A Kangaroo in a Flock of Sheep

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

One morning Benson woke up especially early, so he went outside to do some digging. There was a kangaroo grazing on the grass in the back yard. At least, he thought it was a kangaroo. It was grey and kangaroo-shaped, but it had white woolly patches all over its fur, and when it moved along, it didn’t jump like a kangaroo. It put its front paws on the ground and moved its back legs one at a time and sort of shuffled along.

“Hi,” said Benson. “My name’s Benson.”

“Baa-aa,” said the kangaroo.

“What?” Benson said.

“I said, ‘Baa-aa,'” said the kangaroo.

“I thought kangaroos said, ‘tsk-tsk-tsk’, not ‘baa'”, Benson said.

“I’m not a kangaroo, I’m a sheep,” said the other animal. “My name’s Diggory. I live in a field with a lot of other sheep. I eat grass, and I have wool, see?”

Benson looked at Diggory’s fur, and he could see that the white patches lying on top of it were actually clumps of wool. “Oh, okay,” he said.

Diggory went back to grazing on the grass, and Benson settled down to dig. He dug out a nice flat place just near the doorway and smoothed it out, then he lay down in the sun, looking up at the sky and thinking how nice it was to be outside digging and thinking and stuff.

Diggory gave a small cough. “Excuse me,” he said. “There’s something caught in your fur, just near your ear. I think it might be a centipede.”

Benson twisted around and scratched near his ear. “Is it gone now?” he asked.

“No, it’s still there,” Diggory said. “Try putting your arm over your head like this, and flicking your ear a little bit, like this.” He flicked his ear and twisted his arm to show Benson how to do it.

Benson twisted and flicked, and he found he could reach the spot easily. The centipede fell off and wriggled away. “Thanks,” Benson said. “You’re really good at that. For a sheep.”

Diggory heaved a sigh. “I’m not very good at anything much,” he said. “I don’t know anything about rainfall or pasture quality or the staple length of fleeces. I only know about useless things like scratching your ears, and strength-to-weight ratios, and windspeed and spring constants. I’m really dumb, for a sheep.”

“Sheep must be pretty smart,” Benson said.

“They are,” Diggory agreed. “And they’re really useful. They grow wool, and they keep the grass nice and short. Sheep are pretty important.”

Benson said, “Wombats don’t do any of that stuff. They just dig. My mother helps look after the bush, and my Nanna is always helping people and doing things like singing and making pikelets and putting ointment on possums when they hurt themselves. Not like sheep, though.”

“Sheep are pretty cool,” Diggory said, nodding.

Benson said, “Digging is my favourite thing in the whole world. What’s your favourite sheep thing?”

Diggory said, “Eating grass, I suppose. I like eating grass. But sometimes,” he said, “sometimes I feel like I just want to jump. I want to jump over fences and bound through the bush and leap over creeks and gullies. I just want to jump.”

Benson looked at Diggory’s big back legs and his big strong tail. He said, “You look like you’d be really good at jumping.”

“But sheep don’t jump,” Diggory said. “They trot sometimes, and they walk a lot, but they don’t jump, or leap, or bound.”

“They skip sometimes, don’t they?” Benson said.

“Yes, they skip when they’re happy,” Diggory said.

“Is that what you do?” Benson said.

A slow tear rolled down Diggory’s face. “No,” he said. “I can’t skip.”

Benson felt really sad for him. “I’ll ask my mum,” he said. “Maybe she can help.”

His mother was inside cutting up pineapple and rockmelon for breakfast. He told her all about Diggory while he had some pineapple and drank some apple and celery juice. She came outside to see.

“Hi, Diggory,” she said. She looked at his grey fur with tufts of wool stuck here and there, and his soft, twitching ears and his round black nose, his long tail and his powerful legs. She said, “Diggory, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sheep like you before.”

Diggory hung his head. “I don’t fit in very well with the rest of the sheep, no matter how hard I try,” he said.

“I know some other animals you might like to meet,” she said. “Why don’t we go for a walk up to the hills?”

They set off straight away, through the bush and up over the hills where a big mob of kangaroos were grazing. They came jumping up to Diggory and said hello and sniffed him all over, then they bounded away again.

Diggory bounded after them. He couldn’t help himself. He followed them up and over the hills, leaping and jumping, his long back legs stretching and his long tail pushing off the ground behind him. After a long while he came back to where Benson and his mother were sitting under a tree.

“Do you think it would be all right if I stayed here?” he asked, panting.

“What do you think?” Benson’s mother said.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Part of me feels like it belongs with all my sheep friends, and part of me wants to stay here and just jump around all day. What should I do?”

Benson’s mother said, “You could stay here, or you could go back to the sheep, or you could spend some time here and some time there, and see how it works out. But whatever you decide, I think if you’re going to be a kangaroo in a sheep paddock, you should be a kangaroo, not a pretend sheep.”

Diggory looked at his legs and his tail. He jumped away, big long jumps, and back again. “I think you’re right,” he said happily.

The Green Hairy Monster

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

Benson had a cold. He felt awful. His nose was all stuffed up and he couldn’t stop sneezing.

His mother had just finished weeding the garden and cleaning the bathroom, and she was chopping up vegetables to make some soup. “You poor thing,” she said. “Why don’t you snuggle under a blanket and read a book?”

“I want you to read to me,” Benson said. “My eyes are all fuzzy.”

His mother made him a lemon and honey and ginger drink and she was just sitting down to read to him when there was a knock at the door.

It was Nils and Nella. “We saw a monster in the bush!” they said. “A big, green, hairy monster!”

“A monster?” Benson’s mother said. “What sort of monster?”

“It was big and green and hairy, all over,” Nella said.

“With little short arms and long, sharp claws,” Nils said.

“Are you sure it wasn’t just a wombat hiding behind a bush?” Benson’s mother said.

“It was much bigger than a wombat,” Nils said. “It was growling and making horrible noises.”

Nella said, “It’s down by the grass trees! You’ve got to come!”

“All right, I’ll come and have a look,” Benson’s mother said. “I’m sorry, Benson, you’ll have to read by yourself for a little while, until I get back.”

Benson didn’t want to read by himself. “You said you’d read to me,” he said.

“I know, I’m sorry,” she said, “but I won’t be long.”

Benson kept sneezing and snuffling, until his mother got back. “Was there a monster?” he asked.

“No, we looked everywhere but there was nothing there,” she said.

Benson gave a big sneeze and said, “My head hurts and my nose won’t stop running.”

His mother said, “I’ll make you some sage and peppermint tea.” Just then there was another knock at the door. This time it was Benson’s cousin, Elmer. He looked very small and frightened.

“I can’t find my dad!” he said.

“Tell me what’s happened,” she said.

Elmer said, “He went out to get some honey, and he hasn’t come back. It’s been ages. What if the monster got him?” He started to cry.

“There’s no monster, Elmer,” Benson’s mother said. “It’s just a story someone made up.”

“Yes, there is!” Elmer cried. “Nils and Nella saw it! It’s green and hairy all over, and it’s got enormous teeth and big claws and it tries to eat you if you get close. What if it got my dad?”

Benson’s mother put her arms around him and gave him a cuddle. “Your father is big and strong. He wouldn’t let any monster get him. He’d fight, and he’d run away, wouldn’t he?”

Elmer nodded tearfully. “But maybe it bit him and he’s bleeding and he can’t walk,” he said.

“Would you like me to come and help you look for him?” she said. She helped him dry his eyes and blow his nose. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, Benson,” she said. She and Elmer set off together.

Benson felt extremely cross and grumpy. Aunt Lillibet came out and said, “You don’t look like a happy wombat. What’s the matter?”

Benson said angrily, “She said she would read to me! She was supposed to make me some peppermint tea. She’s always helping other people – what about me?”

Aunt Lillibet sat down next to him and gave him a tissue. She said, “Lots of people need her. When people need help, they come to her. That’s just how it is.”

“It’s not fair!” Benson exploded. “I need her!”

Aunt Lillibet looked hard at him. “Benson,” she said quietly, “you’re not feeling well, I know, so maybe that’s why you’re only thinking about yourself. Have you ever thought about what your mother needs? She’s always busy looking after other people. Who looks after her?”

Benson stopped. He thought about everything his mother had been doing all morning, cleaning and cooking and getting him drinks and looking after him, in between helping Nils and Nella and Elmer. Maybe he was the one being unfair, he thought. Then he thought of something else. “What if there really is a monster?” he said. “She’s all by herself, with only Elmer to help her.” He got up and took off his dressing-gown. “Aunt Lillibet, we have to go and find her,” he said.

They hurried down the track. Just as they got to the grass trees they saw it: a big, green, hairy monster! It was roaring at Elmer and Benson’s mother, and waving its long, sharp claws at them. It was bigger than the biggest wombat Benson had ever seen, and it was covered in green, hairy fuzz, with bits of sticks and leaves and dirt stuck all over it. It didn’t have any eyes or mouth, just a big, hairy lump for a head.

Benson ran up and stood in front of his mother. “Go away! Leave her alone!” he yelled, waving his arms. The monster stopped. It lifted up its head and howled.

“Listen!” his mother said. “I think it wants something.” She walked very slowly up to the monster and put her hand on its shoulder. The monster jumped around and tried to grab her. Benson ran up to the monster and shouted and tried to push it away. Some of its green fuzz stuck to his fingers. It smelled strangely of honey.

His mother didn’t move. She stood very still with her hand on the monster’s shoulder, and spoke quietly to it. The monster shook its head and growled. She stood back, and put her fingers in her mouth and whistled really loudly.

A whole flock of cockatoos suddenly appeared, and started diving at the green monster, pecking and pulling at its green hair.

“Look!” Elmer said. As the cockatoos pulled away the hairiness, a medium-sized wombat started to appear. “Dad!” Elmer yelled joyfully. He ran up and hugged his father.

“Thank goodness!” his father said, as the cockatoos flew off with the last of the green fuzz. “I was beginning to think I would never get out of that horrible, woolly mess!”

“What happened?” Elmer said. “Did the monster get you?”

“What monster?” his father said. “I went to get the honey from Shelley’s, like I told you, and she gave me a big bag of green wool that she didn’t want. On the way home, I dropped the honey, and somehow it got all over me and the wool stuck to me and got all tangled up. The more I tried to untangle it, the more tangled it got. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t hear. I kept bumping into things and falling over – it was awful!”

“Don’t worry, Dad, you’re all right now,” Elmer said, hugging him. “Let’s go home and get some warm milk and cranberry cookies.” They walked off together.

Benson’s mother said to him, “We’d better get you home too, so I can read you that story.”

Benson took his mother’s hand. He said, “Why don’t we go home and I’ll read you a story, and you can have a rest, and maybe some nice vegetable soup?”

“That sounds lovely,” she said, smiling. So they did.

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

for Michael

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.

After breakfast, Aunt Moss took off her apron and made her hair tidy.

“Are you going somewhere, Moss?” Aunt Lillibet asked her.

“I’m going to a poetry reading at my friend Shelley’s place,” Aunt Moss said. “Malcolm has written some poems, and he’s going to read them for us.”

“A poetry reading?” Aunt Lillibet was horrified. She clutched her hat and said to Benson’s mother, “Don’t let her go, please!”

“But Aunt Moss loves poetry,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson said, “What’s poetry?”

“It’s what a poet writes,” Aunt Moss answered, her eyes glazing over. “Sometimes it’s romantic and sometimes it’s sweet, and sometimes it’s funny and much more upbeat.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You just can’t stop it! You’re doing it now!”

“Calm down, Lillibet. Stop making a row,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson didn’t know what they were talking about. He asked, “How do you get to be a poet? Can anyone do it?”

Aunt Moss said, “You start to rhyme and before you know it, if you take your time, you become a poet.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Stop it this minute! Stop it, right now!”

“I can’t, Lillibet, I just don’t know how,” Aunt Moss said. “Words and rhymes come into my head, any time of the day, even when I’m in bed.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You’ll be sorry, you know. If you go, you’ll regret it!”

“Sometimes, Lillibet, you simply don’t get it,” Aunt Moss said. “Poetry’s one of my favourite things. Whenever I hear it, it makes my heart sing!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “But remember what happened the last time you went!”

“That’s something I don’t think we’ll ever forget,” Benson’s mother said, smiling.

Benson said, “What happened?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “She wouldn’t stop rhyming, for weeks and weeks!”

“But rhyming is how every good poet speaks!” Aunt Moss said.

Benson sighed. “I wish I could do it, but I don’t know how to get the words to rhyme.”

“Don’t worry, Benson, it all comes with time,” Aunt Moss said. “Don’t say you don’t know, just give it a go.” She picked up a plum out of the fruit bowl. “Like this: I’m a plum, that’s what I am. Make me into yummy jam.”

Benson said, “It sounds easy when you do it, but I don’t think it is.” He picked up an orange. “Here I’ve got an orange orange. It’s good for marmalade or orange. Juice.”

Aunt Moss clapped. “That’s very good, Benson! Would you like to come? A poetry reading can be lots of fun.”

Aunt Lillibet groaned. “Don’t take Benson, or he’ll catch it too.”

“It’s not like the measles, or catching the flu!” Aunt Moss said. “Poetry’s lovely, whatever you say, in the bath or the kitchen, it’s always okay. Now give me my hat, we should get on our way. Goodbye, Lillibet, have a wonderful day!”

She put her hat on, and she and Benson went off together.

When they came home later on, Aunt Moss didn’t look excited any more.

“How was Malcolm’s poetry reading?” Benson’s mother asked.

Benson sat down with a thump, and said, “Boring and stupid.”

“Not as much fun as I thought. He writes haiku now,” Aunt Moss said.

“Haiku?” Benson’s mother said. “That kind of poetry that doesn’t rhyme?”

Aunt Moss said sadly, “There aren’t any rhymes, there are only lines of words. Where’s the fun in that?”

Benson said, “We sat and listened, and Malcolm read weird things like, ‘Gum trees hate Mondays.'”

Aunt Moss said, “We came home early. It’s no fun without the rhymes. Lillibet was right.”

Benson’s mother said, “Poor Lillibet went to bed with a hot water bottle and a cup of camomile tea after you left. She said she couldn’t stop her brain from rhyming.”

A big smile spread across Aunt Moss’s face. She said, “I know what she means. Sometimes the rhymes go round and round until your head begins to pound.”

“You know, that’s what I’ve always found, unless you really like the sound,” Benson’s mother said, smiling back.

Benson said, “Should we go and see if she feels better, or if there’s anything we can get her?”

Aunt Moss exclaimed happily, “Benson, you’ve got it! You’re doing it too!”

“I have to admit, it’s all thanks to you,” Benson said modestly.

A Light on the Hill

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

Benson was cleaning his teeth before bed one night when he saw a light outside, a long way off, on the top of a hill. He watched it for a while, and then he went and got his mother. “Why is there a light shining at the top of the hill?” he said.

“I don’t know,” said his mother. “It looks like someone is up there with a torch. Shall we go and find out?”

Benson was very excited to be going out in the dark when he should have been going to bed. It was so very dark that he couldn’t see anything at first, but in a little while his eyes got used to it and he could see quite well.

The light on top of the hill was tiny but it was so bright, they could see it from far away and they found it easily. When they got to the top of the hill, there was Nanna, sitting all by herself, holding a big torch.

“Nanna, what are you doing up here in the dark?” Benson said.

Nanna gave Benson and his mother a big hug. “I’m glad you came,” she said. “You can help me look.”

“Did you drop something, Nanna?” Benson asked. “Is that what you’ve got the torch for?”

Nanna said, “No, I haven’t lost anything, but I am looking for something.”

“What?” Benson asked.

“Shh!” Nanna said suddenly. “Did you hear that?”

Benson listened. There was a faint squeaking noise. His mother said, “Could I borrow the torch, please, Nanna?”

She shone the beam of the torch around among the trees. It stopped on a hole high up in the trunk of a gum tree. Inside, there was a nest with three little green and yellow parrots. They were huddled up close to each other, frightened and crying.

“Look!” Benson pointed at the branch beside the hole. A furry animal with a long tail was creeping along the branch of the tree, sneaking up to the hole in the trunk.

“It’s a sugar-glider,” Benson’s mother said softly. “I wonder what he’s up to?”

The sugar-glider came up to the hole in the tree, and he started trying to push the little chicks out. Benson’s mother pointed the torch right at him and said sternly, “What do you think you’re doing?”

The sugar-glider stopped what he was doing and froze. Benson said, “I know who that is. It’s Whipple! Why is he doing that?”

“He wants to have the nest to himself,” Nanna said. “Some of the birds came and told me there was a sugar-glider pushing their eggs and their chicks out of their nest. That’s why I came up to look.”

Benson yelled at Whipple, “You leave those little birds alone!”

Whipple’s eyes shone red in the torchlight. “Why should I?” he said. “It’s my nest! I was here first!”

The little parrots cheeped, “No, you weren’t! We were!”

Whipple said angrily, “I found this hole in the tree, and I made it a nice comfy nest. I went out to find something to eat, and when I came back in the morning, it was stuffed full of parrots!”

“We were here first!” cheeped the parrots. “We found this hole and we moved in, and the next morning this big, fat sugar-glider comes and tries to throw us out! You meanie!” they yelled at Whipple.

They all started yelling at each other, and calling each other names.

Benson asked Nanna, “Who does the nest belong to, the birds or the sugar-glider?”

Nanna said, “It’s always like this when the gum trees start to blossom. The sugar-gliders want the holes in the best trees so they can eat as much as they want, and the parrots do too.”

“Why can’t they just share?” Benson said.

His mother said, “Can you imagine three hungry, noisy chicks and a mother and father parrot and a sugar-glider all trying to fit into one small nest? No, they need their own nests.”

Nanna said, “The trouble is, there aren’t enough nests or holes to go around.”

Up in the tree, Whipple was yelling at the birds and pulling their feathers. The little chicks were pecking at Whipple’s head, peck, peck, peck.

Benson’s mother shone the torch on them and said firmly, “Stop that right now, all of you!” They all stopped and looked at her. She said, “If you can’t share, someone is going to have to move out.”

“No way, it’s ours! I was here first! It’s my nest!” they all yelled at once.

Benson’s mother said sternly, “That’s enough! This is what we’re going to do. The parrots can sleep here tonight, while Whipple goes off eating gum blossom as usual. In the morning, the parrots will be moving out.”

“What? That’s not fair!” the parrots shrilled. They cheeped and screeched and complained until Benson had to put his hands over his ears.

His mother shouted, “Quiet, I’m not finished! Tomorrow, Benson and I are going to make you your very own nesting box, and put it up in the tree for you, all right?”

“Ooh!” said the chicks. “A nesting box just for us, that doesn’t smell like nasty sugar-gliders!”

Everyone was happy. Nanna and Benson and his mother went back down the hill and went home. “Come on, Benson, time for bed,” his mother said. “We’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”

Spider Tuesday

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

One morning Benson’s mother came into the kitchen and stopped. “Benson, what are you doing?” she said.

“Spreading peanut butter on Aunt Moss’s shoes,” he said.

“I can see that,” his mother said. “But why?”

“Because it’s Tuesday,” Benson said, carefully going around the laces and licking the knife.

“Is there something about Tuesday that I don’t know about?” his mother asked.

“Arlette says that this week it’s Spider Tuesday, and all the hopping spiders will land on your shoes and make their webs between your ankles so you fall over when you try to walk,” Benson said.

“And you believe her?” his mother asked.

“No, but I thought Aunt Moss might,” Benson said, “and you know how she hates spiders.”

“Did Arlette tell you that peanut butter will keep the spiders off?” she asked.

“No, that was my idea,” Benson said. “I was going to use soap, but peanut butter sticks on better.”

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Uncle Elton. “Um, could you give me a hand please?” he said, tripping over as he walked in.

“Why do you have your fingers in your ears?” Benson’s mother asked him.

“Sorry, I can’t hear you,” Uncle Elton said.

She pulled one of his fingers out of his ear. Elton yelped and said, “Don’t do that! Don’t you know it’s Spider Tuesday? I don’t want the flying spiders to drop onto my head and crawl into my ears and bite holes in my brain!”

“Have you been talking to Arlette?” Benson’s mother said.

Uncle Elton had his fingers back in his ears again. “The thing is, I can’t do up my shoe-laces like this, and I keep tripping over.”

Benson said, “I can help you with that.” He spread lots of sticky peanut butter over Uncle Elton’s shoe-laces and they all stuck together.

Uncle Elton smiled. “Thanks, Benson!” he shouted.

Benson’s mother said, “I think I need to have a talk to Arlette.”

“Are you going out?” Elton shouted. “Don’t forget your umbrella!”

“It’s not raining,” she said. “Why would I need an umbrella?”

“To keep the sky spiders off,” Elton answered. “They won’t land on me because I put some fish sauce on my head before I came. Do you have any fish sauce?”

