Scowling Bananas

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

Benson was making a banana sandwich for himself and Aunt Moss.

“Bananas are such a happy fruit,” Aunt Moss said. “They’re always smiling.” She held up a banana, the curvy way up, and smiled.

Aunt Lillibet was in a grumpy mood. “Oh Moss, you’re always so cheerful, for no reason at all!” she said. “What a ridiculous thing to say!”

She took the banana from Aunt Moss and turned it upside down. “There,” she said, “now it’s frowning. Why do you always have to look on the bright side of things?”

“I don’t know, Lillibet,” Aunt Moss said. “I suppose I think there’s enough sadness in the world, so I just want to notice the happy things whenever I see them.”

“You’re just being silly,” Lillibet said. She chopped the banana in half and stamped off to her room.

Aunt Moss said sadly, “Now I’ve upset her. I’m such a silly goose.” She went off to her room too.

Benson ate the sandwich by himself. He thought to himself while he was eating.

He thought about looking at things in a happy way, or in an angry way, or in just an ordinary way. He looked at a painting that he had painted that his mother had put on the fridge, of himself holding his mother’s hand. His mother said it always made her happy to look at it. It was just an ordinary painting, a bit blobby where the brown had run into the green at the bottom. How could a painting make you happy?

He went into his room and looked at his books, and his favourite pillow and his orange gumboots. He always felt happy in his room, or when he put his gumboots on. But now they looked like perfectly ordinary gumboots, next to perfectly ordinary books. He started to feel sad and kind of grey inside.

His mother came in, and said, “Are you okay, Benson? You don’t look happy.”

He said, “Aunt Lillibet says it’s silly to feel happy for no reason.” He told her what Aunt Lillibet had said. His mother sat on the bed beside him.

“What do you think?” she said.

“I don’t know,” he said. “That painting on the fridge, why does it make you happy?”

His mother smiled. “It reminds me of you, and how much I love you, and how happy I am that you love me, so every time I see it, it makes me feel warm and happy. It’s not the painting, it’s the remembering.”

Benson thought about it. “That’s not silly,” he said.

“No,” said his mother. “It’s not silly to remember that people love you, and to be glad that you are with people you love.”

Benson looked at his gumboots. “You gave me my gumboots because you know orange is my favourite colour,” he said.

“Yes,” said his mother. “They had grey ones and green ones but I chose the orange ones because I knew it would make you happy.”

Benson smiled. His room felt bright and cheerful again, full of things he loved, and things that people he loved had given him. “I think Aunt Moss needs a hug,” he said.

“I think so too, and I think Aunt Lillibet needs a hug,” his mother said. “Sometimes she just gets like this, kind of … difficult.”

Benson didn’t really want to try hugging Aunt Lillibet when she was being difficult. He had a better idea. He went outside and collected all the gum leaves he could find, and a whole lot of curvy sticks, and some birds’ feathers that were curvy too. He brought them all in and stuck them all over the walls, all curvy way up.

When Aunt Moss saw it, she smiled all over her whole body. “Benson,” she said, “this is like being in the middle of a great big hug.”

When Aunt Lillibet came out, she stopped and looked at the walls covered in smiles. She was surrounded with smiles. She turned around and around, and gradually her face started to crease up. But instead of smiling, she started to cry. “I’m sorry, Moss,” she said, “you’re not silly. You’re perfectly right. I should try not to be such a grumpy old thing.”

Benson said, “You’re not a grumpy old thing, Aunt Lillibet. You’re just a bit…difficult, sometimes.” And he gave her a hug.

The Violin

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.

Aunt Moss was going to visit her friend, Rebekah, and she asked Benson if he would like to come along. “Rebekah’s grandson Ralph lives with her, you know, and I’m sure he would love to have a friend come to visit.”

Benson thought Ralph wasn’t really a friend. He never came to the playground, and they didn’t really know each other. Ralph was kind of quiet, and he was seriously interested in things that Benson wasn’t interested in, like studying clouds, and watching ants.

Benson opened his mouth to say, “No, I think I’ll stay home,” and then he saw that Aunt Moss was making strawberry custard tarts to take to Rebekah’s place and he shut it again.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll come. But I think I’ll bring a book.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Aunt Moss. “I think Ralph would love you to read to him.”

They packed up the strawberry tarts carefully while they were still warm, and Benson put his library book in his backpack and they set off.

Rebekah was very excited to see them. “It’s so lovely to see you!” she said. “And Benson, Ralph will be so happy to see you. Thank you for coming!”

Ralph didn’t seem to be very happy to see Benson. He was in his room with the door shut, making awful noises.

Benson said, “What’s the matter with Ralph? Is he sick or something?” It sounded like Ralph had the worst stomach pains in the world.

“Oh no,” said Rebekah. “He’s learning the violin.” She knocked on the door and called out loudly, “Ralph, we have visitors.”

Ralph came out. He had a violin that was almost as long as his arm, and a long bow with hairs sproinging from it everywhere.

Aunt Moss said, “You’re learning the violin? How wonderful! The violin is such a beautiful instrument. Perhaps you could play for us while we’re eating morning tea?”

Ralph couldn’t wait to play. He put the end of the violin under his chin and played. And played and played.

It was the most horrible thing Benson had ever heard. It was a noise like an ambulance siren and a cockatoo, one in each ear at the same time. He held his breath and jammed his hands over his ears and shut his eyes but the screeching of the violin went on drilling into his head.

Even Aunt Moss was a little taken aback. She did the only thing she could think of and started clapping very loudly. Ralph stopped playing and smiled.

“Thank you for playing for us, Ralph,” she said. “Have you been learning for very long?”

“Two weeks,” said Ralph. He started to play again. It sounded like two chainsaws fighting to see who could be the loudest.

Benson grabbed the plate of strawberry tarts. “Here, have a strawberry custard tart,” he shouted.

Ralph stopped playing and took one of the tarts.

Rebekah said, “He loves playing so much. He hasn’t had a single lesson. His cousin Corlette didn’t want to play any more so she gave the violin to him. He never stops playing.”

Aunt Moss smiled. “I can see that he loves it.”

Ralph finished the tart and started playing again. Rebekah shouted, “Why don’t you boys go outside and play for a while?”

Benson thought that was a great idea. They both went outside. Ralph brought the violin with him. As soon as they got outside, he started to play again. Benson dug a deep tunnel as fast as he could, and stayed there with his hands over his ears until it was time to go home.

On the way home, Aunt Moss said, “The violin is a most beautiful instrument.”

Benson said, “I think it’s the worst thing I ever heard. It was worse than a jackhammer digging up a road. It was worse than a jet plane landing on your head.”

“Now, Benson, Ralph is just learning,” said Aunt Moss. “He’ll get better and better if he keeps practising.”

Benson said, “If I were his grandmother, I would sneak into his room when he’s asleep and get that violin and chop it into tiny pieces and bury them in the compost heap.”

Aunt Moss was very quiet for a while. Then she said, “I think we might go around past Nanna’s place, and see if she’s home.”

Benson loved visiting his grandmother.

“Benson!” she said, when she opened the door. “What a lovely surprise!” She gave him and Aunt Moss enormous hugs.

Aunt Moss said, “I thought you wouldn’t mind if we dropped in. We’ve been to see my friend Rebekah. Her grandson Ralph is learning the violin.”

“Yes,” said Benson, “and I’m never going there again.”

Aunt Moss explained to Nanna about the old violin and how much Ralph loved to play it. “I thought,” she said, “that it would be good if Benson could hear how nice a violin sounds when it’s played well.”

Nanna looked thoughtful. Then she went into her room and brought out a violin, very old but polished and smooth. She took her bow and started to play. Benson put his hands up to his ears, but the sound was like golden syrup flowing warm and thick through his head and all around him. It had bright bits like honeycomb sprinkled here and there, and then it was like the creek at the end of the afternoon, gentle and green, and then it was like the dark velvety sky at night with tiny distant stars. When Nanna stopped playing Benson felt as if someone had woken him up in the middle of a warm, comfortable sleep.

“That was a violin?” he said.

“I told you the violin was a beautiful instrument,” said Aunt Moss. She asked Nanna, “Do you think you might be able to give Ralph a lesson?”

“Yes, of course, though it’s a long time since I gave lessons, Moss,” Nanna said.

“You used to teach people to play the violin?” Benson said. “I didn’t even know you could play.”

“I don’t play much when there are people around,” Nanna said. “Not everyone likes the violin.”

“They would if they could hear you play,” said Benson.

Nanna laughed. “It’s very nice of you to say so, Benson,” she said. “I’m sure I sounded worse than Ralph when I started.”

“No,” Benson said, shaking his head. Even remembering Ralph’s playing made his head buzz. “Nobody could sound worse than Ralph.”

Benson Learns to Dance

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

Benson was invited to his friend Alejandro’s birthday party.

He didn’t want to go.

His mother said, “Why don’t you want to go? Alejandro is a good friend, and lots of your friends will be there.”

“It says ‘dance party’ on the invitation,” Benson said. “I can’t dance.”

Alejandro loved to dance. He was learning ballet and tap-dancing, but he was especially good at ballet. He practised all the time, in his bedroom, at the playground, whenever he was at his friends’ places, no matter where he was. He loved to dance.

“Dancing isn’t hard,” Aunt Moss said. “It’s just moving to music. Everyone can dance.”

“No, they can’t,” Benson said. “I can’t.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You’re giving up before you’ve even tried.” She stood in front of Benson. “Put your feet like this,” she said, putting her heels together and pointing her toes out.

Benson put his heels together and fell over onto his bottom.

“No, no, not like that,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Put your arms out to help you balance, heels together, head up, keep trying, that’s it!”

Benson put his arms out, his heels together and his head up.

“Now stretch out your right foot,” Lillibet said.

Benson stretched, wobbled, teetered and fell over again.

“See?” he said. “I can’t dance.”

His mother said, “Not everyone is built for ballet. What about tap-dancing?”

“Alejandro tried to show me how to tap-dance, but it didn’t work,” Benson said. “Alejandro says I tap-dance like a rhinoceros stampeding.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “What about belly-dancing? It’s very graceful, and it suits every body shape.” Aunt Lillibet was in charge of the belly-dancing group. “Stand up straight,” she said. “Now put your hips forward and your shoulders back.”

Benson put his shoulders forward and his hips back and toppled over onto his tummy.

“You’re not trying!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I know.” She went into her room and came back with a thing like a scarf with lots and lots of tiny tinkling coins sewn onto it.

“Here, put this on,” she said. “It will put you in the right mental space.”

“Where do I put it?” Benson said.

“You tie it around your waist,” Aunt Lillibet said, “and then you jiggle, like this.” She jiggled. Benson wobbled. The shiny scarf split down the middle and tiny coins went everywhere. Aunt Lillibet sighed.

Benson said, “I don’t think I’m built for belly-dancing either. I’ll just stay home.”

Aunt Moss said, “Benson, you’re giving up too easily. Lillibet is right. You need to find the right mental space. Come with me.”

Benson sighed. “Not folk-dancing?” he said. Aunt Moss’s folk-dancing group did lots of traily scarf-waving. Benson could see himself tripping over scarves and falling flat on his face.

“No, not folk-dancing,” Aunt Moss said.

“Not aerobics?” said Benson. He really didn’t want to wear a leotard like Aunt Moss’s.

“Just come with me,” Aunt Moss said.

