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.”

Yes and No

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

One day Aunt Moss made a salted butterscotch beetroot cake, to have after dinner. It looked as if it was going to taste delicious. After dinner, everyone sat around with the cake in the middle of the table and Aunt Moss cut the first slice. Inside it was a beautiful pink colour.

Benson started eating his slice and it was even more delicious than he had imagined. The cake was soft and spongy, and the icing was thick and slightly crunchy, thick enough to bite into and then it melted away slowly in his mouth with a sort of golden caramel flavour. It was possibly the best cake he had ever eaten.

He ate up every bit, even the crumbs left on his plate. In a sort of cake-haze, he said for no particular reason, “Is salt good for you?”

His mother said, “Yes, and no.”

Benson said, “How can it be yes AND no? You always say, ‘When I say no, I mean no!'”

“Sometimes it’s not that simple,” his mother said. “It depends. For instance, we all know that it’s hot in summer and cold in winter, right? But if someone asked me if it was always cold in winter, I’d have to say, yes and no. It’s much colder than summer, but if you go outside and lie in the nice sunny spot just outside the door, with the sun on your face and your tummy, even on a winter’s day it’s beautiful and warm.”

Benson wasn’t really thinking about the sun, he was thinking about cake, and wondering about the best way to get another slice. He said, “Aunt Moss, did you learn to make this cake from your mother?”

Aunt Moss cut some more slices of cake while she thought about it and tried to remember. She put one on Aunt Lillibet’s plate, and one on her own, and when Benson held up his plate she absent-mindedly put one on his plate too. Benson yummed it down quickly before his mother could notice.

“Yes, and no,” she said. “My mother used to make a wonderful buttermilk date cake with bananas, and she taught me how to make it too, but over the years I changed it bit by bit. One day I had no bananas so I left them out, and then Aunt Lillibet said she didn’t like the dates in it, so I left them out and put beetroot in instead. Then one day I thought I’d try butterscotch instead of buttermilk and there you are.”

Benson had finished his second slice, but he was sure his tummy still had some space left. He looked at the soft, pink cake with its thick golden icing, and he thought how terrible it would be if he went to bed and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and his mother went on eating it, and the morning when he got up there was no cake left. He asked his mother, “Could I have another slice, please?”

His mother said, “You’ve already had two whole slices. I think that’s more than enough for a growing wombat.”

“Couldn’t I have just half a slice?” he pleaded. “That’s not much, is it?”

“Well, yes and no,” his mother said. “Half of this slice -” she cut a very small sliver of cake, “- isn’t very much, but half of this slice -” she pointed to the rest of the cake that was left on the plate, “- is way too much. Anyway, it’s time for bed. Have you cleaned your teeth?”

Benson said, “Well, yes and no. If you mean have I ever cleaned my teeth, yes, I cleaned them this morning and yesterday morning. But if you mean have I cleaned them tonight, then no, I haven’t.”

His mother looked at him, and he knew there wasn’t going to be any more arguing, and probably no more cake. He looked at the cake and decided to have one last try. “Do I really have to go bed now? Can I have just one more tiny piece of cake?”

“Yes,” she said, kissing him on the top of the head, “and no.” She took him by the hand and took him straight off to get ready for bed.

The Trophy

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

Benson was very excited. It was Library Lovers’ Day and there was a special celebration at the library, with morning tea, and a visit from a famous author named Marguerite. Marguerite had written one of Benson’s favourite books, about animals, and she had drawn all the illustrations herself. Benson had gotten it out of the library heaps of times.

Miss Evangelina, the library lady, was organising a drawing competition, and Marguerite was going to choose the winner, and present them with a gold trophy. Benson knew he was very good at drawing. He really wanted to win the trophy, then everyone would see it high on a shelf in the library, with Benson’s name on it: Benson, Winner, Best Drawing.

His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss set out early because they were helping with the morning tea, putting out the plates and cups and things and making sure that nobody started eating the cakes and tarts and sandwiches before it was time. Benson stayed behind to clean his shoes and brush his hair, and sharpen his best pencil. At last he was ready. He grabbed his hat and his water-bottle and sped off. He didn’t want to be late for the drawing competition.

He was hurrying along the track when he heard a voice calling, “Excuse me! Excuse me, young man!”

Benson looked around. There was an old, old lady sitting in a heap on the side of the track. She had dirt on her face and her hands and her clothes were filthy, and her hat was squashed in on one side.

“Young man!” she called, “I need some help here. I’ve lost my shoe!”

“Where did you lose it?” Benson asked.

“If I knew that, I’d know where to find it!” she snapped. “I tripped over, and my shoe flew up into the air, that’s all I know. Now hurry up and find it for me!”

Benson searched in all the bushes and on the ground, all up and down the track. He finally found the shoe in a tree, caught on a branch.

He got a stick and got it down for her. “Here it is,” he said, and turned to go.

“Don’t run off!” she said. “I’m going to need your help getting my shoe on. I don’t bend over as easily as I used to.”

Benson sighed. He was going to be late, he knew it. He pushed the shoe onto her foot, and tied the laces firmly. Then he tied the laces on her other shoe, just to be on the safe side.

“Thankyou, young man,” she said. “What’s your name?”

Benson said, “It’s Benson. Actually, I have to go now. There’s a thing I don’t want to be late for.”

“Oh, well, don’t go until you’ve helped me up,” she said. She gave him her hand and said, “Pull!” Benson pulled her hand, but all that happened was that she pulled him over. He heard a loud crack. He looked in his pocket. His pencil was snapped in half.

The old lady said, “Let’s try that again, with two hands this time.”

Benson took both her hands, and tugged and tugged until he thought his arms would be stretched out to twice their normal size, until finally she was standing up again.

“Okay, bye then,” he said quickly, and started off.

“Wait!” she said. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

“I’m going to the library for Library Lovers’ Day,” he said, hopping from foot to foot, wishing she would stop talking so he could go.

“I’ll walk along with you,” she said.

“No, don’t bother, I’ll be okay,” Benson said, and ran off.

“I could really do with a hand, young man, “ she called after him.

Benson sighed. He went back and let her grab onto his arm. She limped along slowly, slower than a snail. “Um, do you think we could hurry a bit?” Benson asked.

“At my age,” the old lady said, “I never hurry anywhere.”

Benson gave up. By the time they got to the library, the drawing competition would be over, and besides his pencil was broken. He wished the old lady had wheels so he could push her, or that he knew how to fly, but she didn’t and he didn’t so they kept crawling along.

When they finally got to the library, Miss Evangelina opened the door. “Marguerite!” she said. “Look, everyone, Marguerite’s here at last.” She took the old lady’s arm, and the door fell shut in Benson’s face.

Benson couldn’t believe it! So this was the famous author that he’d been dying to meet. All this time she’d been right there in front of him, and she hadn’t said a word.

Benson felt depressed. He went inside the library and nobody even noticed he was there. The only food left on the table was a plate of curled-up cheese sandwiches. The drawing competition was over and all the drawings were pinned up on the walls. Miss Evangelina was walking around with Marguerite, looking at the drawings. They stopped in front of Arlette’s drawing and Marguerite announced, “This is the one. This is the winner!”

Arlette came forward and Marguerite presented the gold trophy to her. Everyone clapped. Arlette smiled wider than a crocodile. Benson felt even worse. Arlette walked over and held the trophy in front of his face. “Look, I won the trophy for best drawing,” she said, gleefully. “It’s going to be in a glass case, where everyone can see it.”

“That’s nice,” Benson said, trying to sound as if he meant it. It was so unfair. He could have done a much better drawing than Arlette’s. Then his mother came over.

“You were so late, you missed everything,” she said. “What happened?”

Benson sat down with a heavy flump. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“Time to go home?” his mother said.

Benson nodded sadly. He got up and headed towards the door. Then he heard a loud voice. “Where are you hurrying off to, young man?” Marguerite came over and took his arm. “Evangelina’s been telling me all about your drawing,” she said. “Why don’t I see any of it here?”

Benson said, “I broke my pencil.”

“I have a spare one,” she said. “Come and sit down and show me what you can do. Besides, I need some help eating all these cakes that Evangelina saved for me.”

Benson felt much, much better. “Really?” he said.

Marguerite smiled at him. “Really,” she said.

The Magpies

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.

“Let’s go on a picnic,” said Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Moss clapped her hands. “Oh yes!” she said. “I love picnics! We can take the hibiscus jelly muffins you made this morning. “

Aunt Lillibet said, “I think we’ll go to Turtle Ponds.”

Aunt Moss’s face clouded over. “Do you think that’s a good idea, Lillibet?” she said. “Every time we go there, you have a problem with the magpies.”

“Not this time,” said Aunt Lillibet. “This time I’ve got a plan!”

“That’s what you said last time, dear,” Aunt Moss said. But Aunt Lillibet’s mind was made up.

Aunt Moss made apple and peanut butter sandwiches for Benson and apple and cucumber for Aunt Lillibet, and cucumber and tomato for herself. She put hers and Benson’s in brown paper bags. Aunt Lillibet put hers in a container with a lid. She put the container in a bag and she put the bag in a basket then she covered everything with a tea-towel.

She put the muffins in a box and she put the box in a box and she tied it up with string. “There,” she said, “that should do it.”

Aunt Moss said, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask Fenn if he would like to come? You know how he can talk to the birds.”

“Fiddlesticks!” Aunt Lillibet said, but she asked Mr Fenn anyway. They all got their hats and their water-bottles and they set off.

“That’s not your usual hat,” Benson said to Aunt Lillibet. She was wearing a helmet like Benson’s bike helmet, with scary eyes painted on it.

“It’s all part of my plan,” she said. “Just you wait and see.”

Halfway there, Aunt Moss took out her sandwiches and started eating them. Benson said, “We’re not at the picnic yet, Aunt Moss.”

“I know,” said Aunt Moss, “but they’re especially delicious sandwiches, so I thought I’d eat them now.”

When they got to Turtle Ponds, Aunt Lillibet spread out the picnic blanket under a very tall gum tree. She got the things out of the basket while Benson and Aunt Moss went paddling in the ponds, and watched the long-necked brown turtles swimming to and fro.

Aunt Lillibet called them to come and have lunch and they all sat down on the blanket. Aunt Lillibet handed Benson the bag with his sandwiches. He took out a sandwich and put it down on the blanket. There was a quick flash of feathers and his sandwich was gone! “Hey!” he said. “What happened to my sandwich?”

“It’s the magpies, dear,” Aunt Moss said. “They love a picnic.”

Benson took out his second sandwich, being careful not to put it down this time. Before he could take a bite, a magpie swooped down and snatched the sandwich right out of his hand. “Hey!’ he said. “That’s not fair!” Having a sandwich on the way to your mouth and not getting to eat it makes you even hungrier. Benson grabbed his two other sandwiches and crammed them both into his mouth. He chewed and swallowed very fast. “You’re not getting these,” he said to the magpie.

The magpie turned its yellow eye on Aunt Lillibet. She was taking the container out of its bag.. “You may as well flap off now, because you’re not getting even a crumb of my sandwich,” she said to it. She slipped her hand under the lid of the container to get a sandwich out. The magpie stepped forward. She took her hand out again. “Shoo! Shoo!” she said.

