Past It

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

One morning after breakfast, Benson’s mother started baking a cake. The lovely smell filled the whole wombat hole. It was just ready to come out of the oven when Nanna arrived. She said to Benson, “I’m going to visit some old friends. I think it would be good if you came with me, Benson. They’d love to chat to someone younger for a change.”

Benson’s mother said, “You can take the cake for morning tea if you like. It’s pumpkin and date.”

“Okay,” Benson said. If the cake was going, he was going too.

Nanna said, “It might be a good idea to bring your drawing things with you, so you’ve got something to do while I’m talking to my friends.”

Benson put his pencils and his pencil-sharpener and lots of drawing paper in his backpack, and got his hat and his water bottle. Nanna put the cake in a basket and they set off.

Nanna’s friends lived in a deep, dark wombat hole. They were all sitting in a dark room, not doing anything, except for one of them who was asleep in a chair and snoring. There were no pictures on the walls, and no nice smells like cake, or orange juice. Nanna said to them, “This is Benson. We’ve brought you some cake.”

The first one, whose name was Waldo, said, “We don’t get many visitors these days. Not like the old days, when we were famous all over the country.”

“What were you famous for?” Benson asked, while he ate his cake.

“We used to be the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats,” Waldo said. “Bub over there used to stand at the bottom because he was the biggest and strongest, and Jerome and I used to balance on his shoulders, and Hope would balance on top of our heads and do all sorts of fancy back-flips and double-reverse-pike jumps.”

Jerome grunted, “We don’t do any of that now, though,” he said. “Past it.” He had another slice of cake.

“What do you do now?” Benson said. The cake was really very good. He hoped Nanna’s friends wouldn’t eat it all.

“Nothing,” Jerome said. “Past it, really.”

Hope said, “I used to wear a sparkly pink costume, and a crown with plastic diamonds.” She sighed. “I loved that costume,” she said sadly. She went to pick up another slice of cake.

“Can I see it?” Benson asked.

“Yes, if you like,” Hope said. She put the cake down and went into her room and put her costume on.

Benson thought it was beautiful. “My Aunt Moss has a pink leotard like that. She wears it when she does aerobics at the community centre.”

“Aerobics?” Hope said. “Like this?” She did a complicated walk-over pirouette with two half twists and a tuck-hop-skip at the end.

“More like this,” Benson said. His lifted his hands up straight in the air and brought them down again.

“Aerobics, hah!” Hope said. “I could teach them a thing or two.”

Waldo said, “Why don’t we show him our quick-step shuffle-off, Hope?” He and Hope started dancing across the room, flinging each other from side to side. They lifted Benson up and balanced him on their shoulders, then they spun him around and sat him on top of a lamp.

Benson said, “Wow! You’re amazing!” in between panting.

Jerome said, “They’re not as fast as they used to be but they’ve still got it. Not like me. I’m past it, I’m afraid.”

“Past what?” Benson said.

“Everything,” Jerome said. “It’s my knees, you know. Gone completely.” He took another piece of cake and ate it sadly.

Benson looked at Jerome’s knees. They looked as if they were still there. He said, “If you can’t dance or balance any more, what are you going to do now?”

Jerome said, “Not much, really. I always thought that when I retired from the acrobatics, I’d write a book about some of the things we used to do, and the places we went. But I don’t think I’ve got what it takes.”

Benson got out a piece of drawing paper and gave it to Jerome. He gave him his third-best green pencil and said, “Here. Now you have.”

“What, me? Write a book? Now?” Jerome said.

“Why not?” Benson said.

Jerome looked at the pencil and the paper. “You’re right. Why not?” he said. He put his head down and started writing.

Hope said, “You know, I think I’d make a good aerobics teacher.”

“I think so too,” Nanna said. “Why don’t you go and talk to the people at the community centre?”

Waldo said, “Do you think anyone would be interested in dancing lessons? I bet Hope and I could show them a thing or two.”

“I’m sure you could,” Nanna said. “I think lots of people would love to learn, once they saw you and Hope dancing.”

Waldo said, “What about you, Jerome?”

Jerome didn’t even look up from his piece of paper. “Don’t bother me now, Waldo,” he said. “I’ve only just gotten started on this history of the Amazing Acrobatic Wombats.”

There was no cake left, so Benson figured it must be time to go home. In the corner, Bub gave a really big snore and woke himself up. “Oh, are you going?” he said. “You should come again sometime, young fellow. You really liven the place up.” He rolled over and went back to sleep.

When they got home, Benson’s mother said, “Would you like to give me a hand in the kitchen, Benson?”

Benson lay down flat on the floor. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve been talking and dancing and helping people write stories all morning. I’m too tired. I think I’m past it!”

“Too tired even to help me make pancakes?” she said.

And Benson found he wasn’t past it at all.

Spreading Rumours

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

It was a beautiful day and everyone was at the playground. Benson was in the sandpit, making a sand angel. He lay on his back and waved his arms up and down in the sand, and moved his legs from side to side. Twiss came over to see what he was doing

“What are you doing?” she said.

“You’re being inquisitive, aren’t you?” Benson said. ‘Inquisitive’ was a new word he had learnt from Aunt Lillibet. She used it when she meant ‘sticky-beak’ but she was too polite to say so.

Twiss went back to her sister Arlette, who was on the swings. “Benson called me a name,” she said.

“What did he call you?” Arlette said.

“In… I can’t remember, but it was mean,” Twiss said.

“Boys are always mean, especially Benson,” Arlette told her. “Let’s follow him and see if we can get him into trouble.”

On the way home from the playground, Benson stopped at Mr Fenn’s orange tree, to see how the oranges were getting on. Benson loved oranges. The ones on Mr Fenn’s tree were just turning from green to orange. Benson put his face up to them and smelled their orangey smell. He started dreaming about orange cake and orange jelly, and fresh oranges with the juice dribbling down his chin. Then he noticed a slug making its way up the trunk of the tree. He lifted it off carefully.

“What are you doing?” Arlette said, suddenly stepping out from behind a bush.

Benson jumped, and dropped the slug. “Nothing,” he said.

“Were you going to eat that slug? Eeyuwww!” she said.

“No, of course I wasn’t!” Benson said indignantly.

“You were!” Twiss said. “We saw you! You were going to eat a live slug! That’s disgusting!”

Arlette said, “We’re going to tell everyone that you eat slugs!”

“I don’t! I didn’t!” Benson protested, but Arlette and Twiss ran off down the track, giggling.

At dinner-time, Benson was eating his eggplant and raisin stew and thinking about whether camels have one hump or two, or three if they’re lucky, when Aunt Lillibet said, “What’s this I hear about you catching slugs and eating them, Benson?”

“What?” his mother said.

Benson went all red.

Aunt Moss said, “I’m sure it’s just a very silly rumour. That’s what I told everyone at my book club.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Rumours can do a lot of damage, you know. Gordon and Fenella were talking about it at folk-dancing this afternoon. I told them it wasn’t true, but I don’t know if they believed me.”

“It’s not true!” Benson said. “I’d never eat a slug! Yucckkk!”

Benson’s mother said, “How could a rumour like that even get started?”

Benson said, “I was just looking at Mr Fenn’s oranges, and there was a slug climbing up the tree and I picked it off, that’s all. Arlette said I was going to eat it, and they said they’d tell everyone.” He felt upset and angry all at the same time. He didn’t want people to think that he’d eat a slug.

He said, “I’m going to tell everyone something terrible about Arlette, to get her back. I’ll tell everyone she eats spiders. “

“Benson!” his mother said sharply. “That would be a very bad thing to do. First of all, it would be saying something that isn’t true, and besides that, it would be mean and unkind. Do you want to be a wombat who does mean, nasty things to other people?”

“No,” he said, although he did kind of want to, to Arlette and Twiss. “What am I going to do, then?”

His mother said, “Do what you always do. Be yourself. Everyone will soon realise it’s all a made-up story, and they’ll forget about it in no time.”

Aunt Lillibet said darkly, “I don’t know. People will believe all sorts of things, even if they’re not true.”

His mother said, “Just give them time. The truth will come out. Everyone who knows you, knows you wouldn’t do a thing like that.”

Benson tried, but it was hard. The next day at the playground, no-one would play with him. Rodney ran off and wouldn’t play with him, and Elmer looked the other way and pretended he wasn’t there. Alejandro got on his bike and rode off, and the girls stood together and whispered to each other about him. Only Zali treated him the same as she always did. Benson went home in tears.