They went to see Aunt Moss’s friend, Malcolm, and asked him to help. Malcolm called his friends JJ and Tom. They all gathered under a tree outside Malcolm’s place. Tom had a didgeridoo, and JJ brought clap sticks.

JJ started singing and hitting the clap sticks together, and Aunt Moss clapped her hands against her lap. Then the didgeridoo started its long, heavy drone. As soon as the didgeridoo started playing, Benson felt a weird feeling all through his body. Malcolm stamped in time with the clap sticks, and before long Benson found he was stamping too, big heavy stamps that left dents in the ground. They danced around and around, sometimes slow and sometimes fast, stepping and jumping together.

Tom made the didgeridoo make sounds like a kookaburra, and Benson flapped and laughed like a kookaburra. Malcolm used his hands to make himself look like an emu poking its beak into the air, and Benson made himself into an emu too.

The didgeridoo made a different sound, and Malcolm suddenly started moving just like a wallaby, hopping slowly and bending down as if he was eating grass off the ground. Benson started hopping along like a wallaby too, using his hands to make twitching wallaby ears and scratching his tummy like a wallaby. When the didgeridoo stopped, Benson was having so much fun he didn’t want to stop.

“You’re a good dancer,” Malcolm said.

“Is this dancing?” Benson asked Aunt Moss.

“Yes, of course it is,” she said.

“I can dance!” said Benson.

“Of course you can,” she said. “Everyone can dance.”

People You Can’t Live With

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

Benson’s Nanna had a fall and hurt her ankle. Benson’s mother, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were very worried.

“She obviously can’t look after herself,” Aunt Lillibet said. “She can’t live by herself any more.”

“I think she should move in with us,” Benson’s mother said. “We’ve got plenty of room, really, and she’d be no trouble.”

“Benson can sleep in my room,” Aunt Moss said, “and Nanna can have his room. I’ll sleep with Lillibet.”

“So long as you don’t snore,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “Does Nanna want to live here? I thought she liked her own house.”

“That’s the trouble,” his mother said. “She won’t want to leave her own house.”

“You’d better go and talk to her,” said Aunt Lillibet. “But be tactful.”

“What’s tactful?” asked Benson.

“It means being careful what you say so you don’t hurt the other person’s feelings,” said his mother.

Benson and his mother went to visit Nanna. They took some rose-hip jelly, and some comfrey ointment for her ankle.

Benson loved talking to Nanna. She was funny and interesting and she knew lots of jokes.

“Do you snore, Nanna?” Benson asked her.

“I don’t know,” Nanna said. “I don’t listen when I’m asleep.”

“When you come to live at our place, you can’t sleep in Aunt Lillibet’s room if you snore,” Benson said. “Aunt Lillibet snores, but she doesn’t like other people snoring.”

“Benson!” said his mother.

“What?” said Benson. “I was tactful, wasn’t I?”

“Why would I come and live at your place?” Nanna said. She didn’t look happy.

Benson said, “Because you fell over and you can’t live by yourself any more. You need to come and fall over at our place.”

Nanna said, “I’d rather fall over at my place. That way I can say all the rude words I want.”

“I’m sure Nanna would never say a rude word,” Benson’s mother said.

Nanna said, “Benson, put your hands over your ears and shut your eyes.”

Benson put his hands over his ears, but he peeked a bit. Nanna said something that might have been a rude word.

Benson said, “Nanna, why don’t you want to come and live at my place?”

Nanna looked uncomfortable. She opened her mouth and she shut it again.

Benson said, “Everyone said I should be tactful, but you don’t have to be tactful because you’re old.”

“Thank you, Benson,” said Nanna. “The thing is, there are some people you just can’t live with.”

Benson’s mother said, “I know Lillibet is difficult sometimes, and even Moss is a bit forgetful, but I’m sure we could make you comfortable.”

Nanna said, “I don’t mean Lillibet or Moss.”

Benson’s mother said, “Oh. Well, I suppose Benson isn’t what you’d call quiet, and sometimes he can be a bit naughty.”

“It isn’t Benson!” said Nanna. “It’s me!”

“You?” said Benson’s mother.

“Yes, me! You wouldn’t want to live with me!” said Nanna. “I’ve been living by myself for so long, I’ve gotten used to doing exactly what I like. And most people don’t like the same things I like,” she said.

“What do you like that no-one else likes?” asked Benson. “Is it peppermint-flavoured chips?”

Benson’s mother said, “I’m sure it can’t be anything important. We’ve all got little likes and dislikes, and we just get used to living with each other.”

“Not this one,” Nanna said.

“What is it?” asked Benson. “Spitting? Cartwheels? Stealing other people’s sandwiches?” Benson had lots of friends who had annoying habits. “Biting?” His friend Alejandro’s little brother Quentin was a biter.

Nanna screwed up her eyes and said, “It’s opera!”

“Opera?!” said Benson’s mother.

“Opera?” said Benson. “What’s opera?” he asked his mother.

“It’s a kind of singing and you dress up at the same time, and sometimes the singers wear funny hats,” his mother said.

“It’s wonderful!” said Nanna. “I love to listen to it, and sometimes,” she whispered as if she didn’t want anyone else to hear, “I even sing along.”

“We wouldn’t mind opera,” Benson said.

“You say that, but when it comes down to it, either you love it or you hate it, and everyone else I know hates it,” Nanna said.

Benson sat down and folded his arms. “Try me,” he said.

Nanna looked at him. “Are you sure?” she said.

“Yep, let’s see how bad it can be,” Benson said.

“All right then,” she said. She took a deep breath, spread her arms out wide, looked up at the ceiling and sang. Really really loudly. In a strange voice. In words Benson couldn’t understand. She sounded like a train whistle and a vacuum cleaner and a flock of cockatoos put together. Benson tried very hard to listen, but after a minute he put his hands over his ears and shouted for her to stop.

Nanna stopped. “See?” she said.

Benson’s mother had her hands over her ears as well. She took them off. “Yes, I see,” she said. “Maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to come and live with us. But you could come and stay just for a little while, until your ankle is better.”

“That sounds like a lovely idea,” said Nanna. “Can I bring my opera hat?”

Renovating

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.

One day Benson’s cousin, Lance, came over. “I’m thinking of renovating one of my old burrows,” he said to Benson, “and I was wondering if you would like to give me hand.”

“Sure,” said Benson. He didn’t know exactly what renovating meant, but generally whatever cousin Lance was doing was interesting.

The old burrow was down by the river, a long way from Benson’s place, in country he had never been to before. It took them a while to find the old burrow, because bushes had grown over the entrance.

“Here it is,” said Lance, finally. The old burrow was dark and inside there were cave-ins in lots of places. “It’s a bit of a mess now,” said Lance, “but once we dig out a couple of new bedrooms and a new bathroom, and re-do the kitchen, it will be a lot better. Then if there’s time, I’d really like to put in a gym. “

“Where is everybody?” asked Benson. He was expecting a team of big, strong wombats with shovels and safety helmets and maybe even a small truck to take all the dirt away.

Lance laughed. “The two of us will get it done in no time,” he said.

They set to work digging and clearing out the old passages. “This is the way to the back door,” Lance said. He dug along an old tunnel and then he stopped suddenly. “Oww!” he said, rubbing his head. There was a great big chunk of concrete in the middle of the tunnel. “Who put this here?” he said. He tried digging under it, but that was no good, so he tried digging over it, but that didn’t work. “We can’t go through it,” he said. “We’ll have to go around it.”

He and Benson dug around the side of the chunk of concrete, and then they followed the tunnel up to the back door and out into the sunshine. Lance said, “I see what’s happened. That lump of concrete is to hold a fence post. Someone’s built a fence right through my tunnel.”

They both looked around. In front of them was a cleared yard, with a clothes-line and a water tank and a very large kennel.

“Uh-oh,” said Lance. “A kennel usually means…”

“Rarrrfff!” A big black-and-white dog sprang towards them, barking at the top of his voice.

“Look out, Benson!” Lance said. He pushed Benson back into the hole and scampered in after him. They heard a human voice shouting at the dog, and then they heard a loud thump and everything went dark.

“What was that?” Benson said.

Lance went closer to where the back door was supposed to be.

“Someone’s pushed a log into my doorway,” Lance said. They both pushed and shoved at it, but it was too heavy for them to shift.

“No problem, my emergency exit is over this way,” Lance said. He led Benson around through another tunnel and they climbed out into the yard again. Lance took a few careful steps and looked around.

There was a galloping rush and then, “Rarrff, rowffff, rufff, rufff!” The dog was right on top of them.

“Quick!” shouted Lance, “get back into the tunnel!” Benson scrambled back into the hole while Lance faced the dog who came charging up, barking loudly. Lance whapped the dog on the nose and then ran into the tunnel.

The dog put its head into the tunnel and barked and yelled, while Lance and Benson huddled inside with their hands over their ears. Lance turned around so his tough, thick rump was facing the dog.

They heard more human shouting, and then another thump.

Everything went quiet. Lance felt around where the emergency exit used to be. “They’ve blocked it up with another log,” he said.

“That’s not fair,” Benson said. “How are we supposed to get out?”

“Just a minute,” Lance said, “let’s think about this. A fence is usually there for a reason, right? Maybe this fence is to keep the dog IN.”

Benson thought. “We don’t really want to go back out into that yard, do we?”

“No, we don’t,” Lance said. “I don’t think this dog likes wombats much. And we don’t want the dog to get into my wombat hole, do we?”

They both thought about the dog squeezing its way into the wombat hole. Definitely a bad idea.

“We’ve got one small problem,” Lance said. “There’s a side door.”

“Why is that a problem?” said Benson.

“It comes out in the yard too, right near the dog’s kennel.”

“Oh,” said Benson. “What if the dog finds it?”

“Exactly,” said Lance. “We need to block it off, and then dig another one somewhere safer. But it’s a lot of work, filling in a hole, especially with a big, unfriendly dog right beside you.”

Benson smiled. “I’ve got an idea,” he said.

Lance smiled back. He said, “I think I’m thinking what you’re thinking. Let’s go.”

Lance led the way around through a lot more tunnels until they came to the side door. Benson said, “Can I do it?”

“Let’s do it together,” said Lance. They both went up to the doorway and popped their heads out. The dog was lying in its kennel, licking its sore nose. Benson and Lance went out just a little bit further, and started waggling their ears and pulling faces at the dog.

The dog leapt up, really mad. Benson and Lance scampered back into the hole and hid. The dog ran over, barking and yelling. Lance called out a rude word, and the dog got even angrier. They waited and then they heard the human voice again, and thump! a big heavy lump of wood crashed into the hole, blocking the doorway.

Lance brushed his hands. “Good, that’s done. Let’s go and see where we’ll make the new back door.”

They dug a new tunnel and made a new back door that came out close to the river, and they sat there in the sun and ate their lunch.

“This is a really peaceful place,” Benson said. “I can see why you would want to live here.”

“I’m not planning to live here,” Lance said. “When the bush fires come, a lot of the animals come down to the river to escape the flames, and a wombat hole is a safe place to wait until the fires are gone. That’s why I wanted to make it bigger.”

“Is that what the gym is for?” asked Benson.

“That’s right,” said Lance. “Sometimes families have to stay in here for days.”

Benson imagined being stuck inside the wombat hole while bush fires raged outside. “You know what would be good?” he said. “A big cupboard with extra food in it, and games for everyone to play.”

“Great idea,” Lance said. “I was thinking we could put in a bowling alley.”

“And a ping-pong table, and maybe a cricket pitch,” said Benson.