The bird flapped away lazily. She waited till it was sitting on a faraway branch before she sneaked her hand into the container again. Suddenly a black and white bird flashed out of the tree behind her and knocked her helmet off.

“Hey, stop that!” she yelled. She reached up to grab her helmet and a second bird dive-bombed the container, knocking the lid off. Then the first bird swooped in and peck-peck-peck-peck, every single sandwich was gone.

Aunt Lillibet jumped up and yelled at the birds and called them all sorts of rude names.

Mr Fenn leaned back and had a good laugh. “That’s not how you should talk to them, Lillibet,” he said. “I’ve told you before, they’re not stupid. They remember you from last time, and the time before. “

Benson said to Mr Fenn, “Do you really know how to talk to the birds?”

Mr Fenn looked at Benson thoughtfully, then he said, “Watch this.”

He stood up and whistled a long, complicated whistle. Then he cleared his throat and said, “Ahem, all you glorious black and white flying creatures, these are my sandwiches. Please don’t eat them.” He took out his sandwiches and put them on the blanket. The magpies stayed quietly on their branches.

“Wow!” said Benson. “You really can!”

Mr Fenn ate his sandwiches one by one, while Aunt Lillibet grumbled under her breath. “They’re not getting my muffins, anyway,” she said.

She took out the box with the box of muffins inside and undid the string. A whole flock of magpies flew down and crowded around the blanket. Aunt Lillibet lifted the muffin box out. The magpies came closer and closer. One of them stood on top of her helmet.

“I’m not opening this box until you go away,” Aunt Lillibet told them very loudly. She folded her arms and waited. Benson waited too. He remembered how delicious those muffins smelled.

Aunt Lillibet very, very slowly lifted up the lid of the box just a tiny bit. Immediately, dozens of magpies flew down in a big cloud, flapping their wings in Aunt Lillibet’s face. Benson reached in among them and managed to grab a muffin, then they were all gone. There wasn’t even a crumb left.

“My muffins!” wailed Aunt Lillibet. The magpies flew away, chortling to each other.

Benson said, “You can have some of mine if you like.”

“How did you save it from the magpies?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“I sat on it,” Benson said. He held out a very flat muffin. “You want some? I can pick off the ants.”

“I don’t think so,” Aunt Lillibet said sadly.

Mr Fenn said, “Cheer up, Lillibet. Have some of my yoghurt. I brought extra spoons.”

They all shared Mr Fenn’s yoghurt, except Aunt Lillibet who was busy thinking up a better plan for next time. On the way home, Benson asked Mr Fenn if he could teach him how to talk to the birds.

Mr Fenn started whistling. He said, “I don’t actually know how to talk to them. It’s my kale and fennel sandwiches. They hate them. I always bring the same thing, and they remember. They’re not stupid. They remember that Lillibet makes the best muffins ever.”

Suddenly Benson remembered something too. “Aunt Lillibet left some of the muffins at home,” he said.

“What are we waiting for?” Mr Fenn said, and they both hurried off as fast as they could.

Grass Skiing

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

Benson was reading an interesting library book about a country that had lots of snow everywhere, on the ground, on the trees, even on the houses. There was a picture of someone skiing down the side of a mountain, with snow flying everywhere around them.

Benson looked and looked. He imagined the feeling of sliding down the mountainside, clouds of fluffy, white snow blowing past him. It looked amazing. He decided that skiing was what he wanted to do more than anything in the world.

He closed the book and went outside to find some wood to make skis with. After a lot of looking, he found some big, thick pieces of bark, long and flat and perfect for skiing.

He found two sticks the right size for skiing sticks, and he got some very strong string out of the drawer in the kitchen. He put on his woolly winter hat and his thick winter coat, just like the skier in the book, and he got his swimming goggles. Perfect. He was ready.

He asked Aunt Lillibet, “Where’s the highest mountain you know?”

Aunt Lillibet was reading a very interesting book about racing pigeons and she didn’t look up. “Oh, I suppose Windy Hill is the highest place around here,”she said vaguely.

“Where’s Windy Hill?”Benson asked.

“Go past the playground, then turn left just after the fallen silky oak and keep going,” she said.

Benson put his skis and his sticks on his shoulder and he set off.

It was a long walk in the hot sun and the skis got heavier and heavier, but Benson kept thinking about whooshing downhill in a spray of white snow. When he got to Windy Hill, it was a bit higher than he expected. It was hard climbing up with the heavy skis, but he kept going. When he reached the top and looked down, it looked a lot steeper. Long green grass stretched down and down and down to the bottom.

He sat down and tied his skis to his feet with the string, nice and tight. He straightened his goggles, pulled his hat down firmly and waited for it to snow.

He waited and waited.

The sun got hotter, and after a while he took off his woolly hat to wipe the sweat off his face. He took off his goggles because they were all steamed up. He took off his coat and sat on it. Still there was no snow.

He waited and waited.

After a long time of waiting, Snippet, one of his echidna friends, came along. “Hi, Benson, what are you doing?” he said.

“Skiing,” Benson said nonchalantly.

“Wow, skiing!” Snippet said. “Can I watch?”

“Sure,” Benson said.

“It’s a shame we never get any snow here, isn’t it?” Snippet said.

“No snow?” Benson said.

“No,” Snippet said.

“Not ever?” Benson said.

“Never,” Snippet said, shaking his head.

Benson was very disappointed. If there was no snow, there was no point waiting any more. He stood up to go. Snippet said, “You were pretty smart to think of grass skiing.”

Benson was just about to ask him what grass skiing was when his left foot slipped on the long, green grass and before he knew it, he was skiing down the hill.

It was a lot faster than he expected. The sticks flew out of his hands. The skis slid over the grass like butter over a hot frying pan. Before he could take a breath he was flat on his back at the bottom of the hill.

Snippet clapped and cheered. “Wait for me!” he yelled. “I’m coming too!” He rolled himself into a tight echidna ball and rolled down the hill after Benson, yelling, “Wheeee!” the whole way.

At the bottom he uncurled and said to Benson, “That was great! Let’s do it again!”

They climbed back up to the top of the hill. Benson skied down again, this time with his eyes open, and landed flat on his bottom. Snippet rolled down even faster than last time, shouting and laughing. Before long, Snippet’s friend Snickle came along to see what all the shouting was about, and they had races to find out who could roll down the hill the fastest. Then Benson’s friend Mick came along with his sister Bonnie Lou, and Mick wanted a turn on the skis and Benson found out that if someone pushes you hard enough, you can slide all the way down a hill even without skis.

After a while the string holding the skis on broke, and Bonnie Lou found out that if you sit on a smooth piece of bark, you can slide down a hill just as fast as you can ski down it. Two other young wombats Benson had never met before and a bandicoot heard all the noise and wanted to play too. Before long everyone had their own piece of bark, and they were all having sliding and tumbling races down the hill.

“That was such a good idea, Benson!” Mick said, lying on his back at the bottom of the hill, covered in grass.

Benson and Snippet looked at each other and grinned.

Nesbit

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

One day Benson told a lie. It wasn’t a very big lie, but even a small lie can you into a lot of trouble. He was going to the playground to play with his friend, Mick. He got his hat but he couldn’t find his water-bottle anywhere. Then he remembered he must have left it down at the creek the day before.

When his mother said, “Have you got your hat and your water-bottle?” he didn’t feel like waiting and explaining, so he said, “Yes,” even though it wasn’t true, and he ran out the door.

He decided to go to the creek and get it. He wasn’t supposed to go down to the creek by himself, but it would only take him a couple of minutes if he was quick, and his mother would never know. He went straight down to the creek, and there it was, sitting on the bank. He picked it up and a voice said, “Hi, I’m Nesbit. You must be Benson.”

A small, wet creature climbed out of the creek and grinned at him. It had a long, whiskery nose and sharp, pointy teeth and a long tail. Benson stepped back. It was a rat. “How did you know my name?” he asked the rat.

The rat grinned and its beady eyes glittered. “It’s on your water-bottle,” he said. “Where are you going?”

Benson said, “Just to the playground.”

The rat said, “The playground! That sounds like fun. I’ll come with you.”

Benson didn’t want the rat to come with him so he walked off as fast as he could, but the rat was very quick and caught up with him. The rat said. “I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking, yuck, a disgusting dirty rat, but it’s okay, I’m not a black rat, I’m a swamp rat. We’re completely different. We’re native rats. We’re very friendly and good-looking.”

Benson didn’t know any rats, and he didn’t want to start now, no matter what kind of rat it was. He walked as fast as he could to get away, but the rat scurried along beside him.

When they got to the playground, Mick said, “Who’s your new friend, Benson?”

Benson wanted to say that Nesbit wasn’t a friend, just someone he’d met, but Nesbit jumped in first and said, “Hi, I’m Nesbit. I’m a swamp rat. Benson and I are mates.”

Mick didn’t like the look of his dirty teeth or his beady eyes any more than Benson did, but if Nesbit was Benson’s friend, he couldn’t say anything.

Nesbit hung around with him all morning, climbing over everything and chewing on scraps of food that he found, while Benson tried to ignore him. Then Mr Fenn arrived. Everyone stopped playing and looked. Mr Fenn never came to the playground.

“Benson, could I talk to you, please?” he said. “Have you been down to the creek this morning?”

Benson’s stomach jumped up into his mouth and then it dropped down again to his feet. “No,” he said in a shaky voice.

“The reason I’m asking,” Mr Fenn said, “is that the water dragons are very upset. Someone has been digging up their eggs and eating them. They said you were there this morning.”

Nesbit spoke up and said, “Benson was with me. We walked all the way here together, and we never went anywhere near the creek.” His beady eyes glittered.

Mr Fenn looked sharply at Benson. “Is that true?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Benson, looking at the ground.

Mr Fenn looked hard at him, but he didn’t say any more.

Benson decided he just wanted to go home.

“I’ll come with you,” Nesbit said. Benson never wanted to see Nesbit again, but he didn’t say anything. They walked along together, until they came to the middle of the track. Nesbit stopped and said, “I think I’ll go down to the creek. I feel like a bit of a snack.”

Benson was horrified. “Did you eat those water dragons’ eggs?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” Nesbit said, grinning. “Swamp rats are vegetarians.” But his shifty, beady eyes glittered and Benson knew he wasn’t telling the truth.

“You can’t eat their eggs!” he said.

Nesbit winked at him. “You don’t tell on me, and I won’t tell on you,” he said, and he scurried off.

Benson walked the rest of the way home feeling horrible.

When his mother saw his face, she said straight away, “What’s the matter, Benson?”

“Nothing,” he said. A tear rolled down his face.

“Where’s your water-bottle?” his mother said, and he burst into tears.

His mother sat down and lifted him onto her lap. “Tell me about it,” she said. “No matter how bad it is, you can tell me.”

Benson told her. He told her about the water-bottle and about Mr Fenn and Nesbit and the water dragons’ eggs.

When he finished, his mother was very quiet. Then she said, “What are you going to do?”

Benson said, “I’m going to get into bed and pull the blankets over my head and stay there forever!”

His mother said, “Benson, what you did was wrong, you know that, don’t you?” Benson nodded, and sniffed. “What you have to do now is try and make it better, don’t you?” she said.

Benson nodded again, but it was hard.

“I think you need to go and see Mr Fenn,” his mother said.

They went together, straight away, because thinking about doing it was so awful, it was better to get it over with. When they got to Mr Fenn’s house, Benson told him everything.