Benson’s mother closed her lips firmly. “Come on, Benson, let’s go,” she said. “And bring the fish sauce. Elton, you bring the peanut butter.”

Outside there were wombats everywhere holding up umbrellas and peering anxiously at the sky, and trying to put their fingers in their ears at the same time. Down the track a little way, they found Arlette sitting at a table with a box of full of feathers. There was a sign on the table that said, ‘Anti-Spider Feather Dusters. Free with two strawberries.’ On the other side of the table was a big bowl full of strawberries that Arlette was eating calmly.

Gordon came rushing up and pushed past them. “I’ve brought you the strawberries,” he said, giving her a handful. “Can I have three feather dusters? Quick! I can feel them walking on me!”

Arlette took the strawberries and added them to her pile. She gave Gordon three feathers. “Remember, you have to swoosh and sweep, swoosh and sweep. It’s the only way to keep the spiders away.”

Gordon took his feathers and hurried off, swooshing and sweeping.

Arlette said to Benson’s mother, “Do you need a feather duster?”

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

“Are you sure?” Arlette said. “The forecast is for much worse spider conditions this afternoon. If you don’t have any strawberries, an orange is okay.”

Benson’s mother said, “How did you find out about Spider Tuesday?”

“Oh, everyone knows,” Arlette said. “Or maybe I read it in a book somewhere.”

“Or maybe you just made it up, to make a lot of people look silly,” Benson’s mother said.

Arlette opened her eyes wide. “Make it up? Why would I do that?” she giggled.

Benson’s mother folded her arms and looked hard at Arlette. She said, “Arlette, did you ever hear a story about smuckle-bugs?”

“No,” Arlette said. “What’s that?”

Benson’s mother said, “Smuckle-bugs are perfectly harmless. Unless you’ve been eating strawberries.”

“Strawberries?” Arlette said nervously.

“The smell of strawberries makes them really fierce,” Benson’s mother said. “Their eyes go red and their nippers start snipping and snapping.”

Arlette started to look worried. Benson’s mother said, “Benson, do you see something crawling on Arlette’s back?”

Benson peered closely but he couldn’t see a thing. “No, I can’t see anything,” he said.

His mother said, “Are you sure?”

Uncle Elton said suddenly, “Wait! I think I can see something!”

Arlette jumped up and started brushing at her back. “Get it off me! Get it off!” she screamed. She grabbed the fish sauce and poured it all down her back. Then she took the peanut butter away from Uncle Elton and rubbed it all over her head, then she tipped the box of feathers all over herself. They stuck to the peanut butter and stood up all over her head.

“Is it gone?” she panted.

Benson’s mother said, “You don’t have to worry, smuckle-bugs are just a story – they’re not real. Like Spider Tuesday.”

Arlette’s face went red under the peanut butter and feathers. “You can have all those strawberries,” she said, looking angry and embarrassed. “I’m going home to have a bath.” And she walked off.

Benson said, “So it isn’t really Spider Tuesday?”

His mother said, “No, of course not.”

On the way home, Uncle Elton said, “It was a good thing we brought the fish sauce and the peanut butter, wasn’t it? Otherwise Arlette would have been in big trouble.”

A Quiet Afternoon Tea

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 at breakfast time, Aunt Moss said, “I was thinking it would be nice to invite some friends over for afternoon tea today, to celebrate World Friendship Day.”

Benson’s mother said, “I’m sorry, Moss, I can’t spare any time today. I’ve got so much work to do, and besides, I have to take back Hazel’s hammer that Aunt Lillibet borrowed to fix the washing machine, and I promised to take Uncle Elton the recipe for the spinach and coriander loaf that he likes so much, and Aunt Lillibet wants me to take the headband she made for Bonnie Lou, around to Delia’s. There aren’t enough hours in the day!” she said, sounding tired already.

Aunt Moss said, “What if we just invited Nanna for a quiet afternoon tea? Benson and I would get everything ready. You wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. We could deliver all those things to Hazel and Elton and Bonnie Lou on the way to Nanna’s, couldn’t we, Benson?”

Benson nodded enthusiastically. Afternoon tea with Nanna nearly always involved cake and maybe even muffins, poppy-seed muffins, or apricot and almond muffins, or zucchini and walnut muffins, he thought happily.

His mother said, “Oh, all right then. Just a quiet afternoon tea with Nanna. We wouldn’t want to miss World Friendship Day, would we?”

Benson helped Aunt Moss clean and tidy, then he made a nice invitation for Nanna, and they set off.

Aunt Moss said, “I want to deliver a note to Mr Fenn about his rhubarb plants. I think this is his house, with the blue door.”

“Isn’t that where the new wombats live, Rodney and his mother, Polly?” Benson said.

“Oh no, dear, I haven’t met them yet, so how would I know where they live?” Aunt Moss said. She popped the note into the letter-box and they went on.

Next they went to Uncle Elton’s house. “We’re just bringing back your hammer,” Aunt Moss said.

Uncle Elton said, “That’s not my hammer. My hammer has a crack in the handle from when I was trying to de-frost the fridge.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh, silly me! Then this headband that Lillibet made must be for you.”

“For me?” Elton said. “It’s lovely!” He tried it on straight away. “I love the pink sequins. I’ll have to come around and thank Lillibet properly.”

Aunt Moss and Benson went on. When they got to Bonnie Lou’s house, they knocked on the door. “We’ve brought your hammer back,” Aunt Moss said.

“That’s not my hammer,” Delia said. “Mick’s got my hammer out the back right now, trying to fix his sprocket wheel.” They could hear a loud clanging coming from the back yard.

“Oh, silly me,” said Aunt Moss. “This recipe must be for you then.”

Delia said, “Spinach and coriander loaf? Thankyou! My garden’s bursting with spinach. I’ll try it right now!”

Aunt Moss and Benson went on, until they came to Nanna’s house. “We’ve brought your hammer back,” Aunt Moss said.

“That’s not my hammer,” Nanna said. “This is my hammer,” she said, holding up an old hammer with a well-worn handle. “I was just cracking some macadamias with it.”

“Oh, silly me,” said Aunt Moss. “Anyway, this invitation is for you.”

But when Nanna opened the invitation, she said, “This isn’t an invitation and it isn’t for me. It’s a note for Mr Fenn about his rhubarb plants.”

“I must have mixed them up,” Aunt Moss said. “We wanted to invite you to come for afternoon tea today. We’re celebrating World Friendship Day.”

“I’d love to come,” Nanna said. “I’ll bring some macadamia shortbread.”

“Lovely!” said Aunt Moss. She and Benson went home and got everything ready. Aunt Moss made a big jug of mint tea, and some strawberry jelly, and Benson made celery sticks with peanut butter.

Benson’s mother came out, looking very tired. She said, “Isn’t this a lot of food for a quiet afternoon tea with Nanna?”

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Rodney and his mother, Polly, and his little sister, Ada. “It’s so kind of you to invite us to afternoon tea,” Polly said. “We don’t know anyone, and it’s been very lonely.”

Benson’s mother was surprised, but she said, “Come in! I’m glad you came.”

There was another knock at the door. It was Delia, with Mick and Bonnie Lou. “I tried out the recipe for spinach and coriander loaf, and it was so good I made one for you too.”

Benson’s mother was very surprised, but she said, “Come in! It smells wonderful.”

There was another knock at the door. This time it was Uncle Elton, with Benson’s cousin Elmer. “I came over to thank Lillibet for the beautiful headband,” he said. “I love it!”

“It looks lovely on you,” Benson’s mother said, even more surprised. “Come in, both of you.”

“Mmmm, is that spinach and coriander loaf I can smell?” Uncle Elton asked. “I must get the recipe from you.”

There was another knock at the door. It was Nanna, and Mr Fenn. “Come in,” Benson’s mother said, giving Nanna a kiss. “It’s lovely to see you both.”

“I’ve brought the macadamia shortbread,” Nanna said. “I had to give Mr Fenn a note about his rhubarb, so I thought I would invite him too. I didn’t know it was going to be a big party.”

“Neither did I,” Benson’s mother said. “I’ve got a feeling it was all Moss’s idea.”

There was another knock at the door. “Who can this be?” Benson’s mother said. “I thought everyone we knew was already here.”

It was Hazel. “I came to get my hammer,” Hazel said.

“Hazel!” Aunt Moss said, delightedly. “I’m so glad you came! Come in and meet everybody!”

Hazel looked very shy and nearly went home again, but Aunt Moss held out the celery sticks with peanut butter. “Would you like some?” she said.

Hazel smiled, and said, “Yes, please! They’re my favourite!”

Soon everyone was talking to everyone. Polly was talking to Delia about growing spinach, Hazel was talking to Uncle Elton about his headband, and Elmer was playing hide and seek with Ada and Bonnie Lou. Then Hazel and Mr Fenn talked to Mick about sprocket wheels, and Delia and Polly asked Aunt Lillibet if she could make a headband like Elton’s for Ada and Bonnie Lou. Nanna talked to everyone.

Everyone had a wonderful time, and Benson’s mother didn’t feel tired at all any more. “The funny thing is,” she said, “World Friendship Day isn’t until July.”

“Oh, silly me!” said Aunt Moss.

Lavender Biscuits

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.

One morning Benson’s mother said to him, “Nanna isn’t feeling well. She has a bit of a cold, so she’s staying in bed. I’ve made her a little basket of goodies to cheer her up.”

Benson was already sniffing at the good smells coming from the basket. “Apple-and-sage muffins, and lavender biscuits?” he guessed, without even looking in the basket.

“Exactly right,” his mother said. “Would you like to take it over to her?”

“Yes, please!” Benson said. Nanna was one of the best people in the world at sharing.

There was a cold wind outside, so Aunt Moss gave him her little red hood to put over his ears. “Make sure you stay on the path, so you don’t get lost,” his mother said.

Benson set off happily. He walked along the track, smelling the nice things in the basket and thinking how good they would taste. He noticed some purple mint bush growing just off the side of the track. “Nanna would love some”, he thought, so he picked some to take to her. A little further off there was some pink swamp heath, so he picked some of that too, and before long he had a beautiful bunch of flowers for Nanna. But when he looked around, he found he had wandered a long way off the track, and he didn’t know where he was.

Just then he heard a noise. It was someone singing a weeding song: “Weed, weed this a-way, weed, weed, that a-way.” Benson went towards the sound, and there was Gordon, Aunt Lillibet’s friend.

“Hello, Benson,” he said. “I’m just doing some bushcare, pulling out these weeds. What have you got there?”

Benson said, “I’m going to Nanna’s. I’m taking her some apple-and-sage muffins and some lavender biscuits.”

“The lavender biscuits with chopped hazelnuts?” Gordon said, sniffing at the basket.

“Mmm-hmm,” Benson said, nodding.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got any spare ones?” Gordon said hopefully.

“No,” Benson said firmly. “These are all for Nanna.”

Gordon looked very disappointed. He said, “You’re off the track a bit, aren’t you?”

Benson said, “I was picking these flowers for Nanna and I got a bit lost.”

Gordon said, “Come with me. I’ll put you back on the right track.” He took him back to the track and Benson set off again. He walked along the long, winding path until he came to Nanna’s. He knocked at the door.

A croaky voice said, “Come in!” so he went in.

Nanna was in bed, with the blankets pulled up over her chin. It was quite dark inside, and Benson could hardly see her. “I’ve brought you a basket of goodies, some apple-and-sage muffins and some lavender biscuits,” he said.

“That’s nice, dear,” the croaky voice said. “Put them over there and I’ll eat them later.”

That didn’t sound like Nanna at all. Nanna always said, “Wonderful! Let’s try them now!” or “I’ll make some orange juice and we’ll have a picnic.”

Benson went closer to the bed. “Nanna, what hairy eyebrows you’ve got!” he said.

“What? No, I haven’t!” said the croaky voice.

Benson said, “Nanna, there are big hairs sticking out of your nose.”

“Big hairs? No, there aren’t!” said the person in the bed.

Benson was starting to get worried. “Nanna, what big teeth you have!”

The croaky voice said, “All the better to eat…” Just at that very moment, the door opened and Nanna walked in.

“Benson, what a lovely surprise!” she said. “I was feeling better, so I’ve just been out for a walk.” Then she said, “Who’s that person with the hairy eyebrows, lying in my bed?”

“It’s Gordon,” Benson said.

“Why is he hiding under the blankets?” Nanna asked.

“He was pretending to be you,” Benson said. “I brought you a basket full of goodies, and I think he wanted to keep them for himself. “

Nanna looked very hard at Gordon and said, “That was a very sneaky thing to do.”

Gordon pulled the blankets down and climbed out of bed, looking very ashamed of himself. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to. I met Benson in the bush, and he told me he was taking you some lavender biscuits and I couldn’t help myself. Those lavender biscuits are the best in the world.”

Nanna said, “But why were you hiding in my bed?”

Gordon said, “I took the short-cut, so I could get here before Benson. I was hoping you would invite me to stay for a cup of tea and a biscuit. But when I knocked at the door, there was no-one here. Then I thought, if I pretended to be you, Benson would give me the whole basket and I’d have all of them to myself.”

Benson said, “That was extremely greedy!”

“I know,” Gordon said, hanging his head. “I’m sorry. I’d better go. Unless…” He looked pleadingly at Nanna.

Nanna and Benson looked at each other. Nanna said, “Those lavender biscuits are pretty irresistible. They really are excellent.”

Benson said, “The muffins are good too.”

They looked at Gordon, who was looking hopeful. Nanna said, “Would you like to stay and try the biscuits?”

“Really?” Gordon said, looking much happier. “Oh, yes, please!”

Nanna said, “I’ll make a nice cup of lemon myrtle tea and we’ll have a picnic outside. Good food is always better when it’s shared, isn’t it, Benson?”

“Absolutely,” Benson said.

The Recycled Cubby-house

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

It was the middle of summer. Benson spent the morning digging and riding his bike and helping Aunt Moss turn over the compost heap and picking beans with Aunt Lillibet. In the afternoon he couldn’t think of anything to do.

Aunt Moss said, “When we were young, we used to spend days playing cubby-houses in the back yard.”

Benson thought that was a good idea. “But we haven’t got anything to build a cubby-house with,” he said.

“We always built our cubby-houses out of whatever we could find,” Aunt Moss said. “We used to recycle all sorts of things. “

“Like what?” Benson said.

“Just look around and see what you can find,” she said.

Benson went outside and looked around. He found some branches that had fallen down in the latest storm, and some big sheets of bark that had peeled off the paperbark tree. He leaned the branches against the fence and tied them up with some vines and some string he had his pocket, and he put the bark across the top to make a roof.

He crawled inside. It was great, his own private cubby-house.

Two seconds later, Nils and Nella came bounding up.

“Hey, Benson, can we come in your cubby-house?” Nils asked.

“How did you know I was building a cubby-house?” Benson said.

“Everyone knows,” Nella said. “We made some pillows for it, see? It’s just old pillow-cases stuffed with bits of possum fur that’s always falling out of my tail.”

The pillows were very comfortable, and it was nice sharing a cubby-house with friends.

Then Elmer turned up, dragging an enormous piece of wood. “Hey, Benson,” he said, “don’t you think your cubby-house needs a door?”

The piece of wood made a perfect door. Benson said, “Now all we need…”

“Brinnggg!” Mick was outside with Bonnie Lou. He had brought the old bell from his bike. “What’s a door without a doorbell?” he said.

Everyone had a turn going out of the door and ringing the bell and letting each other in. With everyone inside it was pretty crowded.

Then Arlette and her sister Twiss arrived. “Can we come in?” they said.

“No girls allowed!” Mick said.

“Bonnie Lou is in there,” Arlette said.

“She doesn’t count,” Mick said.

“That’s not fair!” Twiss said.

“If you don’t like the rules, get your own cubby-house house!” Mick said.

“All right, we will!” Arlette said. “Come on, Twiss.” They marched off together.

Then Snippet and his friend Snickle turned up. “This is the best cubby-house ever!” they said, wriggling inside. Benson was squashed up into a corner. There isn’t much room in a small cubby-house for eight friends when two of the them are echidnas, he thought.

Mick was thinking the same thing. “You know, I could make a cubby-house twice as good as this one,” he said.

He climbed out and started collecting a pile of long, straight sticks. He got Benson to hold them together while he tied some strong lawyer vine around one end. Then they stood the sticks up and spread the bottoms out, like a tall, pointy tent.

“Brilliant!” Mick said, going inside. “All it needs is something to wrap around it.”

Just then Zali and her sister Zip arrived, with their mother Teresa. “Can you use an old table-cloth?” Teresa said.

“Perfect!” Mick said. He wrapped the old red table-cloth around the sticks and clipped it on with some of Aunt Lillibet’s clothes-pegs. “Brilliant!” he said.

Arlette and Twiss came back again, dragging an old fold-up picnic table. She opened it up and she and Twiss sat under it. Arlette said to Mick, “Your cubby-house has got chocolate sauce on it. Ours is much nicer.”

Just about the time when Benson was starting to feel hungry, Aunt Lillibet came out with a big plate of chopped up apples and watermelon, and a small tin box. “This used to be Moss’s button box, but I thought it would make a nice letterbox,” she said.

Benson tied it onto the door, and everyone started writing letters to post. They didn’t have any paper, so they scratched notes on leaves with sharp sticks and put them in the letterbox. Arlette told them they couldn’t post letters without a stamp, so they brought them over to her before they posted them, and she stamped her foot down hard on them.

When Benson took the letters out of the letterbox, they were hard to read because sticks aren’t very good for writing with, plus there was a wombat footprint right in the middle of every letter, but they all said, “Hi Benson,” or “Is there any more watermelon?” so that was okay.

They played cubby-houses all afternoon and all the next day. Then that night there was a big storm and all the bark and a lot of the sticks blew away. Arlette’s mother wanted the picnic table back, and Teresa took the table-cloth home to wash it, and Mick decided he wanted the door-bell for his room at home. The birds had pecked most of the possum fur out of the pillows to make nests with, and Elmer had taken the door home so his father could make a surfboard out of it, so when Benson came to look at the cubby-house, there wasn’t much left of it, just the letter-box, really. There was a note inside it. It said, “Dear Benson, I really miss my button box. Can I have it back, please? Love from Aunt Moss.”

Benson took it inside and gave it back to her. “Did you have fun playing cubby-houses?” she asked him.

“It was brilliant,” Benson said. “Tomorrow, we’re all going over to Mick’s, and Nils and Nella are going to make a cubby-treehouse, and Bonnie Lou and Twiss are going to make a cubby-flower-shop, but Mick and I are going to make a cubby-space-station!”

Training Wheels

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 evening everyone was sitting at the table eating dinner. They had stuffed eggplant and zucchini fritters, and custard and rhubarb for dessert. Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother were all talking about the best way to peel eggplants, and Benson was feeling a bit left out.

He said suddenly, “Elmer still has training wheels on his bike. He has to be the worst bike-rider in the world.”

Everyone stopped talking and looked at him.

Benson suddenly felt embarrassed. He said. “Stop looking at me like that. You’re making me feel bad!”

Aunt Moss looked surprised. “How could we do that?” she said.

“You’re making me feel as if I’m a mean, horrible person for saying that,” he said.

His mother said, “Actually, I was wondering how you managed to get custard on your nose and your ear at the same time.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I wasn’t thinking about you at all. I was trying to think where there’s a space in the garden where I can grow some eggplants.”

Benson got up and said crossly, “You’re all being mean!” He stamped off to his room and slammed the door.

His mother gave him a little while to think about it, then she went in and sat down on the bed beside him. She said, “That wasn’t a very nice thing to say about your cousin Elmer, was it?”

“Not really,” he said.

His mother said, “Sometimes we think other people are thinking something about us, when really it’s what we’re thinking about ourselves.”

That was a bit hard to understand, so his mother said, “Maybe you thought you were being a bit mean about Elmer.”

“Maybe,” Benson said gruffly, “but you were all making me feel like I was a bad person.”

“Benson, no-one can make you feel like you’re a bad person, or a stupid person or any other kind of person,” his mother said. “It’s you that decide how you feel about yourself. You know what you’re like better than anyone else does.”

“But what about when Arlette kind of huffs when I say something,” he said. “Then I know she thinks I’m stupid, and it makes me think I’m really dumb.”

“Maybe she thinks so, but she can’t make you think you are,” his mother said. “That’s something you do yourself. Do you think you’re a stupid, mean little wombat?”

Benson thought about it, then he said, “I think I’m kind of cute, but sometimes I can be a bit mean.”

“I think I’d agree with that,” his mother said, kissing him on the nose.

The next day, Benson and Mick were riding their bikes when Elmer came pedalling up.

“I’m getting my training wheels off today!” Elmer said proudly. “Dad says I’m ready.”

Uncle Elton rode up on his bike. “I’ve got the spanner, son,” he said. “Are you ready?”

“Ready!” Elmer said.