On the way home, he stopped at the orange tree again. Just the smell of the oranges made him feel better. “It’s all your fault,” he said to the tree.

Then he heard Arlette behind him. “See? He’s doing it again! He’s come to get some more yummy slugs!” This time it wasn’t just Twiss with her, but Rodney and Ada, and Elmer.

Benson’s face went very red. “I’m not!” he said. “I don’t eat slugs!”

“Well, what are you doing here then?” Arlette smirked.

“I was just talking to the tree,” Benson said. It sounded silly when he said it out loud.

Arlette laughed. “No-one’s going to believe that!” she said.

Mr Fenn came out of his front door. “Why not?” he said. “I talk to it all the time. And I pick slugs off it if I see them, just like I saw Benson doing the other day. You know, people who tell stories about other people better make sure they’re telling the truth, Arlette, otherwise they could get in big trouble.”

Arlette went red this time. “Come on, Twiss, let’s go,” she said. “Wait till we tell everyone that Benson talks to trees!”

Benson watched them go, feeling even worse than before. Mr Fenn said to him, “Now, young Benson, have you ever thought about growing your own orange tree?”

“Me? My own orange tree?” Benson said. He imagined oranges hanging off a tree in his own back yard. “Could I?”

“I think you’d be good at it,” Mr Fenn said. “I’ve got a young seedling you can have, if you think you could look after it.”

“Yes, please!” Benson said happily. All of a sudden he didn’t care what Arlette or Twiss said about him. “If they want to tell people that I talk to trees, well, let them,” he said.

Mr Fenn grinned. “There are a lot worse things than talking to trees,” he said. “Like spreading nasty rumours about other people.”

They took the seedling back to Benson’s place and Mr Fenn helped him plant it in the ground. Benson watered it, and looked after it, and he talked to it every day.

Benson’s Kite

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

Benson was rummaging around in the recycling bin while Aunt Lillibet was trying to have breakfast.

“What are you doing, Benson?” she asked. “I’d like to have my breakfast in peace, if you don’t mind.”

“I need a big piece of coloured paper,” Benson said. “We’re going to make kites at the library today, to celebrate Children’s Day.”

“Kites!” said Aunt Moss. “How lovely!”

Benson said, “Miss Evangelina said we all had to bring a big sheet of coloured paper, and some sticks.”

Aunt Lillibet put down her spoon and thought. “I’ve got just the thing,” she said. She had a big box under her bed that was overflowing with scraps of fabric that she was going to make something out of one day, or left over from something she had made another day. “Here!” she said, pulling out a piece of shiny fabric. “This will be perfect.”

The piece of fabric was a kind of browny green, with purpley-maroon swirls on it. It looked like a pool of slime at the bottom of a muddy creek. Yuck, Benson thought. He said, “Miss Evangelina said to bring paper.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “This will be much better than paper, trust me.”

Benson remembered the last time Aunt Lillibet had said, “Trust me,” when she had made beetroot burgers with rhubarb and fish paste and said they would be delicious. They weren’t.

He said, “Um, do you have a red piece? Or white?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “This is the only piece I have. It’s silk. I’ve been saving it for something special. It will be absolutely beautiful, trust me.”

Benson’s mother called from the door, “Come on, Benson, we’re already running late!”

Horrible as it was, it was better than nothing. Benson grabbed the piece of silk and ran to catch up with his mother and they set off.

When they got to the library, everyone else had already started making their kites. Mick had a big piece of red paper. Arlette and Twiss had plain white, but then Arlette got out her Young Wombat’s Scrap-booking Kit and started gluing sequins and glitter and party bows all over hers.

Benson’s cousin Elmer had brought a big sheet of bark instead of paper. “Dad thinks it should be all natural,” he said.

Benson brought out his piece of silk. Miss Evangelina said, “Oh, that’s… unusual. I’m sure it will be fine, Benson.”

Arlette snickered and said, “What colour do you call that, sludge?” Twiss laughed. She was gluing bits of painted pasta onto her kite.

Everyone had to cut their paper into a diamond shape and sticky-tape their sticks on. The piece of silk was hard to cut because it was slippery and it kept sliding everywhere. Benson used miles of sticky-tape to try to get the silk to stick on to his kite-sticks, but in the end, he tied it on with pieces of string. When he finished, it was floppy and saggy like a dead cabbage leaf.

Miss Evangelina said, “You’ve all done an excellent job! Umm, even you, Benson. Now we’re going to line them up on the table against the wall, and Hazel is going to judge which one is the best.”

Hazel came in and walked up and down in front of the row of kites. Arlette’s was pink and glittery, and Twiss’s had a yellow smiley face made out of pasta. Mick had had an accident with the scissors, so his was more like a triangle than a diamond. Elmer couldn’t cut his piece of bark at all, so it was shaped like a piece of bark. Benson’s stood at the end, droopy and sludgey. He was so embarrassed he wanted to sink through the floor.

Hazel said, “I can see you’ve all put a lot of work into your kites, but the problem is, they won’t fly.”

“Fly?” said Miss Evangelina. “What do you mean?”

“You know, fly! Up in the air!” Hazel said. “That’s what kites are for, they fly!”

“Do they?” said Miss Evangelina, completely surprised.

“But none of these will,” Hazel said. “The pink one and the smiley one are too heavy, and the red one is the wrong shape, and this piece of bark – is this meant to be a kite, or a canoe? But this one,” Hazel said, picking up Benson’s, “with a bit of work, this one might actually fly.”

“Really?” Benson said, getting excited.

“First of all, it needs a tail,” Hazel said.

Everyone helped make a tail for Benson’s kite out of the scraps of silk he had cut off. “And now we need a long kite string,” Hazel said. Miss Evangelina got some very strong string out of the library cupboard and Hazel showed Benson how to tie it on to the kite-sticks.

“All we need now is some wind,” Hazel said. They all went across the road to the park, where the wind was stirring the lavender bushes.

Hazel showed Benson what to do. He had to lift the kite high above his head, as high as he could reach, and wait for the wind to catch it. Then he let it go, but he kept holding on tight to the string. The wind lifted the kite up and up, until it was sailing high in the sky, tugging at the string in Benson’s hand. With the sun behind it, the green silk glowed like the bush at sunset, and the purpley swirls danced like flames.

“Ohh!” everyone said. “It’s amazing! Incredible!”

Benson thought it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Bonnie Lou Comes to Stay

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

One morning Benson’s mother said, “Mick’s auntie is sick, and his mother has to go away for a while to look after her. She needs someone to look after Mick and Bonnie Lou while she’s away.”

“Can Mick come and stay with us?” Benson said. He started thinking about all the fun things he and Mick could do together, digging, and riding their bikes, and building cubby houses and stuff.

“Mick’s going to stay with his cousins,” his mother said, “but Bonnie Lou’s coming to stay with us.”

“Bonnie Lou?” Benson said, disappointed. Bonnie Lou was no fun. She was always complaining, and wanting to have things her own way, and she got mad really easily.

When she arrived, it was worse than Benson had thought. She had to sleep in his room, and she started complaining as soon as she walked in. “Can’t you move your stuff off the floor?” she said. “Where am I going to put my things?”

“I like my stuff on the floor,” Benson said. “Why did you bring so much stuff, anyway?”

“I had to bring my paper dolls with me because I’m in the middle of making them, and I brought my wild-flower book in case I need it,” Bonnie Lou said. She swept Benson’s rock collection off his shelves and put her things there instead.

“Hey, leave my things alone!” Benson said.

“It’s just a bunch of dirty, old rocks,” Bonnie Lou said. “If you put your saxophone under your bed, there’d be a lot more room.”

“I can’t put it under my bed,” Benson said.

“Why not?” Bonnie Lou said. She looked under his bed. “Eeyuuwww!” It was crowded with dirty socks and an old ant farm, and Benson’s favourite hat and a flipper. Bonnie Loud climbed under, and heaved everything out. She put the socks in the wash and the flipper in the cupboard with the other flipper. Benson put his hat on.

“So that’s where that was,” he said.

“You should give that ant farm to Ralph,” she said. “He loves bugs and things.” She shoved the saxophone under the bed. “There!” she said. There was a lot more room now, but she filled it up straight away with her scooter and her skipping rope.

The next morning, Benson started to think that having Bonnie Lou to stay was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Everyone was eating breakfast, and she suddenly said, “Benson, you talked in your sleep.”

“I don’t talk in my sleep!” he said. He was sure he’d never heard himself talk in his sleep.