Mr Fenn was angry with him, but he was sad too. He said, “Benson, don’t you know how important it is to tell the truth? If people don’t tell the truth, you can’t trust them.”

Benson felt like crying again, but Mr Fenn said, “Still, I’m glad you came and told me, even though it must have been hard for you. Now, what are we going to do about the water dragons’ eggs?”

They all went down to the creek. Nesbit was there, lying in the sun with his hands clasped over his full little tummy. He jumped up when he saw Benson. “Hello, Benson!” he said. “Come to play?”

Mr Fenn said, “Benson tells me that he was here this morning, and you were here too. Did you eat those water dragons’ eggs?”

Nesbit said, “No way! I’m a swamp rat! We’re vegetarian, I told you!”

Mr Fenn said, “You’ve got the longest tail for a swamp rat I’ve ever seen. Every swamp rat I know is shy, and not one of them can climb a tree.” He gave a sudden, angry growl.

Like a shot, Nesbit ran up the nearest tree. He sat on a branch and laughed. “Okay, you got me,” he said. “I’m not a silly, swamp rat, I’m a clever, wily, black rat. You’ll never catch me!”

“Maybe not,” Mr Fenn said, “but I never want to see to see you around here again.” He shook the tree hard until Nesbit fell out, clunk, onto the ground. Nesbit picked himself up and ran away as fast as he could. His long tail disappeared into the bush behind him, and they never saw him again.

Cooperation or The Perils of Frankie

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

Benson’s mother took him to the big park one day, to play with his friend Mick and Mick’s sister, Bonnie Lou. There were beautiful trees everywhere, and picnic tables and benches. Benson was waiting for his turn on the swing when he noticed a big group of cockatoos hanging around the garbage bin. He went over to have a look.

There were cockatoos on the lid of the garbage bin, and on the picnic table next to it, and lots more cockatoos pecking at the ground around it.

“What are you doing?” Benson asked one of them.

The cockatoo perked up his yellow crest and turned his head sideways to look at Benson. “Nothing. Just waiting around,” he said.

“What for?” Benson asked.

“We’re waiting for Frankie,” the cockatoo said.

“Oh,” said Benson. “Why?”

The cockatoo tapped the lid of the bin a few times with his big, hooked beak. “Some people just had a picnic here and they put lots of scraps in the bin, banana skins and bits of sandwiches and good stuff like that.”

“But you can’t get the lid of the bin open, can you?” Benson said.

“No,” said the cockatoo, “but Frankie can. That’s why we’re waiting for Frankie.”

“Frankie can open the bin?” Benson said. It was way over his head, but he could see the lid of the bin was shut tight. It even had a brick on top to keep it closed.

The cockatoo bobbed and nodded. “Yep, that’s why we’re waiting for Frankie.”

There was a sudden flurry of wings and another big white cockatoo flew down and landed on the bin. He looked exactly like the other cockatoos to Benson.

“Frankie!” all the cockatoos screeched. “Frankie! You’re here!”

“Okay, everyone, settle down, I’ve got it all under control,” Frankie said. He strutted around the top of the bin a few times, then he set to work. He used his beak and his claws to push at the brick, bit by bit, until it fell off the lid of the bin.

“Right now, everyone, stand back!” he said.

He perched on the edge of the bin, grabbed the handle of the lid in his beak and lifted it just enough to get his claw inside. Then he twisted and flipped and the lid was open!

All the cockatoos cheered. “Yay, Frankie!” Then they rushed at the bin, scratching and pecking and pulling out bits of rubbish and dropping mess everywhere.

Benson went back to the swing to tell Mick about it. “I didn’t know birds were that smart,” Mick said. “Was there any good stuff in the bin?”

“Just watermelon peel and squashed tomatoes and crusts with slimy stuff on them,” Benson said.

It was just about time to go home, when one of the cockatoos came flapping over to them. “Help! Help! It’s Frankie!” the bird squawked. “Frankie’s in trouble!”

Benson and Mick ran over to the bin. All the cockatoos were flapping around the bin and yelling as loudly as they could. “What happened?” Benson shouted over the noise.

“It’s Frankie!” they all screeched. “Frankie’s trapped! The lid fell down and Frankie’s inside!”

“Frankie’s trapped inside the bin?” Mick said. “Why don’t you open the lid and let him out?”

“We can’t!” they screeched. “Only Frankie knows how to open the bin!”

Benson said to Mick, “We’ve got to get him out. What if the rubbish truck comes around and Frankie’s still in the bin?”

All the cockatoos squawked at the top of their voices at the thought of Frankie being taken away in a rubbish truck.

“How are we going to get the lid open?” Mick said. “It’s way too high.”

“We could tip the bin over,” Benson suggested.

“No, have a look,” Mick said, “it’s chained up so you can’t tip it over.”

“We’ll just have to climb up then,” Benson said. “You stand here next to the bin, and I’ll climb on your back.”

“Why don’t YOU stand here, and I’ll climb on your back?” Mick said.

“Because you’re bigger,” Benson said. “Hurry up! He probably can’t breathe in there!”

Mick grumbled, but he stood next to the bin. Benson climbed up onto Mick’s back. He reached up, but Mick groaned and collapsed and Benson fell off.

“What’d you do that for?” Benson said.

“You’re too heavy,” Mick said. “You just about squashed me.”

Mick tried climbing on Benson’s back but Benson’s legs folded up and they both toppled over.

The cockatoos were getting more and more upset. The more upset they were, the noisier they got. Mick put his hands over his ears. “Wait here,” he shouted to Benson. “I’ve got an idea.”

He ran off and came back with Bonnie Lou. He got Benson to stand next to the bin, and then he stood next to Benson. “Okay, Bonnie Lou, climb up,” he said.

Bonnie Lou climbed up, one foot on Benson’s back and one on Mick’s. She stood on her tippy toes and lifted the lid of the bin. Frankie flew out, screeching and flapping and spitting out bits of rubbish.

“Frankie! Frankie!” the cockatoos all yelled, mobbing him. They flew up into the sky in a big circle and flew off.

“I guess birds aren’t that smart after all,” Mick said.

“I don’t know,” said Benson. “They were smart enough to come and get us.”

The Platypus Prince

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

It was a hot day in the middle of summer, and everyone was down at the creek. Benson was paddling in the shallow water near the bank while his mother was sitting under a tree, reading a book. Arlette and her sister Twiss were playing tea parties under another tree, and Mick was making mud patties to throw at them.

Benson found an old banksia cone and he was throwing it up and down, when it slipped out of his hand and fell into the water.

There was a stirring in the mud at the bottom of the creek and a funny-looking head popped up, with a beak like a duck, soft brown fur all over its head and dark brown eyes. It was balancing the banksia cone on the end of its beak.

“Are you a princess?” the animal asked breathlessly.

“No, I’m Benson,” Benson said. “I’m just a regular wombat. What’s your name?”

The animal said, “My name’s Myron. I’m a platypus.”

“Were you expecting a princess?” Benson asked. “Do you get a lot of princesses around here?”

“No,” said Myron, “not yet, anyway. It’s just, well, I heard a story about a princess who dropped her ball into a pool and a frog brought it back to her and she let him eat from her plate and sleep on her pillow and in the morning she kissed him and he turned into a handsome prince. I’ve always dreamed about turning into a handsome prince,” he sighed.

Benson asked, “Why do you want to be a handsome prince?”

Myron said, “Well, look at me. I’ve got a face like a duck and a body like a flat wombat and a tail like a tennis racket. I’m so funny-looking, I hide at the bottom of the creek all the time where no-one can see me. I just wish I could be handsome.”

Benson thought for a minute. “Wait here,” he said. “I think I’ve got an idea.”

He went over to where Arlette was sitting on her nice, pink picnic blanket. “Can you come over to the creek for a minute?” he said.

“What for?” Arlette said.

“There’s someone I think you might be able to help,” Benson said.

Arlette’s sister had gone off to practise her backstroke, and Arlette was bored with playing tea-parties by herself, so she got up and followed Benson down to the creek. He gave her the banksia cone and said, “Just drop this into the water.”

Arlette dropped it into the water and waited. There was a stirring at the bottom of the creek and Myron’s head popped out, with the banksia cone balanced on the end of his beak.

“Are you a princess?” he asked eagerly.

Arlette considered. “I might be,” she said. “My mother says I am.”

“Can I eat from your plate and sleep on your pillow and in the morning you can give me a kiss?” Myron asked hopefully.

“Euyewwww! No way!” Arlette said.

Benson said, “Just wait, Arlette. Would it be okay if Myron and I played tea-parties with you?”

Arlette was shocked. Usually boys hated tea-parties. “Okay, if you want to,” she said, “but don’t mess everything up.”

Myron climbed out of the creek and waddled over to the picnic blanket with Benson. Arlette gave them both tiny cups with pretend tea in them and tiny plates with pretend cookies on them. Myron and Benson pretended to eat the pretend cookies. Benson said quietly to Myron, “Why do girls do this stuff?”

Myron said dreamily, “She’s letting me eat from her plate!”

Benson asked Arlette, “Myron’s a bit tired. Can he have a nap on your blanket?”

“Okay, if you want,” Arlette said. She pretended to wash up the pretend plates and cups. Myron put his head down on the blanket and shut his eyes. He was so happy he could hardly lie still.

Then he opened his eyes and said, “Now will you give me a kiss?”

“Euyewww! No way!” Arlette said. “Get off my blanket, you slimy thing!”

Myron was very disappointed. He waddled sadly back to the creek and swam down to the bottom.

Benson said, “That wasn’t very nice. All he wanted was one little kiss to turn him into a handsome prince.”

Arlette said, “What? You mean like in that story? Where the princess lets a frog eat from her plate and sleep on her pillow and then she kisses him and he turns into a handsome prince?”

“How did you know?” Benson said.

Arlette said, “Why didn’t you tell me, you idiot?” She got up and grabbed Benson’s hand and dragged him after her. “Come on, now we have to try and fix it.”

“Where are we going?” Benson said.

“We’re going to look for a princess,” she said. “Bring that banksia cone.” She pulled him along the bank of the creek for what seemed like miles, peering into the water as they went. Then she stopped.

“Here. Drop the banksia cone in,” she said.

Benson did what she told him to and dropped the banksia cone into the water. A sleek brown platypus head popped up out of the water, balancing the cone on her beak.

“Are you a handsome prince?” she said to Benson.

“No, he isn’t,” Arlette said, “but we know where you can find one. Follow us.” She dragged Benson back along the creek, and the little platypus followed them.

When they got to the place where Myron lived, Arlette dropped the banksia cone into the water again. Myron’s head came up, looking around eagerly. When he saw Arlette, he looked disappointed. “Oh, it’s you,” he said. “I thought maybe it was a princess this time.”

Arlette said, “Actually, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” She pointed to the other little platypus.

Myron smiled all over his duck-shaped beak. The other platypus said breathlessly, “Oh, a handsome prince!”

“See, I told you!” Arlette said to Benson happily, “and she didn’t even have to kiss him!”

Helping People

for Jo

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 World Wombat Day, and everyone was celebrating. There was going to be a big ceremony at the community centre, and Nanna was getting a special award for Helping People.