Uncle Elton undid the nuts and took the training wheels off. “There you are! Off you go, son!” he said.

Elmer started off. The bike toppled over straight away. He got back on and tried again. The bike fell over and he fell off, seventeen times in a row. The eighteenth time the bike didn’t fall over, and Elmer stayed on, and rode straight into a tree.

Benson and Mick laughed.

“Stop laughing!” Elmer said. “You’re making me feel like I’m an idiot!”

“Actually,” Benson said, “no-one can make you feel something if you don’t let them. It’s what you think about yourself that’s important.” He tried to remember what his mother had said. He wasn’t sure if he had said it right, so he stopped trying to explain and tried to look as if he knew what he was talking about instead.

Elmer said, “Dad, they’re laughing at me and making me feel like I’m stupid!”

His father gave him a big hug and said, “You’re not stupid at all. You’re the cleverest, smartest young wombat I know, and you’re the nicest son anyone could have.”

Elmer beamed. They got on their bikes and rode off. At the first corner, Uncle Elton ran into Elmer’s bike and they both fell off. They got up again and Uncle Elton brushed the dirt off Elmer’s knees. He said, “That was great, son! Keep going like that and you’ll be as good as I am, one day!”

They rode off down the track, wobbling from side to side.

Mick said to Benson, “They’ve got to be the two worst bike-riders on the planet!”

“Pretty much,” Benson said. “But I think Elmer might just have the nicest dad in the world.”

Alone

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

Benson’s uncle Elton was going on a camping trip with his son, Elmer, and he invited Benson to come too. They were going to sleep in a tent and have a campfire with baked potatoes and marshmallows. Benson thought it would be fun. He loved tents, and he really loved melting marshmallows.

When his friend Mick found out, he really wanted to go too. Uncle Elton said it would be a tight fit in a two-person tent, but he thought it would be okay. When Mick’s sister Bonnie Lou found out that Mick was going, she complained and complained until her mother, Delia, said all right, they would all go, and take their own tent so it wouldn’t be so crowded in Uncle Elton’s tent.

The campsite was in a big, wide clearing with lots of shady trees around the edges. Uncle Elton put his tent up under a big shady gumtree. Then he went to look for some rocks to put in a circle for the campfire. Delia put up her tent under the next tree, and then she put up Uncle Elton’s tent again because it had fallen down, but she put it up properly this time.

They had roasted corn and baked potatoes, and they ate melted marshmallows until they couldn’t eat another thing. They sang strange camping songs about little green frogs and black socks and green bottles, and then they all climbed into their tents and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night, Uncle Elton woke Benson up.

“I have to take Elmer home,” he whispered. “His stomach hurts and he’s feeling sick. You’ll be all right here with Delia and Mick, won’t you?”

They went off together as quietly as they could, so as not to disturb Delia and Mick and Bonnie Lou in the other tent. Benson went back to sleep.

A little while later, a noise woke him up. It was a huge, loud, cracking, falling noise, and then a heavy thump. He got up and put his head out of the tent.

It was extremely dark. He could hardly see a thing, but he could hear a noise like someone crying. He climbed out of the tent and went to see what the noise was.

It was coming from where Mick’s tent was supposed to be, but instead of the nice, tidy tent that was there when he went to sleep, there was a squashed, broken mess, with a giant tree branch lying on top of it.

Benson tried to run, but his feet were so shocked that they couldn’t move. Mick and Delia and Bonnie Lou were supposed to be in that tent. There was so much branch and hardly any tent left, Benson couldn’t see how there could be three wombats in it, unless they were squashed flat.

The noise kept going. Benson’s feet moved forward up to the tent, but his brain didn’t want to see what was there. He shut his eyes tight, but he couldn’t stop seeing the crushed, broken tent in his mind.

Then he heard Bonnie Lou crying, “Help! Help me! It hurts!”

He opened his eyes. In the middle of the mess of sticks and leaves and crushed tent, he could see Bonnie Lou, but only her head and her arms. The rest of her was somewhere under the giant branch. “Help! Help me!” she cried. “Get it off me!” She was crying like it really, really hurt.

Benson pushed and shoved at the branch as hard as he could but it was like a rock. It didn’t move even a millimetre, no matter how hard he tried. “I can’t,” he panted. “It’s too heavy.”

“Get Uncle Elton,” Bonnie Lou cried.

“They’ve gone,” Benson said, almost crying himself. What if the branch was killing her? he thought. “Elmer was sick so they went home. Where are…”

His voice stuck. He couldn’t ask about her mum or Mick in case the branch had done something to them that he didn’t want to hear.

“They’ve gone too!” Bonnie Lou said. “Mick got scared so Mum had to take him home. She wanted me to go too but I wanted to stay. I should have gone too!” she sobbed.

“There’s nobody here but us?” Benson said. He was scared before, but now he felt really frightened. The feeling swept over him like a giant wave. There was nothing but darkness around him for miles and miles, and he was alone in the middle of it, with Bonnie Lou hurt and screaming.

Bonnie Lou kept on screaming and crying, louder and louder. “Stop it!” Benson shouted at her. “Stop crying! They’ll come back for us soon, you just have to hold on.”

“What if they don’t?” Bonnie Lou sobbed.

“They will,” Benson said.

“But my mum thinks Uncle Elton is here with us, and he thinks she’s here. What if none of them come back?” she said.

“They will,” Benson said again. “We just have to wait. Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.” He felt better hearing himself say it, and Bonnie Lou calmed down too.

After a while she said, “I’m thirsty.”

Benson said, “I’ll get my water-bottle,” but when he went to get up, she grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let go.

“Don’t leave me!” she cried.

Benson sat down again. “It’s all right, I’m not going,” he said. The night stretched out around them, full of dark and secret noises.

Bonnie Lou said in a small voice, “I’m frightened.”

“It’s okay to be frightened,” Benson said. His mother had told him lots of times that it was okay to be frightened when there was something scary, but she had always been right beside him when she said it. He felt very small and afraid.

Bonnie Lou was very quiet, and then she said, “It’s all my fault. It was me that frightened Mick. I kept going ‘wooo’ and making scary noises, and he got really frightened so Mum had to take him home.”

Benson couldn’t believe it. “Why would he be scared of some stupid noises?” he said.

“Listen,” she said. She started to go ‘wooo-ooo’, in a low voice, getting louder and louder. The hair stood up all over Benson’s head.

“Okay, that’s enough!” he said, and she stopped. “Just because you made some stupid noises, that doesn’t mean it’s your fault,” he said. “It’s just something that happened.”

Bonnie Lou felt a bit better, but she still didn’t let go of Benson’s hand. She went to sleep after a while, and Benson got his sleeping bag and spread it over both of them. Then he went to sleep too, holding her hand.

When they woke up again it was nearly morning, and it was even colder. “Have they come yet?” Bonnie Lou asked sleepily.

“Not yet, but it won’t be long,” Benson said. Then he said, “Maybe I should go and get help?”

Bonnie Lou looked so scared, he just took her hand again, and said, “It’s probably better to wait. They’ll be here soon.” He didn’t know if it would be soon or not, but he didn’t want her to feel bad. What if it was days and days before they came?

“What if it’s days and days before they come?” Bonnie Lou asked in a quavery voice.

“It won’t be,” he said, in the most comforting voice he could. “I’m sure they’ll come soon.”

They shared the water in his water-bottle, and Benson found a cold potato in the ashes of the camp-fire and they had that too. They played ‘I Spy’ until Benson couldn’t think of a single thing more to spy. Bonnie Lou was just dozing off again when they heard voices calling, and Delia and Benson’s mother ran into the clearing.

They hugged and cried and everyone talked at the same time. Then they all they lifted the big branch off Bonnie Lou. Underneath it she was bruised everywhere, and she had a big cut on her leg. Benson’s mother bandaged it up, and said, “It could have been a lot worse. You were very lucky.” Delia hugged Bonnie Lou again, and Benson’s mother gave him another big hug, and both the mothers cried again.

Then Benson’s mother opened up her bag and brought out bananas and chocolate with macadamias, and they got the campfire going again and made toast with marmalade.

Delia snuggled Bonnie Lou on her lap, and said, “I should never have let you stay by yourself. When I saw Elton this morning and you weren’t with him, I was so worried about you, I couldn’t wait another minute. I had to come and get you. I couldn’t bear to think of you all alone out here.”

Bonnie Lou looked as if she didn’t know what her mother was talking about. “It’s all right, I wasn’t alone,” she said. “Benson was with me the whole time.”

The Adventurous Dunnarts

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 morning Benson was digging a tunnel in the backyard when he heard a scurrying noise outside. He popped his head out to see what it was, and three little dunnarts ran over his nose.

“Oops, sorry!” they said. “We didn’t see you!”

The dunnarts were so small, Benson could have put them all in one of his pockets.

“Are you going somewhere?” he asked them.

The biggest one said, “We’re going on an adventure. It was my idea, but Teddy and Eddie wanted to come too so I let them.”

Teddy and Eddie said, “Gus is really smart. He always has the ideas.”

“What sort of adventure?” Benson asked. He liked adventures himself.

“We’re going to the beach,” Teddy said.

“The beach?” Benson said. He was very surprised. It was a long, long way to the beach, and the dunnarts had very short legs. “Isn’t it a really long way away?” he said.

“Dunno,” Gus said. He looked at Teddy and Eddie. They both shrugged too.

“What did your mum say, about going to the beach? Didn’t she tell you it was a long way?” Benson asked.

Gus said, “She never lets us go anywhere, so we didn’t tell her we were going.”

Eddie nodded. “We’ll tell her when we get back,” he said.

This didn’t sound like a good idea to Benson. “Do you even know where the beach is?” he asked.

“It’s got to be somewhere,” Gus said. “Don’t you know where it is?”

Benson said, “I know it’s a long way.”

Gus said to his two brothers, “I knew a wombat would know! Wombats know stuff!”

“Did you bring your hats, and your swimmers?” Benson asked.

“What for?” Gus said.

“For swimming. At the beach,” Benson said. “You know what a beach is, don’t you?”

Gus shrugged. “People go there for their holidays, so it’s probably got Christmas trees and Easter eggs and sparkly lights,” he said.

Benson thought this adventure seemed like a very bad idea. They didn’t know where they were going, or how far it was, or even what a beach was. “I don’t think this is a good idea,” he said.

“It’s a great idea,” Gus said. “Sparkly lights, having an adventure by ourselves – it’s going to be great. Come on, guys!”

Benson said, “Wait!” He thought about it. If he didn’t do something, they’d go off by themselves, and anything could happen to them. They could get lost, or hurt, or some animal might even eat them.

He said, “What about a different kind of adventure?”

Six little dunnart eyes looked at him. “Like what?” Gus said.

“How about exploring a really great wombat hole?” Benson said.

“Boring!” Gus said. “How about going to the circus?”

Benson thought fast. “It’s Tuesday,” he said. “The circus is shut on Tuesdays.”

“Let’s go and climb the Blue Mountains!” Teddy said.

Benson shook his head. “There are tigers in the Blue Mountains, and they eat dunnarts for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

“Even on Tuesdays?” Eddie asked.

“Especially on Tuesdays,” Benson said. “I could put you in the basket on my bike and take you for a ride?” he suggested.

“Baskets are for girls,” Gus said. “We want to have a proper adventure. Like wrestling a grizzly bear.”

“Or a crocodile,” Eddie said, “a really big crocodile.”

Benson couldn’t believe his ears. “Crocodiles smell bad,” he said, “and besides, they tell terrible jokes. I’ve got a better idea.”

“What?” said Teddy and Eddie.

“I’ll take you to my very own beach,” Benson said.

“That’s a great idea!” Gus said. “See?” he said to the others. “I told you wombats knew stuff.”

Benson said, “Just give me a minute.”

He dug a wide, shallow hole. Then he got a bucket and filled it up with water. He got a twig with leaves on it and stuck it in the ground to be a beach umbrella. “Here you go,” he said to the dunnarts, “your own private beach.”

“Yay!” they shouted. They ran over and jumped into the water. None of them knew how to swim so it was lucky the water only came up to their knees. They splashed and dived, and floated on their backs. Benson found a piece of bark for them to use as a surfboard, and he made waves in the water with his feet. They all fell off and got back on again, and fell off and got on again over and over. Gus and Eddie pushed Teddy off, and Teddy and Gus pushed Eddie off. Then Teddy started to feel sea-sick so Benson stopped making the waves and Teddy lay down under the umbrella until he felt better.

After that they pretended they were on a big ship, sailing out to sea. Benson got a triangle-shaped leaf and pretended he was a shark, but they all got frightened and hid under the beach umbrella. He had to pretend he was a life-guard and chase the shark away before they would get in the water again.

Everyone had a great time, until all the water soaked away into the ground, and the hole was empty.

“Time to go home,” Benson said.

As they ran off, Gus said to his brothers, “It’s Wednesday tomorrow. Let’s run away to the circus!”

“Yay!” said Teddy and Eddie.

Benson sighed, and went back to digging his tunnel.

The Unicorn

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

One morning the kookaburras were busy early, just as the sun was coming up, and their noise woke everybody. Benson’s mother turned over and went back to sleep. Benson got his library book and snuggled deep in his blankets, and read some interesting things about pyramids and ancient Egypt. But Aunt Moss decided it would be a perfect time to do her morning exercises, outside in the fresh air.

She got up very quietly so as not to disturb anyone, and she put on her pink leotard and a warm scarf in case it was cold outside, then she very quietly went outside.

It was a very misty morning. There were pools of mist among the trees and in the back yard it was so misty that Moss could hardly see where she was going. She bumped into the fence around Aunt Lillibet’s vegetable garden and decided that this was as good a place as any to do her exercises.

She did some stretches and some deep breathing, and then she started. She moved her arms and legs slowly and gracefully, lifting one knee and then the other. It was so still and misty and quiet, she felt as if she had the whole valley to herself. It made her feel very calm and happy.

Presently she got so warm that she took her scarf off. She tied it around her waist so that it didn’t get dirt on it from the garden.

“All this exercise is making me hungry,” she thought. She was standing right next to the carrot patch, so she pulled up a beautiful, fat carrot. “Mmm, delicious!” she said to herself. She pulled off the green, leafy part and then she looked very carefully at the top of the carrot to make sure there were no slugs or snails.

Now meanwhile, all the time Aunt Moss was doing her exercises, Benson was reading about building giant pyramids with secret passages and underground tunnels, and he started thinking about digging his own tunnel, so he decided to get up and see what kind of day it was going to be and if it was going to be a good day for digging.

He went out the front door and stood there peering out through the early morning mist. Then he saw something very surprising. Over by the vegetable garden there was a pink shining creature with a pointy horn in the middle of its forehead.

“A unicorn!” he breathed. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. It was hard to see through the mist, but he was sure.

He ran inside and woke his mother up. “A unicorn! There’s a unicorn in the garden!” he said.

His mother opened one sleepy eye. “A what?” she said.

“A unicorn!” he said. “There’s a unicorn in the back yard! Come and look!”

It was very warm and snuggly in Benson’s mother’s bed, but she could see that he was excited, so she got up and started to get dressed.

Meanwhile, in the garden, Aunt Moss ate her carrot and finished doing her exercises and came inside again, as quietly as she could so as not to disturb anyone. She got changed out of her leotard, and then she thought that all the fresh air had made her quite sleepy, so she lay down on her bed for a minute. Before long she was sound asleep.

Benson’s mother finished getting dressed and they both went outside. “It was over there,” Benson said, “right beside the carrot patch.” But there was no sign of any unicorn.

“Are you sure?” his mother asked him. “It’s very misty. Maybe what you saw was a wallaby.”

“No, it was a unicorn!” Benson said. “It had a horn, and it was pink, and it had a kind of tail. It was right there!” he said.

They walked over to the carrot patch, but there was nothing there. His mother said, “Well, if it was a unicorn, it’s gone now.”

Just then Aunt Lillibet came out in her gumboots, ready to catch any slugs that might be trying to eat her cabbages. “What are you two doing trampling around in my garden?” she said.

“I saw a unicorn!” Benson said. “It was right here!”

Aunt Lillibet pfffed. “Unicorns are just made-up, Benson,” she said. “They aren’t real.”

“But I saw one!” he said. “It was pink and beautiful, and it was right there!” He pointed to the ground.

Aunt Lillibet looked where he was pointing and said, “Ohh!” There was a clump of small pink flowers growing in the dirt where Benson was pointing. “Look!” she gasped.

“No, it can’t be!” Benson’s mother said.

“It is,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’ve never seen one before. They’re extremely rare. Benson, this is extraordinary! You’ve found a pink flannel flower!”

“Have I?” Benson said. It looked like an ordinary little pink flower to him.

Aunt Moss came out, rubbing her eyes and yawning. “What’s all the excitement about?” she asked.

“Benson’s found a pink flannel flower!” Aunt Lillibet exclaimed.

“That’s amazing!” Aunt Moss said.

It was so amazing that people came from miles around to look at it. They all wanted to take photos of Benson and the little pink flower. The bushcare group even had a special sign made with Benson’s name on it, and they put it up in the Community Centre next to a picture of the pink flannel flower, with a frame around it.

Everyone told Benson’s mother she must be very proud of him. For months he was quite famous, until everyone forgot about it. But for years afterwards, Benson remembered the morning he had seen a unicorn in the mist.

The Whale and her Baby

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.

Early one morning, Benson’s mother said, “The kangaroo apples up on the hill should be ripe about now. Let’s go and pick some.”

Benson was very pleased. He loved kangaroo apples, and he loved kangaroo apple jam even more. They got their hats and their water-bottles, and a big bag for the kangaroo apples, and they set off. They walked a long, long way through the bush and up a big, big hill until they finally came to the spot where the best kangaroo apples grew.

After all that walking they were both hungry so they picked kangaroo apples off the bushes and ate as many as they wanted. “Don’t eat the green ones!” Benson’s mother reminded him, “only the orange ones. If you eat the green ones, they could make you really unwell.”

They filled the bag right up to the top, and Benson’s mother lay down in the sun for a rest while Benson looked around. He went up to the top of the hill and stood on a big, flat rock right on the top. He could see for miles and miles. A deep, deep valley spread out in front of him. He looked and looked over miles and miles of land and hills and trees, as far as he could see.

His mother came up and stood beside him. “It’s so… big!” he said to her. But she wasn’t looking at the view, she was looking at the rock under their feet.

“Look, Benson,” she said, “there’s some kind of carving on the rock.”

When he looked, Benson could see a deep groove carved in the rock, in a long curvy line. It was full of sand and dirt, and covered with stones and bushes in some places. They started clearing the bushes and sweeping the sand away. The more they cleared away, the more of the line appeared, going all the way along the rock, then curving back along the other side of the rock.

“It’s a giant fish!” Benson said. “Look, here’s the tail, and here are the fins – but this one is crooked. Whoever carved it didn’t get it right.”

His mother was staring at the rock carving. “It’s not a fish – I think it’s a whale!”

“How did it get here?” he asked. “Who would carve a whale up here, at the top of a mountain?”

“I don’t know,” his mother said. “We should ask Pascoe.”

Pascoe was the story-teller. She remembered all the stories there were, and she listened to new stories and told them to everyone.

The next time Pascoe and her mob came, Benson couldn’t wait to tell her about the whale carving. “It’s carved right into the rock, and it’s really, really big, as long as twenty wombats!”

“Where did you find it?” Pascoe asked. She was very interested.

Benson’s mother told her exactly where it was, on a big rock overlooking a deep, wide, endless valley.

Pascoe nodded. “That valley was once a great river,” she told them.

“How could it be a river?” Benson asked. “It’s just a big valley full of trees and bush.”

“Once the valley was filled with a great river that flowed from the mountains all the way to the sea,” Pascoe said. “But the summers got hotter and there were long, hard droughts when no rain fell, and the river dried up little by little, until now it’s not much more than a quiet, brown creek, running along the very bottom of the valley. No-one remembers the river any more, except now and then when the creek floods.”

“But what about the whale?” Benson asked.

Pascoe’s voice started to take on her story-teller’s voice. “Once long ago, the great river filled the valley, wider than any animal could swim across and deeper than anyone could tell. All sorts of animals lived on its banks. One day they saw an amazing thing: a great whale had swum up the river from the ocean. They could see her enormous flukes, and the spout that shot into the air whenever she huffed through the hole in her head. Everyone stopped what they were doing and gathered to watch. Then they noticed that she had a baby whale with her, tucked under her huge flipper.

“The baby was splashing his flippers and his tail too, but then the watchers saw that something was wrong. The baby was caught in the weeds that grew in the bottom of the river. The reeds were wrapped tightly around him, and no matter how hard he struggled he couldn’t get free.

“One of the Old Ones, whose name was Dillon, said to the others, ‘We must help the baby whale. If he can’t swim to the surface and breathe, he’ll drown.’

“Everybody rushed to help the baby whale. They pulled and pulled at the ribbons of weed.