“You did!” she said, giggling. “You said ‘This pillow needs a tomato.'” Everyone laughed, except Benson. He felt silly. He went outside to dig.

Bonnie Lou came out and said, “Do you want to ride your bike while I ride my scooter?”

“I’m busy,” Benson said grumpily.

“Do you want to play pirates?” she asked.

“I told you, I’m busy,” he said.

Bonnie Lou went inside, feeling disappointed and lonely. After a lot of digging, Benson went in to get a drink. Bonnie Lou was sitting at the table with Aunt Lillibet and they were making sharks out of salt dough. It looked like fun. “Can I do that too?” he asked.

“Not with those dirty hands,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I thought you said you were busy,” Bonnie Lou said. She made a fat octopus with long twisty legs.

Benson went outside again, feeling even grumpier. In a little while Aunt Moss came out, wearing an eye-patch. Benson said, “Do you want to look at the hole I’m digging, Aunt Moss?”

“Not just now, dear,” she said. “Bonnie Lou and I are playing pirates. I just came out to get some celery to make a cutlass.” She picked a long stick of celery and went inside again.

Benson kept on digging his hole, but his heart wasn’t in it. He went inside to see if it was lunchtime yet. Bonnie Lou and his mother were in the kitchen, making banana bread. Benson cheered up straight away. “Can I help?” he said.

“We’ve just finished,” his mother said, “but you can help with the washing-up if you like.”

“No, thanks,” Benson said. He went into his room and got out his paper and his pencils and spread them out all over the floor so Bonnie Lou couldn’t come in even if she wanted to.

His mother looked in and said, “Bonnie Lou and I are going to take your old ant farm over to Ralph’s place. Do you want to come?”

“I’m too busy drawing,” he said, keeping his head down. He didn’t want to go anywhere with Bonnie Lou, and or do anything Bonnie Lou was doing. “Why did she have to come anyway?” he said to his mother. “She ruins everything.”

His mother looked at him, and said, “Don’t you think Bonnie Lou might be feeling a bit lonely?”

“How could she be lonely?” Benson said. “Everyone’s doing fun things with her all the time.”

At bedtime, Benson got into bed without even speaking to Bonnie Lou. He kept his eyes shut and pretended to be asleep even when she tried to say goodnight to him. After a while, he heard a kind of sniffling noise, like someone was crying with their face in their pillow. Then he heard Bonnie Lou’s voice whimpering very softly, “I want my mum.”

Benson couldn’t stand it. He felt terrible about all the mean things he had said and done, when Bonnie Lou was feeling lonely and homesick the whole time. He called softly, “You can come and sleep in my bed with me if you want to.”

Bonnie Lou stopped crying. “Can I?” she said. She padded across to his bed and he made room for her. She snuggled up against him, and they both went to sleep straight away.

Littering is for Losers

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

Benson and Aunt Lillibet went to Uncle Elton’s to take him a bowl of rainbow jelly and a jumper that Aunt Moss had knitted for Benson’s cousin Elmer, with a big yellow truck on the front. Elmer loved it, especially the truck. On the way home, Aunt Lillibet said, “Look at all this rubbish, littering up the bush!”

Benson looked around. There were plastic bags caught in the bushes, and bits of paper and rubbish all along the track.

“It’s disgusting!” she said. “Look! There are plastic coffee cups and drinking straws and old bottles lying everywhere. Why don’t people take their rubbish home with them?”

“Maybe their houses are already full of rubbish and if they take any more home, their houses will explode and the rubbish will go everywhere,” Benson said.

“Something has to be done about this,” Aunt Lillibet said. As soon as they got home, she got out some paper and a pen. “I’m going to write to the bushcare group and tell them they need to do something about all the rubbish in the bush. And then I’ll write to the Tree Protection committee, and the Volunteer Fire Brigade, and the Animal Welfare people. All this littering has to stop!”

She sat down and wrote letter after letter, and sent them off. The next day she had another idea. “Benson, you can help me make some leaflets to tell everyone to stop littering, and we’ll put them in everyone’s letter-boxes.”

Benson was happy to help. He drew lots of pictures on Aunt Lillibet’s leaflets, of animals tangled up in plastic or hurting themselves on broken glass, or accidentally eating pieces of rubbish and getting sick. Then he helped Aunt Lillibet put them in everyone’s letter-boxes.

When they got home, Aunt Lillibet had an even better idea. “Signs!” she said. “I’ll make lots of signs and put them up on all the trees!” She got big pieces of paper and big paint-brushes and painted lots of signs that said, ‘Littering is for Losers!’ and ‘Rubbish Ruins the Bush!’ and ‘Stop it – Don’t Drop it!’ She stuck them on trees and bushes and fences everywhere.

Then she had an even better idea. “I’ll make a giant banner!” she said. “It will be so big that no-one will be able to miss it!” She made a banner as big as a sheet, and she used all Benson’s paints, writing, ‘The Bush is our Home – Don’t Mess it Up!’ It was so big she had to get Aunt Moss and Benson and his mother to help her tie it up between two trees on the side of the track.

“There!” she said. “Now they’ll get the message!” She went home to wash the paint off her hands and have a rest.

Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother looked at the banner, and said to each other, “She’s right, we should do something about it.”

So they set to work picking up all the rubbish they could find and making a big pile. Before long, other animals saw what they were doing and came to help them. Mr Fenn and Shelley and Uncle Elton and Elmer and all the possums and even the dunnarts joined in. Mr Fenn got some big bags and they filled them up to the top with bottle tops and plastic bags and straws and empty containers. The cockatoos and the kookaburras helped them too, picking out bits of rubbish that had caught in the trees and dropping them into the bags.

When they were finished, everyone looked around happily at their clean, safe environment, and told each other how nice it was to have everything so clean and sparkling.

When Benson and his mother and Aunt Moss got home, Benson went to tell Aunt Lillibet. “Come and look, Aunt Lillibet,” he said. “Every single bit of rubbish is gone!”

They went out and walked down the track together. “Beautiful!” Aunt Lillibet said. “Everyone’s done an excellent job!”

Just then a great big gust of wind swirled through the bush. It tore every one of Aunt Lillibet’s signs off the trees and ripped them into pieces and threw them everywhere. It pulled the banner off the trees and tangled it up, high in the branches.

The clean, tidy bush was covered with bits of rubbish. Aunt Lillibet stared at the mess. She suddenly felt as if she needed to sit down.

Benson looked around, and then he went and got a big, empty, garbage bag. “It looks like you’ll be needing this,” he said. “Let’s get to work. Littering is for losers, you know.”

Two Little Kittens

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

Aunt Lillibet wanted to make mulberry jelly, so she sent him over to Mr Fenn’s to see if he had any ripe mulberries on his tree. Mr Fenn’s tree was bursting with mulberries, and he let Benson fill his basket up. On the way home, Benson saw Ada, his friend Rodney’s little sister, poking at something under a bush with a sharp stick. It was two tiny little kittens.

“Don’t!” Benson said. He grabbed the stick away from her. “You’ll hurt them!”

“They’re just cats,” Ada said. “Everyone hates cats – they’re cruel and mean.”

Benson said, “They’re just babies. They’re not going to hurt anyone.”

“All cats are bad,” Ada said. “My mother says so.”

Benson said, “I’m not going to let you hurt them, anyway.” He picked them up and put them in his basket and went home.

As soon as Aunt Lillibet saw the kittens, she said, “Cats! Disgusting!”

Aunt Moss said, “Baby kittens! Oh, they’re so sweet!” She picked one up and cuddled it.

Benson’s mother said, “Where did you get them?”

He said, “They were in the bush, and Ada was poking them with a stick.”

“Someone probably didn’t want them, so they dumped them in the bush and left them to die,” his mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You should have left them there.”

Benson was horrified. “You mean, let them die?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Feral cats are cruel and vicious.”

“Look at them, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss. “They’re just helpless little animals, like any other animal. You can’t abandon them to die!”

“Cats are cats,” Aunt Lillibet said. “They’re hunters and killers.”

Aunt Moss said, “That’s if they grow up wild in the bush and they don’t know any better. If you look after them properly, I’m sure they’d be perfectly beautiful animals.”

“They’d be cats, and cats are killers,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It’s just what they are.”

Benson’s mother asked him, “What are you going to do about them, Benson?”

“Me?” he said.

“You saved them, so they’re your responsibility,” she said. “They’re very young, so they’ll need feeding every couple of hours if they’re going to survive.”

Benson said, “What? Don’t cats just lap up milk from a saucer?”