“It’s a wonderful award,” Benson’s mother said. “When we help someone, it shows that we care about them and we want to look after them, and Nanna is the very best person in the world at helping people.”

Benson said, “I’m going to make something very special to give Nanna.” Everyone was giving Nanna presents, but Benson wanted his to be the best present of all.

He hurried down to the creek and got some clay. He took it home and started making it into a model of a wombat that looked just like Nanna. Then Aunt Lillibet called, “Benson, I need your help!”

Benson went to see what she wanted. She said, “I’m making Nanna a hat. I need you to hold it while I glue on the eggshells and pin the pumpkin seeds on.”

Benson held the hat for Aunt Lillibet, but he wriggled and squirmed all the time, because he wanted to get back to making his model.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Can’t you stand still for one minute? I nearly poked myself with a pin just then.”

Benson said, “Is this going to take much longer? Anyway, I don’t think you should put the banana skins on it. They look like lizards’ tongues.”

Aunt Lillibet whipped the hat out of his hands and said frostily, “If you haven’t got time, I’m sure I can manage by myself.”

Benson went back to his room, but his mother called him from the kitchen. She was making fairy cakes with raspberry icing.

“I hope you don’t want me to help you too,” Benson said. “I’m too busy.”

His mother put down her spoon and said, “No, I wasn’t going to ask you to help. I just wanted to say that helping people isn’t just about doing what they need you to do for them, it’s about the way that you help them. You know Nanna is always patient and kind whenever she helps people?”

Benson nodded. He remembered how Nanna was always helping him with things, and she never said she didn’t have time, or made him feel bad.

His mother said, “If you’re impatient, or unkind, then it’s just as bad as not helping at all, isn’t it?”

Benson thought about Aunt Lillibet struggling with the glue and the pins and everything while he kept wriggling. “I suppose so,” he said.

He went back to Aunt Lillibet’s room. He asked her if she needed any help.

“Are you sure you have time?” Aunt Lillibet said. Her mouth was full of pins and she had glue everywhere.

“I’ve got heaps of time,” Benson said. He stood patiently holding the hat while Aunt Lillibet glued and snipped and arranged, until she was quite finished.

“There!” she said. “It’s finished. What do you think?”

“It’s very nice,” Benson said. “I think Nanna will love it. I’m glad you took off the banana skins.”

“I didn’t think they would suit Nanna, and besides, they were getting a bit slimy,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson went back to his own room, but the clay for his model had all dried out. It was as hard as a rock. “Bother!” he said. “I know, I’ll make her a painting instead.” He got out his paints and a container of water and a big piece of paper and set to work.

There was a loud yell from the kitchen. “Benson, help!” his mother shrieked.

He jumped, and accidentally knocked the container of water over. It went all over his painting. “Bother!” he said. He ran into the kitchen.

His mother was holding a saucepan with foam rising up over the top of it. “Quick!” she said. “Can you get me a pan, please?”

Benson got a pan, and put it on the bench. His mother poured the foam into it just before it overflowed. “Phew!” she said. “Thank goodness you came in time.”

“What are you making?” Benson asked.

“Honeycomb. It’s Nanna’s favourite,” his mother said.

“Are you going to put some nuts in it?” Benson asked. “Nanna loves nuts, and cranberries, too.”

“That’s a good idea,” his mother said. Benson helped her sprinkle nuts and cranberries on top of the honeycomb, then he went back to his room. The painting was ruined.

“Bother!” he said. “Oh well, I’ll do a drawing for her instead. It won’t be the best present, but it will be better than nothing.”

Just then he heard Aunt Moss calling, “Benson, do you have a minute?”

He sighed, and went to see what she wanted. “It’s this wool,” she said. “I’m trying to make these leg-warmers for Nanna, but the wool keeps getting in a big tangle. If you could hold your arms out like this, it would be a big help.” She stretched the wool between his hands, and kept knitting. It took ages and ages, but Benson didn’t wriggle or complain. Finally she was finished.

“Thank you, Benson,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

His mother called from the kitchen, “Time to go everyone! We have to hurry or we’ll be late.”

“But what about my drawing?” Benson said.

“I’m sorry, Benson, there’s no time for that,” his mother said.

They hurried off to the community centre. Benson decided he would pick Nanna a bunch of flowers along the way, but as they went past Mr Fenn’s place, he called, “Can someone give me a hand? I’ve made this sign for Nanna, but I can’t carry it all by myself.”

Everyone else had their hands full of leg warmers and a hat and fairy cakes and honeycomb, so Benson said, “I’ll help you.” He helped Mr Fenn carry it all the way to the community centre.

There was a big crowd there, and everyone had presents for Nanna, all except Benson. He hung back behind everyone else, hoping Nanna wouldn’t notice. Aunt Lillibet gave her the hat and Nanna thought it was beautiful. Aunt Moss gave her the leg-warmers and they fitted perfectly. Benson’s mother gave her the honeycomb and Nanna loved it.

Then Nanna called, “Benson!” He had to go up in front of everyone with empty hands.

“I haven’t got a present for you, Nanna,” he said, sadly.

Nanna smiled at him as she always did, as if she loved him more than anything else in the world. “You’ve already given me so much,” she said. “I know how you helped Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and your mother.”

“And me!” Mr Fenn called out.

“And Mr Fenn, too,” Nanna said. “Thank you, Benson.” And she gave him the most enormous hug.

They all had fairy cakes and honeycomb and told stories and laughed and had a wonderful time. It was the best World Wombat Day ever.

The Leaf Blower

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

Benson’s Uncle Elton loved machines and machinery. Sometimes he would get an idea and then he would make something out of all sorts of things that he had in his shed, screws and pipes and bits of wood and string and metal.

One day when Aunt Lillibet was visiting, he showed her the newest thing he had made. “It’s a leaf-blower,” he said. It had a long metal tube and a motor at one end, and a switch.

“What does it do?” asked Aunt Lillibet.

“It’s for blowing leaves,” Elton said. “When all the leaves fall off the trees in autumn, they make a mess everywhere. I used to have to rake them all up, but this is much faster. Watch this.”

He point the tubey part of the leaf-blower at the ground and pressed the switch. A huge noise started, and hot air whooshed out. Leaves and dirt blew everywhere, swirling in the air.

He turned it off and everything went quiet. Aunt Lillibet sneezed some of the dirt out of her nose. “That’s amazing,” she coughed.

Uncle Elton said, “It’s great, isn’t it? But that’s not all. If I turn the switch the other way, it sucks!” He turned the switch the other way and the noise started up again. But this time the leaf blower sucked up all the leaves and dirt and sticks in its path. They went up the tube and blew out the back of the leaf blower in a huge, dusty cloud.

Aunt Lillibet coughed and sneezed and blew her nose. “Can I borrow it?” she wheezed.

“If you like,” Uncle Elton said. “But be careful with it. It’s not exactly right yet. I’m still working on it.”

Aunt Lillibet carried it home excitedly. “Look what I’ve got!” she said to Benson’s mother. “Elton made it. It’s a leaf blower.”

“Why would you want a leaf blower?” Benson’s mother said. “We’ve got a perfectly good rake.”

“You’ll see,” Lillibet said. She had an idea. “Why don’t we see who’s fastest at cleaning up the leaves? You use the rake and do that half of the yard, and I’ll use the leaf blower and do this half of the yard!”

Benson’s mother got the rake, Aunt Lillibet said, “Ready, set, go!” and they started. Benson’s mother raked quickly and quietly and made a tidy pile. Aunt Lillibet turned on the leaf blower and a huge noise filled the air. Leaves and dirt flew everywhere. All the leaves from Aunt Lillibet’s half blew over to Benson’s mother’s half, and the tidy pile untidied itself and spread out everywhere again.

“I won!” said Aunt Lillibet.

“But you just moved them over to this side!” Benson’s mother said.

“No problem,” Lillibet said. She turned the switch the other way and turned the leaf blower on again. This time it sucked up every single leaf from Benson’s mother’s side of the yard. “See? It’s great, isn’t it?” Lillibet said.

Benson’s mother pointed to Aunt Lillibet’s half of the yard. All the leaves had blown out of the back of the leaf blower and it was covered in leaves again.

“Oh, well, nobody’s perfect,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Watch what else it can do.” She took the leaf blower over to the vegetable patch and pointed it at the ground. Foop! Foop! Foop! Three carrots came sucking out of the ground and flew out of the back of the leaf blower. “See? And you could use it to dry the clothes on the line quicker. Watch this!”

There was a row of clean towels drying on the clothesline. Aunt Lillibet pointed the blower at them and blew. The towels flapped around madly, the pegs flew off and the towels blew into the big peppermint gum.

“I think that’s enough, Lillibet,” said Benson’s mother.

“Wait, I can fix that,” Lillibet said. She pointed the leaf blower up into the tree and blew. The towels blew down and landed in a pile of dirt at the bottom of the tree. A lot of gumnuts and leaves and three birds’ nests blew out of the tree as well and landed on top of the towels.

“There you are,” Aunt Lillibet said. “That’s fixed that.”

Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, that’s enough! Stop!”

“I haven’t even started yet,” Lillibet said. She took the leaf lower inside.

Benson’s mother hurried after her. Aunt Lillibet went into the bathroom. Aunt Moss had just had a bath and was drying herself. “I can get you dry in two seconds,” Aunt Lillibet said to her.

“I don’t think so,” said Aunt Moss, backing away.

“You’ll be dry in a flash!” Aunt Lillibet said, pointing the blower at her. Aunt Moss squeaked and ran out the door.

Benson’s mother said, “I think you’d better give that to me, Lillibet.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “No, I’ve got the best idea ever!” She put the end of the leaf-blower in the bath water. “Bubble bath!” she said, and pressed the switch. The water in the bath bubbled and fizzed. “And when you want to empty the bath, you just turn the switch the other way.”

“Don’t, Lillibet!” yelled Benson’s mother, but it was too late. Aunt Lillibet had already turned the switch.

Water shot out of the back of the leaf blower like a fountain and hit the roof and sprayed everywhere, all over the walls and the floor and every other thing in the room, including Aunt Lillibet and Benson’s mother.

Aunt Lillibet turned off the leaf-blower. She was dripping from head to toe. She took off her hat and squeezed the water out of it. “Could I have a towel please?” she said.

Benson’s mother gave her a towel. It was covered in dirt and sticks and gumnuts.

“Thank you,” said Aunt Lillibet. She handed the leaf-blower to Benson’s mother. “I think that’s enough,” she said.

The Elf

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

At bedtime, Benson’s mother said to him, “First thing tomorrow you’re going to have to tidy your room. There are things everywhere.”

Benson grumbled quietly. He liked having his saxophone on the floor so he could play it any time he felt like it, and he liked having his library book next to his bed so he could read it without getting out of bed, and he liked having his drawing things spread out on the floor so he could see where everything was.

“Okay?” said his mother.

“Okay,” Benson said.

In the morning when he woke up, he was very surprised to see that his room was tidy. Really tidy. All his clothes were folded neatly on the shelves, and his pencils were all lined up in a row. All his books were on the bookshelf, standing up from the smallest to the biggest. His saxophone was in its case, dusted and polished. He wondered if maybe he had tidied his room in his sleep. It seemed like an excellent idea.

He went out to the kitchen, feeling very pleased with himself. Aunt Lillibet was there looking angry. “All the peaches are gone!” she said. “Benson, did you eat them?”