“Dillon said to the others, ‘It’s no use, the weeds are tangled too tightly around him. We must cut them.’ Dillon took a sharp knife and slashed through the weeds, but the knife slipped and cut the baby whale’s flipper.

“The mother whale lifted up her giant tail to crush them, but at that moment the last of the weeds came loose and the baby whale swam to the surface and took a breath. He was saved!

“The mother whale and her baby swam slowly back out to sea, but every year she came back and brought her baby to visit them. In time the baby grew bigger and bigger, but they always knew him by the shape of his flipper where the knife had cut him.

“Dillon said to the others, ‘We must make a drawing of the whale, so that everyone will remember.’ So they found a large flat rock on top of the hill looking down on the river, and they carved a picture of the whale with his torn flipper.

“In time the great river dried up and became smaller and shallower, so that the whales could no longer swim up the river. But the carving in the rock remained, for all to see.”

Benson listened to Pascoe’s story with his mouth open. When it was finished, he asked, “Is that a true story?”

Pascoe said, “I think so. It’s one of the oldest stories I know. It’s been passed down from story-teller to story-teller for a long, long time.”

Benson asked her curiously, “Why do story-tellers tell stories?”

“Because they love to, and because it’s what they do,” she said. “Besides, stories like this tell us who we are. Do you understand, Benson?”

Benson thought about it. He nodded, and said, “It means that my people once saved a whale.”

The very next day Benson and his mother went back to the place where the kangaroo apples grew, to stand next to the rock and look down on the valley where the great river once flowed and whales once swam.

The Bridge

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.

It was Uncle Elton’s birthday, so Benson and his mother went to the big park for his birthday party, with Benson’s cousin Elmer, and his friend Zali and her mother, Teresa, and her little sister, Zip.

At the end of the afternoon, big purple storm clouds started to gather, and the wind started to get stronger. Benson’s mother said, “It looks like there’s a storm coming.”

Teresa said, “We’d better get home before it starts. Zali hates storms, and so does Zip.” She called Zali and Zip and told them it was time to go home.

Uncle Elton said, “It’s getting closer. I think we should take the short-cut across the bridge over the creek.”

Benson’s mother said, “I don’t know if the bridge is safe. Wasn’t it damaged the last time the creek flooded?”

Uncle Elton said, “It’s fine. Elmer and I came that way this morning, and it was perfectly safe.”

Teresa said, “I think a short-cut would be a good idea. The storm looks as though it could be here any minute.”

They hurried down to the creek. The bridge stretched across, high above the water. Benson’s mother said, “I don’t know. Are you sure it’s safe?”

Uncle Elton said, “If you’re worried, Elmer and I will go over first.” He took Elmer’s hand and they walked across. Elton even stopped in the middle and jumped up and down. “See?” he said. “It’s fine. Have a safe trip home, everyone! Thanks for the party!” He and Elmer disappeared down the track.

Teresa put little Zip on the bridge and then she took Zali’s hand and they started across. Suddenly a huge gust of wind hit them. The bridge shook and rattled and then it started to fall apart. Teresa grabbed Zali and pulled her back. The boards of the bridge dropped into the creek and were swept away, all except for one thin, narrow board. It stretched across the creek, wobbling and shaking in the wind, and little Zip was crouched in the middle of it.

Teresa screamed. Benson’s mother grabbed her hand and said,”Shh! You mustn’t frighten her!”

“Ma-ma!” Zip cried. She was scrunched down into a small, furry ball, holding on to the board with every single one of her little claws.

Teresa ran out onto the board to go and save her, but as soon as she set foot on it, the board dipped and creaked and started to crack. Teresa jumped back just in time.

Benson’s mother said, “You and I are too heavy. The board will break if we get on it. Try and get her to crawl over here to us.”

Teresa called and called, but Zip was too frightened to move even a whisker. She just kept crying for her mother at the top of her voice.

The wind blew harder, as if it was trying to blow Zip off the board altogether. The board swayed from side to side.

Teresa said desperately, “What are we going to do?”

“There’s no time,” Benson’s mother said. “That board is going to go, any minute.” She looked at Benson and he looked at her.

“I’m not too heavy,” he said. He took a big, deep breath, and stepped out onto the board.

He tried to tell himself that the board wasn’t really that narrow, and it wasn’t swaying that much. He wished he could shut his eyes, but he didn’t dare. The board wobbled a bit, but it didn’t creak or crack. He took some more steps. It was easy, so long as he didn’t think about what would happen if he fell off into the water underneath. He made it all the way to the middle where Zip was. “Come on, Zip, let’s go,” he said.

That was when the real trouble started. Zip wouldn’t go with him. She wouldn’t let go of the board, even when he pulled her. She just screamed and pulled away so hard that the board wobbled and he thought for one awful minute that he was going to fall off.

“Come back!” his mother shouted. “It’s too dangerous!”

Benson went all the way back to where Teresa and Zali and his mother were standing. “She won’t come with me,” he said miserably.

It started to rain, big heavy drops.

Zali was watching Zip and getting more and more upset. She called, “Zip! Zip!” but Zip was crying so hard she couldn’t hear her. Zali stepped onto the board and started off towards her.

“No, Zali!” her mother screamed, but Zali kept going. The board shook and trembled, but Zali took no notice. She reached little Zip and put her head down and touched her with her nose.

Zip stopped crying and looked up at her big sister. She let go of the board and climbed onto Zali’s back. Then Zali walked all the way back to the bank, with Zip holding on tight, her eyes shut against the wind and the rain. The rain was coming down heavily, but Zali just kept on going.

As soon as her feet touched the bank safely, her mother threw her arms around her. Benson’s mother helped little Zip down and Teresa hugged her too. Benson’s mother hugged him, and then they all hugged each other all over again.

They all ran back to Teresa’s place through the pouring rain. Outside, the thunder and lightning crashed, but inside they had hot chocolate and raspberry jelly sandwiches, and talked and laughed, just being glad they were alive.

Dancing with Potatoes

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

At breakfast time, Aunt Lillibet said, “The potatoes are ready for harvesting. It’s going to be a big job, digging all those potatoes out of the ground. Who’s going to help me?”

Aunt Moss said, “I’m sorry, Lillibet, I promised Teresa that I’d babysit little Zip this morning, while she takes Zali to the dentist.”

Benson’s mother said, “I can’t help you either, I’m sorry, Lillibet. I’m giving a talk to the organic gardening group about mulching. But Benson can help you.”

Benson tried to think of a good excuse really fast, but he couldn’t think of anything.

“All right, Benson?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“All right,” he agreed reluctantly.

Digging up potatoes was hard work, very dirty and very tiring. There were piles and piles of potatoes, from really big ones all the way down to tiny ones, and after they were all dug up, Benson had to scrub the dirt off them all.

When his mother got home, Benson was lying flat on the floor in his bedroom, covered in dirt. His mother said, “That’s a fantastic pile of potatoes! You’ve done a wonderful job!”

Benson groaned and said, “My back hurts. My arms and my legs hurt. Everything hurts! I never want to see another potato again!”

His mother said, “Don’t say that, Benson. Potatoes are an excellent food, full of goodness. They’re a gift from the earth.”

Benson said, “I don’t care. They’re dirty, and heavy and I hate them! Never make me eat potatoes again!”

His mother looked at him thoughtfully. “Hmmm,” she said. “You know what I think we should do? We should have a potato party.”

Benson said, “If you’re going to have a party and invite a whole pile of potatoes, I’m not going.”

His mother said, “I don’t think you’ll want to miss this party.”

First thing in the morning, she and Aunt Moss set to work in the kitchen. They cooked and baked and stirred and peeled and fried. Aunt Lillibet sliced and chopped and boiled and measured. Delicious smells filled the kitchen and spread to Benson’s room. He came out to the kitchen and sniffed.

“What are you cooking?” he asked.

“Potatoes,” his mother said.

“Potatoes and what?” he said.

“Just potatoes,” she said. “We’re having a potato party.”

Benson looked at the piles of delicious food, golden and crisp, creamy and fluffy, and he breathed in the wonderful smells. He said, “Can I come?”

His mother let him get the plates and cups and spoons ready, and they spread out picnic blankets and put chairs under the trees.

By lunchtime, the back yard was filled with people eating and having a wonderful time. There were potato chips and baked potatoes and mashed potatoes, and a big pot of leek and potato soup, and potato straws and potato latkes and potato samosas, and golden potato bake with cheese, and potatoes in their jackets with sour cream and parsley. Zali’s mum, Teresa, even brought her special potato salad. It was so good it was all gone before she even put the bowl down.

Benson ate so much he thought he couldn’t eat another thing, but then Mick’s mother, Delia, brought her potato ginger cake and Mr Fenn brought a whole pile of potato scones with jam. Benson found he did have some space left in his tummy after all.

Nanna got out her violin and Mr Fenn went home and got his guitar, and everyone sang songs about hot potatoes, and danced a funny dance called the Mashed Potato, and played ‘One-potato Two-potato’, and had potato-and-spoon races, and potato-sack races. Nobody went home until the very last scrap of potato was gone.

When Benson’s mother was tucking him into bed that night, he said, “I think wombats are a bit like potatoes, don’t you? They live underground, and they’re brown and a bit lumpy.”

His mother smiled. Benson said, “Do you think I’m a gift from the earth?”

His mother said, “I’m not sure about that, but you’re certainly a gift.” She kissed him on the end of his nose. “Good night, my little potato,” she said.

Louisa Alexandra

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

One morning Benson was in the kitchen with his mother, talking about times tables and how they didn’t really help you tell the time at all, when they heard a loud, growling, grungily noise outside.

They all ran out to see what it was.

Aunt Lillibet was sitting on a big red scooter. It had black handlebars and a big, black, cushiony seat, and a red basket at the front for carrying things, and a big, loud, noisy engine. It was so noisy that everyone put their hands over their ears at once.

“Look at my new scooter!” Aunt Lillibet shouted proudly. She had to shout at the top of her voice so they could hear her over the noise of the engine. She turned a knob on the handlebar and the engine roared even louder, and thick, black smoke came out of the exhaust pipe at the back. Aunt Moss coughed. Aunt Lillibet turned the knob backwards and forwards and the engine roared up and down, and more black smoke poured out. Benson could feel his eyes stinging.

His mother went over and turned the engine off.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’m going to call her Louisa Alexandra.” She was still shouting because the engine had made her ears a bit deaf. “No more walking everywhere, no more getting tired out and wearing out my shoes, and no more carrying heavy bags. I’ll be zooming everywhere at top speed from now on!”

“Where did you get it?” Benson’s mother said.

“My friend Babette gave it to me,” Aunt Lillibet said. “She’s upgrading to a newer model.”

Aunt Moss whispered to Benson, “That means she’s getting a more expensive one.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Jump on, Moss. I’ll take your poor tired old bones for a spin.” She turned the scooter on again. The engine snorted and huffed, and the smell of petrol filled the air. Benson’s mother sneezed, and Aunt Moss started to cough again. She didn’t seem to be able to stop.

“No, thank you, Lillibet,” she said, trying to catch her breath. “I don’t think I’d better.”

“I will!” Benson said eagerly. He climbed onto the back of the scooter and Aunt Lillibet took off. Clouds of black smoke poured out and made Benson’s eyes water, and the smell of petrol made him feel sick.

Aunt Lillibet stopped the scooter and turned the engine off. She was coughing so hard and her eyes were watering so much, she couldn’t see where she was going.

Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, I don’t think this is a good idea. The smell is just terrible, and Moss can’t breathe properly.”

Aunt Lillibet looked very disappointed, but not for long. “I know!” she said. “If she had an electric motor, she would be much quieter, and there wouldn’t be any smoke at all! You’d love that, wouldn’t you, Louisa Alexandra?” She patted the scooter just between the handlebars.

The next day Uncle Elton came over and took the petrol engine out of Aunt Lillibet’s scooter, and put an electric motor in instead. He screwed it down tightly, and did up the bolts.

“There you are, Lillibet!” he said. “All ready to go!”

Aunt Lillibet jumped on. “Let’s go, Louisa Alexandra!” she said, patting the scooter. She turned the engine on, and it started up with a purr. She smiled a big, wide smile. “No smoke, no noise – perfect!”

She turned the knob on the handlebar and Louisa Alexandra started to move forward. Very slowly. Benson walked alongside them. “Are you going to go fast now?” he asked.

Aunt Lillibet wasn’t smiling so widely now. “This is as fast as she will go,” she said.

Aunt Moss came up and walked beside the scooter too. “Do you want us to give you a little push, Lillibet?” she asked.

Aunt Lillibet opened her mouth to say something rude when suddenly the scooter stopped. Aunt Lillibet turned the engine off and on again, but nothing happened.

“What’s wrong with her?” she asked Uncle Elton.

“I’d say the battery’s flat,” Uncle Elton said. “You need to plug it in and charge it up again.”

“Oh, is that all?” Lillibet said. “How long will it take to charge the battery up?”

Uncle Elton scratched his head. “About twenty-four hours, I should think,” he said.

“What!?!” Aunt Lillibet said. She got off the scooter and stood there with her hands on her hips. She wasn’t smiling any more.

Benson said, “If you like, we could get a rope and we could pull you along.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “That won’t be necessary, thank you, Benson.” She said to Uncle Elton, “You can take the electric motor out. I won’t be needing it after all.”

Uncle Elton undid the bolts and took the electric motor off again.

Benson’s mother said, “You’re not going to put the petrol engine in again, are you, Lillibet? Think of that horrible smell, and all that black smoke making the air dirty. Moss could hardly breathe!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, I’d like you to give me a hand pushing the scooter, please.”

Benson said, “Don’t you think walking would be easier than me pushing you everywhere on the scooter?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Less talking, more pushing, please! This way!”

She and Benson pushed the scooter into the middle of the garden. She put some nice pot plants on the front mudguards. Then she went inside and came back with a cup of tea, a book and a piece of coconut banana bread. She put them in the basket at the front. “There you are, Louisa Alexandra,” she said, patting the scooter. “You’re going to be the most comfortable garden seat anyone’s ever had.” She climbed up and sat on the black, cushiony seat and took a sip of her tea and started to read her book.

And she was right.

The Medal

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.

Everyone was going up to the Community Centre, because Aunt Lillibet’s friend, Gordon, was getting a very special award.

“Do we have to go?” Benson said. There were sure to be speeches, probably long speeches.

“Yes, we do,” Benson’s mother said. “Gordon is being presented with a medal. It’s a great honour, so we’re all going to be there, to congratulate him.” They all got ready and set off.

Aunt Lillibet and Benson’s mother were helping with the morning tea, so they went on ahead and left Benson with Aunt Moss. Aunt Moss was walking slowly, carrying a big bag, and a heavy basket.

Benson said, “Do you want me to carry the basket for you, Aunt Moss?” Something inside the basket smelled delicious.

“Oh, yes, thank you,” Aunt Moss said. “It’s a baked pumpkin casserole for Mr Fenn. He was very kind, bringing us lots of lemons off his big tree, and I wanted to thank him.”

They stopped at Mr Fenn’s place to give him the casserole. He was very pleased. “My favourite,” he said. Benson was hoping Mr Fenn might invite them to come in and taste the pumpkin casserole, but he was getting ready to go to Gordon’s medal presentation too, so Benson and Aunt Moss kept going.

A little further along the track, Aunt Moss said, “I just want to give this bag to Mrs Dunnart, if you don’t mind, Benson.”

They turned off down the track to where Mrs Dunnart and all the little dunnarts lived. The bag was full of tiny little hats and jackets that Aunt Moss had knitted for the little dunnarts.

Aunt Moss said to Mrs Dunnart, “These are for the children. I know you were worried about them getting cold, now that winter’s coming.”

Mrs Dunnart was very happy. She called all the children and they had a great time trying on the hats and jackets, before Aunt Moss and Benson had to hurry off. “Oh dear, I hope we’re not going to be late,” Aunt Moss said.

As they were going past Nils and Nella’s house, Nella’s mum called out, “Oh, Moss, I was hoping I would see you! Nils has hurt his ankle and I’m worried about it. Could you have a look at it?”

“Of course,” Aunt Moss said. Nils hopped over and showed her his ankle.

She look at it carefully and felt it all over. “I think it’s probably just a bad bruise, but keep it bandaged up firmly. I’ll bring some comfrey ointment over this afternoon.”

Benson was beginning to think that if it got any later, they’d miss out on the morning tea. “Come on, Aunt Moss,” he said, “we’ll be late.”

They hurried along the track. When Aunt Moss wanted to pick some gum blossom for Aunt Lillibet, Benson said they didn’t have time, and when she found a bush covered in speckled midyim berries, they only stopped long enough to fill up Benson’s pockets.

In the end they had to run the last part, and they only just made it to the Community Centre in time. Gordon looked very fine in his best clothes, with his hair brushed smoothly all over. There were lots of long speeches, but Benson ate his midyim berries and didn’t mind too much. Then Gordon came forward, and someone important put a big medal around his neck. It was gold and shiny, with a blue and red ribbon. It had his name on it and it said, ‘For Services to the Wombat Community’. Everyone clapped and cheered. Gordon made another long speech and finally it was time for morning tea.

Afterwards, on the way home, Benson asked Aunt Moss what ‘Services to the Wombat Community’ meant. She said, “It’s all the things Gordon does for the community, like organising Hairy Nose Day, and the Historical Committee. It’s a great honour. I’ll never achieve anything like that.” She gave a little sigh.

“What do you mean, achieve something?” he asked.

Aunt Moss said, “I mean when you do something important, that everyone knows about. Like Aunt Lillibet winning all those trophies for Scottish dancing and karate, and your mother writing papers and being asked to give talks and things.”

Benson thought about it. “I don’t think I’ll ever achieve anything either,” he said. “I’m just going to dig, and probably do lots of drawing. And maybe one day, I’ll grow lots of oranges. How do you grow oranges?” he asked her.

“You just plant a little orange tree, and you water it and look after it,” she said. All the rest of the way home they talked about growing oranges.

That afternoon Benson thought about how Aunt Moss had been feeling sad, and he thought about what he could do. He found a nice piece of bark and he made a hole in it and threaded one of his stripey shoe-laces through the hole. Then he got his favourite blue pencil and wrote a message on the bark.

After dinner, he stood up and said, “I would like to make a presentation.” He thought about making a long speech, but he decided not to. Nobody liked speeches. So he just said, “Aunt Moss, this is for you.”

He hung the piece of bark around Aunt Moss’s neck. His mother and Aunt Lillibet clapped and cheered. Aunt Moss was very surprised, and very happy. Then she read what it said on the piece of bark, and she cried.

Benson said, “I’m sorry it’s not gold and shiny.”

Aunt Moss blew her nose and said, “It’s beautiful, Benson. It’s the most beautiful thing anyone could ever give me.”

It said, ‘For Aunt Moss, who loves everybody.’

Intruder

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

One morning Benson’s Uncle Elton came over to give Aunt Lillibet her knitting needles back. He had invented a new machine for sharpening knitting needles, but it wasn’t working all that well yet. The needles were only half as long as they used to be, and the ends were as blunt as a wombat’s nose.

Aunt Lillibet was not happy.

Uncle Elton said, “I’ve just about got the machine working right. I just need some more needles to practise on.”

Aunt Lillibet went into the kitchen and got a long stick of celery. “Here,” she said to Uncle Elton, “you can practise on this. When you get that nice and sharp, you can borrow another one of my knitting needles.”

Benson’s cousin Elmer was extremely proud of his father. “It’s a great invention, except for the sharpening part,” he said.

Benson said, “Why don’t you just call it a blunter instead of a sharpener? If you had any very sharp sticks, or a carrot that was too pointy, you could make them nice and blunt.”

Elmer could see his father didn’t like that idea so he changed the subject. “What’s that little, black, shiny thing you have near your front door?”

Benson didn’t know what he was talking about, so they both went to look. It was square and shiny and black all over, with little wheels underneath. While they were watching, it started to move. It moved towards Benson, then it stopped. He stepped aside and it moved on past him, very quietly and smoothly, into the room.

Uncle Elton jumped up. “Look out, everyone!” he yelled. “There’s some kind of dangerous creature!” He ran and got the broom. “Stand back!” he yelled. “I’ll get it!”

“Don’t hurt it!” Aunt Moss exclaimed. “Dear little thing – it looks like a big turtle, all shiny and black, creeping along on its little turtle feet!” She went to pick it up but Aunt Lillibet stopped her.

“Don’t touch it, Moss!” she said. “It’s not a turtle, it’s some kind of machine. It doesn’t have feet, it has wheels.”

Everyone gathered around the little shiny machine and looked. It rolled forward, then it rolled sideways and stopped.

Benson said, “It looks like it’s looking for something.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s a machine. It can’t think, so how can it be looking for something?”

“Then what’s it doing?” Elmer asked.