“Not when they’re this young,” his mother said. “You’ll need to feed them through the night, too.”

Benson’s eyes opened wide. Night-time was for sleeping.

“Don’t worry, Benson, I’ll help you,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson’s mother said, “You need your sleep, Moss. It’s Benson’s responsibility.”

Benson thought about it. Then he made up his mind. “We can’t just let them die,” he said.

For the next week it felt like all he thought about was kittens: feeding them, cleaning up after them, keeping them warm, mixing up milk for them, and feeding them again. It was very hard work. He couldn’t remember the last time he got to go outside and dig.

Then one morning there was a sharp knock at the door. It was Ada’s mother, Polly, and Aunt Lillibet’s friend, Gordon. Benson was in his room, playing with the kittens, dangling a woolly sock while they tried to jump up and catch it. Gordon’s voice said, “I’ve heard that you’re keeping cats here secretly.”

Benson’s mother said, “It’s no secret. My son rescued some animals who were being mistreated. He brought them home to be looked after.”

Polly said to Gordon, “See? I told you they had cats!”

Gordon said, “Cats are a menace to all native wildlife. They should be taken away and destroyed.”

Benson was listening to them in his room, and his stomach dropped. He felt cold all over.

“Destroyed?” Benson’s mother said.

“Yes, destroyed,” Polly said. “Put down. Killed. They’re vicious killers. My son Rodney was attacked by a cat when he was a baby. It nearly killed him.”

Benson looked at the two tiny little furry bundles. One of them had its head inside the sock, and the other one was trying to climb in too. It was hard to imagine them slinking around, springing out on baby wombats and attacking them.

“I’m sorry Rodney was hurt,” Benson’s mother said.

“Well?” Gordon said. “Where are they?”

Benson’s mother called, “Benson!” He came slowly out of his room, with his eyes down.

Gordon said, “You can hand over those two savage animals right now.”

Benson’s mother asked Gordon, “What will you do with them?”

“The kindest way to put them down is to drown them,” he said. “It’s quick, and they don’t suffer.”

Benson said, “You can’t kill them! They’re just babies!”

“Baby kittens grow up to be killer cats,” Polly said.

“These ones won’t!” Benson insisted.

“There’s no argument, cats don’t belong in the bush,” Gordon said. “Hand them over.”

Benson looked at the two faces, Gordon’s hard and determined, Polly’s angry and upset. He looked at his mother with tears in his eyes and said, “Please?”

His mother looked at him for a long minute, then she said to Gordon, “We’ll take care of it.”

Gordon said, “You’re not going to keep them? You know it can’t be allowed.”

Benson’s mother repeated firmly, “We’ll take care of it,” and she took Gordon and Polly to the door and closed it behind them.

Benson said shakily, “Then we can keep them?”

His mother said, seriously, “Benson, think about what will happen when they start to grow up. What would you do if they caught a bird, or a lizard, and killed it?”

Benson didn’t want to think about it. “But not yet,” he said. “They only drink milk.”

“Benson,” his mother said, looking at him sadly.

He put his head down. He went into his room and put the kittens in their box and gave it to his mother. Then he went and lay down on his bed and cried and cried.

At dinner time when he came out, his mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were in the kitchen.

“Did you get rid of them?” he asked his mother.

Aunt Moss gave a little scream. “The kittens! Oh no! You didn’t!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s good riddance, if you ask me.”

“How can you be so cruel, Lillibet?” cried Aunt Moss. “They’re animals, just like you and me. Poor little things!”

Tears started to well up in Benson’s eyes again.

“Calm down, everyone,” his mother said. “I took the kittens…” Benson put his hands over his ears. He didn’t want to hear what she was saying.

His mother lifted his hands off his ears. “Don’t you trust me?” she said. “I took the kittens to a place where they take care of homeless kittens and find homes for them when they’re big enough.”

“They’re not dead?” Benson said joyfully.

“They’ll be looked after by people who love cats, and the bush animals will be safe too,” she said.

Benson hugged his mother. “Thank you,” he said.

Violets and Horseweed

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

One afternoon, Benson went out to dig a hole shaped like a cave, for the little dunnarts to play pirates in. Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were in the garden. Aunt Moss said, “I love violets, don’t you? They’re so pretty.”

Aunt Lillibet sniffed. “They pop up everywhere, like weeds.”

“Like little surprises,” Aunt Moss said. “And they smell so lovely.”

Aunt Lillibet sniffed again, then she looked harder at the flowers. “What’s that under the violets, Moss?” She lifted up the leaves of the violet plants. There were a whole lot of little fern-shaped leaves.

“Oh no!” Aunt Moss said. “Not horseweed!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It’s definitely horseweed. Moss, how could you let this happen?”

Benson came over to see what the trouble was. “What’s horseweed?” he asked.

“It’s a noxious weed,” Aunt Lillibet said. “That means it’s like poison for a garden.”

Benson sneezed. “Does it kill all the plants?” he asked.

“No, it doesn’t actually kill them,” she said. “It hides under them and around them, and then it sucks all the nutriments out of the soil for itself, and the plants die. It grows so fast, it takes over the whole garden in no time.”

Benson peered at the tiny leaves, hiding among the violets. “They don’t look like sneaky evil plants,” he said. “They look sort of cute, like tiny little ferns.”

“Don’t be fooled,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Those weeds will break a gardener’s heart. One day you have a healthy garden full of vegetables and flowers, and then before you know it, all you have is dead plants, and horseweed spreading everywhere.”

“My poor violets,” Aunt Moss said.

“They have to come out, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “The horseweed twines its roots around the roots of the other plants, so you can’t pull up the horseweed without pulling up the good plants.”

She and Aunt Moss set to work, pulling up all the violets. Benson sneezed again, and went inside to get a hanky. When he came out, there was a big pile of weeds. “Do you want me to throw them on the compost for you?” he asked.

“No, if we put them on the compost, their seeds will spread everywhere,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What do we do with them then?” Benson asked. “Do we dump them in the bush somewhere?”

“Absolutely not!” Lillibet said. “If horseweed gets into the bush, it will take over from the native plants. Then the little animals and the birds will have no food and nowhere to live.”

“What are we going to do then?” Benson asked.

“Well, we could burn them,” Aunt Moss said, doubtfully.

“Not in this bushfire season, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It’s too dangerous. There’s only one thing we can do. Wee on them.”

“Wee on them?” Benson said, amazed.

“Wombat urine is very good for killing horseweed,” Aunt Lillibet said primly. “It’s so full of nitrogen, the weeds just curl up and die. And the good thing is, it’s free, and there’s plenty of it.”

Benson sneezed again.

Aunt Lillibet looked at him and said, “Why are you sneezing, Benson?”

“I just am,” Benson said.

“It’s not the horseweed, is it?” she said. She held a clump of the weeds up to Benson’s nose. He sneezed five times in a row. His eyes started watering, and his head felt all muzzy.

“You poor dear, I think you must be allergic to horseweed,” Aunt Moss said. “You should go inside at once.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Come with me, Benson.”

She made him walk all over the backyard. Wherever he started to sneeze, she looked around, and there was another clump of horseweed. “Over here, Moss,” she called. “Bring the spade.”

He sneezed over the strawberry bed, and under the blueberry bushes. He sneezed at the celery patch, and all over the pumpkins.

“All these will have to come up,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Horseweed everywhere.”

“Oh dear,” Aunt Moss said. “All those beautiful pumpkins, and the celery! It’s a tragedy!”

“Never mind, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said. “We’ll make pumpkin soup for the whole neighbourhood. And I know exactly what to do with the strawberries and blueberries.”

They dug and dug, until all the horseweed was in a big pile in the middle of the backyard. Benson finally stopped sneezing. “I feel like someone left a tap on inside my head,” he said. “My nose won’t stop running.”

“I’ll make you a nice sage-and-horseradish sandwich,” Aunt Moss said. “You’ll soon feel better.” Benson wasn’t so sure.

Aunt Lillibet said, “And there’ll be strawberry tart with blueberry ice-cream for dessert.” That made him feel a lot better straight away.

“You did a good job today, Benson,” she said. “Our very own horseweed detector!”

Benson felt quite pleased with himself. He gave another small sneeze, just to make sure his nose still worked.

Aunt Moss said sadly, “It’s a shame about my poor violets, though.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Don’t worry, Moss, they’ll come back again. But just remember, everyone, whenever you need to go, go and wee on a weed!”