Benson said, “No, it wasn’t me.”

“If it wasn’t you, who was it?” she said.

His mother came out to see what all the arguing was about.

“Benson’s eaten all the peaches!” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I didn’t!” Benson said.

His mother said, “If Benson says he didn’t, then he didn’t. Did you ask Aunt Moss?”

But Aunt Moss didn’t know what had happened to the peaches either. She said to Benson, “You might have eaten them while you were thinking about something else and forgotten all about it. It happens to me all the time. I sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit and I start reading a story, and the next thing I know, the biscuit is gone and the cup is empty.”

Benson thought he would have remembered if he had eaten five peaches, but then maybe while he was cleaning his room in his sleep he had popped into the kitchen for a snack.

The next morning, Aunt Lillibet was even more angry. “All the oranges are gone! I was going to make orange juice but there are none left! Benson!”

Benson had his answer ready this time. “It wasn’t me, it was an elf,” he said.

“A what?” said Aunt Lillibet. “Did you say, an elf?”

Benson nodded. “Yep, an elf.”

Just then Benson’s mother came into the kitchen. “Who cleaned the bathroom?” she asked.

“It wasn’t me,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “It must have been the elf.”

His mother said, “The what?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson has made up a ridiculous story about an elf eating all the oranges.”

“It’s not a story, I saw him!” Benson protested.

His mother and Aunt Lillibet both stared at him. “When did you see him?” his mother said.

“Last night,” Benson said. “I woke up because I was thirsty and I came out to get a drink of water and I saw him eating the oranges.”

“What did he look like?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Like an elf,” Benson said. “Miss Evangelina at the library read us a story about elves who helped a shoemaker. They came out at night and made the shoes for him and he left out food for them.”

“That’s just a story,” Aunt Lillibet said. “There is no such thing as an elf.”

Benson shrugged. “I’m just saying,” he said. “I saw him last night. He was little and cute, with big pointy ears and tiny little hands and tiny little feet, and wings.”

Aunt Moss said, “No, dear, that’s a fairy. Fairies have wings, not elves.”

“There’s no such thing as fairies either, Moss!” Aunt Lillibet said. Benson thought he could see steam coming out of her ears.

His mother said, “Let’s all just calm down. Benson, we’re going elf-hunting.”

They looked in all the rooms, under the beds and in the cupboards and behind the doors, but there was nothing there. They went all the way down to the back door, looking everywhere until they came to the very last room, right next to the back door.

It was the kind of room where you keep things you’re not using now but you might want to use one day, like the stacks of gardening books that didn’t fit into Aunt Lillibet’s room and Benson’s snorkel and flippers, and Aunt Moss’s mountain of knitting yarn.

They looked inside, but it was very dark and they couldn’t see anything. Benson’s mother said, “Benson, are you sure you’re not making it up, about the elf?”

Benson didn’t know how to make his mother believe him, if she didn’t believe he was telling the truth when he said he was.

Just then they heard a tiny ‘yap’. Benson’s mother said, “Did you hear that?”

Benson nodded. They looked around the room very carefully. In one corner, an old raincoat was hanging up next to a black umbrella. Benson’s mother looked at it carefully, and said, “That’s not an umbrella.”

She touched it gently and two dark brown wings opened and closed again. “Oh!” she said, “it’s a fruit bat – a flying fox!”

“Not an elf?” Benson said. He felt disappointed, but then not so disappointed, because he’d never seen a flying fox up close before.

His mother touched the bat again, very gently. He opened his eyes and blinked. “Hello,” he said, looking at them from upside down. “Is it night time already?” He stretched his wings out and yawned. “My name’s Alfie,” he said.

“Hi, Alfie,” Benson said. “Why do you sleep upside down?”

“It’s comfortable,” the flying fox said. “I wrap myself up in my wings and just hang by my feet.”

Benson’s mother said, “What are you doing here, Alfie?”

Alfie said, “I got lost in a big storm, and then I found this little cave, all nice and dry and warm, so I came in and went to sleep with the other bats.”

Benson’s mother said, “You know, this isn’t a cave, it’s a wombat hole.”

Benson said, “And that isn’t another bat, it’s a raincoat.”

“Oh,” said Alfie. “So that’s why it wouldn’t talk to me.”

“Why did you tidy up my room?” Benson asked.

“Because it was a mess,” Alfie said. “There was stuff everywhere. And I wanted to say thank you for all the lovely fruit.”

Benson’s mother said, “You’re welcome to eat all the fruit you need, if you’re hungry. Maybe you’d like to go and find a real cave or a tree later on, with all the other fruit bats?”

Alfie thought that was a good idea. “I think I’ll just have a little nap, and as soon as it’s night time, I’ll go.” He yawned and closed his eyes and wrapped his wings around himself and went to sleep.

Benson and his mother tiptoed out and went back to the kitchen. Aunt Lillibet said, “Well? Did you find your imaginary elf?”

Benson’s mother said, “Actually, we did.”

Benson said, “Yes, but he wasn’t an elf, he was an Alf.”

Polar Bears and Fireflies

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 evening after dinner Benson was reading a book from the library about a country called Canada. He looked up from his book and asked his mother, “Can we get a polar bear?”

His mother said, “Where would we get a polar bear?”

“I don’t know,” Benson said. “Maybe a zoo has got an old one they don’t want any more.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Polar bears live in the ice and snow at the north pole. That’s why they’re called polar bears.”

Benson said, “Maybe one would like to come on a holiday somewhere warm and sunny like here.”

His mother said, “Why do you want a polar bear, anyway, Benson?”

“Because they’re all white all over, and they’re so soft and cuddly,” Benson said. “He could stay in my room.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, a polar bear is as big as a tree!”

Benson said, “Are they?” The one in the book looked about as big as a puppy.

“They’re carnivorous,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Do you know what that means?”

Benson shook his head.

“It means they eat meat,” Aunt Lillibet said. “All they eat is meat, just meat and nothing else. That means you, and me, and Aunt Moss and the possums and all the kangaroos and wallabies, and…”

“Stop!” Benson said, putting his hands over his ears.

Aunt Lillibet said, “For a polar bear, you’d be a nice snack before dinner.”

Benson’s mother said, “I think that’s enough, Lillibet. I think Benson’s got the idea.”

Benson said, “Well, how about a beaver, then? A beaver’s not too big. He could live in a box under my bed.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “A beaver? You might as well get your own rat!”

Benson said stubbornly, “I think they’re cute. See?” He held up the page so Aunt Lillibet could see the picture.

“It looks like a rat,” she said.

Benson said, “I think it looks like cousin Elmer.”

“Exactly,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Besides, they’re aquatic. That means they live in rivers and streams. You couldn’t have one under your bed unless you slept on top of a river.”

“What about a moose?” Benson said.

“No,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Are you crazy? A moose is the size of a bus!”

“They have nice eyes,” Benson said. “Anyway, there are some things from Canada that live here too. Like fireflies.”

His mother said, “I don’t think so, Benson. We have lots of flies here, but we don’t have fireflies.”

Benson said, “Ralph has butterflies.”

“Butterflies aren’t flies,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What about dragonflies?” Benson said.

“They’re not flies either,” Aunt Lillibet said, “and before you ask, they’re not dragons either.”

Benson was imagining tiny dragons flying around, landing in the trees and on the flowers.

“But sand-flies are flies, and so are fruit-flies,” his mother said.

“Fruit-flies?” Benson said. “What kind of fruit are they made of?” He imagined tiny flying bananas and little pineapples with wings and small, furry kiwifruit flying everywhere.

“They’re called fruit-flies because they EAT fruit, not because they are fruit,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson was disappointed. Sometimes Aunt Lillibet was no fun at all. “Anyway,” he said, “we do have fireflies.”

“No, we don’t,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Yes, we do!” Benson said stubbornly.

“No, we don’t!” Aunt Lillibet said more stubbornly.

“Yes, we do!” Benson said so loudly he would have been shouting except that he knew it wasn’t polite to shout at your auntie. “I can see some right now, outside in the bushes.”

“No, you can’t!” Aunt Lillibet shouted. “We don’t have fireflies!!”

“Fireflies are small and twinkly and they flash off and on in the bushes at night like little bright sparkles, don’t they?” Benson said. “Well, look!” He pointed to the bushes outside at the end of the yard.

His mother got up to look. “Lillibet,” she said, “there ARE little sparks twinkling in the bushes outside. Benson’s right. Except it’s not fireflies, I think it’s a fire!”

“What?!!” Aunt Lillibet said, jumping up to look.

Benson’s mother said, “Someone probably didn’t put out their camp-fire properly, and the sparks are spreading through the bushes. Come on, we’d better do something before they take hold and start a real fire.”

She and Aunt Lillibet rushed outside with buckets of water and some old blankets. They put out the fire in the bushes, and beat out the sparks that were burning in the grass, until all the fire was out.

When they came inside again, Benson’s mother said, “It’s a good thing you noticed those sparks in the bushes, Benson. It could have been very serious if they’d spread and turned into a real bushfire.”

Benson said, “You know, if we got a rhinoceros, it could trample out fires with its feet.”

“No!” said his mother and Aunt Lillibet together.

Saying Goodbye

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

Benson’s best friend in all the world was an echidna named Roly. Even though Roly was an echidna and Benson was a wombat, they still loved to be together and they always had things to talk about. If something made Benson sad, just talking to Roly about it made him feel better, and if something exciting happened, Roly was the first person he wanted to tell.

They spent hours talking together, mostly Benson talking and Roly listening, but they both liked it that way.

One day they went on a long walk together, with Roly riding in Benson’s backpack because his back legs didn’t work very well. On their way home, just as they got to the top of a hill, the sun was going down. The sky was all red and pink and purple and very beautiful. Roly started crying.

Benson said, “What’s the matter? Is the sun hurting your eyes?”

Roly gulped and said, “No, it’s not the sun. Benson, I have to tell you something. I have to go away.”

Benson said, “Where? Can I come?”

“No, I’m going by myself,” Roly said.

Benson said, “When are you coming back?”

Roly said. “I’m not coming back. I’m going away to live somewhere else.”

Benson was devastated. “No, you live here!” he said “Why would you go and live anywhere else?”

Roly tried to explain. “It’s time I had some space all of my own. There isn’t enough room here for Snippet and Waddle and Snickle and me to all live and have enough to eat. I need my own territory.”

Benson breathed a sigh of relief. “If that’s all, you can come and live with me. I can help you dig for ants, and the rest of the time you can have cake and porridge and waffles and things with me.”

Roly looked even sadder. “No, Benson I can’t. I’m sorry, I just have to go.”

Benson howled, “Why do you want to go and leave me?”

Roly said, “I don’t want to go, I have to go. I’m not a little puggle any more. Echidnas grow up faster than wombats. It’s time for me to leave.”

Benson sobbed and sobbed. “Where will you go?”

Roly said, “I’ll probably go up to where my mother’s people are from, where I was born. I don’t know for sure, I’ll just set off and see.”

Benson couldn’t think of anything to say. He just sat there, feeling sadder and sadder, thinking of all the times he wouldn’t be able to talk to Roly or visit him at his termite nest, or ask him to help him with problems like the best way to share five muffins among three wombats, or show him his drawings, or anything.

Roly patted his hand. “Pascoe can bring you messages from me and she’ll tell me how you’re going, too.”

