We’ll do it!”

“We’ll do it! We’ll do it!” shouted all the lorikeets.

Benson and Nils and Nella went down to the creek and collected lots and lots of small white pebbles, and gave them to the lorikeets. The lorikeets hid all their real eggs and put the white pebbles in their nests instead.

That night they waited silently by their nests, pretending to be asleep. As soon as it was dark, they all heard a scratching noise, like claws climbing up a tree. The quoll was coming!

Everyone stayed very still. The quoll went to the first nest and picked up what he thought was a small white egg, and bit into it. “Ow!” he said. “That hurt my tooth!”

He dropped it and went to the next nest. He bit another one, and another one. “Ow! Ow!” he said. “What’s wrong with these eggs?”

All together, the lorikeets shouted, “Go away! Go away! Bad quoll! Bad quoll!” They got the stones out of their nests and threw them at the quoll.

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” the quoll yelled. He scampered down out of the tree and ran away as fast as he could, and he never came back to that part of the country again.

Subscribe to Benson’s own podcast and hear stories from the beginning of the series read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Cicadas Singing

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 very hot summer. In the bush where Benson lived, the noise of cicadas singing filled the air all day long. Sometimes it got so loud that Benson’s ears started ringing and he couldn’t hear anything else.

Aunt Lillibet started wearing her pink fluffy earmuffs around the house.

“Aren’t your ears hot?” Benson asked her.

“I can’t hear you,” she said. “I’m wearing ear muffs.”

Aunt Moss, who had a thick woolly hat pulled down over her ears, said, “What did she say?”

“She said she couldn’t hear me,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss said, “Wait a minute, Benson, I can’t hear you with this hat over my ears.” She took the hat off.

Benson said loudly, “She said she can’t hear me!”

Aunt Moss said, “What? I can’t hear you over the noise the cicadas are making.” She pulled the hat back down over her ears. “That’s better,” she said. “Now what did you say?”

Benson sighed. He made some signs to say he was going for a walk, and he went outside. Outside it was even noisier. He walked along with his hands over his ears, and he could still hear the noise of the cicadas.

“Will you be quiet?” he shouted, but the cicadas were so noisy he couldn’t even hear himself shouting.

Further along he came to a long, flat rock. He could see someone on top of it, wearing a pink tutu and doing something that looked like it might be dancing. When he got closer, he could see it was Bonnie Lou, his friend Mick’s little sister. She stopped dancing and made a big bow, even though there was no-one watching. The noise of the cicadas sounded like an audience cheering.

Benson went up to the rock and said, “What are you doing?”

Bonnie Lou stopped bowing and her face went pink. “Nothing,” she said.

“Were you dancing?” Benson said.

Bonnie Lou’s face went as red as a tomato. “I might have been,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Benson said, “Why were you dancing out here all by yourself?”

Bonnie Lou said, “If I dance at home, Mick laughs at me. He says I dance like a bulldozer falling down a hill. So I came out here where no-one can see me.”

“That isn’t very nice of him,” Benson said. “You can keep dancing, I won’t laugh at you.”

Bonnie Lou wouldn’t. She was too embarrassed to dance in front of anybody.

Benson had an idea. He went and found three old banksia cones. He climbed up onto the rock and said loudly, “Benson, the world’s greatest juggler!” He held his tongue between his teeth and threw the three cones into the air. He caught one and dropped one and the third one hit him on the nose. “Ta da!” he said. He bowed, and the noise of the cicadas rose up around him like an audience clapping and cheering.

Bonnie Lou clapped and clapped. “Let me have a turn,” she said. Benson got down and let her climb up onto the rock. She started dancing and twirling and jumping up and down on her toes.

Benson thought she looked like a baby hippopotamus on a trampoline. He rolled around on the ground laughing.

Bonnie Lou stopped dancing and glared at him with her hands on her hips. “You said you wouldn’t laugh!” she said.

Benson said, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. You look really funny when you dance. Wombats aren’t really built for dancing.”

Bonnie Lou said, “But I love dancing!”

Benson said, “You know what? I love dancing too!” He climbed up onto the rock beside her and they both danced. Benson did some tap-dancing steps and jumped and kicked his feet up into the air. It looked pretty silly but it felt great. Bonnie Lou twirled and swayed. They both had a great time, and when they finished they bowed and curtsied, and the noise of the cicadas rang out like a huge crowd cheering.

The See-Saw

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

Benson went to the playground with his mother. It was a beautiful sunny day, and everyone was there, playing and talking to each other.

Benson’s friend Mick said, “Let’s go on the see-saw.”

They both went over to the see-saw. There were two bush turkeys sitting on the see-saw, not moving. The see-saw was exactly level in mid-air. There was a bush turkey on each end, not going up or down, just sitting there.

Benson said, “Are you going to be finished soon? We want a turn.”

One of the turkeys said, “Don’t know.”

The other turkey said, “It’s our turn.”

Benson thought he recognised them. “Is your name Kenny?” he asked.

“It’s Ken,” said the turkey. “Kenny for short.”

The other turkey said, “I’m Kenny, but my friends call me Ken.”

“You’re both called Ken?” Mick said.

“No, I’m Ken,” the first one said. “He’s Kenny, aren’t you, Ken?” he said to his friend.

“That’s right, Kenny,” said the other one.

Benson felt tired just thinking about it. “I think it’s our turn now,” he said.

“We’re still having our turn,” Kenny said. “We’re waiting for the see-saw to go down.”

“It doesn’t just GO down,” Mick said. “You have to push off the ground and one of you goes up, and that makes the other one go down. That’s how a see-saw works.”

“That won’t work,” said Ken. “Neither of us wants to go up, do we, Ken?”

The other one shook his turkey head. Benson watched his wattle wobble. “We don’t like going up, we only like going down, don’t we, Ken?”

“You can’t both go down at the same time,” Mick said.

“Why not?” said Kenny. “It’s a see-saw, isn’t it?”

Mick was getting more and more exasperated. “See-saws don’t work like that!” he said.

The two turkeys looked at each other and shook their heads. “He hasn’t done the research, has he Kenny?” said the first one.

“Not like we have,” said the other one. “Listen, when there’s a flood and the creek gets full, what happens? You wait, and the water goes down.”

“Yeah,” said the other turkey. “And when you blow up a balloon it’s big and shiny but after a couple of days, what happens? It goes down.”

“You see?” the first one said to Mick. “We just have to wait and the see-saw will go down.”

Mick’s face was red and he looked like he was going to do something he shouldn’t, like push both turkeys off the see-saw. Benson said, “You guys are turkeys, aren’t you? Can turkeys fly?”

Ken, or Kenny, said, “We’re birds, aren’t we? Of course we can fly!”

Benson sat down heavily on one end of the see-saw. The other end shot up and the turkey sitting on it flew into the air with a squawk. He flapped a few times and landed back down on the ground.

The turkey at Benson’s end was sitting down on the ground. He got up and shook his feathers.

“Now you’re both down,” Benson said. “Come on, Mick, it’s our turn.”

Mick got on the other end of the see-saw and they went up and down.

The turkeys said to each other, “See? We knew it would work if we waited long enough.” And they walked off together.

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.