Being Still

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

One morning Benson and his mother were eating breakfast, and Aunt Lillibet came into the kitchen to make a cup of camomile tea. “I’ve got such a headache,” she said. “I’m just going to sit quietly and drink my tea.”

She went and sat in the lounge-room and leaned back and closed her eyes. In a minute, she opened them again and said, “Benson, do you have to crunch your toast so loudly?”

Benson thought about it. “I think so,” he said. “Toast is noisy stuff.” He finished his toast and got an apple out of the fruit bowl. He took a big bite. It was very crisp and juicy.

Aunt Lillibet groaned loudly.

His mother said, “Benson, it might be a good idea to finish your breakfast outside.”

Benson took his apple outside and crunched it as loudly as he liked. When he came in again, Aunt Lillibet complained, “Benson, must you slam the door every time you come in?”

“No,” Benson said. “Sometimes I just bang it.” He banged the door to show her. Aunt Lillibet groaned.

He went over to the kitchen, and Aunt Lillibet said, “Do you have to stamp so loudly when you walk?”

Benson tiptoed across the floor. “Sorry, Aunt Lillibet,” he said.

“You don’t have to shout!” she said.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

His mother said quietly, “Why don’t you go and do something quiet in your room, like reading, or drawing?”

Benson tiptoed into his room. He got his pencils and he started to draw a family of armadillos in a fire truck. His black pencil rolled off the table and slid under the bed. He crawled under his bed to get it, but his bottom accidentally bumped his shelf, and everything fell off with a loud crash.

“Benson!” Aunt Lillibet shouted.

“Sorry!” he shouted back, then he remembered and whispered, “Sorry!” in a tiny voice. He decided to read his book instead. It was a story about some ducks and a cow and a lazy farmer. Benson thought it was very funny.

He wasn’t even up to the end when Aunt Lillibet yelled, “Benson! Do you have to laugh so loudly? It’s impossible to get any peace around here!”

Benson’s mother said, “Is your headache still bad, Lillibet?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It doesn’t help that I live with the noisiest young wombat on the planet!”

“I think Benson and I might go out for a walk until you’re feeling better,” Benson’s mother said. She and Benson got their hats and their water-bottles and they set off. Benson banged the door, but then he remembered, and he went back and closed it again, much more quietly.

They walked along through the bush, and Benson told his mother all about the book he was reading, and the drawing he was drawing, with the armadillos all in a row on the fire-truck ladder, eating their ice-creams.

After a while, his mother said, “Stop!”

Benson stopped. “What is it, a snake?” he said.

“No, I just mean stop talking,” his mother said. “You haven’t stopped talking since we left home, even for a minute.”

“I thought you liked me talking to you?” he said.

“Of course I love listening to you,” his mother said, “but if you’re always talking, you’re not doing very much listening, and you miss other things around you.”

“Things like what?” Benson asked.

His mother said, “All sorts of things. Just stand still for a minute, and listen.” Benson listened, but he couldn’t hear anything. He opened his mouth to tell his mother, but before he could say anything, she said, “Don’t tell me you can’t hear anything, just listen!”

Benson listened. All he could hear was himself breathing, Then he heard a bird call. He listened, and he heard another bird answer. Then the first bird called again. Another little bird was chirping quietly, and far away he could hear a cockatoo squawking. There were some butcherbirds talking at the top of a tree, and in the distance, he could hear some magpies practising their singing.

The more he listened, the more he could hear. Before long, he began to think there must be hundreds of birds in the bush around them, chattering and chirping and singing.

There was a sudden loud crack, right beside them. “That was a whip-bird,” his mother said quietly. They stood very still, and a big, dark green bird came up and looked at them. Then it flew away again.

“Do you hear that noise like a rusty hinge?” his mother said. “That’s a gang-gang cockatoo, and that ‘chack-chack’ sound is those two king parrots, in the tree over there.” Benson followed the sound and saw two beautiful bright red and green birds chatting to each other on a high branch. Then a big flock of lorikeets flew into the trees overhead and they couldn’t hear anything except their noisy chatter.

“All these birds,” Benson said, “all doing their own bird things, and living their bird lives, talking to each other and singing – they’re being so noisy, they probably don’t even know I’m here.”

“Not if you’re being still and quiet,” his mother agreed. “Sometimes I think we can be a bit like the lorikeets. I don’t think they even listen to each other. They just talk over each other, and get louder and louder and louder.”

When it was time to go home for lunch. Benson remembered to open the door quietly so as not to disturb Aunt Lillibet, but she opened her eyes when he dropped his water-bottle and it bounced across the kitchen floor.

“I’m never going to get any peace,” she groaned. “I think I’ll go outside, away from all this hullabaloo!”

Benson went to his mother’s room and came back with her pink, fluffy ear muffs. “Here,” he said, giving them to Aunt Lillibet. “You’ll need these if you’re going outside. You wouldn’t believe how noisy it is out there!”

Aunt Lillibet’s Long Journey

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

One day Aunt Lillibet was standing on a chair, cleaning the dust off the top of the fridge. She couldn’t quite reach, so she stood on one leg and leaned over as far as she could. The chair tipped over and she crashed down onto the floor.

“Oww!” she said. “My leg!” Her leg was so sore that she couldn’t walk properly for days. She had to sit in a chair and do her knitting and not go outside to the garden at all. It made her very cranky.

After a couple of days, she said to Benson, “Benson, I’m going to go on a long journey. When I’m gone, I want you to look after the sunflowers for me. “

Benson’s eyes grew very round. His friend Alejandro’s mother had told him once that her grandmother had gone on a long journey, and when Alejandro asked when she was coming home, his mother said that actually she had passed away, and that going on a long journey was just a nice way of saying that someone had died.

Aunt Lillibet’s going to die? Benson said to himself. He asked her, “Are you really going on a long journey, Aunt Lillibet?”

“Yes, very soon,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“A really, really long journey?” Benson asked.

“Yes, really, really long,” she answered. “And when I’m gone, there’ll be a lot of things to take care of.”

“Yes, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said sadly. He couldn’t imagine living without her. “Will it make you sad to leave everything behind?” he asked.

“Not much. I’m going to a very beautiful place,” she said, with a dreamy look on her face.

“What’s it like?” Benson asked.

“Very peaceful, and restful,” she said. “I won’t have to do a thing, and I’ll get to see lots of old friends.”

Benson said, “We’ll miss you.” He went outside feeling sad. He didn’t know what dying was like, but he knew what it was like when one of your friends went away forever. He remembered a place where there were lots of stones arranged in tidy rows, to remember people who had died.

He went and found a nice smooth stone. Then he got his paints and he wrote ‘Aunt Lillibet’ in his best writing. Then he stopped. What should he write after that? Dead and gone?

He thought and thought, then he decided what to put. He wrote it very carefully on the stone.

His mother came to see what he was doing. “What are you doing with that stone?” she asked.

“I made this for Aunt Lillibet,” he said, “for when she dies.”

“Aunt Lillibet isn’t dying,” his mother said.

“Isn’t she?” Benson said, surprised.

Aunt Lillibet was listening and she laughed. “No-one dies of a strained muscle in their leg,” she said.

“But you said you were going on a long journey,” Benson said.

“I am,” Aunt Lillibet said, “as soon as my leg’s better. I’m going to the mountains to visit my cousins, before I get too old to walk that far. I’m not going to die!”

Benson felt very relieved. “Oh. Well, you won’t need this then,” he said.

“What is it?” she said.

“It’s a stone that people have, to remember someone after they die,” Benson said. “I wrote your name on it, ‘Aunt Lillibet’, and then I wrote something else.”

“What did you write?” she asked.

Benson said, “Well, I thought of saying, ‘A noble wombat’, or ‘Loved by Some People’, or ‘A very fast knitter’, but they didn’t seem exactly right.”

Aunt Lillibet humphed. “So what did you write?” she asked.

Benson showed it to her. It said, ‘Aunt Lillibet. A very good gardener. Kind and helpful and funny.’

Aunt Lillibet didn’t say anything for a long time. Benson thought maybe he should have put ‘A noble wombat’ after all. But then she cleared her throat and blew her nose and said, “Well, I’m not thinking of dying any time soon, but this could come in handy one day.”

Benson said, “You can keep it if you like. You could take it with you on your trip.”

His mother said, “It might be a bit heavy to take all that way. Why don’t we put it in her room while she’s away? Then whenever we look in, we’ll see it and think about her having a nice holiday in the mountains.”

Everyone thought that was a good idea, so they did.