Benson pulled his hand away. Now he was angry. Why did Roly want to go away, when everything was so perfect? They walked all the way home, not saying anything.

Benson didn’t want to talk to anyone. When it was time for bed, he put his face in the pillow and cried and cried. His mother came in and asked him what was wrong.

“Roly’s going away!” he cried, and told her all about it.

She sat with him until he stopped crying and was just sniffing. “You know Roly is very kind and thoughtful and he loves you very much,” she said.

Benson nodded. His eyes filled up with tears again.

“He must have thought a lot about it before he decided to go,” she said. “He wouldn’t go away unless he felt he really had to, would he?”

Benson said, “But I don’t want him to go. I’ll be so lonely without him!”

His mother lifted him onto her lap and held him tight. “You wouldn’t want your friend to be unhappy, just to make you happy, would you?”

Benson didn’t know. It made him too sad to think about it. He went to sleep thinking about how awful it was going to be without Roly.

The day before Roly was leaving, everyone came to say goodbye. They made a big campfire and cooked marshmallows and sweet potatoes and corn, and everyone said how much they’d miss Roly, and hoped he would be happy where he was going. Benson’s mother talked about how much they all loved Roly and she was grateful for the time that he had spent with them. She said it made her sad to think they might never see him again. When she said this, Benson jumped up and ran inside to his bedroom and didn’t come out again.

In the morning he stayed in his room, just drawing and trying not to think about things. He started to draw Roly setting off on his little echidna skateboard, going away somewhere far away. Then he thought of how Roly would be feeling, with his best friend not even coming to say goodbye.

He jumped up and started searching frantically.

His mother came in and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

“I have to find something,” Benson said. “Roly’s leaving and I have to give him something, so he’ll remember me.”

“Here!” his mother said. She picked up his favourite red pencil. A smile spread across Benson’s face. He grabbed the pencil and ran off as fast as he could.

He got there just as Roly was getting on his skateboard. Roly’s face lit up. “Benson!” he said. “I thought you weren’t coming.”

“I wanted to give you this so you’ll remember me,” Benson said.

“I’ll always remember you,” Roly said. “But this is your favourite, your very best red pencil!”

Benson nodded. “Every time I miss it, I’ll remember it’s with you, and wherever you are, a piece of me is there too.”

They hugged one last time, and Roly set off.

Plop!

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

Aunt Lillibet had made herself a new hat. It was made of plastic grapes and cellophane, with a cauliflower made out of a face-washer stuck on the top. She thought it looked wonderful. Benson thought it looked extremely odd.

“I think I’ll go and show it to Nanna,” she said. “Nanna appreciates true originality.”

Benson asked if he could go too. There was usually cake at Nanna’s, or at least jam-and-cream sandwiches. They set off together. Aunt Lillibet was wearing her new hat very proudly.

Halfway along the track to Nanna’s they came to the forest of silky oak trees. It was Benson’s favourite part of the track, especially when the trees were covered in their orangey-golden flowers. Their branches reached up and bent over and touched in the middle of the track, so it was like walking through a golden tunnel.

Just when they reached the middle of the silky oaks, an unfortunate thing happened. Plop! Something white and sticky dropped out of the trees and landed on Aunt Lillibet’s hat.

Aunt Lillibet took off her hat to see. There was a long white streak of something nasty dripping all down her cauliflower. “Oh no!” she said. “Look what some rude bird has done to my hat!”

Benson said, “Oh well, you’ll just have to put it in the bin.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “My new hat? Certainly not! I’ll think of something.”

When they got to Nanna’s place, she tried to scrub the white slime off but the cellophane melted and the grapes all fell off. “My poor hat!” said Aunt Lillibet. “Never mind, I’ll think of something.” She took the cauliflower off and made it into a kind of cactus with yellow tubes worming out of it that were actually some old noodles she had found in Nanna’s fridge. She put it on and said,”There! Isn’t it wonderful?”

“Well, I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Nanna said.

“I think it’s even better than it was before,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Nanna patted her hand kindly. “If you think so, Lillibet,” she said.

Benson thought it looked like a compost heap had exploded on top of her head.

They had some of Nanna’s carrot and banana cake and lime syrup milkshakes, and then they set off for home again.

Just as they got to the silky oak forest, an unfortunate thing happened. Plop!

“Oh no, I don’t believe it!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Those disgusting birds!”

Benson actually thought it looked better with the white streak covering up some of the noodles, but Aunt Lillibet was quite upset. “My beautiful hat!” she said.

Benson looked up in the trees but he couldn’t see any birds at all. “Look at it this way, Aunt Lillibet,” he said. “If you hadn’t been wearing your hat, it would have been worse.”

That didn’t make her feel any better at all. When they got home, she spent a long time in her room making a new hat out of a bed-sock and some old toothbrushes, all painted yellow. Benson thought it looked like an alien had emptied its garbage bin on her head, but Aunt Lillibet was very proud of it. “Come on, Benson, I can’t wait to show Nanna,” she said.

“But what about the birds?” Benson said.

“They won’t get me this time, those dratted birds!” Aunt Lillibet said “I’m taking an umbrella!”

She put the umbrella up, and she and Benson set off. When they came to the silky oaks, they tried to hurry through the trees, but just as they reached the middle she heard a plop!

Aunt Lillibet looked out from under the umbrella. There was a big white spot on it. “Ha!” she said. “You missed my hat this time, you stupid birds! Lucky I had my umbrella!” There was another plop! A big white streak landed right on Aunt Lillibet’s nose.

“Arwwwk!” she yelled. “You nasty, disgusting creatures! Wait till I get my hands on you!”

Benson looked carefully at the white stuff on Aunt Lillibet’s nose. He sniffed it, then he got some on his finger and he tasted it.

“Eeuyeww, Benson, that’s disgusting,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“No, it’s not,” Benson said, “it’s ice cream.”

“Ice cream?” Aunt Lillibet said. They both looked up into the trees, but the leaves and flowers were too thick for them to see anything. Benson thought he heard a little giggle but it might have been the wind.

“Come on, Aunt Lillibet,” he said. “Let’s go and see Nanna.”

Nanna listened carefully to what Benson was saying. “It’s definitely ice cream,” she said. “I think someone might be playing a trick on you, Lillibet. Why don’t we see if we can teach them a lesson?”

She got out the water-pistols she used when she wanted to get the white moths off her cabbages and they filled them up.

They hid them behind their backs until they got to the silky oak forest. Benson said in a loud voice, “I hope there aren’t any of those pesky birds around.” They heard a giggle from high up in the trees, then a big drop of melted ice-cream plopped out of the trees. Benson jumped out of the way just in time. “Now!” he shouted.

Everyone fired their water-pistols up into the trees, splash, splat, sploosh, until they were empty. “Ha, ha, you missed us!” Nils and Nella yelled. “Come on, let’s go!” The two possums scampered away through the trees with the rest of their ice-cream, laughing and giggling.

Just as they got to the last tree, there was a loud ‘kaa-kaa’ sound overhead. A big cockatoo flapped slowly past. Plop! Plop! There were long white streaks right on top of Nils and Nella’s heads.

Nanna waved to the cockatoo as it flew away. “Thanks, Frankie! Perfect shot!”

Melrose

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

One day when Benson was taking some scraps out to the compost heap he saw a strange animal. It was a kind of lizard with a funny orangey frill around its neck. When it saw Benson, it opened its bright yellow mouth, and the frill around its neck stood right up.

Benson took a step backwards. He wasn’t sure if the lizard was dangerous or not. He decided to try being friendly. “Hi,” he said, “my name’s Benson.”

The lizard closed its mouth and its frill lay down flat again.

“What’s your name?” Benson said. “Do you live around here?”

“My name’s Melrose,” the lizard said. “I don’t live anywhere. I used to live with my family but they didn’t want me any more.”

Benson’s eyes nearly popped of his head. “Your family didn’t want you? Your own mother and father?”

“No, not my mother and father,” Melrose said. “I mean my family, the people who owned me.”

“How can anyone own you?” Benson said.

“I was their pet,” Melrose said. “You know, they keep you in a cage and bring you food and water and give you toys to play with and they take you out and play with you sometimes.”

“Why were you a pet? Was it fun?” Benson asked.

“I wasn’t just an ordinary pet,” Melrose said. “I’m an exotic pet. That means I’m unusual. Interesting. Outstanding.”

“Is it because you’ve got that frill around your neck?” Benson asked. “Why do you keep on licking it?”

“I like to look my best,” Melrose said.

“What’s it for?” Benson asked.

Melrose said, “If I get hot, I can do this.” He flapped one side of his frill like a fan. “Or if I see a friend, I can wave to them like this.” He flapped the other side. “If I want to scare someone away, I can do this,” he said. He frowned fiercely and his frill stood up all around his neck. “See? Scary, huh?”

Benson said, “I think it looks kind of cute.”

Melrose said, “It’s not cute, it’s exotic. Unusual. Special. That’s why I’m an exotic pet. Or I used to be. Until I bit someone.”

“You bit someone?” Benson said.

“Just a little nip, really,” Melrose said. Benson looked at Melrose’s two long, pointy teeth and he thought he wouldn’t want to be nipped by them.

“Anyway, they brought me out here and left me,” Melrose said. “I haven’t got anywhere to live any more, and I’m hungry.”

“I can get you something to eat,” Benson said. “Would you like a sandwich, or a banana? What do you like eating?”

“I don’t know,” Melrose said. “My family always gave me crickets. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, crickets, crickets, crickets. I never want to see another cricket as long as I live.”

“Just wait here,” Benson said. He went inside and asked Aunt Lillibet if he could borrow her lizard book. He took it back outside.

“It says in this book that frill-necked lizards eat ants and termites and spiders and beetles and sometimes small lizards,” Benson said. It also said they eat small animals like dunnarts or sugar-gliders, but Benson didn’t want to put ideas into Melrose’s head.

Melrose said, “Can you get me some ants, or a spider?”

“Sure,” Benson said. He went off straight away and asked his friend Roly to help him catch some ants. He put them in a jar and brought them back to Melrose.

“Yum,” Melrose said. He snapped them up. Then he said, “Some beetles would be nice, or a moth. I’d love a moth.”

Benson found some beetles under a tree and brought them to Melrose too. “Very nice,” said Melrose, licking his lips. “I think it’s time for my nap,” he said. “Where am I going to sleep? My family used to have a special blanket for me, and a lamp to keep me warm.”

“How about a box?” Benson asked. He went inside and brought out an old shoebox.

Melrose looked it over. “It’s not what I’m used to, but it’ll do, I suppose,” he said. He settled himself in and went to sleep.

The next morning, Benson went to see how Melrose was getting on.

“I think I’d like some termites for breakfast,” Melrose said.

Benson went to ask Roly where to find termites. Roly said, “Is it for your pet lizard?”

Benson said, “Melrose isn’t a pet, he’s a friend.”

Roly said, “Oh, I thought he was your pet. You keep him in a box and you feed him.”

Benson opened his mouth and then he shut it again. Roly was right.

“I don’t want a pet,” he said. “How do I un-pet him? He needs me to bring him food. He can’t take care of himself.”

Roly shrugged. “Maybe it says something in your book.”

Benson read the lizard book carefully, and then he went back to Melrose’s box.