Uncle Elton said, “It’s obviously dangerous. What if it’s a spy robot and it’s come to gather information about us?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Information? Like what? A young wombat lives here with his mother and his two aunts? You don’t need to be a spy to find that out.”

Aunt Moss said, “It looks as though it’s lost. Maybe it’s looking for a little robot friend.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Machines don’t have feelings, Moss. It’s just a machine that got in here by mistake. We should take it outside. Someone’s probably looking for it.”

Benson was watching the little black machine. “It’s got some little lights and a screen underneath,” he said. He lay down on the floor so he could see underneath it. “It’s flashing a light on the ground.”

“I knew it!” Uncle Elton said. “It’s a spy scanner! I’ll smash it!”

“Yeah, smash it, Dad!” Elmer said. “It probably wants to blow us all up!”

Uncle Elton lifted up the broom again. Aunt Moss shrieked, “Don’t!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Put that down, Elton! You’ll hit Benson if you’re not careful!”

Benson was still lying on the ground next to the machine. “It’s stopped scanning,” he said. “Now it’s printing some words on its screen.”

“What does it say?” asked Elmer. “If it’s counting down to zero, that means it’s going to explode and kill everyone!”

Everyone held their breath, except Benson. He said, “It says… ‘Mite population zero’. Hunh? What does that mean?”

“It’s going to blow up!” Elmer shouted. “Get it, Dad!”

Just then Benson’s mother walked in. “What’s going on? Elton, what are you doing with that broom? Benson, what’s that machine you’re playing with?”

“It’s a bomb!” Elmer said. “We’re going to smash it!”

“I think it’s someone’s toy turtle,” Aunt Moss said. “Do you think we should put it in the bathtub?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s probably someone’s vacuum-cleaner that got in here by mistake.”

“It’s a spy robot,” Uncle Elton said, “sent by a foreign government to gather highly sensitive information. Keep back!”

Benson said, “It’s got a scanner, and it’s got something to do with mites.”

“Ohh!” Benson’s mother said, taking the broom away from Uncle Elton. “I’ve heard about this. There are scientists who are checking wombat holes to see if there are any mites living there – you know, the little biting insects that can make wombats very sick. You remember how Tucker got so sick, with all those sores on his skin and all his hair falling out?”

“Is this a mite robot?” Benson asked.

“I think it might be,” his mother said.

“We’re all going to get sick!” Uncle Elton said. “I told you it was dangerous! Keep away from it, Elmer!”

“No,” Benson’s mother said, “it’s looking to see if we have any mites here, that’s all.”

“It’s working so hard,” Aunt Moss said. “Do you think it wants a drink of water?”

Benson said, “It says ‘Mite Population zero’.”

“That’s very good news,” his mother said. “That means we don’t have any mites here. We’re not going to get sick the way that Tucker did.”

The little black robot trundled towards the door and went out.

Uncle Elton said, “Come on, Elmer, let’s see where it’s going.”

“Can we get a mite detector like that for our place?” Elmer asked. “Maybe we can capture it!”

“We’ll see,” his father said. “For now we’ll just keep it under surveillance.” They went off together.

Aunt Moss said sadly, “Goodbye, little turtle robot. Thank you for not finding any mites.”

Fairy Cakes

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.

Aunt Lillibet’s tomato vines were covered with fat, red, shiny tomatoes. There were so many that Benson’s mother said to him, “Let’s take some of these tomatoes to Nanna. There’s nothing like a fresh tomato still warm from the sun.”

Benson loved visiting Nanna. She always had lots of interesting stories and things to talk about, and there were usually really nice things to eat. They got their hats and their water bottles, and filled up a big basket with tomatoes and set off.

Nanna loved it when Benson came to visit. “Benson!” she said, giving him a big hug. “It’s so good to see you!”

Benson hugged her back, breathing in her warm, friendly smell. Then he stopped hugging and sniffed. “Are you cooking something?” he asked.

Nanna smiled. “I’m making little cakes,” she said. “I’ve just taken them out of the oven. Would you like to help me make the icing?”

Nanna got the bowl ready, and the sugar and butter, and Benson’s mother squeezed the juice out of a lemon, and Benson did the stirring. They spread the icing on the little cakes, and Nanna let Benson put the coloured sprinkles on them. “Just a light shower,” she said, “not a downpour.”

They decided to eat them outside in the sunshine, so Benson got the picnic blanket and his mother cut up some carrot sticks and radish flowers and they took them outside while Nanna put the little cakes on a plate.

After a minute, Benson went back inside to see what was making Nanna so slow. She was putting two of the little cakes in a bag. She tied the bag up with a ribbon and sprinkled gold dust over the top of it.

“What are you doing?” Benson said.

Nanna jumped. “Nothing,” she said. She put the bag behind her back.

“Why did you put those cakes in that bag?” Benson asked.

“What bag?” Nanna said.

“The one you’re hiding behind your back,” he said.

Nanna brought the bag back out. “It’s kind of a surprise for someone,” she said.

Benson said, “Who are they for?”

“Well, I don’t know, exactly,” Nanna said. “This is how it is. There’s a special tree right in the middle of the blue gum forest with a hole in it just big enough for a small wombat’s hand. And sometimes I leave a little surprise in it, like a flower or a drawing, or a little message.”

“Or a cake,” Benson said.

“Yes,” Nanna said, “and when I go back the next day or the day after, it’s gone, and there’s something there instead, like a beautiful leaf, or an interesting shaped stone.”

“Who puts them in the tree?” Benson asked.

“I don’t know,” Nanna said. “But it makes me think of when I was a little girl and we used to pretend there were fairies in the bush.”

“Fairies?” Benson said. “You know that fairies are made up, don’t you, Nanna?”

“I know,” Nanna said.”But maybe whoever finds my little surprises might think that a fairy put them there.”

“You think that someone thinks that you’re a fairy?” Benson said. “Do they know fairies are supposed to be tiny and sparkly, not big and brown and hairy like a wombat?”

“They never see me,” Nanna said, “and I don’t see them. It’s just fun to think they might imagine that fairies do it.”

“Why?” Benson said.

Nanna said, “That’s what your imagination is for! Thinking of impossible things, and making up things that you’ve never see before. Like dragons. Flying hippopotamuses. Custard mango trees. Magical creatures that make little cakes with fairy dust on them.”

Benson said, “I suppose so,” but he didn’t really understand why she didn’t just give them the cakes.

The next day, he went for a walk in the blue gum forest, to look for the special tree that Nanna had talked about. When he found it, he hid behind a bush and waited.

After a while, Bonnie Lou came skipping through the forest. She got to the special tree and stopped. She looked around to make sure no-one was watching, and then she put her hand into the little hole and got the bag out. She looked inside and smiled.

Benson popped out from behind the bush and said, “Hi, Bonnie Lou. What have you got there?”

Bonnie Lou jumped. “Nothing,” she said, hiding the bag behind her back.

“What’s in that bag?” he asked.

“What bag?” she said.

“The one you’re hiding behind your back,” he said.

She went pink. “Just some little cakes,” she said.

Benson said craftily, “How did they get there? Do you think maybe a pink, sparkly fairy came up and put a little bag of cakes in the hole in the tree, and then sprinkled some fairy dust on it and flew away?”

Bonnie Lou said, “A fairy? Don’t be silly, Benson, fairies are just made up.”

“How do you think those cakes got there, then?” he said.

“I don’t know,” Bonnie Lou said. “I know somebody put them there. I don’t know who it is, but sometimes I imagine it’s a cute, furry orang-utan that comes along and puts little surprises in the tree for me, so I leave her little messages and surprises too.”

“An orang-utan?” Benson said, amazed.

“Sure, an orang-utan,” she said. She looked at Benson and shook her head. “You really need to learn to use your imagination, Benson,” she said. She held out the bag. “Do you want an orang-utan cake?”

The Flying Carpet

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 after breakfast Benson was outside trying to make a sundial out of banana leaves when Nils and Nella came rushing up.

“We’ve found something…” Nella panted.

“…in a tree,” Nils said. “Come and have a look.”

Benson told his mother where he was going and then he went to see what Nils and Nella were talking about.

They went into the bush, until they came to a big woolly blackbutt. “Look,” Nils said, “up there.” Up in the branches of the tree there was a ragged, rolled-up carpet.

Nella said, “It’s a carpet. We think it got blown into the tree in the big storm last night, and got caught in the branches.”

Benson was staring up at the carpet. “Or,” he said slowly, “maybe it’s a flying carpet, and someone was flying it and they crashed into the tree.”

“Huh? What’s a flying carpet?” Nella said.

Benson said, “Don’t you remember the story Pascoe told us about a flying carpet?” He could still remember Pascoe’s voice telling the story, and for a moment he was back by the camp-fire, listening to the story unfold. “‘A king in a far-off land had a magic flying carpet. Whenever he wanted to look out over his kingdom and see what his subjects were doing, he would sit on his magic carpet and say a magic word, and the carpet would rise up into the air and take him wherever he wanted to go.'”

Nella listened with her eyes wide, but Nils said, “If the king wanted to look out over his kingdom, why didn’t he just climb a tree?” He scampered up to the very highest branches and hung on by his tail. “See?” he said. “I can see everything from here.”

Benson said, “Not everyone can climb trees, Nils.”

“Oh yeah,” Nils said. “I forgot.”

Nella said, “If it’s a magic carpet, what happened to the driver?”

“I suppose they climbed down and went away,” Benson said.

“Do you think it still works?” she asked, excitedly.

“Let’s get it down and have a try,” Nils said.

He and Nella got on one end of the carpet and pushed and pulled but the carpet was jammed tight.

“It’s too heavy,” Nils said. “Come and give us a hand, Benson.”

Benson thought Nils must have a very bad memory. “I’ll go and ask Mr Fenn if I can borrow his rope,” he said.

Mr Fenn was happy for Benson to borrow his rope, but he came along to make sure they were doing something safe with it.

Nils tied the rope around one end of the carpet. Mr Fenn and Benson got the other end of the rope and they pulled as hard as they could, but the carpet was really stuck.

“I’ll go and get some help,” Benson said. He went and got his Uncle Elton and his cousin Elmer, and his friends, Mick and Philip. Mick’s sister Bonnie Lou came along too, to see what was going on.

“There’s a flying carpet stuck in a tree and we’re trying to get it down,” Benson explained to everyone.

“If it’s a flying carpet, why doesn’t it just fly down?” Mick asked.

“It would but it’s stuck,” Benson said.

“Maybe it’s the starter motor,” Uncle Elton said. “I had a washing machine like that once. I put in a new coil and it was right as rain.”

Mr Fenn said they should stop talking and just pull.

The carpet still wouldn’t move. Uncle Elton went home and got another rope and Nella ran off to ask Whipple, the sugar glider, to come and give them some technical advice. By now, Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss had come along to see what was happening. They all got hold of the rope and pulled as hard as they could.

The carpet moved just a bit. “We need more manpower,” Mr Fenn said.

“More wombat power,” Benson said. He went and got Alejandro and his mother, and Zali and her mother, Teresa. Even cousin Lance heard what was going on and brought his special friend, Wilma, along to help. Nanna came too, and brought some cranberry cookies she had just made.

Mr Fenn said, “Now, one-two-three, pull!!” Everybody heaved and strained and pulled, and then thwunk, the carpet let go of the tree and thudded down to the ground.

Everyone cheered.

Benson’s mother said, “Good work, everyone! I think it’s time for a picnic, don’t you?” She and Aunt Moss went home and got some pecan and blackberry muffins, and some orange juice, and Aunt Lillibet brought the picnic blanket and the cups. Mr Fenn brought a whole bag of oranges from his tree. Cousin Lance had some cinnamon and apple buns he had just made, and Teresa brought some funny-looking spinach scones that she had been teaching Zali how to make.

When they were all sitting on the picnic blanket, eating and talking, Cousin Lance said, “What do you want a disgusting old carpet for, anyway?”

Nella said, with her eyes shining, “Benson thinks it might be a magic flying carpet!”

The grown-ups looked at each other and smiled, but Benson thought that grown-ups don’t always know everything. He gave the carpet a big push and it unrolled itself. There in the centre of the carpet was a picture of a red dragon.

“Oohhh,” everyone breathed.

Benson said, “All we need now is the magic word.”

“Let me, let me!” Mick said. He sat down in the middle of the carpet and said, “Abracadabra!”

Nothing happened.

Nils said, “Let me have a turn!” He sat on the carpet and said, “Alley-kazam! Alley-kazoo!” Nothing happened.

The grown-ups smiled at each other again and went back to eating muffins and drinking orange juice, but after Benson and Nella and Elmer and Alejandro and Bonnie Lou had all had a turn sitting on the carpet and trying to think of the magic word, all the grown-ups had a turn too, except for Mr Fenn who said that even if he got the magic word right, he would be too heavy for the carpet to lift, and Nanna, who said that a flying carpet would probably make her seasick.

When it was time to go home, Benson’s mother and Mr Fenn helped carry the carpet back to Benson’s place. He spread it on the floor of his room where the dragon glowed fiery red. And every morning for a long time afterwards, he would sit on it and try a new magic word.

All Wombats Dig

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.

Aunt Moss’s friend Rebekah came over one day to talk to Benson’s mother.

“I’m really worried about Ralph,” she said. Ralph was Rebekah’s grandson. He lived with her and she took care of him. “He’s always in his room,” she said. “He never goes outside to play or ride his bike. He just stays in his room, playing that awful violin.”

Benson’s mother said, “That doesn’t sound very healthy.”

“He doesn’t have any friends,” Rebekah said. “I’m so worried about him.”

“What are you going to do?” Benson’s mother asked her.

“Do you think Benson might take him to the playground?” Rebekah asked. “If he can meet some wombats his own age and make friends and have some fun, I think it would be good for him.”

Benson’s mother said, “Why don’t we ask Benson?”

Benson said, “Okay,” and then he said, “Ralph won’t bring his violin, will he?”

“I’ll make sure he leaves it at home,” Rebekah said.

The next day Benson and Ralph went to the playground together. Afterwards, when Benson got home, his mother asked him, “Did you and Ralph have a good time?”

Benson flopped down on the lounge. “It was awful,” he said. “He didn’t want to play with anyone, and he didn’t want to go on the swings or the slippery-slide. He just stood there, looking at the trees. He didn’t even want to dig in the sand-pit! He just kept pretending he was playing his violin!”

Benson’s mother said, “Maybe he just isn’t used to a lot of other people being around. What about if we go down to the creek tomorrow, so the two of you can play together?”

“Do I have to?” Benson groaned.

“No, but it would be a kind thing to do,” his mother said.

The next day they went down to the creek with Ralph. It was a beautiful sunny day. The creek sparkled and gurgled in the sun.

“Do you want to make a boat out of a leaf?” Benson asked Ralph.

“No, not really,” Ralph said, not really listening.

“How about dropping sticks in the water and seeing whose is the fastest?” Benson suggested.

Ralph didn’t even answer. His hands were starting to move as if they were playing the violin again.

Benson was just about ready to give up. “Well, let’s go and dig in the bank of the creek, then,” he said.

Ralph said, “I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. I don’t like digging.”

“You don’t like digging?” Benson said, aghast.

“No, I hate the dirt getting under my fingernails, and anyway, it’s boring,” Ralph said.

“Boring? Digging is boring?” Benson couldn’t believe his ears. “But all wombats dig!”

Ralph stuck his chin out. “Not me,” he said.

Benson said, “If you’re a wombat, you dig. Koalas eat gum leaves, kangaroos hop, and wombats dig. That’s the way it is.”

Ralph put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. “I’ve got better things to do,” he said.

Benson really gave up this time. “I’m going home,” he said.

That night he told his mother what Ralph had said. “He doesn’t even like digging!” he said in amazement.

His mother said, “That’s okay. Not everyone has to like digging.”

Benson didn’t believe her. “Do you know any wombats that don’t dig?” he said.

She thought hard. “No, I don’t,” she confessed.

Benson said darkly, “Maybe Ralph is an alien.”

The next day Benson’s mother went to see Nanna. They talked about Ralph, and Nanna said, “I think it might be a good idea to have a little concert and ask Ralph to play his violin for us.”

“Do you think so?” Benson’s mother said. She remembered what Ralph sounded like last time she heard him play the violin. It was like cats having a yowling competition.

Nanna smiled. “He plays much better now,” she said. “He practises all the time.”

The concert was at Nanna’s place. Aunt Lillibet flatly refused to go. “They don’t call it a ‘vile-in’ for nothing,” she said.

Even Aunt Moss said, “I don’t think I’ll go. You know I’m not fond of classical music.”

Benson’s mother said firmly, “We’re all going. Ralph needs our support.” Benson opened his mouth, but his mother said, “You, too, Benson. No arguments.”

Benson closed his mouth again, but he secretly put his mother’s pink ear-muffs on and put a thick, woolly hat over them so no-one could tell.

Nanna and Ralph played their violins together first. Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss clapped and smiled at the end, so Benson thought it must have sounded all right. He couldn’t hear a thing through the ear-muffs.

Then Nanna said, “Now you play something, Ralph.”

Ralph said, “This is something I made up, called ‘Sunlight on the Water’.”

When he started playing, Benson saw tears begin to run down his mother’s face. Aunt Moss’s face was radiant, and Aunt Lillibet was listening with her mouth open. He wondered what was happening. He decided to risk it and take the ear-muffs off for just a second.

As soon as he heard the music, he forgot where he was. He was back at the creek again, watching tiny fish glinting deep in the water and hearing the magpies sing. Then Ralph stopped and Benson was jerked back to Nanna’s kitchen. There was complete silence, then everyone started clapping madly.

Ralph bowed. “Did you make that up?” Benson asked, amazed. “How did you do that?”

“Music just sort of comes into my head,” Ralph said. “I listen to it and then I try to work out how to play it. Listen, this is how the trees at the playground sound.”

He started playing again. It was music and it was birds singing and it was funny and amazing all at the same time. It reminded Benson exactly of the day they went to the playground.

Ralph said, “And this is Benson.” He played some music that was sort of low and lumpy, with some thinking parts and lots of happy parts. It made Benson smile just to hear it.

On the way home, he said to his mother, “Ralph makes up wonderful music, doesn’t he?”

His mother said, “Do you still think that all wombats have to dig?”

Benson thought about it, then he said, “Maybe not. But I still think Ralph is an alien.”

Wolley-Ball

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 playing with his friend Mick at the playground when Arlette came up, with her sister, Twiss. Arlette was another wombat that Benson knew, but they weren’t really friends.

“Do you boys want to play a game with us?” Arlette said.

“Okay,” Mick said. “What sort of game?”

Arlette said, “Let’s play wolley-ball.”

“Wolley-ball?” Mick said. “What’s that?”

Arlette said, “I’ve seen people playing it before. You have to have two teams, and a net and ball. I’ve got a rope we can use for a net, but we need a ball.”

Mick said, “I’ve got one I can bring.”

“Good,” said Arlette. “You bring your team to the big park and I’ll get my team and meet you there.”

They all met at the big park, Mick and Benson, and Elmer and Alejandro, and Mick’s little sister, Bonnie Lou. Arlette tied a rope between two trees to be the net.

Mick had brought a bowl with a crack in it. Arlette said, “What’s this? You were supposed to bring a ball!”

“Oh, I thought you said a bowl,” Mick said.

Arlette looked at it disdainfully. “It doesn’t matter, we can play it without the ball. All you do is take turns jumping up off the ground and punching the air.”

“Is that all?” Mick said. “Easy.”

“Your team stands over there,” Arlette said, pointing.

Mick and his team went and stood on one side of the net, and Arlette and Twiss stood on the other side of the net and told them all what to do. “We all take turns jumping up and punching the air, my side first then your side, okay?”

Alejandro was very excited. He started doing warm-up jumps. He was very good. Elmer tried hard but he tripped and crashed into Benson and they both fell over.

Mick said to Arlette, “Where’s the rest of your team?”

Arlette said, “My friends, Junie and Rusty, are playing too.” Two wallabies came bounding out of the bush. They bounced up and down on Arlette’s side, way higher than the net.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” Mick said. “No wallabies! They should be disqualified.”

“I’m the referee,” Arlette said. “I do the disqualifying, and they’re not disqualified. Let’s start.”

She jumped up as high as she could, and punched the air and said, “Whuh!” Then Alejandro did one of his spectacular leaps, then both the wallabies jumped, then Mick, and then Elmer fell over again.

“Yes!” yelled Arlette and Twiss.

“Your turn to start,” Arlette said. Mick jumped up and went, “Umph!” then Twiss gave a little jump, not really trying, then Mick, and then Junie jumped over the net and landed on Benson’s head.

“Yes!” said Arlette. “That’s two points to us.”

“What?” Mick said.

Arlette said, “When I say ‘yes’, that means we get a point.”

Mick yelled, “Yes, yes, yes, yes! That’s four points to us.”