The Perfect Chicken

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

Benson was lying on his tummy on the floor, drawing elephants. He asked his mother, “Do you think I’m perfect?”

“Mmm-hmm,” she said. She was knitting a chicken, and she was just up to the part where she had to slip one stitch and knit two stitches together five times, and she was trying to count.

Benson said, “Alejandro says I can’t do pirouettes because I’m fat. Do you think I’m fat?”

“I think you’re beautifully wombat-shaped,” she said.

“Are you saying that just because you’re my mother, or do you really think it?” Benson said. “What if I grow up to be huge and lazy like a polar bear? Would you still think I’m perfect?” he asked. The elephant he was drawing had a long, long trunk that was holding a pink flower.

“I don’t think polar bears are lazy,” his mother said. “I think they lie around a lot to save energy because it’s so cold in all that snow and ice.” She cast off some stitches and did some tricky decreasing around the chicken’s underneath.

“What if I grow up to be cranky like… some people are, or mean, like a rat?” he asked. He rubbed out the pink flower and drew a nice daisy instead.

“You’d still be perfect,” she said.

Benson drew a swimming pool around his elephant and gave him a ball to play with. “Arlette says I’m horrible,” he said.

“Why does she say that?” she asked.

“She thinks Mick is horrible too, and Alejandro. Even Elmer,” Benson said.

“I don’t think Elmer’s horrible at all,” his mother said.

Benson drew a stripey roof over the swimming pool so his elephant didn’t get sunburnt, and he drew a big bowl of soup for the elephant’s lunch.

“Mick said I was stupid,” he said.

“Did he?” his mother said.

“I broke his new invention for seeing around corners on his bike,” Benson said. “How was I supposed to know it would snap if you bent it?” The soup bowl went a funny shape, so he scribbled all over it and started a new page. “Do you think I’m stupid?” he asked.

“Not at all,” his mother said. “Everyone makes mistakes. ” She tied off the last stitch, and put some stuffing inside to make it chicken-shaped. Then she sewed it up and cut off the yarn.

“Some people make mistakes by mistake, and some people make mistakes because they’re stupid,” Benson said in a low voice.

His mother got some red wool and threaded it through a needle. “What do you think?” she said.

He drew another elephant, with a big bottom and tiny legs. “I suppose I’m stupid about some things,” he said. He rubbed out the tiny legs and drew nice sturdy legs to hold up the elephant’s big bottom properly. “Nobody’s perfect,” he said.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” his mother said. “Everybody’s perfect.”

Benson looked up from his drawing. “How can everybody be perfect? Alejandro is really mean sometimes, and Mick gets mad at me, and Arlette is never, ever, ever nice to me. Even Zali bites sometimes.” He drew a smile on his elephant. “But she doesn’t mean it. Zali’s pretty perfect, I guess.” He smiled at his elephant and his elephant smiled back. “I’ll never be perfect,” he sighed.

Benson’s mother finished sewing a little red beak on her chicken and two little red dots for the eyes. She put down her needle and said firmly, “I’m your mother and I know you’re perfect.”

Benson stopped drawing and looked up at her. “How can I be? I’m terrible at climbing and I can’t do pirouettes, and I make mistakes in my drawing all the time. And sometimes I’m even mean to Mick. I didn’t even say sorry when I broke his new invention.”

His mother said, “Benson, do you see this chicken I’ve made for little Zip?” She held it up for him to see. It was a little brown chicken with two odd brown wings. It had funny red eyes, and its beak was crooked. “What do you think?” she said, putting it in his hand.

He looked at the little chicken. Its beak was too small as well as being crooked, and one wing was bigger than the other, and the eyes didn’t match. But then he noticed how it seemed to cock its head on one side, and its wings looked like it was clucking about something, and it had a look on its face that made him feel happy inside. It felt warm and exactly shaped to fit his hand.

He smiled at his mother. “It’s perfect,” he said.

A Kangaroo in a Flock of Sheep

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

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

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

“Baa-aa,” said the kangaroo.

“What?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sheep must be pretty smart,” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that what you do?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Green Hairy Monster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t find my dad!” he said.

“Tell me what’s happened,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Rhyme or Not to Rhyme

for Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson said, “What’s poetry?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson said, “What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Light on the Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Benson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spider Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you believe her?” his mother asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Arlette said. “What’s that?”

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

“Strawberries?” Arlette said nervously.

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

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

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

His mother said, “Are you sure?”

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

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

“Is it gone?” she panted.

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

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

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

His mother said, “No, of course not.”

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

A Quiet Afternoon Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, silly me!” said Aunt Moss.

Lavender Biscuits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mmm-hmm,” Benson said, nodding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s Gordon,” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson said, “That was extremely greedy!”

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

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

Benson said, “The muffins are good too.”

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

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

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

“Absolutely,” Benson said.

The Recycled Cubby-house

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

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

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

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

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

“Like what?” Benson said.

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

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

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

Two seconds later, Nils and Nella came bounding up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No girls allowed!” Mick said.

“Bonnie Lou is in there,” Arlette said.

“She doesn’t count,” Mick said.

“That’s not fair!” Twiss said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training Wheels

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

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

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

Everyone stopped talking and looked at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not really,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ready!” Elmer said.

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

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

Benson and Mick laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Get Uncle Elton,” Bonnie Lou cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They will,” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

“Don’t leave me!” she cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Adventurous Dunnarts

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

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

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

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

“Are you going somewhere?” he asked them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What for?” Gus said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Even on Tuesdays?” Eddie asked.

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

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

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

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

“What?” said Teddy and Eddie.

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

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

Benson said, “Just give me a minute.”

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

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

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

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

“Time to go home,” Benson said.

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

“Yay!” said Teddy and Eddie.

Benson sighed, and went back to digging his tunnel.

The Unicorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s amazing!” Aunt Moss said.

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

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

The Whale and her Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what about the whale?” Benson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It started to rain, big heavy drops.

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing with Potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

“All right, Benson?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“All right,” he agreed reluctantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you cooking?” he asked.

“Potatoes,” his mother said.

“Potatoes and what?” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louisa Alexandra

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

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

They all ran out to see what it was.

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

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

His mother went over and turned the engine off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she was right.

The Medal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intruder

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

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

Aunt Lillibet was not happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then what’s it doing?” Elmer asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is this a mite robot?” Benson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairy Cakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?” Benson said.

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

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

“What bag?” Nanna said.

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

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

Benson said, “Who are they for?”

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

“Or a cake,” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s in that bag?” he asked.

“What bag?” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An orang-utan?” Benson said, amazed.

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

The Flying Carpet

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

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

“We’ve found something…” Nella panted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh yeah,” Nils said. “I forgot.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Fenn said they should stop talking and just pull.

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

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

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

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

Everyone cheered.

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

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

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

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

“Oohhh,” everyone breathed.

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

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

Nothing happened.

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

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

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

All Wombats Dig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do I have to?” Benson groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolley-Ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arlette looked at it disdainfully. “It doesn’t matter, we can play it without the ball. All you do is take turns jumping up off the ground and punching the air.”

“Is that all?” Mick said. “Easy.”

“Your team stands over there,” Arlette said, pointing.

Mick and his team went and stood on one side of the net, and Arlette and Twiss stood on the other side of the net and told them all what to do. “We all take turns jumping up and punching the air, my side first then your side, okay?”

Alejandro was very excited. He started doing warm-up jumps. He was very good. Elmer tried hard but he tripped and crashed into Benson and they both fell over.

Mick said to Arlette, “Where’s the rest of your team?”

Arlette said, “My friends, Junie and Rusty, are playing too.” Two wallabies came bounding out of the bush. They bounced up and down on Arlette’s side, way higher than the net.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” Mick said. “No wallabies! They should be disqualified.”

“I’m the referee,” Arlette said. “I do the disqualifying, and they’re not disqualified. Let’s start.”

She jumped up as high as she could, and punched the air and said, “Whuh!” Then Alejandro did one of his spectacular leaps, then both the wallabies jumped, then Mick, and then Elmer fell over again.

“Yes!” yelled Arlette and Twiss.

“Your turn to start,” Arlette said. Mick jumped up and went, “Umph!” then Twiss gave a little jump, not really trying, then Mick, and then Junie jumped over the net and landed on Benson’s head.

“Yes!” said Arlette. “That’s two points to us.”

“What?” Mick said.

Arlette said, “When I say ‘yes’, that means we get a point.”

Mick yelled, “Yes, yes, yes, yes! That’s four points to us.”

Arlette looked down her nose at him. “It’s two points to us, none to you. I’m the score-keeper.”