Melrose said, “Did you get my termites?”

Benson put a pile of spinach leaves in front of him. “Here you are,” he said, “some nice, fresh spinach.”

“Yuck,” said Melrose. “I’m not going to eat that!”

“It says in the book that you can eat vegetables,” Benson said.

“No way!” Melrose said. “I want termites!”

“Actually, it says in the book that it isn’t good for you to have people bringing you food. You’re supposed to be an ambush feeder,” Benson said.

“I’m supposed to eat ambushes?” Melrose said. “Are they horrible green things like this?”

“No, it means you catch your own food by sneaking up to things and then pouncing on them,” Benson said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”

They spent the whole day practising catching bugs and beetles. Melrose was much better at it than Benson. Benson could do the sneaking, but he wasn’t very good at the pouncing.

At bedtime Melrose said, “Aren’t you going to put me back in my box?”

Benson said, “Actually, it says in the book that lizards like you mostly sleep in trees.”

“What?!” Melrose said. “I can’t climb a tree!”

“You never know till you try,” Benson said. He took Melrose over to a big stringy-bark tree.

Melrose looked up at the tree. “You’re not getting me up there!” he said.

Benson said, “BOOO!” very loudly behind him.

Melrose didn’t stop to think. He shot straight up the tree and hung there by his sharp claws, looking down at Benson. “Hey, this is easy!” he said. “There are even some snails up here, if I feel like a snack!”

The next morning when Benson went out, Melrose was gone. There was nobody around except Roly, who was munching on some ants at the bottom of the tree.

Roly said, “Your friend Melrose asked me to tell you that it’s too cold for him around this part of the country so he’s going north where it’s warmer. He said you could have all his spinach.”

Benson felt a bit disappointed, but then he thought about all the dunnarts and the sugar-gliders and the baby possums, and he thought it was probably a good thing after all.

Yawning

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.

Winter was coming and the days were getting colder. It was raining outside, so Benson’s mother made barley and tomato soup with lots of broccoli, to warm them up. Then Benson helped her make a big loaf of basil and parmesan bread. When it came out of the oven, it smelled so good that everyone sat down and ate it without even waiting for it to cool down.

They sat around afterwards, full of delicious soup and wonderful bread, feeling warm and cosy and contented. Benson was reading a really interesting book about skeletons, and his mother was thinking up ideas for the junior bushcare group. Aunt Moss was knitting odd socks for her knitting group’s Odd Sock stall, and Aunt Lillibet was crocheting her never-ending crocheted scarf. It was already long enough to wrap around Benson’s neck twenty-five times (he knew because he had tried it), but Aunt Lillibet wanted it longer. Benson wondered if she was thinking of using it to escape from a very high tower. A very, very high tower.

His mother yawned. It made Benson feel like yawning too, and he yawned an even bigger yawn. Aunt Moss yawned too, and Aunt Lillibet did too. Benson’s mother yawned again, and Benson opened his mouth to yawn but Aunt Lillibet said sharply, “Stop that! You know you’re only yawning because everyone else is.”

Benson’s mother stopped herself in the middle of another big yawn and said, “Everyone yawns when they see someone else yawning. You can’t help it. I suppose it just makes you feel … yawny.”

Benson said, “Why do you yawn when someone else does? Do you think it’s because when you open your mouth to yawn, a little piece of yawniness comes out and someone else catches it, like when you get the measles?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I think it’s because when you see someone yawning you think they’re getting an extra share of air, so you yawn too so you don’t miss out on the air.”

Benson thought about it it. He went and got a bucket and put it right beside him.

Aunt Lillibet said, “What have you got an empty bucket for?”

He said, “It’s not empty. It’s full of air, so if everyone keeps yawning and using up all the air, I’ll still have some here in my bucket. “

Aunt Lillibet said, “That’s not how air works. It goes everywhere. It doesn’t just stay in a bucket. “

Benson went and got a lid and put it on the bucket. “Now it will,” he said.

Aunt Moss said, dreamily, “I think yawning makes you sleepy. When it’s getting close to bedtime, you start yawning so that you feel sleepy and you know it’s time for bed.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Moss, I think you should stick to knitting instead of coming up with such silly ideas. The only reason anyone yawns is because they see other people yawn.”

Benson’s mother said, “I think it was all that delicious bread and soup that made me feel sleepy.” She yawned a long tired yawn.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I know, we’ll have an experiment and see who’s right. I’ll close my eyes, and you can all yawn as much as you like. If Benson’s right, the bits of yawniness will come out of your mouths and and I’ll catch them and start yawning. If I’m right, then I won’t see anyone yawning, and I won’t start yawning.”

Aunt Moss put down her knitting and closed her eyes.

“No, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said, “I close MY eyes. You do the yawning.”

“Sorry, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss, “all this talking about yawning is making me sleepy.” She opened her mouth in the most enormous yawn. Everybody else started to yawn. too.

“For goodness sake, Moss!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Wait till I’ve closed my eyes!”

Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes. Everyone else yawned. After a minute, Benson closed his eyes too. It was easier to yawn that way.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Moss, don’t yawn so loudly! I can hear you, and it’s making me want to yawn too!”

Aunt Moss mumbled, “Sorry, Lillibet.”

Aunt Lillibet waited with her eyes shut. She didn’t yawn even once. She opened her eyes and said, “See? I was right!”

Everyone else was sound asleep. Aunt Lillibet looked at them, one by one. Then she put down her crotcheting, gave a big yawn and went to sleep.

The Greedy Goanna

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

Benson’s mother was making lemon myrtle and macadamia muffins, but when she looked in the cupboard but there were no macadamias left.

“Come on, Benson,” she said, “we’ll go down to the big macadamia tree and look for some.”

They took their hats and their water bottles and a bag for the macadamias and they set off. They found a tree full of macadamia nuts and they filled the bag up. On the way home, they saw two bush turkeys, scratching up some worms in a patch of dirt.

“It’s Ken and Kenny,” Benson said. He waved to them, but they just kept on scratching. Then a big old goanna with nasty yellow teeth and a long, powerful tail came sneaking up behind the turkeys. He grabbed one of the them by the neck with his nasty yellow teeth and started trotting away.

“Hey!” Benson’s mother yelled. The goanna stopped and looked at her. “Put that turkey down!” she said.

The turkey gave a nasty smile and started off again.

“I think you’ve got the wrong turkey,” Benson’s mother called out.

“Hunh?” said the goanna. He couldn’t say much with the turkey in his mouth.

“You picked the wrong turkey,” she said. “Don’t you think the other one is much fatter and juicier?”

The goanna looked at the other turkey, who was still scratching around in the dirt, then he tried to look at the one in his mouth but he couldn’t turn his head around because of the turkey in his mouth.

Benson’s mother said, “Look at that other turkey’s legs. Don’t they look plumper and juicier to you?”

Benson thought the turkeys looked exactly the same, but the goanna started to think he was missing out on a nicer, fatter turkey. He dropped the one in his mouth and started to go after the other one.

Benson’s mother clapped her hands and shouted, “Ken! Kenny! Run! Quick, run!”

Ken and Kenny saw the goanna and they ran off as fast as their skinny legs would go.

The goanna was angry. “They won’t get far,” he said. “That was a sneaky trick, but you won’t fool me again.” He trotted off into the bush.

Benson’s mother said, “I think we should follow him.”

Benson asked, “Do you think he’ll try and grab them again?”

“He’s still hungry, isn’t he?” his mother said.

They followed the goanna’s tracks until they came to a clearing, where Ken and Kenny were pecking at some wattle seeds. Benson whispered to his mother, “There’s the goanna, hiding behind the bushes.”

The goanna made a funny noise in this throat, like a turkey gobbling. Ken and Kenny looked up. “Did you hear a turkey?” Ken said.

“I don’t know,” Kenny said. “Let’s go and have a look.” They started wandering towards the bushes.

Benson’s mother said, “We’ve got to do something.” She strolled up behind the goanna and said, “Oh, was that you making a noise like a turkey? That was clever.”

The goanna grinned. He made the turkey noise again. Ken and Kenny came closer.

Benson’s mother said, “Can you make other noises? Can you make a noise like a chicken?”

“Easy!” said the goanna. “Cluck, cluck, cluck!”

Ken said to Kenny, “That turkey sounds like a chicken.”

Kenny said, “It must be a turkey chick, then.” They went closer to the bushes.

Benson’s mother said to the goanna, “I bet you can’t do something difficult, like an elephant.”

“Yes, I can!” said the goanna. He took a deep breath and made a long, loud trumpeting noise.

Ken said, “Look out! There’s an elephant in the bushes, Kenny!”

“Let’s get out of here!” Kenny said. They ran away, squawking and flapping.

The goanna was very angry. He hissed and growled at Benson’s mother. “You’ve fooled me twice but you won’t fool me again. That’s my dinner that just ran away.”

Benson said, “Why don’t you go and eat some snails, or a dead fish?”

The goanna hissed and swung his powerful tail at Benson, but Benson jumped out of the way just in time.

“Next time,” the goanna growled, “it might not be stringy, tough old turkeys that I go after. It might just be a fat young wombat!” He stalked away and disappeared into the bushes.

Benson’s mother said, “I don’t like the sound of that. Come on, I’ve got an idea.”

They hurried home and started making the muffins. Benson helped chop up the macadamias while his mother stirred and mixed. When she was finished, she said, “Go and ask Aunt Lillibet if we can have some of those little bells that she uses to make Christmas decorations.”

Aunt Lillibet gave Benson nearly a whole bag of little bells. Benson gave them to his mother, and she tipped them into the muffin mixture.

“Hey, what did you do that for?” Benson said.

“Sorry, Benson,” she said, “these muffins are not for eating. Not for us, anyway.”

When the muffins came out of the oven, they smelled wonderful. Benson’s mother wrapped them in a tea towel and they set off to find the old goanna.

They went back to the bush where they had left him, and Benson’s mother unfolded the tea towel. The goanna came out, sniffing greedily. “What have you got there?” he said.

“I knew you were hungry, ” she said, “so I made these, especially for you.”

The goanna turned his nasty yellow eye on her. “What’s in them?” he asked.

“Macadamia nuts and lemon myrtle,” she said.

That’s not ALL that’s in them, Benson thought, but he didn’t say anything.

The goanna gulped down every single muffin in just three gulps. “Mmmmm, delicious!” he said. “But if you thought that would stop me hunting turkeys, you were wrong! Now it’s turkey time!”

He smiled his nasty smile and started off, but as soon as he took a single step, there was a tinkling sound, like the sound of dozens of tiny bells inside a goanna’s tummy. “What’s that?” he said. He took another step and the tinkling happened again. “What have you done?” he shouted angrily.

“No more sneaking and hiding for you!” Benson’s mother said. “Now everyone will hear you creeping up behind them.”

The goanna hissed and ran up a tree, and sat there sulking and eating snails for the rest of the day.

Reaching for the Stars

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

One morning Aunt Lillibet said, “That ceiling definitely needs painting again.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh no, Lillibet, you can’t paint the ceiling. Remember how you are with ladders.”

Aunt Lillibet was terrified of being up a ladder.

Benson’s mother said, “We could ask Uncle Elton to come and paint it.”