Arlette looked down her nose at him. “It’s two points to us, none to you. I’m the score-keeper.”

Bonnie Lou said, “I want to join the girls’ side.”

Elmer said, “Me too.” Benson went and lay down on his back under a tree. Junie and Rusty jumped back and forth over the net and over Alejandro and over each other.

Mick said, “This is a stupid game. I’m going home.” He stamped off.

Arlette called after him, “Wait! I know another game we could play.”

Mick turned around. “If there are wallabies in it, I’m not playing,” he said.

“No, it’s completely different,” she said. “There isn’t a net, just a bat and a ball. You hit the ball with the bat, and you run.”

“Do you know any bats that want to play?” Mick asked.

“Not that kind of bat,” Arlette said. “It’s a bat like a flat stick.”

“Have you got a ball?” Mick said.

“No, but you can play it without the ball,” Arlette said. “You just swing the bat and go, Whack! It’s called ‘whacket’.”

Mick said, “All right, but this time I’m being the score-keeper.”

Arlette said okay, and they got a nice, flat stick out of the bush. “Ready?” Arlette said. “You bowl first.”

Mick picked up his bowl and started to throw it.

“No!” Arlette said. “Not that kind of bowl!” She took the bowl away from him and gave it to Twiss to hold. “Just pretend you’re throwing a ball.”

Mick took a big run-up and threw an invisible ball as hard as he could.

“Whack!” said Arlette. She started running backwards and forwards and counting, “One, two, three, four!” Junie put the bat in her pouch and bounded off into the bush. Mick scratched his head. He went and sat down under the tree with Benson.

“Is it over yet?” Benson asked.

“I don’t know,” Mick said. “But I think I know who’s going to win.”

Felix

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

It was Christmas, and it was very hot. Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss had been cooking and cleaning for days and days, ready for Christmas. Nanna came, and Uncle Elton and Elmer, and Mr Fenn, and cousin Lance and his special friend, Wilma, and Hazel, and Pascoe, the story-teller.

There was so much amazing food, Benson ate and ate until he could hardly talk. Everyone had a wonderful time, talking and laughing. While they were waiting to have enough room in their tummies for dessert and cousin Lance’s fabulous Christmas cake, Benson’s mother said, “Pascoe, would you tell us a story? Tell us the Christmas story again.”

Benson settled down to listen. He’d heard this story lots of times, but he loved the way Pascoe told it.

Pascoe began. “Once a long, long time ago, two travellers named Mary and Joseph went on a long journey, to a town called Bethlehem. They travelled day and night along rough, dusty tracks, and when they reached Bethlehem, Joseph looked for a place for them to stay, because Mary was going to have a baby. But the town was so crowded, there was no room anywhere for them to stay. Joseph knocked on door after door, but everyone turned him away, saying, ‘No room! No room!’

“Mary was so tired that she could hardly walk another step. Then a small boy told them they could sleep in the stable, a shed for the cows and the ox and the donkey.

“They went to the dark, quiet stable and the animals made room for them. The time came for Mary to have her child. It was a beautiful baby boy, and they named him Jesus. This baby was so special that all the heavens and the earth rejoiced. Angels filled the skies, singing, and the stars stood still in the night, and shone over the stable where the baby was.”

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Benson jumped up to answer it. “Wait! Don’t tell any more of the story till I get back,” he said to Pascoe. “I don’t want to miss anything.” He was gone for ages. When he came back, he said, “Did I miss anything?”

“No,” Pascoe said, “we were just up to the part where the angels were singing and the stars were shining.” She went on, “There were some shepherds, looking after their sheep in a big paddock. A great, shining angel suddenly appeared to them and they were amazed. The angel said – “

Hazel interrupted, and said, “Can I do this bit? I love this part!”

“Yes, of course you can,” Pascoe said.

Hazel stood up and said in a loud, strong voice, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy that shall be to all people!”

Elmer said, “Huh? What does that mean?”

Hazel said, “It means, Don’t be frightened, I’ve got great news! The most wonderful thing has happened. A baby has been born, who will bring peace and joy to everyone in the world.” And Hazel started to sing, in a high, beautiful voice.

Benson listened, spellbound.

When Hazel finished singing, Pascoe went on, “The shepherds said to each other, ‘This baby must be very special. Let’s go and see him.’ They hurried off to the stable, and there they found the baby Jesus, asleep in a bed of hay, warm and safe. The whole stable was lit by the light of the stars. The shepherds knelt down and gazed at the baby. Then they went off to spread the good news.”

Benson thought about the baby, and the angels and the stars.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Who was at the door?”

Benson said, “Oh, no-one, just a couple of animals. Can we have the Christmas cake now?”

His mother said, “What kind of animals?”

Benson said, “Just ordinary animals, kind of small and brown, with pointy noses. A bit like tiny kangaroos, with straight tails, and a black furry bit on the end of it.”

“It sounds like they were woylies!” Nanna said. “But they couldn’t be! There haven’t been any woylies around here for years and years, since long before I was born.”

“What’s a woylie?” Elmer said.

Cousin Lance said, “They’re rat-kangaroos, or bettongs, some people call them.”

“Soil engineers, we call them,” Aunt Lillibet said. “They scatter seeds everywhere, and they scratch up the the soil and that lets in more water for the plants to grow.”

Aunt Moss said, “Once there were woylies everywhere, but now they’re nearly all gone.”

“Where did they go?” Benson said.

“They died,” his mother said. “No-one knows why. Unless we can look after the ones that are left, they could soon be extinct.”

“Extinct!” Benson said, with round eyes. “Then there’d be no more woylies?”

“That’s right,” his mother said.

Uncle Elton said, “Two woylies knocked at the door? Where are they?”

Benson said, “I told them there was no room. It was too hot and crowded in here already.”

Everyone stopped talking, shocked. “You sent them away?” Uncle Elton said, horrified.

“No, of course I didn’t,” Benson said. “I took them down to the back door, to that little empty room. They needed a nice, cool, quiet place to have their baby.”

“A baby?” everyone said.

“Come and see,” Benson said, simply.

Everyone got up at once and hurried down to the little room near the back door. And there they found the mother and father with a brand new baby.

They all stood and gazed at the baby without saying a word, even though they were bursting with excitement and joy. Benson said, “Would you like some Christmas cake?”

The woylies smiled and said that would be nice and everyone got even more excited and all started talking at once. They all took turns holding the baby and saying how beautiful he was, except for Benson, who was thinking very seriously about dessert.

He and his mother went back to the kitchen, and they got the Christmas cake and the watermelon jelly and the passionfruit cream and peaches and cherries and everything ready. Benson helped his mother make a special treat for the woylies, out of peanut butter and oats and a sprinkling of truffle oil. They carried everything down to the little room by the back door, and everyone had a wonderful feast while the baby woylie went to sleep in nest of Aunt Moss’s knitting yarn.

“What are you going to call him?” Benson asked.

“His name is Felix,” the mother woylie said. “It means ‘happy’.”

“How did you come to be so far away from home?” Aunt Moss asked.

The father woylie said, “We used to live a long way out west, but we were taken to a kind of animal sanctuary.” He looked unhappy. “It wasn’t a good place. The woylies all died, one by one, so we decided to run away.”

“We travelled a long, long way,” the mother said, “looking for a safe place for us and the baby.”

“You can stay here,” Benson offered.

His mother looked at Mr Fenn. They were thinking of foxes and cats and other animals that were dangerous for woylies. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Mr Fenn said.

Nanna said, “I’ve heard of a special safe place for small animals like woylies to live, with no fences and no cages. It’s called Marna Banggara, healthy country. But it’s a very long way away.”

Aunt Moss said, “It would be a dangerous trip, especially with a young baby.”

Mr Fenn stepped forward. “I’ll take them,” he said. Everyone nodded. Mr Fenn was the biggest, bravest wombat anyone knew. He could protect them, and even carry them if they got too tired.

“But not just yet,” Benson’s mother said. “Stay here as long as you like and get your strength back.”

Everyone left then, to let the woylies have some rest, and to tell everyone the good news about baby Felix being born.

Benson’s mother said to him, “You look a bit disappointed. What’s the matter?”

Benson said, “I thought maybe they’d name the baby after me.”

His mother smiled. “Benson is a good name for a wombat, but maybe not such a good name for a little woylie,” she said.

Benson said, “And even though it’s Christmas and a baby was born, I didn’t hear any angels!”

His mother said, “Didn’t you? I did.” And she kissed him on the nose. Benson listened very hard, and he thought he could hear the sound of angels singing far away. Or it might have been Hazel.

Three Gifts

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 and thought about getting up, but it was so warm and cosy in his bed that he snuggled down and closed his eyes again.

Aunt Lillibet went past his door. She looked in and said, “Time to get up, Benson. You’re not going to change the world, lying there.”

Benson’s eyes popped open. How could he change the world, one small wombat? Well, you never know, he thought, and got out of bed.

He got dressed and went out to the kitchen and had a glass of milk and a banana. There was an enormous pile of washing up, because Aunt Lillibet had cooked eggs and beans for breakfast, and his mother had made cheese on toast and Aunt Moss had made a big pot of strawberry jam, and cooked a batch of scones as well.

Benson thought to himself that maybe he couldn’t change the world, but here was one thing he could do. He set to work and washed up all the dishes and bowls and cups and pans.

He was just finishing when his mother came out. “Oh! I was just coming out to wash all those dishes, and you’ve done them already! That’s wonderful! Now I’ll have time to finish my speech and get to the Town Hall in time for the big meeting! You’re wonderful, Benson!” She kissed the top of his head and hurried off.

Aunt Lillibet came out and looked at the sparkling dishes. “Did you do all those dishes?” she asked Benson. “That was a good thing to do.” She stood thinking for a minute. “There’s something I can do too,” she said, and she went off to her room.

Aunt Moss came out and said, “Oh, Benson, you’ve done all the washing up! That’s wonderful! Now all the bowls and spoons are clean, I can whip some cream and finish off those scones I made.”

Benson’s heart quailed. More washing-up, just after he had finished a mountain! But he smiled bravely and said, “I can help you if you like, Aunt Moss.”

Together they whipped cream and spread jam on the scones, then Benson plopped a blob of cream on top of each one. They looked extremely delicious.

Benson said, “Can I try one?”

Aunt Moss said, “No, they’re for morning tea at the Town Hall after the big meeting.”

Benson felt disappointed: no scones, no jam and no cream, and another pile of washing up. He sighed quietly and set to work.

Aunt Lillibet came hurrying out of her room with a big pile of papers under her arm. “I’ve made some posters for the big meeting, and I’m going up to the Town Hall to put them up,” she said, and hurried off.

Benson and Aunt Moss finished tidying up the kitchen, and then they carried all the scones and jam and cream up to the Town Hall. When they got there, Benson’s mother was in the middle of her speech. Everyone was listening.

She was saying, “So many of our koalas have lost their homes, and we really need a new koala refuge for them. I know you think it’s too expensive and too difficult, but all we need is three gifts: your time, your work, and a generous heart.”

Everyone looked at each other and nodded. All around the walls Aunt Lillibet had put up big posters that said, ‘Help Our Koalas’ and ‘Homes for the Homeless’, with pictures of sad koalas in black, burnt-out trees.

Benson’s mother said, ” So who will help build a new koala refuge?”

Gordon stood up and said, “I’d like to help,” then Fenella and Bliss said, “We will too.” More and more people stood up, saying they wanted to help and soon everyone was smiling and eating scones and talking about how they were going to build the new koala refuge.

Benson said to his mother, “That was a very good speech. Now everyone wants to help. I wish I could help too, but I’m just a small wombat.”

His mother smiled. “You already have,” she said. “It was you I got the idea for my speech from, you know.”

“Me?” Benson said. “All I did was wash the dishes!”

His mother said, “You gave some of your time, and your work, with a generous heart.”

Benson thought about what might have happened if he had stayed in bed. His mother might not have written her speech, Aunt Lillibet might not have thought of making the posters, and Aunt Moss might not have been able to finish the scones.

His mother said, “Now if we’re quick, we might just be able to get a scone before the last ones have gone.”

They were, and they did.

Benson Writes a Book

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

One morning Benson woke up with a brilliant idea. “I’m going to write a book!” he said to his mother.

“That’s nice, dear,” she said. “Make sure you have plenty of breakfast.”

Straight after breakfast Benson set to work. He got lots of paper and his pencils and started drawing. He was very good at drawing fish and things under the sea, so he decided to make it about a squid.

He wrote on the first page, “Once there was a squid.” He drew a beautiful squid. Then he drew all kinds of seaweed, and lots and lots of fish, so many fish that they took up pages and pages.

It took all morning. By lunchtime he was exhausted. His mother made him a macadamia butter and banana sandwich, and a glass of watermelon juice.

“Writing a book takes forever,” he complained.

Aunt Lillibet came over and looked at what he had been doing. “What about the plot?” she said.

“What’s that?” Benson said.

“It’s what happens in the book,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You know, a problem or an adventure, the things that happen. Every story has a plot.”

“Oh,” said Benson. “I suppose I’d better get one then.”

He thought and thought about what might happen to a squid. Were squids afraid of spiders? Did they go to the playground? Writing a book was much harder than he thought.

Aunt Moss came out to make herself a sandwich. She got a jar of jam out of the pantry, but she couldn’t get the lid off. “This lid is stuck,” she said.

“That’s it!” Benson said. He got his pencil and wrote, ‘The squid wanted to open the lid of a jar but it was stuck.’ He drew a beautiful jar of jam, and had a lovely time drawing his squid trying to get the lid off, with his long tentacles winding around it and a determined expression on his face.

He said to Aunt Lillibet, “Now I’ve got a plot, what else do I need?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You have to decide what happens in the end. Does everyone live happily ever after? Does the hero win, or does the baddie?”

Benson decided he liked happy endings better. He drew another squid helping the first squid, all their tentacles wrapping around the jar and getting the lid to come off. Two squids are definitely better than one, he thought. Then he drew them scooping the jam out and putting it into their mouths with their tentacles and getting jam all over themselves.

He drew and drew and drew, until finally he was finished. He showed it to Aunt Moss. She thought it was wonderful. “I can almost see the seaweed waving,” she said.

Aunt Lillibet looked at it and said, “It’s very short. And the groper looks exactly like Uncle Elton.”

Benson took his book to the playground to show his friends.

Alejandro said, “I don’t really like reading,” and he went back to practising his dancing.

Mick said, “Are there any sharks?”

Benson said, “No.”

Mick said, “Why not? The shark could eat the squid, and there’d be blood everywhere. You should put a shark in.”

Bonnie Lou said, “Does it have a princess?”

“No,” Benson said, “but there’s an angel-fish on page six.”

Bonnie Lou looked on page six. “She’s beautiful,” she said. “But where are her wings?”

“Don’t you want to read the story?” Benson said. “It’s got a plot and everything.”

“No, I can’t read, you know,” Bonnie Lou said.

Arlette read every page, and when she got to the end, she laughed and laughed and laughed.

Benson said, “It’s not meant to be funny.”

She stopped laughing. “Oh, I thought it was,” she said. Then she said, “It doesn’t say ‘The End’ at the end.”

Benson said, “It doesn’t need to say ‘The End’. The end is where it ends.”

Arlette said, “All the best books have ‘The End’ at the end.” She flounced away.

Benson sighed. He thought about what Mick had said about the shark. He got his pencils out and turned over a new page and wrote, “A shark came, so they hid.” He drew a big, scary shark swimming around the jar, and the two squids squashed together inside it, trying to pretend they were green cucumbers. He showed it to Mick.

“Where’s the blood?” Mick said, and went back to sliding down the slippery slide.

Bonnie Lou stopped swinging and said, “Are you going to put wings on the angel-fish?”

Benson said no, but he drew a little seahorse for her, with a tiny crown and fairy wings.

Arlette called from the roundabout, “What’s the name of the book?”

Benson said, “I thought I’d call it ‘The Friendly Squid.’”

Mick said, “Why don’t you call it, ‘Deadly Danger in the Deep Dark Sea’, or ‘The Terrible Shipwreck and the Hungry Shark’?”

Bonnie Lou said, “You should call it ‘The Angel-fish and the Fairy Sea-horse.'”

Arlette said, “Why don’t you call it ‘Boring’?”

Benson took his book home. He said to his mother, “Writing a book is hard work, and even when you’re finished, no-one really gets it.”

His mother sat down and read his book from beginning to end. “It’s very good,” she said, “but it’s missing one thing.”

“What?” Benson said. “A helicopter? An explosion?”

His mother said, “It doesn’t say who the author is.”

“The author?” Benson said.

“You know, the person who wrote it,” she said.

Benson got his pencil and wrote on the first page, ‘Written and Illustrated by Benson.’

His mother smiled. “Perfect,” she said.

Someone to Talk To

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 morning Benson’s cousin, Lance came over. Aunt Lillibet was having a lie-down with an interesting book about slugs, and Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother were out shopping. Benson was drawing a very complicated drawing of the sea.

Cousin Lance asked him, “Is your mother here?”

Benson said, “No, she’s gone shopping.” He was trying to figure out how to make a fish smile with only half a mouth.

Lance said, “Oh. I really wanted to talk to her.”

Benson kept drawing. He couldn’t get the fish to smile, so he drew some nice wavy seaweed across its face instead, and he made its eye happy.

Lance said. “Do you know when she’ll be back?”

Benson drew lots more wavy seaweed. It was fun. “No,” he said.

Lance said, “It’s about Wilma.”

Benson remembered Wilma. Once he had visited cousin Lance’s place, and he and Wilma had had lunch together. “Wilma’s nice,” he said. He drew a long elegant fish with stripes like Wilma’s hair and red sparkly dots like Wilma’s fingernails.

“I think so too,” Lance said. “But I don’t know if she likes me.”

“Why don’t you ask her?” Benson said.

“I can’t do that,” Lance said. “I’ve tried everything. I’ve taken her for moonlight walks, and I’ve given her flowers, and I even learned to play the ukulele for her.”

“Did you make her your loganberry-treacle-meringue cake?” Benson asked.

“Yes, but she said she was on a diet,” Lance said sadly.

“She didn’t want your loganberry-treacle-meringue cake?” Benson gasped. “Are you sure you really like her?”

“I’m crazy about her,” Lance confessed. “I even tried writing poetry for her, but I’m hopeless at it. Listen to this.” He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and read, “’Wilma, you make me want to dance. I loved you from our very first glance.’”

Benson said, “You’re right, you are hopeless. Why don’t you just say, ‘I love your nose, I love your knees, I love you more than bread and cheese.’” Benson thought it said a lot. He drew a seahorse eating a piece of bread and cheese.

“I don’t know what to do,” Lance said.

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Wilma.

Benson said to her, “Hi Wilma. Did you come to see Lance?”

Wilma pretended she didn’t know Lance was there. “No, I came to see you, Benson,” she said. “You’re Lance’s friend, and I thought maybe you could talk to him for me.”

Benson sighed. There was this beautiful piece of white paper in front of him, and his head was full of fishy ideas, and Wilma and Lance wanted to talk to him.

“Okay, if you really want me to,” he said.

Wilma said, “I wanted you to tell Lance that I really like him, but I’m worried that we’re too different from each other, so we won’t be able to make each other happy.”

Benson had gotten bored half-way through what she was saying, and started drawing a flounder instead. He said to Lance, “Wilma likes you.”

Lance said, “Does she? Do you really think so?”

Benson rubbed some of the barracuda’s teeth out and drew them again, only sharper. He said to Lance without looking up, “She thinks you’re different.”

Lance said, “I’ll change! I’d do anything for her. I’ll get taller. I’ll grow a moustache.”

Benson looked up. “Can you really grow a moustache?” he said.

“I don’t know,” Lance said, “but if Wilma wanted me to, I’d try.”

Wilma said, “Benson, could you tell Lance that I don’t want him to change. I love him just the way he is. It’s not him, it’s me.”

“It’s you,” Benson said to Lance. The barracuda had grown a long, wavy moustache and Benson had to rub it out.

Wilma said, “It’s your house, Lance! It’s so tidy and there’s no stuff anywhere, and everything’s white. I’m really messy, and I love to have colour everywhere.”

Benson said, “She hates your house.”

Lance said, “I know, Benson, I got that.” He said to Wilma, “Is that all? I was just going to change the colour anyway. I’m sick of black and white.”

Wilma said, “That’s not the only thing.” She went red and said, “I can’t cook!”

Lance said, “I know that.”

Wilma said, “No, I really can’t cook. I can’t even make a sandwich. If you gave me two slices of bread and some peanut butter, I wouldn’t know where to put the peanut butter.”

Benson stopped drawing and started to think about sandwiches.

Lance smiled and took Wilma’s hand. “There’s nothing I’d love more than cooking for you,” he said.

Benson said, “Can we start now?”

Wilma said, “Really?”

“Really,” Lance said.