“We’d better get to work,” said Lance. And they dug and cleared and built for the rest of the day.

A Place of Your Own

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

One morning Benson said to his mother, “I’m thinking of getting my own place.”

“Oh,” said his mother. “Are you?”

“I think I’m old enough to have a place of my own, don’t you?” Benson asked.

His mother considered. “It’s not really about age,” she said. “It’s more about responsibility. Are you ready for the responsibility?”

Benson said, “I think so.” Then he said, “What is responsibility, again?”

His mother stopped peeling apples and sat down.

“Responsibility is being able to look after yourself and still be able to look after other people. It’s about looking after yourself and your own things, and trusting yourself, and seeing what needs to be done and not leaving it to someone else. Do you understand?”

Benson said, “A bit. Not much.”

She explained some more. “You know when the garbage needs emptying, or the washing needs to be done, or there’s broken glass on the footpath, and you think Someone Else will do it – Someone Else will empty the bin and do the washing and pick up the broken glass or clean the rubbish out of the creek or make the dinner or push little Zip on the swing. Being responsible is being the Someone Else.”

Benson said, “It doesn’t sound like much fun. I thought having my own place would be more fun.”

“What do you want your place to be like?” asked his mother.

Benson had thought about this. He said, “It would have a really big library with comfy chairs, and cushions on the floor for the little ones, and maybe a great big underground terrarium where frogs could come on holidays, and a big bath that’s green with stones in the bottom like the creek, with room for all the turtles. And a kitchen with a big, big, big fridge with room for lots of custard and blueberry yoghurt because that’s Mick’s favourite, and ice cream and lillypillly jelly for Zali. And a compost bin because we would use leaves for plates and giant gum-nuts for cups then we wouldn’t have to wash up. We could just put them in the compost.”

“You know,” said his mother, “that sounds like a place I would like to live in.”

“You can come and visit any time you want,” said Benson, “and Nanna can come because she would like to see the turtles, and talk to the frogs.”

Benson’s mother said, “It sounds like a great idea. When were you thinking of starting?”

“Oh, about now,” Benson said. He got up and went into his room. His mother waited for him to come out and say goodbye, but he didn’t come out.

She went into his room. “Do you need some help packing?” she asked.

Benson was in a corner of the room digging. He stopped for a minute and said, “Packing what?”

His mother said, “I thought you were leaving home to get your own place?”

Benson said, “Oh, no, I’m not leaving home. I’m just going to make more home here, and make it my own place.”

His mother sat down on the bed. “Let me think about this,” she said. Benson went on with his digging.

After a while his mother said, “If I had a place of my own, it would have a kitchen big enough for everyone to cook in at the same time, and a quiet space a long way away from everyone else where I could learn to play the harp or the accordion, and a big pantry with jars and jars of apricot jam and pickles and preserved lemons.”

She kissed Benson on the top of his head, and went into the kitchen to start digging.

Moths

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’s mother was sorting out the washing. She held up Benson’s favourite orange jumper. There was a hole right in the middle of the front.

“Look at this big hole,” she said. “I think we’ve got moths.”

“Just sprinkle some lavender among his jumpers,” said Aunt Moss. “That will get rid of them. Moths hate the smell of lavender.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Aunt Lillibet, “if you want your cupboards full of lavender beetles.”

“Lavender beetles?” said Benson’s mother.

“Lavender beetles,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Everywhere. Thousands of them. Once you’ve got lavender beetles, you never get rid of them.”

“You could always put down some bay leaves,” said Aunt Moss.

“Oh yes, sure,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Bay leaves will get rid of the lavender beetles, but then you’re going to get bay bugs.”

“Bay bugs?” said Benson’s mother.

“Bay bugs,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Bay bugs are very quiet. They stay hidden out of sight, and they don’t bother anyone. If you don’t mind the smell.”

“What do they smell like?” asked Benson.

“Like rotten potatoes and rotten broccoli mixed together. Like a lemon that has gone all white and furry in the bottom of the fruit bowl,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“But tansy berries will get rid of the smell,” said Aunt Moss. “You just dry them out in the oven and then you grind them up into a kind of powder and sprinkle it everywhere.”

“Oh, yes, tansy berries are great,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Except for the itch.”

“Do tansy berries make you itch, Aunt Lillibet?” asked Benson.

“Like a million mosquitoes biting you all over,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Every bit of you wants to scratch so much you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t read, you just scratch and itch and scratch and itch until you wish your skin would fall off and go somewhere else.”

“I don’t think we should get any tansy berries,” Benson’s mother said.

“You could always try toadflax,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Oh, yes, toadflax,” said Aunt Moss. “Such pretty yellow flowers. My mother always used toadflax. It’s a pity about the toad creepers, though.”

“Toad creepers?” said Benson’s mother.

“Yes, they creep out from under the toadflax at night,” Aunt Moss said, “and they – “

“Don’t talk about them please, Aunt Moss,” Benson’s mother said, shuddering all the way down from her head to her feet.

“Actually, the toad creepers aren’t so bad,” said Aunt Lillibet. “It’s when the vipers come to visit them that you really have to watch out.”

Benson’s mother said, “I think I’d rather have the moths.”

Benson said, “Actually, it wasn’t moths that put the hole in my jumper, it was my paintbrush.”

“Your paintbrush put a hole in your jumper?” his mother said.

“Well, me, using my paintbrush,” said Benson. “I kind of got a spot of red paint on it and when I tried to wash it out, it just went a sort of mushy pink, so I painted over it with orange paint but it went a nasty brown colour, so then I got my scissors and cut most of it out and stapled it together again, but the staple fell out and sticky tape wouldn’t work, so now there’s a hole.”

“Darn it,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Yes, I suppose I’ll have to,” said Benson’s mother. “Anyway, it’s a lot better than tansy berries and toad creepers.”

Decorum

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

Benson’s mother was racing around the kitchen trying do do six things at once. She was making anzac cookies and lemon syrup for Aunt Lillibet’s belly-dancing friends who were coming for afternoon tea, and cooking a date and apple cake for Aunt Moss to take to her friend Rebekah’s place, and she was washing up the breakfast dishes and trying to make a shopping list and writing a speech in her head at the same time.

Benson was carefully chopping up dates for the cake. Aunt Moss came in with two turtles and put them down. “Has anyone seen my glasses?” she said.

Benson’s mother was peeling apples. She said, “They’re here on top of the fridge. The baby dunnarts kept trying them on and scaring each other so I put them up out of the way. Moss, dear, would you take the turtles out of the kitchen, please?”

Aunt Moss put her glasses on. “Yes, but I just have to put some ointment on Fred’s leg first.”

She went off to get the ointment. Benson’s mother quickly rolled out the anzac cookies and put them into the oven, then she measured sugar and butter into the bowl for the cake and started beating.

Aunt Lillibet came in while Benson’s mother was adding the eggs to the bowl and quickly scraping zest off the lemons for the lemon syrup.

“Why are there dunnarts everywhere?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“We’re babysitting while their mother takes the other four to the dentist,” Benson’s mother said, measuring out the flour.

“You look very hot and flustered, racing around and muttering to yourself,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You should have more decorum.”

“Decorum?” said Benson’s mother. She added the apples to the mixture and stirred it up. One of the turtles bumped into her foot and she hopped out of the way.

“Yes,” said Aunt Lillibet. “A woman who is in control is always calm and dignified, not hopping about with bits of lemon zest in her hair. She should have decorum.”

“I’m sorry, Lillibet, I’ve got so much to do, I haven’t got time for decorum,” Benson’s mother said. “I’m supposed to be making a speech at the bushcare council meeting in half an hour and I haven’t written it yet, and I still have to get the cake into the oven with the anzac cookies and make the lemon syrup before I go.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “If you were more organised, there would be plenty of time to get everything done and you wouldn’t always be running late. You can’t make a speech looking like something the cat dragged in. Go and tidy yourself up and get your speech ready. Benson and I will finish up here.”

“I’ll just wash the dishes and finish making the cake,” Benson’s mother said.

Aunt Lillibet flapped her hands. “Just go!”

Benson’s mother went.

Aunt Lillibet looked around the kitchen. “With a little bit of organisation, this will be easy. Benson, give me those dates and start washing the dishes. I’ll finish the cake and then make the lemon syrup.” She mixed in the dates and poured everything into a cake tin, then she took the bowl over to the sink for Benson to wash. When she came back, two of the dunnarts were sitting in the cake mixture, throwing dates at each other.

“You naughty boys!” she said, lifting them out. “Now that will all have to go into the bin.” She tipped the cake mixture into the bin. “Benson, leave the washing up for now and chop some more dates while I peel some more apples,” she said.

Benson chopped and Aunt Lillibet peeled and mixed and stirred. A new date and apple cake went into the oven and it was time to get the cookies out. They were perfect. Just as she lifted the tray out of the oven, she slipped on a turtle, and the cookies went everywhere.

“What are these turtles doing in the kitchen?” she yelled.

Benson got the broom and swept the broken cookies into a corner with the little dunnarts who were nibbling on them. Aunt Lillibet got out some more flour and butter and started making more anzac cookies. “Get me the oats, Benson,” she said.

He got the oats out of the cupboard. He looked at the cookie mixture Aunt Lillibet was making.

“I think there’s something wrong with the cookie mixture,” he said.

“This is a strange recipe,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I can’t make any sense of it.”

“That’s not the recipe,” Benson said, “that’s the shopping list. You don’t put washing powder and shampoo in anzac cookies.”

Aunt Lillibet muttered something to herself, and tipped the mixture out and started again. “Have you got those lemons squeezed yet?” she said.

“Not yet,” said Benson. He started squeezing a lemon slowly and carefully so the juice didn’t squirt up into his eye.

“I’ve run out of bowls and spoons,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Leave those lemons and finish washing up.”

Benson went back to the sink and started to wash up again. “What’s that smell?” he said.

Aunt Lillibet threw the oven open. The date and apple cake was black. She tipped it into the bin.

“We’ve run out of dates and there are no apples left,” she said. “It will have to be a lemon cake for Moss and Rebekah, and the belly-dancing ladies can drink water. It’s better for them anyway.”

She set to work mixing and stirring like a tornado. Bits of cookie mixture flew up into the air and spattered on the cupboards and plopped onto the floor. “Benson, leave the dishes and help me with these cookies.”

They stirred and rolled and finally got a new batch of cookies into the oven. “Now for the lemon cake,” she said. She started stirring and mixing so fast that the flour exploded into her hair and bits of egg splashed onto her glasses. Finally she poured the mixture into the cake tin and put it in the oven.

“There!” she said. “All done!” She looked around the kitchen. It looked as if an earthquake and a hurricane had both happened at the same time. The turtles had left sticky trails all over the floor, and the dunnarts had spread cookie crumbs everywhere.

“Right,” she said, “we’ll soon fix that!” She picked up all the dunnarts and piled them into the big bowl with the spoon to lick, and clapped a plate on top so they couldn’t get out. She put the two turtles into the sink. She piled the dirty bowls and the lemon squeezer and the measuring cups into a huge stack next to the sink. “Broom, Benson!” she said.

Benson passed her the broom and she swept everything off the bench onto the floor, eggshells, cookie crumbs, dirty spoons, apple peel and lemon skins. She made a big, big pile, and Benson opened the bin for her.