Bonnie Lou said, “I want to join the girls’ side.”

Elmer said, “Me too.” Benson went and lay down on his back under a tree. Junie and Rusty jumped back and forth over the net and over Alejandro and over each other.

Mick said, “This is a stupid game. I’m going home.” He stamped off.

Arlette called after him, “Wait! I know another game we could play.”

Mick turned around. “If there are wallabies in it, I’m not playing,” he said.

“No, it’s completely different,” she said. “There isn’t a net, just a bat and a ball. You hit the ball with the bat, and you run.”

“Do you know any bats that want to play?” Mick asked.

“Not that kind of bat,” Arlette said. “It’s a bat like a flat stick.”

“Have you got a ball?” Mick said.

“No, but you can play it without the ball,” Arlette said. “You just swing the bat and go, Whack! It’s called ‘whacket’.”

Mick said, “All right, but this time I’m being the score-keeper.”

Arlette said okay, and they got a nice, flat stick out of the bush. “Ready?” Arlette said. “You bowl first.”

Mick picked up his bowl and started to throw it.

“No!” Arlette said. “Not that kind of bowl!” She took the bowl away from him and gave it to Twiss to hold. “Just pretend you’re throwing a ball.”

Mick took a big run-up and threw an invisible ball as hard as he could.

“Whack!” said Arlette. She started running backwards and forwards and counting, “One, two, three, four!” Junie put the bat in her pouch and bounded off into the bush. Mick scratched his head. He went and sat down under the tree with Benson.

“Is it over yet?” Benson asked.

“I don’t know,” Mick said. “But I think I know who’s going to win.”

Felix

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

It was Christmas, and it was very hot. Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss had been cooking and cleaning for days and days, ready for Christmas. Nanna came, and Uncle Elton and Elmer, and Mr Fenn, and cousin Lance and his special friend, Wilma, and Hazel, and Pascoe, the story-teller.

There was so much amazing food, Benson ate and ate until he could hardly talk. Everyone had a wonderful time, talking and laughing. While they were waiting to have enough room in their tummies for dessert and cousin Lance’s fabulous Christmas cake, Benson’s mother said, “Pascoe, would you tell us a story? Tell us the Christmas story again.”

Benson settled down to listen. He’d heard this story lots of times, but he loved the way Pascoe told it.

Pascoe began. “Once a long, long time ago, two travellers named Mary and Joseph went on a long journey, to a town called Bethlehem. They travelled day and night along rough, dusty tracks, and when they reached Bethlehem, Joseph looked for a place for them to stay, because Mary was going to have a baby. But the town was so crowded, there was no room anywhere for them to stay. Joseph knocked on door after door, but everyone turned him away, saying, ‘No room! No room!’

“Mary was so tired that she could hardly walk another step. Then a small boy told them they could sleep in the stable, a shed for the cows and the ox and the donkey.

“They went to the dark, quiet stable and the animals made room for them. The time came for Mary to have her child. It was a beautiful baby boy, and they named him Jesus. This baby was so special that all the heavens and the earth rejoiced. Angels filled the skies, singing, and the stars stood still in the night, and shone over the stable where the baby was.”

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Benson jumped up to answer it. “Wait! Don’t tell any more of the story till I get back,” he said to Pascoe. “I don’t want to miss anything.” He was gone for ages. When he came back, he said, “Did I miss anything?”

“No,” Pascoe said, “we were just up to the part where the angels were singing and the stars were shining.” She went on, “There were some shepherds, looking after their sheep in a big paddock. A great, shining angel suddenly appeared to them and they were amazed. The angel said – “

Hazel interrupted, and said, “Can I do this bit? I love this part!”

“Yes, of course you can,” Pascoe said.

Hazel stood up and said in a loud, strong voice, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy that shall be to all people!”

Elmer said, “Huh? What does that mean?”

Hazel said, “It means, Don’t be frightened, I’ve got great news! The most wonderful thing has happened. A baby has been born, who will bring peace and joy to everyone in the world.” And Hazel started to sing, in a high, beautiful voice.

Benson listened, spellbound.

When Hazel finished singing, Pascoe went on, “The shepherds said to each other, ‘This baby must be very special. Let’s go and see him.’ They hurried off to the stable, and there they found the baby Jesus, asleep in a bed of hay, warm and safe. The whole stable was lit by the light of the stars. The shepherds knelt down and gazed at the baby. Then they went off to spread the good news.”

Benson thought about the baby, and the angels and the stars.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Who was at the door?”

Benson said, “Oh, no-one, just a couple of animals. Can we have the Christmas cake now?”

His mother said, “What kind of animals?”

Benson said, “Just ordinary animals, kind of small and brown, with pointy noses. A bit like tiny kangaroos, with straight tails, and a black furry bit on the end of it.”

“It sounds like they were woylies!” Nanna said. “But they couldn’t be! There haven’t been any woylies around here for years and years, since long before I was born.”

“What’s a woylie?” Elmer said.

Cousin Lance said, “They’re rat-kangaroos, or bettongs, some people call them.”

“Soil engineers, we call them,” Aunt Lillibet said. “They scatter seeds everywhere, and they scratch up the the soil and that lets in more water for the plants to grow.”

Aunt Moss said, “Once there were woylies everywhere, but now they’re nearly all gone.”

“Where did they go?” Benson said.

“They died,” his mother said. “No-one knows why. Unless we can look after the ones that are left, they could soon be extinct.”

“Extinct!” Benson said, with round eyes. “Then there’d be no more woylies?”

“That’s right,” his mother said.

Uncle Elton said, “Two woylies knocked at the door? Where are they?”

Benson said, “I told them there was no room. It was too hot and crowded in here already.”

Everyone stopped talking, shocked. “You sent them away?” Uncle Elton said, horrified.

“No, of course I didn’t,” Benson said. “I took them down to the back door, to that little empty room. They needed a nice, cool, quiet place to have their baby.”

“A baby?” everyone said.

“Come and see,” Benson said, simply.

Everyone got up at once and hurried down to the little room near the back door. And there they found the mother and father with a brand new baby.

They all stood and gazed at the baby without saying a word, even though they were bursting with excitement and joy. Benson said, “Would you like some Christmas cake?”

The woylies smiled and said that would be nice and everyone got even more excited and all started talking at once. They all took turns holding the baby and saying how beautiful he was, except for Benson, who was thinking very seriously about dessert.

He and his mother went back to the kitchen, and they got the Christmas cake and the watermelon jelly and the passionfruit cream and peaches and cherries and everything ready. Benson helped his mother make a special treat for the woylies, out of peanut butter and oats and a sprinkling of truffle oil. They carried everything down to the little room by the back door, and everyone had a wonderful feast while the baby woylie went to sleep in nest of Aunt Moss’s knitting yarn.

“What are you going to call him?” Benson asked.

“His name is Felix,” the mother woylie said. “It means ‘happy’.”

“How did you come to be so far away from home?” Aunt Moss asked.

The father woylie said, “We used to live a long way out west, but we were taken to a kind of animal sanctuary.” He looked unhappy. “It wasn’t a good place. The woylies all died, one by one, so we decided to run away.”

“We travelled a long, long way,” the mother said, “looking for a safe place for us and the baby.”

“You can stay here,” Benson offered.

His mother looked at Mr Fenn. They were thinking of foxes and cats and other animals that were dangerous for woylies. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Mr Fenn said.

Nanna said, “I’ve heard of a special safe place for small animals like woylies to live, with no fences and no cages. It’s called Marna Banggara, healthy country. But it’s a very long way away.”

Aunt Moss said, “It would be a dangerous trip, especially with a young baby.”

Mr Fenn stepped forward. “I’ll take them,” he said. Everyone nodded. Mr Fenn was the biggest, bravest wombat anyone knew. He could protect them, and even carry them if they got too tired.

“But not just yet,” Benson’s mother said. “Stay here as long as you like and get your strength back.”

Everyone left then, to let the woylies have some rest, and to tell everyone the good news about baby Felix being born.

Benson’s mother said to him, “You look a bit disappointed. What’s the matter?”

Benson said, “I thought maybe they’d name the baby after me.”

His mother smiled. “Benson is a good name for a wombat, but maybe not such a good name for a little woylie,” she said.

Benson said, “And even though it’s Christmas and a baby was born, I didn’t hear any angels!”

His mother said, “Didn’t you? I did.” And she kissed him on the nose. Benson listened very hard, and he thought he could hear the sound of angels singing far away. Or it might have been Hazel.