“No way,” Aunt Lillibet said, “not after what happened last time.” Last time Uncle Elton brought his ladder to help with the high bits, he had spilled the paint twice, the first time on top of Aunt Lillibet’s hat, and the second time on top of a cake she had just made. “That hat has never been the same since,” she said.

Benson’s mother said, “You know the rule about ladders, Aunt Lillibet. After you reach a certain age, no more going up ladders!” They all had to say ‘a certain age’ because no-one knew how old Aunt Lillibet was and no-one dared to ask her.

“Relax, everyone, I’m not going up the ladder,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Are you going to get a trampoline and jump up and down and paint the ceiling?” Benson asked.

“What do you think?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Or you could get a cherry-picker,” Benson said. He could already imagine himself going up and down and around and around in a cherry-picker, and all his friends having a turn.

“No,” Aunt Lillibet said firmly. “I’ve got a better idea. Benson can do it.”

“Me?” Benson said.

“You,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’ll hold the ladder and tell you the bits you’ve missed and you can climb up and do the painting.”

Benson thought about it. He loved going up and down ladders, so long as there was someone holding it safely at the bottom. “Okay,” he said. “What would you like me to paint on it? Clouds? Trees? Fairies and unicorns?”

Aunt Moss clapped her hands and said, “Oh yes, fairies and unicorns!”

“Plain white,” Aunt Lillibet said very firmly. “Ceilings should always be plain white.”

“It’s not white now,” Benson pointed out. The ceiling was a kind of beigey grey.

“That’s why it needs painting,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson put his painting shirt on, and Aunt Lillibet and his mother brought the ladder inside and leaned it up against the wall.

“Start over this side,” Aunt Lillibet said, handing Benson the paintbrush. “Be careful not to splash any on the walls.”

Benson started to climb the ladder. It was tricky holding the brush in one hand, but he made it safely to the top and started to paint.

Aunt Lillibet stood at the bottom, holding the ladder and watching. “You missed a bit in the corner,” she said.

Benson couldn’t quite reach the corner, so he tried throwing the brush at it. The brush dropped straight down and landed on Aunt Lillibet’s hat.

“Oops!” he said. “Lucky you’re wearing your painting hat, Aunt Lillibet.” Aunt Lillibet looked very hard at him. He climbed down and fetched the brush and dipped it in the paint bucket. He climbed up the ladder and started painting.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You’ve missed that bit again!” She lost patience completely, and got another paintbrush and started to climb up after Benson.

Benson felt the ladder wobble. “Don’t, Aunt Lillibet!” he said.

She paid no attention. She was only thinking about that spot in the corner that Benson had missed. She climbed up the ladder, right over Benson, and dabbed at the spot. “There! That’s much better!” she said.

Just then Aunt Moss walked in. When she saw Aunt Lillibet on the ladder, she screamed. Aunt Lillibet jumped, and paint splashed all over the ceiling. “Look what you’ve made me do!” she said angrily.

“Lillibet!” Aunt Moss screeched. “You’re on the ladder!”

Aunt Lillibet froze. “I’m what?”

“You climbed up the ladder!” Aunt Moss said.

Aunt Lillibet was so scared, she couldn’t move. Her legs were frozen, even her arm holding the paintbrush in the air was frozen.

Benson said, very quietly so as not to shake the ladder, “Help.”

His mother came into the room to see what the screaming was about. “Benson, did you call?” she said. Then she saw what was happening. “Lillibet, don’t move!” she shouted.

“I don’t think you need to say that,” Benson said.

She rushed over and grabbed the ladder. “Lillibet, come down at once!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Gngnngmnm.” Even her mouth was frozen. She meant, “I can’t get down!”

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, can you help her? Try to move one of her feet down to the next rung.”

Benson tried, but Aunt Lillibet was stuck to the ladder like cement.

“I can’t,” he said. “She won’t move.”

Benson’s mother said, “Aunt Moss, can you hold the ladder while I try to get her down?” but Aunt Moss had her hands over her eyes so she was no help.

Benson’s mother tried saying calm things like, “It’s only a little ladder, Lillibet, it’s nothing to be afraid of,” and “Just take one step at a time,” but Aunt Lillibet was too frightened to hear her.

Benson was getting squashed, stuck on the ladder with Aunt Lillibet pressing herself against the ladder as if she was afraid she was going to die if she let go. Then he remembered that he still had his paintbrush in his hand. He started painting on the wall behind the ladder. Where each of the rungs of the ladder were, he painted a big step on the wall. It looked like a staircase going down the wall, right behind the ladder.

“Aunt Lillibet, you’re not afraid of steps, are you?” he said.

“Gmgnmgm,” said Aunt Lillibet, which meant, “Of course not.”

Benson said, “You could walk down some steps backwards, easily, couldn’t you?”

Aunt Lillibet would have nodded if her head wasn’t frozen.

“Look,” said Benson. “See these nice steps here? Just walk down the stairs, simple.”

Aunt Lillibet looked. She could see steps instead of a ladder, steps that could get her off that terrifying ladder. Her legs unfroze by themselves and started to move without her even telling them to, step by step down to the ground.

When she got to the bottom, everybody clapped. She sat down on the floor with a bump and fanned herself with her hat. “I’m never, ever going up a ladder again!” she said. “Nasty, horrible, wobbly things!”

Benson said, “What about the ceiling?”

The ceiling was a nice bright white in one corner, with splashes of white all over the rest of it. Aunt Lillibet looked at it and groaned. Benson’s mother said, “You know, I like it. It looks like tiny stars scattered across the ceiling.” And it did, really.

She made them all some warm milk and fennel-seed cookies, but Aunt Lillibet couldn’t stop looking at the ceiling.

That night, Benson was asleep when a noise woke him up. He got up and went out. Aunt Lillibet was standing at the top of the ladder. She reached out with the paintbrush and put one dab on the ceiling, and then she climbed down again slowly and carefully.

Benson waited until she got to the bottom, then he said, “Aunt Lillibet! You went up the ladder!”

“I had to do it,” she said. “I couldn’t live with the ceiling like that, with one star missing, could I?”

Benson looked up, and on the ceiling there was a perfect Southern Cross.

Panda Buttons

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 friend, Zali, had a baby sister called Zip, who was still so little that she spent most of her time in her mother’s pouch. She couldn’t really talk, she could only say, “huh-huh.”

Zali and Zip’s grandmother was called Aunty Lal. Her real name was Lallapalloosa, but everyone called her Aunty Lal except for Zali and Zip, because she was their grandma.

One day she made little Zip a panda onesie. It was black and white and furry, with little panda ears and panda buttons all down the tummy. She looked so cute in it that all the grown-ups said, “Oh, she’s so cute!” whenever they saw her in it, and just wanted to pick her up and hug her.

Zip loved her panda suit. It covered her all over from head to toe, and it was soft and warm. It made her feel cosy and snuggly, as if she was in her mother’s pouch. She loved it so much that she wouldn’t let her mother take it off. She wore it every day and even at bedtime she wouldn’t take it off.

Benson didn’t think she looked cute. “I think she thinks she IS a panda,” he said to his mother. “She doesn’t say, ‘huh huh’ any more, she just growls instead. Yesterday she tried to bite me.”

“No!” said his mother. “She wouldn’t!”

“She did!” Benson said.

The next day at the playground, Zip’s mother, Teresa, said, “I don’t know what to do about little Zip.”

“Why, what’s wrong?” Benson’s mother said.

“She won’t drink her milk, and she won’t sleep in my pouch any more,” Teresa said. “She just sits in a clump of bamboo and chews on the leaves all day.”

“That’s not good,” Benson’s mother said. “A little wombat needs her milk.”

“I think it’s the panda suit,” Teresa said. “I think she thinks she’s a panda.”

“Can’t you wait until she’s asleep and take it off her?” Benson’s mother said.

“I tried that,” Teresa said, “but she wakes up and screams. She even tried to bite me once.”

“Oh no!” Benson’s mother said.

“She wears it all the time, even in the rain, and it keeps shrinking and getting tighter,” Teresa said. “I don’t know how I’m going to get it off her.”

Benson had an idea. “You could give her lots and lots of cakes and cookies until she gets really fat and the panda suit splits in half.”

“That wouldn’t be good for her either, Benson,” his mother said.

Benson had a scary thought. “If she never takes it off, will she turn into a panda?” he asked. He imagined little Zip growing into a great big black-and-white panda with sharp claws and teeth, stomping and growling and biting people.

“No,” his mother said, “what you wear can’t turn you into something you aren’t. If you put on one of Aunt Lillibet’s hats, you wouldn’t turn into Aunt Lillibet, would you?”

Benson imagined himself turning into Aunt Lillibet and he shivered all over. He patted himself up and down to make sure he was his usual self.

His mother was thinking. “I don’t think Zip wants to BE a panda. She just likes the snuggly feeling the panda suit gives her.”

“What if she thinks that the panda suit has turned her into a panda?” Benson said. “She’s only little. She could easily get mixed up.”

His mother said, “You could be right. I think I’ll have a talk to Aunty Lal.”

The next time Benson saw little Zip, she was still wearing the panda suit. The white parts were dirty and grey, and her feet were sticking out because the legs were too short for her, but Zip didn’t care. Zali did, though. She kept trying to pull Zip’s panda hood off, saying, “Zip! Gone! Zip! Gone!”

Benson tried to tell her that it was still Zip inside the panda suit, but Zali wouldn’t listen. She got more and more upset. Then she tried to pull the suit off. Zip didn’t like Zali pulling at her suit. She growled like a fierce panda and scratched Zali across the nose.

Zali yelped and started to cry. “Zip! Zip gone!” she sobbed.

Benson couldn’t stand it any more. He went up to Zip and got hold of the panda buttons down the front of the panda suit and ripped them off in one go. The panda suit burst open, and a soft brown wombat popped out.

“Zip! My Zip!” Zali cried joyfully.

Zip burst into tears. Benson took her hand, and he took Zali’s hand in his other hand and he took them both home.

Aunt Lal was in the kitchen, with a big package. She gave Zip a cuddle and said, “Never mind, little Zippie, look, I’ve got a surprise for you!”

She opened up the package, and there was a brand new onesie, soft and furry and brown all over, with little wombat ears. She helped Zip put it on. Zip smiled happily and snuggled into her arms.

Aunty Lal said, “And if this one gets dirty and needs a wash, I’ve made you a spare one. What do you think?” She held up a bright green onesie with zigzag points all down the back and dinosaur buttons on the front and three horns on the hood.

Benson sighed, thinking of a small green triceratops rampaging through the sandpit.

Zali picked up the dinosaur suit, and ate the buttons.

The Red Rocket

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course you can,” his mother said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” she said, and walked off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bouncy Red Ball

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

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

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

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

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

“Did it?” said Benson.

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

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

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

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

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

“Really!” said Benson.

“Did you throw it at me?” Nils asked.

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

Nils asked Mick, “Is this your ball?”

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

“All right,” Nils said.

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

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

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

“It wasn’t me,” Mick said.

“I didn’t do it,” Benson said.

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

“We’ll play with you,” Mick said.

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

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

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

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

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

Pick Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, all right,” Mick said.

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

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

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

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

Rock Painting

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

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

“Paintings of rocks?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone nodded seriously.

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

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

“Keep back!” Gordon said loudly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a pademelon,” Aunt Moss said.

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

Benson hung his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I asked Nanna,” Aunt Moss said simply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are we going?” he said.

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