At that moment, Benson’s mother walked in. She looked around the kitchen. There were turtles paddling in the washing-up water and sticky dunnarts licking the mixing bowl from the inside. She looked at Aunt Lillibet, who had flour in her hair and egg on her glasses and oats in her ears, and Benson, who was standing in a pile of broken cookies and washing powder. She sniffed.

“What’s that smell?” she said.

Aunt Lillibet leapt towards the oven and pulled the door open. Smoke came billowing out. She shut the door again with a bang. “No problem,” she said very calmly and with great decorum. “I’m sure the belly-dancing ladies would rather have a nice salad.”

A Piece of String

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.

It was a beautiful day and Benson was playing outside with his friend, Philip.

After a while he came in and said to his mother, “I need a piece of string.”

“Do you mean thread or twine or wool or yarn or wire or rope or just plain string?” his mother said.

“Oh, just ordinary string,” Benson said.

She got a ball of string out of the kitchen drawer. “How much do you need?” she said.

Benson thought. “About this long,” he said. He showed her with his hands.

His mother cut off a piece of string about that long and gave it to him and he went outside again.

“I wonder what he wants it for,” his mother said to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss.

“It could be a hundred different things,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I bet I can think of three things you can do with a piece of string faster than you can.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Benson’s mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I could use it to tie up my tomato bushes when they’re falling over, to tie up a parcel, or to tie between two posts to make a straight line when I’m planting my lettuces.”

“That was quick,” Benson’s mother said. “Let me see. You could knit a string bag – I’ve seen lots of shopping bags made out of string. You could use it to hold up your pants if you haven’t got a belt. And I could use it to re-thread the beads on Aunt Moss’s necklace which has broken again.”

“Oh dear, has it?” said Aunt Moss. She felt around her neck, and sure enough, her necklace had broken and fallen off. “You know, you can make some beautiful artwork with string. If you cover it with paint and lay it inside a fold of paper and pull it out quickly it makes some lovely patterns. Or you can make a holder for a hanging plant if you make lots of knots in patterns. Or you can weave a whole set of place-mats with different coloured strings.”

Benson’s mother said, “I don’t think Benson is making place mats, or planting lettuces.”

Just then Benson came in again, and said, “Do you have a button I can have?”

His mother fetched her button jar where she kept all her odd buttons. “With two holes or four?” she asked.

Benson thought. “Four would be good,” he said.

“What size?” asked his mother. “A big black one like this, or a little white one like this?”

Benson peered into the button jar and pointed. “That green one there,” he said. “That should be just about right.”

He took the button and went outside again.

“A piece of string and a button?” Aunt Lillibet said. “What could he possibly do with them?”

“Maybe he’s going to tie them to a stick and go fishing,” said Benson’s mother.

“What sort of fish do you think he would catch,” Aunt Lillibet said, “a leatherjacket?”

“Maybe they’re making themselves a bull-roarer,” Aunt Moss said.

At lunchtime Philip went home and Benson came inside and washed his hands. His mother said, “What did you need the piece of string for?”

Benson started eating his kale-and-apple sandwich. “Oh, Philip was worried that Kendall might be getting sunburned,” he said between bites.

“Do snails get sunburned?” asked his mother.

“Philip thinks so,” Benson said. “We tried making Kendall a hat out of a leaf tied on with string, but there was no room for his little horns, and he kept trying to nibble on the leaf.”

“So you thought of a button,” said his mother, “with four holes.”

Benson nodded. “Mmhmm,” he said, “two to tie the string through and two for his little horns to poke through.”

“And did Kendall like his hat?” his mother asked.

Benson finished his sandwich. “I think so. Green is his favourite colour, Philip says.”

A Tin of Paint

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 Lillibet decided she wanted to paint her cupboard. She measured it carefully so she would know exactly how much paint she would need. “Exactly one tin of paint,” she said.

She went to the paint shop and bought a tin of yellow paint. She took it home, and got her paintbrush and then she was ready to paint. She went to her room to put on her painting clothes.

While she was gone, Aunt Moss came along. “Oh, what a pretty colour!” she said. “I’m sure Lillibet won’t mind if I use just a tiny bit to paint my little table.” She took the tin of paint and the brush into her room and painted her little table. She was back in no time. “It looks lovely,” she said.

Aunt Lillibet came out and started painting her cupboard. She painted the top and the sides and the back and the doors. She was nearly finished the last door when she ran out of paint.

“I’ve run out of paint,” she said. “How annoying! After I measured so carefully!”

Benson said, “You could paint the last bit of the door another colour, like orange.”

“No, it wouldn’t look right,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I’ll just have to buy another tin of paint.”

She went to the paint shop and bought another tin of paint. The assistant in the shop noticed her painting clothes with all the yellow dabs and smears, but he didn’t say anything.

When she got home, she opened the second tin of paint and stirred it carefully and painted the last bit of the cupboard. “There!” she said. “Perfect! But what am I going to do with the rest of the paint? I know, I’ll give the cupboard a second coat. Two coats of paint always look better.”

She painted the cupboard all over again, the top, the back, the sides and the doors. She was nearly finished when she ran out of paint. “Oh! How exasperating!” she said. “I’ve run out of paint.”

Benson said, “It’s only a little bit of the door. No-one will notice.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I will notice. I’ll have to get another tin of paint.”

She went back to the shop and bought another tin of paint. The nice young shop assistant noticed a lot more yellow splashes on her painting clothes but he didn’t say anything.

She painted the last little bit of the cupboard. “Very nice,” she said. “But what am I going to do with the rest of the paint?”

“You could paint the inside of the cupboard,” Benson suggested.

“That’s a very good idea, Benson,” she said. She painted the inside of the cupboard, the top and the bottom and the sides and the back and the inside of the doors. Just before she finished, she ran out of paint.

“Oh, I’ve run out of paint!” she said. “How irritating!”

Benson said, “It’s on the inside. No-one will notice.”

“I will notice,” said Aunt Lillibet. She went back to the shop and bought another tin of paint. The shop assistant noticed the yellow paint in her hair and on the back of her neck but he didn’t say anything.

She finished painting the inside of the cupboard. “That’s better,” she said. “But what am I going to do with the rest of the paint?”

Benson said, “You could fill in the spaces on your painting clothes, then they’d be yellow all over.”

“Don’t be silly,” Aunt Lillibet said. She set to work and painted the kitchen cupboards yellow. There was still some paint left so she painted the fruit bowl and the fridge and the toaster. There was still a little bit of paint left, so she painted her favourite hat and her gumboots, and then she painted a sign that said, ‘WET PAINT’.

“Perfect!” she said. “There’s not a drop of paint left.”

She went outside to clean her brush. Benson’s mother came home from her bush care group, and said, “Why is everything yellow?”

Aunt Moss said, “I think it’s very pretty. I wonder if it’s still wet.”

Aunt Lillibet finished cleaning her brush and came inside.

Aunt Moss said, “Lillibet, do you have a little bit of that paint left over? I think I’ve accidentally left a tiny mark on your cupboard.”

Aunt Lillibet looked at the cupboard. Right in the middle of the door, there was a big wombat hand-print.

The Chocolate Fairy

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

At Easter time everyone got chocolate Easter eggs, but Philip’s mother’s cousin sent him a chocolate fairy. The fairy had fine delicate wings, and a little chocolate dress that stuck out for dancing, and a tiny little chocolate crown. Everyone ate their chocolate Easter eggs straight away, but Philip thought the fairy was so beautiful he couldn’t bear to eat her.

He brought it to the playground and everyone gathered round.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” Philip breathed.

“Can I have the legs?” Mick asked.

“No! Don’t touch her!” Philip said. “If you break the legs off, she can’t dance.”

“The legs are all wrong anyway,” said Alejandro. “If she were really doing a pirouette, her hand would be like so.” He put his hands up and did a perfect spin. “Let’s just eat her,” he said.

“No!” said Philip.

“Aren’t you going to share her?” Mick asked.

“I’m never going to eat her,” Philip said. “I’m going to keep her on the shelf in my room.”

“You’ll have to eat her some time,” Benson said. “The use-by date is September.”

Alejandro said, “If she gets too old she’ll go all white and weird. My mother had some chocolate once that she kept in the fridge and it got all white spots on it.”

Mick said, “What if Kendall finds her and slimes all over her?” Kendall was Philip’s friend who was a snail. “I think we should just eat her now,” he said and made a grab for the fairy.

Philip swished it out of the way just in time. He gave her to Zali to hold and gave Mick a smack. Mick hit him back and suddenly they were rolling on the ground fighting. Zali looked at the fairy and opened her mouth to take a big bite. Benson shouted, “No, Zali!”

Philip stopped fighting and looked up. “Don’t do it, Zali!” he shouted and grabbed for the fairy. There was a tussle between Philip and Mick and Zali, and Philip came out on top, holding the fairy out of reach of the others.

“I’m taking my fairy home right now!” he shouted and stamped off. He waited for a minute beside Benson’s bike, and when Benson came up he whispered to him. “I think Mick might try and grab her on the way home. Can you take her to your place, just for a while? I’ll come and get her later on.”

Benson rode home very carefully, carrying the fairy.

Aunt Moss thought she was lovely. “Look at those tiny wings, and those beautiful little dancing slippers!” she said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You should be very careful holding her like that, Benson. Those legs are very fragile. They could easily break.”

Benson said, “I am being careful,” and at that exact same moment, the fairy’s legs snapped off.

Benson gasped. The fairy’s body was in one hand and her legs were in his other hand.

He thought of how Philip was going to feel when he saw the fairy with its legs snapped off. He would be really upset. He might be really sad. He could be really angry.

“What am I going to do?” he said.

“Write him a letter,” Aunt Lillibet said. “’Dear Philip, I snapped the legs off your fairy. Sorry. Love, Benson.’”

“Maybe I can glue them back on,” Benson said.

“I don’t think so,” his mother said. “I think if he was eating the fairy, he wouldn’t want a mouthful of glue when he was expecting chocolate.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve got some licorice in my room. We could make some new legs out of that and join them on.”

Benson’s mother looked at her. “Lillibet,” she said, “There are two kinds of people in the world, people who like chocolate, and the other ones, who like licorice. Let’s leave it at that.”

Aunt Moss said, “What if we melted the top of the legs and the bottom of the dress? Then they might stick back together again.”

They decided to try it. Benson’s mother warmed up a bowl over hot water and they melted the top of the legs a little bit and the bottom of the dress a little bit. Then they carefully squooshed them together. The legs squooshed just a little bit too far, and the dress smeared out just a bit too much. The legs stuck on, but they definitely didn’t look right. There was a dip where Benson’s thumb had been.

They all looked at the fairy, who looked like an unusual spoon.

“Maybe Philip won’t notice,” Benson said.

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Philip.

“Thanks for minding my fairy,” he said. “I’ll take her home now.”

Benson gave Philip the fairy. Philip looked at her and his face fell.

Benson said, “The legs kind of snapped off. Sorry. But we fixed them again, see?”

Philip put the fairy down. He didn’t feel the same about her any more, now that she wasn’t perfect. “You can have her if you want,” he said.

“Really?” Benson said, getting excited. “You mean it?”

“If you want,” Philip said. He felt upset and disappointed and empty all at the same time.

“Which part do you want?” Benson said, getting ready to break the fairy into pieces.

Philip said, “I don’t want any. I don’t really like chocolate, anyway.”

“You don’t like chocolate?” Benson said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Would you like some of my licorice, Philip?”

“Licorice?” Philip said, brightening up. Suddenly he felt a lot happier. “Yes, please! I love licorice.”