Three Gifts

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a tidy, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning Benson woke up and thought about getting up, but it was so warm and cosy in his bed that he snuggled down and closed his eyes again.

Aunt Lillibet went past his door. She looked in and said, “Time to get up, Benson. You’re not going to change the world, lying there.”

Benson’s eyes popped open. How could he change the world, one small wombat? Well, you never know, he thought, and got out of bed.

He got dressed and went out to the kitchen and had a glass of milk and a banana. There was an enormous pile of washing up, because Aunt Lillibet had cooked eggs and beans for breakfast, and his mother had made cheese on toast and Aunt Moss had made a big pot of strawberry jam, and cooked a batch of scones as well.

Benson thought to himself that maybe he couldn’t change the world, but here was one thing he could do. He set to work and washed up all the dishes and bowls and cups and pans.

He was just finishing when his mother came out. “Oh! I was just coming out to wash all those dishes, and you’ve done them already! That’s wonderful! Now I’ll have time to finish my speech and get to the Town Hall in time for the big meeting! You’re wonderful, Benson!” She kissed the top of his head and hurried off.

Aunt Lillibet came out and looked at the sparkling dishes. “Did you do all those dishes?” she asked Benson. “That was a good thing to do.” She stood thinking for a minute. “There’s something I can do too,” she said, and she went off to her room.

Aunt Moss came out and said, “Oh, Benson, you’ve done all the washing up! That’s wonderful! Now all the bowls and spoons are clean, I can whip some cream and finish off those scones I made.”

Benson’s heart quailed. More washing-up, just after he had finished a mountain! But he smiled bravely and said, “I can help you if you like, Aunt Moss.”

Together they whipped cream and spread jam on the scones, then Benson plopped a blob of cream on top of each one. They looked extremely delicious.

Benson said, “Can I try one?”

Aunt Moss said, “No, they’re for morning tea at the Town Hall after the big meeting.”

Benson felt disappointed: no scones, no jam and no cream, and another pile of washing up. He sighed quietly and set to work.

Aunt Lillibet came hurrying out of her room with a big pile of papers under her arm. “I’ve made some posters for the big meeting, and I’m going up to the Town Hall to put them up,” she said, and hurried off.

Benson and Aunt Moss finished tidying up the kitchen, and then they carried all the scones and jam and cream up to the Town Hall. When they got there, Benson’s mother was in the middle of her speech. Everyone was listening.

She was saying, “So many of our koalas have lost their homes, and we really need a new koala refuge for them. I know you think it’s too expensive and too difficult, but all we need is three gifts: your time, your work, and a generous heart.”

Everyone looked at each other and nodded. All around the walls Aunt Lillibet had put up big posters that said, ‘Help Our Koalas’ and ‘Homes for the Homeless’, with pictures of sad koalas in black, burnt-out trees.

Benson’s mother said, ” So who will help build a new koala refuge?”

Gordon stood up and said, “I’d like to help,” then Fenella and Bliss said, “We will too.” More and more people stood up, saying they wanted to help and soon everyone was smiling and eating scones and talking about how they were going to build the new koala refuge.

Benson said to his mother, “That was a very good speech. Now everyone wants to help. I wish I could help too, but I’m just a small wombat.”

His mother smiled. “You already have,” she said. “It was you I got the idea for my speech from, you know.”

“Me?” Benson said. “All I did was wash the dishes!”

His mother said, “You gave some of your time, and your work, with a generous heart.”

Benson thought about what might have happened if he had stayed in bed. His mother might not have written her speech, Aunt Lillibet might not have thought of making the posters, and Aunt Moss might not have been able to finish the scones.

His mother said, “Now if we’re quick, we might just be able to get a scone before the last ones have gone.”

They were, and they did.

Benson Writes a Book

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, dry wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning Benson woke up with a brilliant idea. “I’m going to write a book!” he said to his mother.

“That’s nice, dear,” she said. “Make sure you have plenty of breakfast.”

Straight after breakfast Benson set to work. He got lots of paper and his pencils and started drawing. He was very good at drawing fish and things under the sea, so he decided to make it about a squid.

He wrote on the first page, “Once there was a squid.” He drew a beautiful squid. Then he drew all kinds of seaweed, and lots and lots of fish, so many fish that they took up pages and pages.

It took all morning. By lunchtime he was exhausted. His mother made him a macadamia butter and banana sandwich, and a glass of watermelon juice.

“Writing a book takes forever,” he complained.

Aunt Lillibet came over and looked at what he had been doing. “What about the plot?” she said.

“What’s that?” Benson said.

“It’s what happens in the book,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You know, a problem or an adventure, the things that happen. Every story has a plot.”

“Oh,” said Benson. “I suppose I’d better get one then.”

He thought and thought about what might happen to a squid. Were squids afraid of spiders? Did they go to the playground? Writing a book was much harder than he thought.

Aunt Moss came out to make herself a sandwich. She got a jar of jam out of the pantry, but she couldn’t get the lid off. “This lid is stuck,” she said.

“That’s it!” Benson said. He got his pencil and wrote, ‘The squid wanted to open the lid of a jar but it was stuck.’ He drew a beautiful jar of jam, and had a lovely time drawing his squid trying to get the lid off, with his long tentacles winding around it and a determined expression on his face.

He said to Aunt Lillibet, “Now I’ve got a plot, what else do I need?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You have to decide what happens in the end. Does everyone live happily ever after? Does the hero win, or does the baddie?”

Benson decided he liked happy endings better. He drew another squid helping the first squid, all their tentacles wrapping around the jar and getting the lid to come off. Two squids are definitely better than one, he thought. Then he drew them scooping the jam out and putting it into their mouths with their tentacles and getting jam all over themselves.

He drew and drew and drew, until finally he was finished. He showed it to Aunt Moss. She thought it was wonderful. “I can almost see the seaweed waving,” she said.

Aunt Lillibet looked at it and said, “It’s very short. And the groper looks exactly like Uncle Elton.”

Benson took his book to the playground to show his friends.

Alejandro said, “I don’t really like reading,” and he went back to practising his dancing.

Mick said, “Are there any sharks?”

Benson said, “No.”

Mick said, “Why not? The shark could eat the squid, and there’d be blood everywhere. You should put a shark in.”

Bonnie Lou said, “Does it have a princess?”

“No,” Benson said, “but there’s an angel-fish on page six.”

Bonnie Lou looked on page six. “She’s beautiful,” she said. “But where are her wings?”

“Don’t you want to read the story?” Benson said. “It’s got a plot and everything.”

“No, I can’t read, you know,” Bonnie Lou said.

Arlette read every page, and when she got to the end, she laughed and laughed and laughed.

Benson said, “It’s not meant to be funny.”

She stopped laughing. “Oh, I thought it was,” she said. Then she said, “It doesn’t say ‘The End’ at the end.”

Benson said, “It doesn’t need to say ‘The End’. The end is where it ends.”

Arlette said, “All the best books have ‘The End’ at the end.” She flounced away.

Benson sighed. He thought about what Mick had said about the shark. He got his pencils out and turned over a new page and wrote, “A shark came, so they hid.” He drew a big, scary shark swimming around the jar, and the two squids squashed together inside it, trying to pretend they were green cucumbers. He showed it to Mick.

“Where’s the blood?” Mick said, and went back to sliding down the slippery slide.

Bonnie Lou stopped swinging and said, “Are you going to put wings on the angel-fish?”

Benson said no, but he drew a little seahorse for her, with a tiny crown and fairy wings.

Arlette called from the roundabout, “What’s the name of the book?”

Benson said, “I thought I’d call it ‘The Friendly Squid.’”

Mick said, “Why don’t you call it, ‘Deadly Danger in the Deep Dark Sea’, or ‘The Terrible Shipwreck and the Hungry Shark’?”

Bonnie Lou said, “You should call it ‘The Angel-fish and the Fairy Sea-horse.'”

Arlette said, “Why don’t you call it ‘Boring’?”

Benson took his book home. He said to his mother, “Writing a book is hard work, and even when you’re finished, no-one really gets it.”

His mother sat down and read his book from beginning to end. “It’s very good,” she said, “but it’s missing one thing.”

“What?” Benson said. “A helicopter? An explosion?”

His mother said, “It doesn’t say who the author is.”

“The author?” Benson said.

“You know, the person who wrote it,” she said.

Benson got his pencil and wrote on the first page, ‘Written and Illustrated by Benson.’

His mother smiled. “Perfect,” she said.