Benson went into the kitchen and got the peanut butter and the bread. And some celery and a green apple, and some mango pickles. And some tomatoes and the carrot paste and some blueberry jelly. If you were going to make a sandwich, he thought, you might as well make it worthwhile.

Wilma said, “I even tried writing a poem for you.” She got out a piece of paper and read, “’You’re the one that I love, Lance. No-one else can stand a chance.’”

Lance thought it was wonderful. “I wrote you a poem too!” he said. He read his poem to her. Wilma thought it was beautiful.

Benson was so busy deciding whether to put the peanut butter on the bottom and the blueberry jelly on top or the other way around, he didn’t see what happened next. “Sandwich, anyone?” he said.

Noises in the Night

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

Benson was going to his friend Mick’s house for a sleepover. It was his first actual sleepover and he was pretty excited. He had slept over at Nanna’s place before, but this was the first time he was going all by himself to stay a friend’s place for the whole night.

Aunt Moss said, “Do you want to take your favourite pillow?”

Benson considered. “No, I think they have pillows at Mick’s place,” he said.

“Do you want to take your teddy-bear?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I don’t have a teddy-bear,” Benson said. Once when he was very little he had a toy reindeer called Ralph, but after one of the eyes fell out and he accidentally ate one of the legs because he thought it was a parsnip, he didn’t play with it any more.

Aunt Moss looked worried. “But what if you wake up in the middle of the night and you feel lonely?” she said.

“Why would I be lonely?” Benson said. “Mick’s there. And Bonnie Lou.” Bonnie Lou was Mick’s little sister. He thought about it a bit more. “Maybe I’ll take my library book.” He might feel like reading a book, and he remembered that Mick had a lot of books about snails and hardly anything else.

He put his library book in his bag, with his pyjamas and his clean clothes for tomorrow.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve made you some rhubarb muffins, and some barley and cranberry bread, and some pikelets and a big mulberry pie.”

Benson’s mother said, “He’s only going to sleep over for one night, Lillibet. He’s not crossing the Nullabor Plain on foot.”

“He might not like the food at Mick’s place,” Aunt Lillibet said obstinately. “He could get very hungry.”

Benson’s mother said, “Delia is an excellent cook. I think she’s making parsnip turn-overs for dinner.”

Benson’s tummy started to smile at the thought of parsnip turn-overs. “I can take the muffins – Mick loves muffins. You can keep the mulberry pie until I come home. And the pikelets.”

He got his hat and his water-bottle and he was ready to go.

“Don’t forget to thank Mick’s mother for having you,” his mother said.

Benson said he would remember, and they set off. Benson was very excited.

He and Mick played robots and warriors all afternoon, until they were too tired and hungry to play any more. The parsnip turn-overs were excellent, and Mick’s mother had made muffins too, so they had two kinds of muffins for dessert, rhubarb, and pear-and-walnut.

At bedtime Benson remembered that he had forgotten his toothbrush, but Mick’s mother had a spare one for visitors.

Benson was going to sleep in Mick’s room, sharing Mick’s bed. Mick had his head at one end of the bed and Benson had his head at the other end, so Mick’s toes were right next to Benson’s face. It was a bit funny, but Benson liked it. He had never shared a bed with anyone before, and it was fun.

Mick talked and talked for hours after they got into bed, and then he suddenly went to sleep. Benson snuggled down and closed his eyes.

It was then that he heard a strange noise.

When you’re in your own bed at night and you hear noises, you generally know what they are and you don’t get worried. But when you’re sleeping somewhere you’ve never slept before and you hear a noise, sometimes you start to get a bit worried.

At home Benson was used to all sorts of noises at night, like the sound that Aunt Lillibet made clicking her toenails and the sound of the wind in the big peppermint gum tree, and the little snores that Aunt Moss made sometimes. But this noise was different. It sounded a bit like two small insects playing table-tennis with tiny bats, and a bit like someone walking along with sticky tape on their feet.

Maybe it’s just a clock, Benson said to himself, or water dripping somewhere. But it didn’t sound like a clock, or like water dripping.

“Mick!” he whispered loudly, but Mick was sound asleep and didn’t wake up.

Benson shut his eyes tight and snuggled his head deeper into the pillow so his ears were covered, but he could still hear the noise. It sounded like the noise a giant butterfly might make if it was rubbing its giant feelers together. Benson’s mother said sometimes that Benson let himself get carried away imagining things. He imagined a giant butterfly picking him up and carrying him away.

Don’t be silly, he said to himself, butterflies don’t have hands. He sat up in bed. He knew he wouldn’t be able to get to sleep unless he knew what the noise was.

Walking very quietly, he went into the kitchen. The tap was dripping and he turned it off, but he could still hear the noise. Very quietly he peeped into Mick’s mother’s room. There was a tiny clock ticking, but it wasn’t making the right noise.

He tiptoed to Bonnie Lou’s room and listened. The noise seemed to be coming from inside. He went in very quietly. The noise got louder. Then it stopped. Benson felt his heart stop. Then the noise started again, louder than before. Benson’s heart started racing.

He tiptoed up to the edge of the bed. Bonnie Lou was asleep, with her thumb in her mouth. She was sucking it loudly in her sleep, and that was what was making the noise.

Benson gave her a poke. She opened her eyes and went, “Mmmnhh?” then she went straight back to sleep, sucking her thumb.

Benson went quietly back to Mick’s room and got back into bed. He could still hear Bonnie Lou sucking her thumb. He smiled to himself and closed his eyes and went to sleep.

Aunt Lillibet Tells a Story

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

It was the middle of summer and one evening there was a big storm, with lots of thunder and lightning. Afterwards, when the rain stopped and all the thunder and lightning were finished, everyone sat around the table drinking hot chocolate and eating tomato sandwiches and telling stories.

Benson said, “When Pascoe hears about what happened tonight, she’s going to make a great story out of it.”

Pascoe was the story-teller. She listened to everyone’s news and stories and passed them on to everyone else.

Aunt Lillibet said, “What do you mean? It was a perfectly ordinary evening.”

Benson said, “No, it wasn’t. What about when you were hiding under the bed screaming ‘Help! Help! A rat!’?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Excuse me, young man, you seem to have gotten everything all wrong. I think it would be much better if I told the story.”

“How would you tell the story, Lillibet?” asked Benson’s mother.

“I’d say exactly what happened,” Aunt Lillibet said. “There was a very big storm and I decided that it would be a good time to clean under the bed – I was certainly not hiding!

“While I was under the bed checking for dust, I felt a small, wet nose press up against me. I certainly did NOT scream, ‘Help! A rat!’ I knew straight away that it wasn’t a rat, it was a bandicoot who had come in out of the storm, so what I DID say, very calmly, was, ‘Hello, where are you at?’”

Benson said, “If you weren’t scared, Aunt Lillibet, why did you run into the kitchen and hide in the pantry?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “IF you would let me tell the story, Benson! I went to the kitchen because I thought that our young guest might be hungry. While I was looking in the pantry for something to eat, the door accidentally shut behind me.”

Benson’s mother said, “And that was when you ate all the raisins and the turnip crisps.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “While I was in the pantry I thought I would do a little tidying up. The raisins were past their best and the turnip crisps were starting to get stale so I tidied them up.”

“Into your tummy,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson said, “So when I opened the pantry door, why did you yell, ‘You dirty rat, get away from me!’ and throw a tomato at me?”

“Who’s telling this story?” Aunt Lillibet demanded. “When the door opened, it was very dark and I didn’t recognise you at first, so I said, ‘Who is that? Would you like a cup of tea?’ The tomato I was holding may have slipped out of my hands and it may have fallen onto your face, I couldn’t really say.”

“So then why did you run into Aunt Moss’s room and climb on top of her cupboard?” Benson asked.

“This is exactly why I am telling the story, to straighten out all these misunderstandings,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I didn’t run into Aunt Moss’s room, I went in to ask if she would like a cup of tea. And then I noticed something on the floor.”

Aunt Moss said, “Arnold and Leslie are turtles, not rats. When you shouted, ‘Rats! They’re everywhere!’, they were very upset.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I wasn’t shouting. I raised my voice because I thought you were asleep and I thought I saw a bat in your hair. It wasn’t my fault there were turtles all over the floor and I had to get onto the cupboard so as not to step on any of them.”

“Really, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss, “it was only two turtles, and Leslie is very small. There was no reason at all to start throwing my cactuses at them.”

“They slipped!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I was trying to make myself comfortable on top of the cupboard and the cactuses slipped off! Why you would want to keep cactuses on top of your cupboard is beyond me. Anyone trying to climb up there is bound to sit on them, and they’re extremely uncomfortable.”

“Is that what made you fall off the cupboard?” Aunt Moss asked.

“I did not fall off the cupboard, Moss, I stepped down, gracefully and elegantly,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “And then you ran into the bathroom and slammed the door and yelled, ‘The rats are everywhere! Save yourselves!’”

“I don’t know why everyone seems to have such bad memories!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Naturally I wanted to wash my hands after being on top of that dusty cupboard. I was just calling out that the bathmat was in there, in case anyone was wondering, and then I thought I should remind everyone that we should all save water. ‘Save water, please,’ is what I said.”

“Really, Lillibet!” Aunt Moss said. “Do you expect anyone to believe that that’s the true story?”

“Of course,” Aunt Lillibet said, “and the next time Pascoe comes for a visit, I will tell her exactly what happened, just the way I remember it,” she said.

Benson thought about it. He asked his mother, “When someone tells a story, are they saying what really happened, or just what they think happened?”

“I think it all depends on your point of view,” she said. “Sometimes it’s what they wished had happened. Anyway, it all ended happily, that’s the main thing. Would anyone like another sandwich?”

“Yes, please,” said the bandicoot, holding out his plate.

“I’d love one,” said a rat, peeping out of the pantry.

Aunt Lillibet screamed and fell off her chair.

Throwing Stones

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

Benson and his mother went down to the creek one day for a swim, and Benson brought home a whole pocketful off beautiful, smooth, flat stones, the kind that are perfect for skipping across the water. His mother was excellent at skipping stones. She could make a stone skip as many as seven times before it disappeared into the water, but he wasn’t very good at all. Every time he tried, his stone just went ‘plop’ and sank under the water, but then it was hard to practise skipping when all your stones did was plopping.

He was in the backyard, feeling the smooth, white stones in his pocket, trying to imagine skimming a stone across the top of the water and watching it skip once, twice, even three times. While he was imagining, his fingers took one of the stones out of his pocket, and before he knew it, they threw the stone across the grass, skimming the dandelions and hitting the big peppermint tree sharply.

“What do you think you’re doing?” a loud voice shouted angrily.

It was Aunt Lillibet’s friend, Gordon. He was standing by the fence with his friends, Fenella and Babette. He yelled, “Throwing stones is very dangerous, young man! You could have someone’s eye out!”

Benson knew he shouldn’t be throwing stones. His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss had told him hundreds of times never to throw stones, and really, he hadn’t meant to. His fingers just did it without him meaning them to. He hung his head, ashamed and embarrassed.

“You should know better!” Gordon went on. “Wait till your Aunt Lillibet hears about this!”

Benson’s insides squirmed. Now Gordon was going to tell Aunt Lillibet and he would really be in trouble. He crept inside and lay on his bed and read a book and tried not to think about it.

A while later, there was a thundering knock at the door. Benson’s mother went to answer it, and there was Gordon, looking extremely angry.

“Where’s that young menace, Benson?” he shouted. “Bring him outside, and see what he’s done!”

Benson went outside with his mother, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. There was a big crowd there, Gordon and Fenella and Babette, and lots of people from the bushcare group.

“Look at this!” Gordon shouted. He held up a pigeon, dead, with its neck broken. “Look what that boy’s done!”

“I didn’t!” Benson gasped.

“What makes you think it was Benson?” his mother asked.

“We saw him,” Gordon said, “didn’t we, Fenella?”

“Yes, we saw him,” Fenella said. “We were walking past earlier and we saw him throwing stones into the trees, and when we were walking back, we found this poor little bird, with its neck broken. It’s appalling!”

Everyone in the crowd murmured, “Awful! Terrible!”

Benson’s mother turned to him and said, “Benson?”

His face went all red and his insides all seemed to bunch up into a hard lump. His voice came out in a funny squeak. “I didn’t do it! I didn’t kill anything!”

Gordon said, “We saw you throwing stones, didn’t we?”

“Just one stone,” Benson said, feeling very bad.

“His pockets are full of stones,” Babette said. “Just look!”

Aunt Lillibet felt in Benson’s pockets, and brought out a handful of stones. “Benson,” she said, her face very grave, “I never thought you would do a thing like this.”

“But I didn’t!” Benson said.

Gordon said, “He’ll have to be punished properly. The bushcare group will have to decide what sort of punishment he deserves. It’s a very serious matter.”

Benson was so frightened he couldn’t speak. What were they going to do to him? Put him in jail?

Aunt Moss stepped forward and took Benson’s hand. “You’re all wrong!” she said loudly. “Benson is telling the truth. If he says he didn’t kill a bird, then I know he didn’t.” She stood by his side, holding his hand tightly, facing the crowd.

Benson held onto her hand so tightly it hurt.

His mother looked at Aunt Moss, and Aunt Lillibet. She looked at Gordon and the crowd, and then she looked at Benson. Benson had never seen her eyes like that before, so full of love for him.

Before she could open her mouth to speak, they heard someone shouting. Mr Fenn was pushing his way through the crowd. “Gordon!” he called angrily. “I’ve been looking for you! Do you know what you’ve done? You and your leaf-blower!”

“What are you talking about?” Gordon said.

Mr Fenn came up and stood in front of Gordon. “That stupid leaf-blower you got from Elton! I saw you this morning, when I was up on the hill. You were blowing away the leaves in your front yard with that ridiculous machine, blowing dust and sticks and stones all over the place. One of the stones you blew up hit a young pigeon and killed it!”

“What?” Gordon said. “I had no idea! I was just tidying up the yard. I never dreamed it was dangerous.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “So it was you that killed the pigeon, not Benson?”

Gordon looked embarrassed. “I suppose it could have been,” he said.

Benson’s mother said, “Well, Gordon?”

Gordon looked down at the ground, ashamed. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing.” He looked up at Benson. “It looks like I was wrong when I said you did it. I’m sorry.” He walked away, and the rest of the crowd followed him.

Benson felt as if an enormous heavy weight had been lifted off him. Aunt Moss put her arms around him and hugged him tight.

“I think it’s time for some lunch,” his mother said.

Benson said, “Just a minute.” He got all the stones and gave them to his mother. “Maybe we can take these back to the creek, and leave them where they belong?”

His mother smiled at him and took his hand, and they all went inside together.

Five Corners

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 cool winter’s day. Aunt Lillibet was weeding her carrot plants, Aunt Moss was sitting in the sun, knitting and dreaming, and Benson was digging and thinking about exactly what was underneath all the dirt on the earth.

Suddenly a big gust of wind plucked Aunt Moss’s hat off her head and swirled it away, up over the trees and out of sight. “Oh!” she said. “My favourite hat!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “That’s one hat you’ll never see again. The wind could have taken it to the four corners of the earth.”

Benson said, “I thought you said the earth was round like a ball, not square. How can it have corners?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s just what people say. It just means the wind’s taken it as far away as it possibly could. It would be a complete waste of time looking for it.”

Benson thought about it. He saw how sad Aunt Moss was looking. He went inside and got his hat and his water-bottle. His mother, who was working on some papers and wishing she was outside in the sun, said, “Where are you going, Benson?”

“I’m going to the four corners of the earth to look for Aunt Moss’s hat,” he said.

“Make sure you’re home in time for lunch, okay?” his mother said.

Benson said he would, and he set off.

He walked along the track, looking everywhere for the hat. After a while he came to a sharp bend where there was an old wombat hole. There were two little dunnarts in the hole, with their noses just peeping out.

“Are you okay?” Benson asked.

The first dunnart said, “We were playing, me and my brother, and a big fox came along. We ran away as fast as we could, but he chased us after us. We hid in here, but we could hear him panting outside, looking for us. Then there were these giant, heavy footsteps like a great big animal coming along the track, and the fox ran away.”

The other dunnart said, “We were in a really tight corner. If it hadn’t been for those footsteps scaring the fox away, he might have got us!”

Benson said, “This must be one of the four corners of the earth!” He looked around. It didn’t look any different from the rest of the bush. The little dunnarts scampered off and Benson went on his way.

The track kept winding on and on, and the bush got thicker and thicker. He heard some noises just up ahead where the track turned to the right. He hurried up and he saw an old brown fox, just about to eat a baby possum.

“Hey, you leave him alone!” Benson shouted. He stamped his feet and waved his arms. The fox dropped the possum and ran off.

“Are you all right?” Benson asked the possum.

The tiny possum was so frightened he could hardly speak. “I’m okay,” he squeaked. “That fox sneaked up out of nowhere and grabbed me! I tried to get away but he had me cornered. Thank goodness you came along!”

“Another corner!” Benson said to himself. The little possum ran off, and Benson went on his way. Only two corners to go, he thought to himself.

The track wound around beside a deep gully and came out at a wide, sunny spot sheltered by an old bunyah tree. There was a bright red-and-yellow picnic blanket spread out, and a family of dunnarts and a family of possums were gathered there, chatting and nibbling on carrot sticks and grevillea flowers. Benson said to them, “This is a nice place for a picnic.”

“We love to come here,” the mother possum said.“It’s such a beautiful sunny corner. We’ve just been talking about the huge, savage animal that’s been terrorising everyone.”

Benson looked around nervously. “A huge, savage animal?” he said.

The mother dunnart nodded. She said, “It nearly got my youngest ones, Perky and JP, but a big, strong wombat came along just in time and frightened it off.”

“It attacked my little Curtis,” the mother possum said, “but a big, brave wombat came out of the bush and roared at it and chased it away through the bush.”

Benson wondered who the big, strong wombat could be. Maybe it was Mr Fenn, or Aunt Lillibet’s friend, Gordon.

“You’d better be careful,” they said to him. “It’s probably hiding in the bush somewhere.”

Benson went on, hurrying a bit. He didn’t like the idea of a huge, savage animal hiding around the next corner, ready to jump out at him. Maybe three corners is enough, he thought. I’ll look for the fourth one another day.

Then he remembered that Nanna’s place was just around the corner, and he thought that it would be a nice, safe place to visit.

When he knocked on the door, Nanna opened it with a big smile. “Benson, how lovely to see you!” she said. “I was just going to have a nice glass of milk and some lemon myrtle cookies. Would you like some? We can take them outside and sit in my favourite cosy corner in the sun.”

The cookies were delicious, but Benson felt disappointed. “I’ve been to the four corners of the earth, and I still haven’t found Aunt Moss’s hat,” he said. Just then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a dark shape slinking towards Nanna’s vegetable garden.

“It’s a fox!” Nanna said. “He must be the one who’s been digging up my potatoes!”

Benson ran towards the fox, yelling and waving his arms. The fox took one look at him and ran off as fast as his foxy legs would carry him. “Wombats!” the fox said to himself. “Every time I turn a corner there’s another one! I’m getting out of here!” And no-one ever saw him again.

But in a corner of the garden, caught among the rhubarb, Benson saw something. “Look!” he said. “It’s Aunt Moss’s hat!”

He took the hat home, and gave it back to Aunt Moss. She was very happy.

His mother said, “Did you have to go to the four corners of the earth to find it?”

Benson said, “Five, actually.”

Forbidden Fruit

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 morning, Benson came out to the kitchen for breakfast. There was one orange in the fruit bowl. It was the end of the season for oranges, and Benson knew it was the very last orange. It was round and shining and perfect.

Benson loved oranges. He was reaching out to get it when a loud voice said, ” Stop!”

It was Aunt Lillibet. “Don’t eat that orange,” she said. “I need it. It’s the very last orange.”

Benson pulled his hand back reluctantly. “Okay,” he said.

“I’m going to Shelley’s place for fifteen minutes, and when I get back, I expect that orange to still be here,” she said, and she went off.

Benson looked at the bright, glistening orange. Maybe Aunt Lillibet only needed the outside of the orange, the zesty bits of skin, and she wouldn’t mind if he ate the inside. He picked it up and smelled the zesty skin. Mmmm, it smelled so orangey.

“Benson!” Aunt Moss said, coming into the kitchen suddenly. “Didn’t Aunt Lillibet tell you she needs that orange? It’s the very last one, you know.”

Benson put it back quickly. “I know,” he said.

She smiled at him, and said, “I’m just popping over to Biddy’s, but I’ll be back in ten minutes.” And off she went.

Benson looked at the round, glowing orange. Maybe Aunt Lillibet only needed the inside of the orange, not the juice. He could put a little hole in the orange and suck out the juice, and Aunt Lillibet would still have all the skin and all the insides of the orange.

He picked up the orange and squeezed it gently. It felt nice and juicy.