Benson and his mother and Aunt Moss shared out the chocolate fairy together, and kept a piece for Mick and a piece for Zali. Philip and Aunt Lillibet ate licorice together. Everyone was happy.

Mapping

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

Aunt Lillibet was cleaning out a cupboard and she found a pile of old maps.

“These must be your Uncle Lionel’s maps,” she said.

“What are they maps of?” Benson asked. Aunt Lillibet said, “This one is the Great North Walk, and this one is part of the Larapinta Trail, and I think this one is Wilpena Pound. Lionel loved to go bush-walking and camping. He had a lot of maps.”

Benson had a look over her shoulder. The maps were covered with little dotted lines and wavy circles, blue lines and brown lines and green lines, and little numbers everywhere.

“What do all these lines mean?” Benson asked.

“The blue lines are rivers or creeks. These wavy lines and the numbers tell you there is a hill here, and how high it is and how steep it is,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It’s all very complicated, too complicated for a young wombat to understand.”

Benson thought a map would be a very useful thing.

He got a big piece of paper from his room and some coloured pencils.

He drew a line of wombat footprints along the bottom. Then he got his green pencil and drew lots of short lines, and some trees. He got his brown pencil and drew a big hill. Then he made the wombat prints go past the trees and around the hill.

Aunt Lillibet looked over his shoulder. “What are you doing?” she said.

Benson drew a blue circle with a brown frog in it. “I’m drawing a map,” he said. He drew a red box and put some smiling faces in it, then he drew a long orange slopey line. “That’s a slippery slide,” he said.

He got his yellow pencil and put lots of yellow dots beside the orange slopey line. “This is a sandpit,” he said, “and this is a tiger.” He drew a tiger under the sandpit.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t do that. That’s not how a map works. A map draws what is there already, and you follow the map so you know where you are.”

Benson said, “This is a different kind of map. This one says where I want to go.” He drew some more footprints, then he drew some pink blobs and a big red heart at the end. “There,” he said.

Then he said, “Wait – I forgot something.” He drew an enormous smiling sun at the top of the map. “Finished!” he said.

He held up the map. “Do you want to go for a walk and follow my map, Aunt Lillibet?”

Aunt Lillibet huffed and said she’d never heard of anything so silly and it would never work, but she got her hat and her water-bottle. Benson got his hat and his water-bottle and he took the map.

“This is where we start,” he said. “We walk along through the grass, past some trees, until we come to a big hill.”

They walked along through the grass and past some trees. Benson said, “There’s a big hill over there, so we go around it.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “How do you know it’s the right hill?”

Benson said, “It doesn’t have to be the right hill, just a hill.” They went around the hill.

Benson said, “Now we keep on going until we find a pond with a frog in it.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “There are no ponds around here. This map is wrong.”

Benson pointed to a puddle. “There’s a puddle – that’s like a small pond,” he said.

“But what about the frog?” Aunt Lillibet said. Just then they heard, “Crick, crick, crick, crick,” and a small brown frog jumped into the puddle.

Benson smiled. “It’s a good map, isn’t it? The next thing is a house with friends in it, so we should go this way, because that’s where Nils and Nella live.”

They walked along and went past Nils and Nella’s house. Aunt Lillibet said, “I suppose you want to go to the playground next because the slippery-slide and the sandpit are next on the map?”

“That’s a great idea,” Benson said.

They walked along to the playground and Benson went on the slippery-slide and then he played in the sandpit.

Aunt Lillibet said, “This is the wrong sandpit. Where’s the tiger?”

Benson said, “He’s not here today. Aren’t you glad?”

Aunt Lillibet sighed. “I think it’s time to home,” she said.

They walked all the way home. Just before they got there, Benson found a young gum tree that was covered in pink blossom. He picked some and when they got home, he gave them to Aunt Lillibet. “There,” he said. “That’s the end of the map.”

Aunt Lillibet looked at the flowers and she looked at Benson. “That map is all wrong,” she said. She got one of Benson’s pencils and drew another set of wombat footprints beside the ones that Benson had drawn, and at the end beside the big red heart, she drew herself and Benson holding hands.

“Now it’s perfect,” she said.

The Lost Princess

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

One morning Benson was playing with his snail shell collection and his mother was cleaning out the fridge where the quandong jam had spilled everywhere. Aunt Lillibet was out weeding and planting with her Bush Regeneration group, and Aunt Moss was going to visit her friend Marigold. She packed a basket with some fresh blueberry muffins for Marigold and set off.

A little while later, Benson’s mother said, “Oh no, Aunt Moss has forgotten her hat. She’ll be very hot walking all that way to Marigold’s without her hat. We’d better go after her and take it to her.” She and Benson set out, taking Aunt Moss’s hat with them.

The way to Marigold’s went along by the creek and up the gully. Just by the creek, Benson’s mother noticed something shining on the ground and picked it up. It was a tiny little screw. She said to Benson, “I think we’d better keep our eyes peeled.”

Benson said, “How do we peel our eyes?”

“I mean, look very carefully at everything we see while we’re walking along,” his mother said.

Benson turned on his super-noticing vision and they kept going.

Suddenly Benson said, “Aha!” He picked up something from the grass. It was a short golden chain. “Look!” he said, “a golden chain! Do you think maybe a beautiful princess dropped it here?”

His mother said, “That was very good noticing, Benson. Keep looking hard.”

A bit further on, Benson said, “Aha!” He pounced on a small circle of glass that was lying in the dirt. “I know what this is,” he said. “It’s out of a pirate’s spy-glass. A pirate has been spying on the beautiful princess, and he’s probably chasing her to steal her golden crown and her jewels.”

His mother said, “I think we’d better hurry.”

They hurried on along the track. The bush on each side of the track started to get very thick. Suddenly Benson said, “Aha! Look at all these broken branches.” At the side of the track, some of the bushes had been bent and broken, leaving a gap between them. “I bet the princess ran through here and the pirate chased after her. Come on, we’ve got to hurry before he catches her!”

They pushed through the broken bushes and hurried along between trees and rocks.

Before long they could hear a high voice in the distance shouting, “Stop it! Give that back, you greedy creature!”

Benson said, “Oh no! The pirate is trying to steal the princess’s jewels. Quick, we’ve got to save her!”

They ran towards the shouting voice, and there in a small clearing was Aunt Moss. Her hair was a mess, she had dropped her basket and a big magpie was trying to get the muffins.

“Moss! There you are!” said Benson’s mother. She didn’t seem at all surprised.

Aunt Moss said, “Oh, I’m so glad to see you! My glasses broke and I must have wandered off the track, and now this nasty magpie is trying to steal the muffins!”

Benson and his mother shooed at the magpie. It looked at them with its yellow eye, then it grabbed a muffin and flew away.

Aunt Moss was very relieved. “How did you find me?” she asked.

Benson’s mother said, “We were just coming to bring you your hat. Then I found the little screw out of your glasses down by the creek, and I thought that if your glasses came apart, you wouldn’t be able to see very well and you might run into trouble.”

Aunt Moss said, “My glasses just seemed to fall apart and I couldn’t see a thing without them, and then that nasty magpie came along! I’m so very glad you found me!”

Benson’s mother said, “It was Benson, really. He found the chain off your glasses, and then he found one of the lenses that must have fallen out, and then he found the place where you had gone off the track, so we followed it and heard you shouting.”

Aunt Moss said, “Thank you, Benson. I don’t know what I would have done without you to rescue me.”

Benson said, “That’s okay. Except I think the muffins might be a bit dusty.”

His mother said, “I think they’ll be okay.” They picked up the rest of the muffins and dusted them off and put them back in the basket. Then Aunt Moss put her hat on and they went home, with Benson’s mother holding onto Aunt Moss’s arm so she didn’t get lost again. They all had some hot milk, and the muffins were perfectly fine.

Fish Footprints and Earth Whales

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

One afternoon after lunch, Benson was bored. He had a bit of a snuffly nose and a kind of a headache, and he didn’t feel like doing anything. He didn’t feel like reading, he didn’t feel like building spaceships or dinosaurs. He didn’t even feel like digging.

He said to his mother, “There’s nothing to do. I’m bored.”

His mother was busy cooking a casserole for dinner. She said, “Why don’t you go and dig?”

“I already did that,” he said.

“Why don’t you ride your bike?” she said.

“I rode my bike yesterday,” Benson said.

She said, “Well, you can give me a hand cooking and cleaning up, then.”

Benson didn’t feel like cooking or cleaning up. He peeled the carrots so badly that his mother had to peel them all over again. He spilled flour all over the floor and his mother had to sweep it up. He almost put chocolate sauce in the the casserole instead of tomato sauce.

His mother said, “I think we’d better stop cooking and go for a walk.” She finished cleaning up and put the casserole in the oven.

Benson didn’t feel like going for a walk either, but he got his hat and his water bottle and they set out.

They walked for a long way through the bush and Benson was bored. His mother kept going slowly but Benson just wanted to hurry up and get it over with.

After a while his mother said, “I think it’s time for a rest.”

Benson had to stop and wait while she sat down and rested. His mother said, “Look at that tree, Benson.”

He looked around and saw how the track had to turn out of its way to go past a huge old red gum that looked like it was growing out of a rock. Its trunk and roots were spread out across the the rock like giant fingers, as if they were trying to open the rock like an enormous jar of pickles.

His mother finished resting and they went on. They came to a gully and went down to a creek at the bottom. Benson scampered over the stepping stones in the creek and went up the other side, but his mother said, “Wait, Benson, it’s time for a rest.” She sat down, and Benson waited impatiently.

Then he noticed that the stepping stones across the creek had big round holes in them, big enough for Benson to sit in. His mother said, “They look like giant prehistoric fish stepped in them while they were still soft, mushy circles of clay.”

“Fish can’t make footprints,” Benson said. “They don’t have feet.”

“Maybe prehistoric fish did,” his mother said.

He sat in the circular holes one at a time and let the water rush past him while he thought about fish with feet, stepping in clay.

His mother finished resting and they went on through a cool forest full of tall blue gums. After a while his mother wanted another rest. She sat down and pointed. “Look at that rock,” she said.

Benson looked around. There was a huge rock covered in green moss poking out of the side of the hill.

His mother said, “It looks like an earth whale poking its head out to see what’s going on.”

Benson said, “What’s an earth whale?”

His mother said, “A whale that swims around in the earth instead of the sea.”

Benson said, “There’s no such thing.” But he imagined great big huge whales swimming slowly around in the earth under their feet, coming up to put their heads out now and then for air, then going down again. He climbed up onto the rock and searched all over it for the whale’s air hole. Then he sat at the very top and looked out over the valley, imagining what a whale would see if it was looking out.

When they got home, the dinner was exactly ready to eat and smelled wonderful. They all sat down at the table to eat it. Aunt Moss said, “Did you have a nice walk?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Did you see anything interesting?”

Benson said, “It was pretty boring. We didn’t see anything.” Then he thought for a minute, and he said, “Except a tree trying to undo a rock, and fish footprints and an earth whale.” And he told them all about it while they were eating dinner.

Pete the Pirate

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

Benson had a friend called Pete who wanted to be a pirate. He had a pirate shirt, with red and white stripes on it, and a pirate sword called a cutlass, which was really a stick, and he even had his own green and blue parrot that said, ‘Peet, peet.’

Whenever he came over to Benson’s place, he wanted to play pirates and dig for buried treasure, which was okay with Benson because he would rather dig than do anything else. If it rained and they couldn’t dig, they played pirates inside, and drew treasure maps and had sword fights until Benson’s mother said it was time for covert surveillance which meant they had to see who could be the quietest for the longest.

One day when Pete came over to play, he brought something special that he had made himself. “It’s a pirate flag!” he said. It was a piece of cardboard with a skull and crossbones painted on it. “But I really need a pirate ship to put the flag on,” he said.

Benson started to imagine a pirate ship with sails and decks and masts and ropes and mermaids and huge waves and cannon, and his eyes got bigger and bigger. He said, “We can’t make a pirate ship. We haven’t got any oceans, not even a small sea.”

Pete looked really sad, so Benson said, “We could build a raft on the creek.”

Pete got really excited. “Let’s get some wood!” he said.

They collected up branches and old bits of wood and carried them down to the creek. By lunchtime they had a big pile.

Benson’s mother made them pirate stew with pirate dumplings for lunch that were really just stew and dumplings but she knew that Pete wouldn’t eat them unless he thought they were real pirate food.

When they went back to the creek after lunch, their huge pile of wood was just a little pile of sticks.

“Someone’s stealing our wood!” said Pete. “Let’s hide, and when they come back, we’ll grab them and tie them up and make them walk the plank!”

Benson said they didn’t actually have a plank because someone had taken all their wood, but Pete said that didn’t matter.

They hid behind a tree and waited very, very quietly.

After a while when Benson had nearly gone to sleep, they heard someone at their woodpile. Pete sprang out from behind the tree and yelled, “Got you!”

There was a young rock wallaby picking up the wood. She dropped it with a clatter.

Pete said, “You took our wood!”

“No, I didn’t,” said the wallaby.

Pete said, “What’s that in your pouch, then?”

The wallaby hung her head. She took a piece of wood out of her pouch.

Pete said, “You stole our wood! Give it back!”

Benson noticed something odd about the wallaby’s face. She had a black eye-patch over one eye. He asked her, “What did you want the wood for?”

The wallaby said, “I needed it for my pirate ship. I didn’t know it was anyone’s wood. I thought it was just a pile.”

Pete said, “A pirate ship? Have you got a pirate ship?”

The wallaby said, “It’s not a pirate ship yet, but it will be when I’ve finished making it. It’s not really a ship exactly, it’s more of a rock that looks like a ship, but I made a plank for walking the plank, and there’s a mast and I was going to make a deck with all this wood.”

Pete said, “No way! A real pirate ship! Look what I’ve got!” He showed her his flag.

“Wow!” said the wallaby. “A pirate flag! That would be perfect for my pirate ship.”

She looked at Pete, and Pete looked at her. She said, “Do you want to help me build my pirate ship? We could build it together.”

Pete jumped up and down with excitement. “I know all about pirates. I could build a really great pirate ship,” he said.

Benson said, “He’s got his own cutlass. He’s even got his own parrot that says, ‘Peet, peet.’”

“Wow!” said the wallaby. “I like your cutlass.”

“I can make you one if you want,” said Pete. “My name’s Pete. ”

The wallaby said, “That’s a great name for a pirate: Pete the Pirate. My name’s Apara.”

“That’s a good name for a pirate too,” said Pete. “Apara the Pirate.”

Pete got his flag and his cutlass and Benson gathered up all the rest of the wood and they went off together to build the pirate ship.

Statues

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

It was a beautiful day to be outside and Benson’s mother invited all the other mothers over to have a cup of tea and they brought all their children to play.

Mick’s mother Delia brought pumpkin cake with wattle sprinkles, and Teresa, who was Zip and Zali’s mother, brought date and oatmeal cookies. Philip’s grandmother brought a bag of mandarins for everyone to share, and Benson’s mother made sassafras tea and carrot sticks, and watermelon smoothies for the children. They all sat on a big picnic blanket under the red gum tree.

Benson and Mick and Philip played chasings, and Mick’s little sister, Bonnie Lou, played tea parties with Zali and little Zip, who was only just big enough to be out of her mother’s pouch.

Then they played hide-and-seek, and Bonnie Lou helped Zip hide. Benson counted up to a hundred while everyone hid, and then he yelled, “Coming, ready or not!” and started looking.

Philip was the easiest to find because he had found a red-triangle slug and he was so busy watching it he forgot he was supposed to be hiding. Benson tipped him and raced back to the red gum. “Philip, you’re in!” he called.

Philip counted as high as he could, which was about forty-one, then he called “Coming, ready or not!” and started looking. Benson and Mick were hiding together behind the big lavender bush, and as soon as they saw Philip go over to the compost heap, they ran home to the big gum tree. Philip kept looking but he couldn’t find anyone. Zali was hiding behind her mother, and Bonnie Lou and Zip were hiding in the washing basket. Then Zip started to go, “huh-huh” calling for her mother, so Philip found them straight away.

Then Zip was in, but Bonnie Lou had to help her because she was too little to count. Bonnie Lou counted up to ten twice because that was as far as she could count. Then she said, “Come on, Zip, say ‘Coming ready or not!’”

Zip said, “Huh-huh,”and they started looking.

The boys were all hiding together on top of each other in a hole Benson had dug extra fast while Bonnie Lou was counting. Zali was still hiding behind her mother, sneaking cookies when no-one was looking. Bonnie Lou held little Zip’s hand and they looked for ages and didn’t find anyone. Bonnie Lou found an old bird’s nest and Zip found a stick.

After a while Benson got tired of being squashed under Philip and Mick so they all crept out and watched Bonnie Lou and Zip looking for them. Then Benson noticed something moving in the grass right where Bonnie Lou and Zip were searching.

“Snake!” he shouted at the top of his voice. There was a brown snake wriggling in the grass right beside Zip.

The mothers all jumped up. Bonnie Lou’s mother, Delia, shouted,“Don’t move!” but Zip was too little to understand. She kept poking the ground with her stick, right beside the snake. Bonnie Lou tried to pull her away but Zip saw the snake and wanted to poke it with her stick. The snake hissed and slithered closer.

Benson’s mother clapped her hands and shouted, “Now we’re going to play Statues! Everybody freeze!”

Benson and the boys stood as still as they possibly could. Bonnie Lou said, “We have to be statues, Zip! Like this!” She stood as still as a statue and didn’t move a muscle. Little Zip saw what Bonnie Lou was doing, and she thought this was a good game, so she stood still too.

The snake, who was in a very bad mood and didn’t like having a stick poked at him, hissed fiercely. Bonnie Lou held her breath and stayed absolutely still, holding Zip’s hand. The snake waited in the grass, and then he decided that no-one wanted to hurt him after all, and he slid away into the bush.

As soon as the snake was gone, Benson’s mother yelled, “Go!” and all the children ran back to the gum tree.

The mothers hugged all the children and asked them if they were all right about a hundred times, and hugged Bonnie Lou and told her that she was wonderful, and hugged little Zip until she got tired and snuggled back into her mother’s pouch and went to sleep. Benson’s mother made some more tea and they ate the rest of the cake and all the cookies that Zali hadn’t eaten, and after that the children played Snakes and Statues for the rest of the afternoon.

Tea-Towels

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 Lillibet’s friend Shelley was teaching her how to weave. The first thing Aunt Lillibet made that didn’t fall apart was a tea-towel. She was very proud of it.

“It’s very good for your first try,” said Benson’s mother.

“It’s not really my first try,” said Aunt Lillibet. “It’s my seventh try. The first six things turned out to be just strings with gaps between them. But I’m quite proud of this one. I’m going to give it to Nanna. You know how she loves tea-towels.”

They all went to visit Nanna. When Aunt Lillibet gave her the tea-towel, she said, “Lillibet, it’s beautiful! You’ve done such a good job!”

“I’m glad you like it,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Now make sure you use it. Don’t just put it away in a cupboard.”

“Of course I’ll use it!” said Nanna, “but it may take me a while.” Nanna opened up the bottom drawer in her kitchen to put the tea-towel in. It was stuffed so full of tea-towels that she couldn’t fit Aunt Lillibet’s tea-towel in.

“Nanna!” said Benson. “You’ve got so many tea-towels! How many do you have?”

Nanna said, “Well, there are quite a lot in this drawer.” She opened up another drawer, so full of tea-towels that they leapt out of the drawer as soon as she opened it. “And even more in here,” she said. Then she opened a cupboard next to the sink. More and more tea-towels spilled out. “Most of them are in here. I don’t know how many there are. When I try to count them, I lose count.”

“Nanna!” said Benson’s mother. “That’s far too many tea-towels! Why don’t you use them?”

“I do use them!” Nanna said. “I dry the dishes after breakfast and after lunch and after dinner every day, and sometimes I do an extra washing-up even when everything’s clean, just so I can use my tea-towels! But it takes a very long time to wear out a tea-towel.”

Benson was lifting out some of the tea-towels in the cupboard. “Some of these are really old,” he said. “Here’s one with the Queen on it.”

“My sister gave that to me a long time ago,” Nanna said. “I only use that to dry the dishes on special occasions like the Queen’s birthday.”

“I remember giving you this one,” Benson’s mother said, holding up a tea-towel covered with wild-flowers.

“I love that one so much I use it every Friday. Friday is my favourite day of the week,” Nanna said.

“This one’s really cool,” Benson said. He held up a tea-towel that had pictures of thorny devils and desert frogs and lizards on it.

“That’s the one your Uncle Lionel gave me after his trip to the desert,” Nanna said. “I use it whenever he comes over for afternoon tea. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Benson pulled out more and more tea-towels. There were tea-towels with calendars on them, tea-towels with Christmas songs on them, tea-towels with teddy-bears, tea-towels with birds, tea-towels with smiling wombats, tea-towels with baby wombats, tea-towels with wombats in hats, tea-towels with wombats dressed as teddy-bears, so many tea-towels that Benson started to feel dizzy.

“Why do you have so many tea-towels, Nanna?” he said.

“People give them to me,” she said. “Whenever someone goes away on a trip they bring me a tea-towel, or for my birthday, or Mother’s Day, or Christmas. They say to themselves, ‘Nanna loves tea-towels, let’s get her a tea-towel,’ and I do love them. I love washing them and ironing them nice and straight, and I like the way they make nice stacks in the drawers and in the cupboard, and most of all I love drying the dishes with a tea-towel that someone I love has given me. It’s just that there are quite a lot of them now. I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to use them all.”

Benson nodded and said, “Because you’re very old now.”

“Benson!” said Aunt Lillibet. “That’s very rude!”

“I only mean that even if Nanna washed up six times a day for the rest of her life she wouldn’t be able to wear out all these tea-towels,” Benson said.

“Yes, you’re right,” Nanna said. “It makes me sad to think of all these beautiful gifts lying in drawers and cupboards and not getting used.”

Aunt Moss had been thinking. “Nanna, don’t you think your curtains are looking a bit old and worn out?” she said.

“Yes, Moss, a bit like me,” Nanna said.

“No, I mean, why not make some new curtains out of tea-towels?” Aunt Moss said. “Lillibet can sew them together for you. Then whenever you close your curtains, you could see all your beautiful tea-towels spread out.”

“That’s a wonderful idea!” Nanna said.

They all set to work with Nanna’s old sewing machine and made beautiful new curtains. There were still plenty of tea-towels left so they made curtains for Benson’s room and Aunt Moss’s room too. Benson’s had tea-towels with wild animals on them, and whales and swordfish. Aunt Moss’s had ducks and lizards and turtles.

“There are still so many tea-towels left,” said Benson’s mother. “What about making table-cloths?”