“Benson!” his mother said, walking in suddenly. “You know that’s the very last orange, and Aunt Lillibet needs it, don’t you?”

Benson put the orange back quickly. “I know,” he said.

“I just have to go out to the shops,” she said, “but I’ll be back in five minutes.” And off she went.

In no time at all, she was home again, and so was Aunt Moss, and so was Aunt Lillibet. The first thing Aunt Lillibet saw when she walked into the kitchen, was no orange!

“Where’s that orange?” she said.

“It’s gone,” Benson said.

“I knew I shouldn’t have left you alone with it,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Never trust a wombat with an orange!”

“But I didn’t eat it!” Benson protested.

“Maybe he just forgot, and ate it by mistake, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss. Benson’s mother didn’t say anything.

Benson said, “I didn’t! It looked so juicy and delicious that I was afraid I might forget and eat it when I wasn’t looking, so I put it in the cupboard.”

Aunt Lillibet looked in the cupboard. “It’s not here,” she said.

“I know,” Benson said. “I thought I might forget and get it out of the cupboard and eat it, so I took it out of the cupboard and put it under my pillow.”

Aunt Moss marched into Benson’s room and looked under the pillow. “It’s not here!” she called.

“I know,” Benson said. “I thought I might be drawing or reading and then I might forget and start eating it, so I took it out again. I didn’t know what to do, but then Mr Fenn knocked on the door, so I gave it to him to keep it safe.”

“Oh no, not Mr Fenn!” Aunt Lillibet said. “We’ll never see that orange again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you should never trust a wombat with an orange!”

“Never mind, Lillibet, he was only trying to do his best,” Aunt Moss said.

It didn’t make Aunt Lillibet feel any better. “That was the very last orange!” she said. “I was going to make my special orange cake with it.”

“Your special orange cake?” Benson said. “That’s my favourite!”

“I know,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Mr Fenn.

Benson’s heart leapt. “Mr Fenn,” he said, ” have you still got that orange I gave you?”

“I’m sorry, Benson, that’s what I came to tell you,” Mr Fenn said. “I lost it.”

“Oh no!” Benson’s heart sank.

Mr Fenn went on, “I put it in this basket with all the other oranges, and now I can’t remember which one was yours.” He showed them a great big basket full of ripe, glistening oranges.

“So many oranges!” Benson gasped.

” I’ve just picked the last of the oranges off my orange tree. I came over earlier to see if you wanted any,” Mr Fenn said.

“Do we!!” Benson said. “I really like oranges, you know.”

“I know,” said Mr Fenn. He gave them the whole basket full. Aunt Lillibet made her special orange cake and everyone sat down together and ate it. Benson thought it was probably the best orange cake he had ever eaten.

Butcherbirds

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

One day Benson was outside in the sunny spot near the front door. He was lying on his tummy, reading a very interesting book from the library.

A big black and white bird with grey wings flew down and landed on his book.

“Hey!” Benson said. “Get off my book!”

The bird walked backwards and forwards a couple of steps. She picked at the page with her sharp, hooked beak.

Benson said, “Don’t do that! If you tear the pages, I’ll get in big trouble at the library.”

The bird stopped pecking. She tipped her head on one side and stared at the picture in the book. “Hey, that looks just like me!” she said.

Benson read the label at the bottom of the illustration. “Are you a grey butcherbird?” he asked.

“Yep, sure am,” said the butcherbird. “Just look at that, I’m in a book!” She called loudly, “Karr, karr! Merle! Colin!”

Two more butcherbirds came flying down. One landed on the book and the other one, who had black and white wings, landed on Benson’s head.

‘What’s up, Elsie?” they said.

“We’re in a book, look!” Elsie said. “Merle, get your feet off the page!”

Merle flew up and stood on Benson’s head too. “Move over, Colin,” she said. The other bird moved over until he was standing with one foot balanced on Benson’s ear.

“Wow, would you look at that!” they said to each other. “We’re in a book! Karr, karr!”

“What does it say about us?” Elsie asked Benson.

Benson cleared his throat and read out loud, “‘Finely hooked grey bill, head and cheeks black, underparts pure white.'”

“Ooh, ‘finely-hooked’!” said Merle. “They’re right about that.” She turned her head from side to side, trying to see her beak.

Benson said, “Excuse me, could you be a bit more careful with your beak? You nearly got my eye.”

“Sorry, sorry,” she said. “What else does it say about me?”

“It says, ‘Sits watchfully and darts quickly down to the ground,'” said Benson.

“They’ve got that right,” Merle said. She sat down and tried to look watchful. Colin gave her a nudge and she fell over with a squawk.

“What else does it say?” Elsie demanded.

Benson read, “‘They have untidy nests, made of twigs and grass.'”

“Untidy? That’s not very nice,” Merle said. “What do you think, Colin? Is our nest untidy?”

The big black-and-white butcherbird fixed his eye on Benson. His wickedly sharp beak shone in the sun, and Benson started to feel nervous.

“Wait a minute,” Merle said. “Colin, you don’t look anything like this. You haven’t got any grey in your wings at all.”

“Karr, karr!” Elsie chuckled. “Didn’t I always say that Colin was just an old magpie?”

Colin glared at Elsie. Benson quickly turned the page and pointed to another picture. “He’s a pied butcherbird, that’s why,” he said. “Look at this picture.”

Colin turned his beak until it was very, very close to Benson’s ear. Benson read quickly, “‘Pied butcherbirds have superb, mellow voices.'”

Colin smiled. He flipped his wings at Merle and Elsie, and flew off slowly, singing in a low, mellow voice.

“Wait a bit,” Elsie said, catching sight of another illustration on the same page. “That looks just like Carol! Carol! Carol!” she called.

Another bird, black all over with a massive hooked beak, hopped shyly out of a tree nearby. She sidled up to Elsie and said, “Choi! Choi! What is it?”

“Look, this is you!” Elsie said. “You’re in this book!”

Carol bobbed her head and said in a low voice, “I don’t think so. I’m not like you, you know.”

“Yes, it’s you, I’m sure, ” Elsie said. “Read what it says,” she said to Benson.

Benson said, “It says she’s a black butcherbird.”

“Really?” Carol said, getting excited. “I’m really a butcherbird? Then why don’t I have any white parts? What’s wrong with me?”

Benson read what it said next to the illustration. Then he said, “Black butcherbirds aren’t from here. They only live way, way up north.”

Carol was overjoyed. “There are more butcherbirds just like me, up north? Yippee!” she yodelled at the top of her voice. Benson clapped his hands over his ears, and Merle fell off his head.

Carol started to flap away. “Where are you going?” Elsie called.

“To find my family!” Carol called back and flew away.

Merle pecked at Benson’s foot. “Does it say anything else about us?”

“Not really,” Benson said, “except that some people call you…” He shut the book with a snap.

“What? What?” Elsie said.

“Nothing,” Benson said.

“Tell us!” Merle said, turning her sharp beak towards Benson’s soft nose.

“Um, it says some people call you a jackass,” he said.

“What!” Merle snapped.

Elsie laughed and laughed. “Jackass!” she chortled.

“Jackass!” Merle shouted. “You’re the jackass!”

Benson took his book and crept quietly inside and left them to it.

The Healing Power of Music

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

Aunt Moss wasn’t feeling well. She had a headache and she felt hot and cold all over.

Benson’s mother said, “Why don’t you go to bed, and I’ll bring you a nice cup of camomile tea?”

“It feels worse when I lie down,” Aunt Moss said. “I don’t want any tea – my throat hurts. Everything hurts,” she said sadly.

Benson felt sorry for her. “Is there anything that will make you feel better, Aunt Moss? I can make you a sandwich, if you like.”

“No, thankyou, Benson,” she said. “I don’t want anything to eat. I just feel awful.” She sat in her chair and shivered.

Aunt Lillibet said, “They say music has the power to heal.”

Benson said, “Really? Do you think music might make Aunt Moss feel better?”

“It might,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You never know till you try.”

Benson decided to try. He set off for Nanna’s place.

“Aunt Moss is sick, and Aunt Lillibet thinks that music might make her feel better,” he told Nanna.

“I can come over and sing for her, if you like,” Nanna said. Nanna loved to sing songs in other languages, very loudly. “I could ask Ralph to play his violin,” she offered.

“Okay,” Benson said. The more music, the faster Aunt Moss would get better, he thought.

“I’ll go and get Ralph and we’ll come over,” Nanna said.

On the way home, Benson went to his Uncle Elton’s place. He explained that Aunt Moss was sick, and she needed some music to make her feel better.

Uncle Elton said brightly, “Elmer can play the drums for her, can’t you, Elmer?”

Elmer nodded. He got out his drumsticks and showed Benson the drum-kit his father had made for him, out of old saucepans and empty tins. “Listen to this!” he said. Boom, crash, tchk-tchk, clang, boom, bang!

Benson wasn’t so sure that counted as music.

Uncle Elton said, “And I’ve made myself a bush bass, so we can play together.” He showed Benson what he had made. It was a long stick joined to a box at one end, with a long string tied from top to bottom. He started to play: plungg, plungg, plungg. Elmer joined in. Boom, plungg, crash, twang, tchk-tchk, crash!

Benson thought it would probably sound better if they weren’t all inside a wombat hole, or if they were inside and he was outside. He expected Aunt Moss would like it anyway.

“We’ll pack everything up and come over,” Uncle Elton said.

When Benson got back, Aunt Moss was still sitting in her chair, shivering and feeling bad. Benson said, “I’ve got a surprise for you, Aunt Moss, something to make you feel better.”

There was a knock at the door and Uncle Elton and Elmer arrived, with the drums and the bush bass. Then there was another knock at the door, and Nanna came in, with Ralph and his violin.

“They’re going to make music for you!” Benson said, delightedly.

Aunt Lillibet disappeared, and came back with her bagpipes. “Mind if I join in?” she said.

She took a deep breath and blew into the bagpipes. Wheee-whonnng! Uncle Elton said, “Fabulous!”

Benson went and got his saxophone and played along, boodley, boodley, boodley. Uncle Elton and Elmer joined in. Tchk-tchk, crash! Plungg, plungg, tchk-tchk, bam!

Nanna smiled and shouted, “Come on, Ralph!” Ralph started to play, and Nanna sang. She had to sing extra loudly because the bagpipes and drums were so loud.

Aunt Moss went very pale and shook all over.

Benson’s mother hurried off to her room and came back with her big, pink, fluffy ear-muffs. She popped them onto Aunt Moss’s ears, and put a woolly hat over them, and wrapped a thick scarf around that.

“Is that better?” she said.

“What?” said Aunt Moss. “I can’t hear a thing.” She looked at Nanna and Uncle Elton and Elmer and Ralph and Aunt Lillibet and Benson having such a good time, and she started to smile. She waved her hands and clapped whenever they stopped for a breath.

It was so loud that Benson couldn’t hear himself playing, and his ears were starting to hurt, so he went outside and dug a nice deep hole and sat in it. The music sounded much better that way. His mother came out with her hands over her ears. After a while she got into the hole with him.

When all the music was over, Benson’s mother made chervil tea and sweet potato pancakes for everybody. Even Aunt Moss had some.

Benson said to his mother, “Music is really magic, isn’t it? Don’t you think Aunt Moss looks better?”

His mother said, “I think she’s happy that everyone came to try and make her feel better, because they care about her.” She smiled at him. “Good work, Benson,” she said.

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral

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

It was one of those grey winter days when it seems to get colder and colder as the day goes on. It was raining, and it was so dark inside that they needed the lights on to see what they were doing. Benson was reading his library book, Aunt Lillibet was looking at the plants in her favourite plant book and trying to work out how she could fit a peach tree and a banana tree and two kinds of apple tree into her vegetable garden, and Aunt Moss was knitting and dreaming. Benson’s mother put down the papers she was working on and said, “I think I’ll make some soup.” She went into the kitchen and chopped up lots of carrots and leeks and potatoes and corn and capsicum and put them on to cook in a big pot of water. The smell of delicious soup started to fill the air.

Just then the lights went out.

“Oh, the lights have gone out!” Aunt Moss said.

“It may be just for a few minutes,” Benson’s mother said.

“It may be for the rest of the day,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson’s mother said, “I’ll get some candles.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Um, now that you mention it, I may have used up the last candle on Tuesday. Remember when the light bulb in my room went out? I used some candles so I could finish the book I was reading before I went to bed.”

“ALL the candles?” Benson’s mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “It was a very scary book. There are a lot of dark corners in my room.”

They sat in the dark, with the quiet growing around them. The only sound was Aunt Moss’s knitting needles.

“I know, let’s play a game,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson said, “Let’s play I Spy. I spy with my little eye…” He thought for a minute, then he said, “…something beginning with D.”

“Darkness,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“How did you know?” Benson said.

“There’s nothing else to see,” she answered.

Aunt Moss said, “Why don’t we play Animal, Vegetable or Mineral? It must be years since I’ve played it.”

Benson asked, “How do you play Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?”

She said, “You think of something, and everyone has to guess what it is. They ask you if it’s animal or vegetable or mineral. If it grows in the ground or it used to grow in the ground, it’s vegetable, and if it’s something like a rock or a chemical, something not alive, then it’s mineral.”

Benson’s mother said, “I’ll go first, so you can get the idea. Guess what I’m thinking of?”

Aunt Moss said, “Is it animal or vegetable or mineral?”

“Animal,” Benson’s mother said.

“A kangaroo,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“No,” said Benson’s mother.

“A koala,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Yes! That was very quick, Lillibet,” Benson’s mother said. “How did you guess?”

“Everyone always thinks of either a kangaroo or a koala,” Lillibet said. “Now it’s my turn. Guess what I’m thinking of?”

“Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?” Benson asked.

“Mineral,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“A rock,” Benson said.

“No, that’s too easy,” Lillibet said.

“Sand,” Benson’s mother said.

“No,” Lillibet said.

“The wind,” Aunt Moss said.

“No,” Lillibet said.

“A table,” Benson said.

“No, that’s made out of wood so it’s vegetable,” Lillibet said.

“Not if it’s a glass table,” Benson said.

“It isn’t,” Lillibet said.

“Is it Aunt Moss’s knitting?” Benson’s mother said.

“No, wool comes from animals, so it’s animal,” Lillibet said.

“What about the needles?” Benson said.

“They’re wooden – vegetable,” Lillibet said. She sounded very pleased with herself for thinking of something that was hard to guess.

Benson was still thinking about glass, and what glass might have in it. “Is it water?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s right,” Lillibet said. “Very good, Benson. No-one usually gets that one. Your turn.”

Benson thought and thought. He wanted to think of something that no-one would guess.

Aunt Lillibet got tired of waiting. “Well, what is it, animal, vegetable or mineral?” she said.

“It’s all of them,” Benson said.

“What? It can’t be,” Lillibet said.

“Well it is,” Benson said.

“I think I know what you’re thinking of,” said his mother. “It’s soup, isn’t it?”

“That’s vegetable,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“The vegetables are,” Benson said, “but what about the water? And if you put cheese in it, cheese comes from cows so it’s animal. Animal, vegetable AND mineral.”

Aunt Lillibet humphed in the dark.

Benson said to his mother, “It’s your turn.”

She said, “I’m thinking of something that’s not animal or vegetable or mineral, but it’s something everyone has and everyone does and everyone wants more of and everyone wants to give it away.”

“That’s easy,” Benson said.

“Everyone knows that,” said Aunt Lillibet, and they all said together, “Love!”

Mushroom Ninjas

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’s mother took him to the new adventure playground. There was a giant trampoline shaped like a pillow, and a water park with gates and taps and dams that you could move, and best of all, a tunnel maze.

Benson had been dreaming about the tunnel maze for weeks, imagining a whole lot of tunnels that joined up and separated and went up and around and everywhere, full of surprises and dead ends and doors where you didn’t expect them and dead ends where you expected doors to be. It sounded like heaven to Benson. He couldn’t think of anything better.

As soon as they got to the playground, he went straight to the tunnel maze. He got lost seventeen times before he finally found his way out again. As soon as he got out, he went straight back to the beginning and started again. It was great.

He got lost again nearly straight away, but he didn’t mind because that meant he was in a different part of the maze that he hadn’t been in before. He was looking for another way out when suddenly something came out of the dark and hit him on the head, pok! pok!

“Hey! What…?” he started to say, then something else came up behind him and hit him on his back, pok! pok! pok!

He twisted around and saw two small creatures, all dressed in black, with little black masks over their pointy little faces. All he could see was their shiny black eyes. They looked a lot like rats, standing on their back legs. They had little sticks in their front paws, and while he was looking at them, they sprang up in the air, bounced off the roof and landed on his head, and started to hit him again, pok, pok! Pok, pok, pok!

“Stop that!” he said. It didn’t actually hurt, because they were just tiny little sticks, but it’s annoying to have someone keep pokking you on the nose. “Stop doing that,” he said, brushing the sticks away. The animals jumped up, bounced off the walls and charged in again.

“Hee-yah!” they shouted, in little squeaky voices. One of them landed between Benson’s eyes and started wapping his ears, wap! wap! Its little tail hung down and brushed Benson’s nose. He sneezed so hard that he fell over backwards.

“Ha! We’ve got you now!” the little bouncing rats shouted. “You are our prisoner!”

They jumped up and down on his tummy until he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe.

“You will never get your hands on our treasure!” one of the animals squeaked.

The other animal said, “You know we’re not supposed to say anything about the treasure, Parsley!”

Benson said, “What treasure?”

Parsley said, “See? I knew he was after the treasure, Sage. Why else was he searching everywhere?”

“I wasn’t searching,” Benson said, “I was lost. This is a maze, right?”

“You can’t fool us,” Parsley said. “We have sworn to protect the treasure against evil giants like you!”

Benson said, “I’m not an evil giant. I’m a medium-sized wombat. I just look bigger to little rats like you.”

“We’re not rats!” Sage said. “We’re bettongs.” She pokked him on the nose.

“Ow,” Benson said. “I’ve never met a bettong before. You look a lot like tiny little kangaroos. Are you from around here?”

“We live over in the next valley,” Parsley said, “but we get around a lot, looking for – “

Sage clapped her hand over her sister’s mouth. “I told you not to say anything about the you-know-what!” she hissed.

Just then another bettong came down the tunnel, dragging a heavy bag behind him with his tail.

“What are you girls doing?” he said. “Stop playing with that old wombat and give me a hand.”

Benson said, “Have you got the treasure in that bag?”

“Who told you about the treasure?” the bettong said angrily. “Girls! They’re hopeless!”

“It wasn’t me, Pickle,” Sage said. “It was Parsley.”

“You were supposed to keep watch, and keep the other treasure-hunters away,” Pickle said.

“We did!” Parsley said, “except for this one. He overpowered Sage, but I fought bravely and defeated him despite his vastly superior size and weight.”

“You did not!” Sage said. “I was the one who overcame him, using the element of surprise and skilful deployment of weaponry!”

Benson said, “I’m not a treasure-hunter, I was just exploring the maze. What sort of treasure is it, anyway? Gold? Silver? Oranges?”

“It’s way better than that,” Parsley said. “It’s truffles.”

“Truffles?” Benson said. “What’s that?”

“It’s a kind of fungus,” Pickle said. “You know, like mushrooms, but a million times better.” He opened the bag and showed Benson. It was full of dirty, dark brown lumps.

Benson backed away. The truffles smelled like wet dirt. “What kind of treasure is that?” he asked.

“The best kind!” Parsley said. “They’re delicious!” She rolled her eyes and rubbed her tummy.

“You eat them?” Benson said.

Sages said, “Of course you eat them! What else would you do with them?”

Parsley said dreamily, “Or you can make truffle salt, or truffle oil, or truffle honey.”

Benson thought it would be a terrible waste of honey to mix it up with some mouldy fungus. He said, “Oh well, it was nice meeting you. I have to go now.”

“Oh no, you don’t!” Sage said. “Now that you know the secret of the truffles, we cannot let you go. Get him, Parsley! Hee-yah!”

They picked up their little sticks and pokked Benson everywhere they could reach, jumping on his back and bouncing off the roof and the floor and the walls.

Pickle shouted, “Cut it out, you idiots! Wombats don’t eat truffles!”

The other two stopped, completely shocked. “Why not?” Sage said.

Pickle shrugged. “Not smart enough, I suppose,” he said. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Wait!” said Sage. She said to Benson, “Will you keep our secret?”

Benson thought about it. “Okay,” he said.

The bettongs grabbed the bag of truffles and disappeared down the passage.

At dinner that night, Benson asked his mother, “Why don’t we eat truffles?”

“Probably because they’re very rare, and difficult to find,” she said.

“Why do you want to know?” Aunt Lillibet asked. Then she sniffed. “What’s that smell?” she said. “Like damp, mouldy earth.” She looked hard at Benson. “It’s not truffles, is it?” she said.

Benson thought about the bettongs, and their treasure. “If it were, I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “It’s not my secret to tell.”