They set to work again and made table-cloths for Uncle Lionel and Uncle Elton, and for Zali’s mum Teresa, and one for Benson’s mother with wombats dressed as Santas on them.

When they were finished, they had scones and carrot cake and crumpets and lavender shortbread, and there was so much washing-up to do, everyone had to help, and they used every last tea-towel in the drawer.

Benson’s mother said, “I never thought I’d say this, but I think you’ve run out of tea-towels, Nanna.”

“Oh no, there’s no fear of that,” Nanna said. She went to the big linen cupboard in the hall and opened it. Inside there were stacks and stacks of neatly-ironed tea-towels.

Wild Dogs

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

One day Benson and his mother went to visit his Nanna and take her some pumpkin muffins that Benson had made. They had a great time, playing hide and seek and telling stories and eating the muffins, then Benson’s mother said it was getting late so they ‘d better go home.

They walked home along the side of creek so Benson could practise skipping stones. He wasn’t very good at it yet, so it was more like throwing stones into the water.

Suddenly they heard a terrifying sound. Two great big dogs came bounding out of the bush, barking and snarling.

Benson’s mother shouted, “Run, Benson!” but Benson was so frightened he couldn’t move. The dogs leapt towards him, yapping and yowling, with their huge sharp teeth dripping, but Benson’s legs wouldn’t move. He froze into a little, frightened wombat bundle.

His mother threw herself on top of him, gathering him up underneath her. For the first time in a long, long time Benson wished he could crawl back into his mother’s pouch.

The dogs attacked, snarling and biting and scratching. Benson’s mother hissed and growled at them, scratching back at them with her big strong claws, until finally they ran away yelping.

Even after they were gone, Benson’s mother didn’t move. Benson wriggled and crawled out from underneath her little by little, peeping out to make sure the dogs had really gone. His mother was lying still, with her eyes closed. He could see she was bleeding a lot, all down her back and on her nose. He was terrified before, but now he was so frightened, he couldn’t breathe.

Then he heard her say, “Benson?” in a small voice, so quiet he could hardly hear her.

The breath all rushed back into him and he said, “Are you okay?”

She said, “Benson, go home. Now. Run.”

He didn’t want to leave her, and he didn’t want to go in case the dogs were out there. He made a small whimpering noise even though he didn’t mean to.

His mother said, “It will be all right. Run home as fast as you can. Ask Mr Fenn to come.”

Mr Fenn was the biggest, strongest wombat Benson knew. He lived by himself, along the road from Benson’s house.

Benson ran and ran without stopping. When he got to Mr Fenn’s house, he banged on the door.

Mr Fenn opened the door, and Benson said, in between crying and trying to wipe his nose on his arm, “There were dogs, big dogs, and they bit her. She’s bleeding.”

Mr Fenn said, “It’s all right, Benson, you’re all right now. Where did it happen?”

Benson said, “Down by the creek, near the old banksia.” Then he said a very brave thing. “I can show you if you want.”

Mr Fenn said, “I know the place. You go home now and tell your aunties.” He gave Benson a little push towards home, and he set off running.

Benson walked home. He was too tired to run any more. Aunt Lillibet said, “What’s happened? There’s blood all over you.”

Aunt Moss said, “Where’s your mother?”

He told them what had happened. “I told Mr Fenn and he went.”

Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet looked at each other. “I’ll go,” Lillibet said.

“Take a blanket, and the ti-tree oil,” said Aunt Moss. “I’ll get some hot water ready, and make some camomile tea, and some willow-bark infusion, in case.”

Benson said, “I can come with you, and show you.”

Aunt Moss said very firmly, “No, Benson, you’re going straight to bed.”

Aunt Lillibet got a blanket and some other things and hurried off. Aunt Moss put Benson in the bath and then she made him some warm milk and tucked him into bed.

He lay awake for a long time, listening and listening, and finally he heard voices in the kitchen.

Mr Fenn was saying, “She’s lost a lot of blood and her front leg is in a bad way, but it could have been a lot worse.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Just carry her into her room, and I’ll bring the ti-tree oil and the aloe ointment and some bandages for her leg.”

Then Benson heard his mother’s voice and he felt as if his heart was suddenly so light it could have floated away like a balloon.

“Don’t fuss, Lillibet,” she said. Then she said, “Is Benson all right?”

“He’s fine,” said Aunt Moss. “He’s asleep.”

There was a lot more talking and fussing but Benson slid off to sleep and didn’t hear any more.

In the middle of the night he woke up, dreaming of dogs and big teeth. He crept into his mother’s room and crawled into bed beside her. He could feel a scratchy bandage around her leg, and sticky ointment all down her back, but she was warm and cosy. He snuggled up against her and went straight back to sleep.

The Black Stinker

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 while Benson was making himself a banana sandwich, his mother came into the kitchen and wrinkled up her nose. “What’s that smell?” she said. “Kind of damp and swampy.”

Aunt Lillibet came into the kitchen and sniffed. “What’s that smell?” she said. “Something dank and nasty.”

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, would you go down to the back door and see if you can find anything down there?”

The wombat hole where Benson lived had lots of extra tunnels and rooms that they never used, like most wombat holes. Some of them were too small, and some of them were overgrown with tree roots and some of them didn’t lead anywhere. At the end of all the tunnels and passages was a back door that they hardly ever used because it came out in a paddock where sometimes there was a horse grazing, and no-one wants to be accidentally stepped on by a horse when they’re going out their own back door.

Benson wandered along the main tunnel and turned into a smaller one, past the old kitchen they stopped using when his mother set fire to the turnip roast one day. A bit further on was the trophy room with all Aunt Lillibet’s old croquet trophies and the trophy Aunt Moss had won for yodelling. A bit past that was the Quiet room where Benson’s mother sometimes went when Aunt Lillibet’s belly-dancing friends came over and turned the music up very loud. Finally he got to the back door.

There was a strange animal there. It smelled like mouldy cabbage.

“Hello,” said Benson. “Are you a wallaby?”

“Swamp wallaby,” said the wallaby. “Wallabia bicolor. You are a common wombat. Vombatus ursinus.”

Benson said, “I’m not common. There’s only one of me.”

The wallaby sniffed. “The common or bare-nosed wombat is a solitary creature.”

“Solitary? What does that mean?” asked Benson.

“It lives alone,” said the wallaby.

“I live with my mother, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss,” said Benson.

The wallaby sniffed. “The common wombat may sometimes live in a group known as a mob or wisdom. However most wombats are solitary.”

Benson was starting to get ruffled. “What are you doing here?” he said.

The wallaby said, “I have moved in. This is my new home, my place of residence, my abode.”

“I think you’ve come to the wrong place by mistake,” said Benson. “This is our place.”

“I have decided to live here,” said the wallaby. “It is dry and quite cool. I would like you to leave now.”

“Leave?” said Benson. “Why should I leave? This is our place, not yours.”

The wallaby brushed his face with his hands and sniffed. “Wombats are known for their low intelligence. I have decided that this is my new home. Therefore you must leave.” He pushed Benson out the back door with his strong back legs, and slammed it shut.

“Hey!” Benson shouted, banging on the door.

“I do not wish to have any visitors,” the wallaby said through the door. “Go away.”

Benson scampered all the way around to the front door and tumbled into the kitchen where his mother and Aunt Lillibet were. “There’s a wallaby,” he panted. “He came in the back door.”

Just then the wallaby came hopping down the hallway. “Ah,” he said. “More wombats. A mob or wisdom.”

Aunt Lillibet pointed at the wallaby and said, “You’re a stinker!”

The wallaby said, “I prefer to be called a swamp wallaby. Wallabia bicolor.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You’re a black stinker, that’s what you are. What are you doing here?”

The wallaby sniffed. “I have decided to take up residence here. It is not very roomy and it needs more windows but it is adequate. It will do for now.”

Benson’s mother said, “You may visit and stay for a while if you need to, but please remember that this is our home.”

The wallaby sniffed and pushed past her. He sat down and put his big feet up on the table. Then he took an orange out of the fruit bowl and started eating it. “This food is not very good,” he said. He dropped the orange n the floor.

He went to the fridge and got out a lettuce and started munching. He said, “This is better, but there is only enough for me. You will have to leave now.”

Aunt Lillibet said firmly, “We are not leaving. This is our home. We dug these tunnels, we and the wombats who came before us. We have always lived here, and we will go on living here as long as we want to. We’re not going anywhere.”

Benson’s mother sat down and folded her arms. Benson sat next to her and folded his little arms too. Aunt Lillibet sat down next to them and folded her arms.

The wallaby sniffed. He scratched his face with his hands. He looked up at the ceiling and whistled.

Benson’s mother said, “If you’re staying, maybe you’d like to have lunch with us? We’re having vegemite and mushroom sandwiches and boiled lentils, and rhubarb pie, although the pie may be a little bit burnt.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “And after lunch, my belly-dancing friends are coming over, and we like our music very loud! Benson may even play his saxophone for us.”

Benson said, “I can play it for you now, if you like.”

The wallaby hopped quickly towards the door. “I find this place is not suitable after all. I will now depart.” He hopped out the front door.

Benson watched him hop away into the bush. Then he said to his mother, “Is the rhubarb pie really burnt?”

His mother smiled. “No, I think it’s just about perfect,” she said.

Uncle Elton’s Music Holder

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.

One day Benson’s Uncle Elton came over for afternoon tea. Uncle Elton really enjoyed making things. He made all sorts of things out of wood and things he found, but he wasn’t very good at it. Mostly the things he made fell down or fell to pieces or wobbled or bits fell off them.

This time he said, “Benson, I’ve made you something.”

Benson looked at the thing Uncle Elton had made for him. It had a long skinny kind of stick in the middle and three different legs, one made of wood and one made from an old saucepan handle and one from a carrot. At the top there was a big flat piece of bark he had sticky-taped onto it.

Benson said, “What is it?”

“It’s a music holder,” said Uncle Elton happily. “When you play the saxophone, you can put the music on here and it holds the music up.”

“Oh,” said Benson, then he remembered his manners. “Thank you, Uncle Elton.”

Benson’s mother said, “You must have put a lot of work into it, Elton. That was very kind of you.”

Uncle Elton beamed. “Do you want to try it out?” he asked.

Benson got a music book from his room. He put it carefully and gently on the music holder. The music holder wobbled a bit, then the legs fell off and it fell down and broke to pieces.

“Oh,” said Benson.

Uncle Elton looked very disappointed. “I mustn’t have used enough sticky-tape,” he said. He looked sadly at the pieces on the ground.

Just then Aunt Lillibet came in from the garden. “What’s this?” she said. Before Benson could explain, she picked up the long skinny stick part from the middle of the music holder. “A dibber!” she said. “It’s perfect! I’ve wanted a dibber for ages! Thank you, Elton.” She took the stick out into the garden.

Uncle Elton beamed. “I made a dibber!” he said. Then he said, “What’s a dibber?”

“I think it’s a kind of pointed stick you use to make nice round holes in the dirt when you’re planting seeds,” said Benson’s mother. “Well done, Elton!”

Just then Aunt Moss came in. “Hello, Elton,” she said. “What’s all this?”

Benson said, “Uncle Elton made me this, but it’s….”

“It’s perfect!” said Aunt Moss. “A nostepinne! I’ve always wanted one of these!” She picked up the wooden leg that had broken off.

Uncle Elton beamed even more widely. “I made a nostepinne!” Then he said, “What’s a nostepinne?”

Aunt Moss said, “You hold it like this, and you wind wool around it and it makes the wool into a nice tidy ball. I would love to have this.”

Uncle Elton said, “It’s for you, Moss.”

“Thank you, Elton,” Aunt Moss said. She carried it away to her room.

Uncle Elton said, “I suppose I should tidy up the rest of this rubbish.”

Benson’s mother said, “Actually, that nice flat piece of bark would make a good fruit bowl, if you’ve finished with it.”

“Of course,” said Uncle Elton happily.

Benson’s mother put the piece of bark in the middle of the table and piled oranges onto it. “It’s perfect. Thank you, Elton.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. He was very happy. “I think I’ll go home and make some more dibbers and nostepinnes and fruit bowls.” He gathered up the other bits that were lying on the ground.

Benson said, “If you’re not going to use that carrot for anything, could I have it?”

“Of course you can,” Uncle Elton said. He gave the carrot to Benson.

Benson took a big bite. “Perfect,” he said.

The Fence

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.

Near where Benson lived there was a creek, and on the other side of the creek, at the top of the hill, there was a fence. Sometimes when Benson went down to the creek, he noticed the fence and wondered what was on the other side of it. One day when he had nothing to do, he climbed all the way up to the top of the hill to have a look.

It was a very tall fence, made of wood palings that overlapped each other so you couldn’t see between them, but a little way up there was a gap where the wood had warped a bit. Benson thought that if he could climb up a bit higher, he could probably see through the gap.

He dragged an old log over, and leaned another log on top of it, and carefully climbed up. He peeped through the hole. There was a brown eye peeping back. Benson was so surprised he fell off his log.

“Hi!” a voice called. “Are you still there?”

Benson carefully got back onto his log and looked through the hole. There was another wombat on the other side of the fence.

“Hi,” said the other wombat. “My name’s Sally. I’m a wombat. My mother used to call me Selaleuca Salamanca, and my brother calls me Stupid, and Nona calls me Sally Sweetheart. What’s your name?”

“It’s Benson,” Benson said.

Sally said, “My mother died in the bushfires ages ago and me and my brother live here with Nona. This is a kind of animal sanctuary, for animals that need taking care of. All sorts of animals come here, like koalas and wombats and heaps of baby possums, but they all get released into the wild again. Me and my brother aren’t going to be released into the wild because we’ve been here so long, we couldn’t take care of ourselves and it would be too dangerous for us, Nona says. Are you a wild animal?”

Benson thought about it. He didn’t really have to think of an answer, because Sally kept on talking. “Why are you on the other side of the fence? Are you lost?”

“No,”said Benson, “I live here.” Then he said quickly before she could start talking again, “Is that a ribbon on your head?”

“Yes, this is my favourite pink ribbon,” Sally said. “I wear it every day except if it gets dirty then I have to wear my blue ribbon until Nona washes it. Do you want to see me do a handstand?”

She climbed down out of the tree she was standing in and did the best handstand Benson had ever seen a wombat do. She put her hands on the ground and lifted her bottom way up in the air. Then she climbed back up the tree and started talking again. “I can do handstands and cartwheels and forward rolls. I’m learning to do a double forward roll. Can you do a forward roll?” she asked.

Benson said, “I don’t know, I’ve never tried.” He knew he certainly couldn’t do a handstand. While Sally was talking, she was pulling apples off the tree, taking a bite and dropping the rest on the ground. While her mouth was full, Benson said, “Aren’t you going to eat that?”

Sally said, “No, I’m not really hungry. Nona’s going to bring me lunch in a minute anyway. Who brings you your lunch? I have a beautiful bowl with roses on it. Do you have a nice cage? I have a beautiful cage, with a box I can curl up in when I want a nap, and a pink blanket with flowers on it.”

Benson said, “I don’t have a cage. I live in a wombat hole with my mother and my two aunties.”

Sally said, “A hole? Like, made of dirt? Yuck! Why don’t you have a nice clean cage? Nona cleans my cage out every Saturday.”

Benson said sturdily, “It’s a really nice wombat hole. We dug it ourselves.”

Sally was shocked. “You dug it? Like with your hands in the dirt? How disgusting!”

Benson said, “But that’s what wombats do! We dig. Don’t you dig?”

Sally said, “No way. I might get my ribbon dirty.” She looked hard at Benson. “Are you sure you’re a real wombat?” she said. “You’re kind of skinny, and your nose isn’t hairy at all. Maybe you’re a nasty wild fox trying to trick me.”

Benson said, “Of course I’m a wombat. My mother’s a wombat, my aunties are wombats, and my Nanna, and my uncle Lionel and all my cousins. Are you sure you’re a real wombat?”

“Of course I am,” said Sally. “I’ve got a wombat song.”

She jumped out of the tree and stood beside it with her hands together and started to sing.

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

Here are my paws and here is my snout.

When it’s time for dinner, then I shout:

Chocolate cake! Don’t mess about!”

She stopped singing and asked Benson, “See? Do you have a wombat song?”

The only wombat song Benson could think of was about digging, and he didn’t think Sally would understand. “I’ve got heaps of wombat stories,” he said. He told her a story about Aunt Moss and beetroot and custard.

When he finished, Sally said, “Huh, that’s a silly story. Who ever heard of a wombat making custard? Custard comes in a box and Nona pours it into my bowl for me to eat. If you were a real wombat you’d know that! Go away, you sneaky wild fox!”

Benson said, “I’m not a fox. I don’t look anything like a fox. Foxes are smaller, and they have long tails.” He was thinking it was no wonder her brother called her stupid.

Sally put her fingers in her ears, and sang, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening!”

Then Benson heard a voice calling, “Sally, sweetheart, time for lunch!”

Sally got down and ran off.

Benson got down, too, and went back to the creek. Then just to remind himself how good it was to be a wild wombat, he dug a great big hole.

Baking Clay

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

Benson went over to his friend Mick’s place to play. Mick’s little sister, Bonnie Lou, wanted to play too, but Mick said she was too little. “Go and play with your stupid doll,” he said.

Bonnie Lou said, “She’s not stupid! She’s the most beautiful doll in the world.” Benson thought Bonnie Lou’s doll was pretty stupid too. It had blonde wavy hair and long plastic legs and a plastic head with a plastic smile.

Bonnie Lou said to her doll, “Come on, Valda, we don’t want to play with the stupid boys anyway.”

Mick thought it would be funny to tease Bonnie Lou. He grabbed the doll out of her hands and tossed it up into the air. “Whee!” he said. “Valda can fly!”

He threw the doll to Benson and Benson threw it back.

Bonnie Lou screamed, “Give her back!”

Mick held the doll up out of Bonnie Lou’s reach, then he threw her across to Benson. Benson went to catch it, but he missed. He made a grab and there was a loud crack. Valda’s head snapped off in Benson’s hand.

Bonnie Lou screamed and started to cry. Mick tried to jam the doll’s head back on again, but it was broken right off.

Benson felt terrible. Mick felt even worse. Bonnie Lou was screaming and crying, holding her doll with its head snapped off.

Mick’s mother came in. “Oh dear!” she said.

“It was an accident!” Mick said.

Bonnie Lou cried and cried. Valda was her favourite doll. Benson went home feeling very bad.

He told his mother what had happened.

“Poor Bonnie Lou!” she said. “She really loved that doll. I remember when you were just a little wombat and you had a toy reindeer called Ralph that you loved. You used to take it everywhere. You wouldn’t go to bed without it.”

Benson crept away down to the creek. He tried not to think about poor Bonnie Lou and her best friend with its head snapped off.

He sat down on the bank and thought. While he was thinking, his hands dug lumps of clay out of the side of the bank, and squished them into different shapes. Little by little the clay started to turn into a shape. It had four stumpy legs, a stumpy head, two little ears and a round soft nose.

He looked at what his hands had made. It was a little clay wombat.

It fitted just nicely into his hand. He carried it home and showed his mother.

“Oh, Benson, it’s beautiful! It’s so… wombatty,” she said. She held it in her hand and smiled. “You know, Aunt Moss’s friend Marigold could bake this for you in her kiln.”

Benson said, “Why would you want to bake a piece of clay? We’re not going to eat it.”

His mother said, “No, but the clay is a little bit like bread dough. If you don’t bake it, it dries out and gets all crumbly and breaks easily. If you put it in a kiln – that’s like an oven for clay – then it gets very strong and hard to break.”

They took the little clay wombat to Marigold’s place and she put it in her kiln. When it came out, it wasn’t soft and squishy any more. It was as hard and smooth as a stone.

“It’s beautiful,” said Marigold. “Would you make one for me?”

“And me too,” said Benson’s mother.

“If you like,” Benson said. He knew exactly what he was going to do with his little wombat. He went over to Mick’s house and gave it to Bonnie Lou.

“I’m sorry I broke your doll,” he said. “I made this for you.”

Benson wasn’t sure if she would like it. It didn’t have wavy blonde hair, or long plastic legs or a plastic smile. It was just a stumpy brown wombat with a soft round nose and two little ears.

Bonnie Lou held it in her hand. It fitted exactly.

Her mother said, “You should say thank you to Benson, Bonnie Lou. He made it himself out of clay from the creek. You can even see his thumbprint on its tummy, see?”

Bonnie Lou looked at the little wombat and smiled, and the smile spread over her whole body. “Thank you, Benson,” she said. She held the wombat tightly in her hand and said, “I’m going to call him ‘Benson’, after you.”

Benson at the Lake

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

Benson and his mother went to visit an old friend who lived a long way away, near a big lake. They went in a train, but that’s a story for another day. The friend’s name was Freda-Louise but Benson’s mother always called her Dellie.

Dellie lived in a very small wombat hole all by herself. There wasn’t really room for anyone else to stay, but Benson’s mother found an old wombat hole nearby nearby that no-one was using, and she and Benson tidied it up a bit so they could stay there.

It rained and rained the whole time they were there. Benson’s mother and Dellie talked for three whole days without stopping but Benson had nothing to do. He couldn’t go outside, there were no books, no pencils, no games, nothing to do but sleep or count the worm holes in the ceiling or dig, so Benson dug out a new kitchen and two bedrooms and playroom with nothing in it. Then he dug a kind of maze that twisted around and came back to the kitchen, and then he dug himself an indoor slippery slide. Finally, on the day they were going home, it stopped raining.

Dellie said, “Would you like to go down to the lake this morning?”

Benson’s mother said that would be nice but they had to catch the train home straight after lunch.

They went down to the lake. Benson was amazed. The shining blue water stretched out as far away as he could see, until it touched the sky. He had never seen so much water in his life.

Benson said, “Can I touch it?”

Dellie said, “You can go for a swim in it if you like. It’s not deep at the edges.”

Benson walked into the water. It was clear and clean but the bottom was all long straggly weeds, and under the weeds was mud. His feet sank into the mud and oozed up between his toes, and the weeds wrapped around his legs and waved cold fingers along his tummy. “Uggh,” said Benson.

He backed slowly out of the water. The weeds clung to his legs, cold and slimy, and the mud stuck to his feet. “Ugghhh,” he said.

He looked at the shining blue stretch of the water and suddenly the most wonderful thing came sailing past. It was a young man standing on a floating board holding onto a big sail. The wind blew the sail and the board flew along the water.

“Right,” said Benson. He started to think straight away of how he could make one just like that.

Dellie said, “Aren’t you going for a swim, Benson?”

Benson said, “I need something to make a boat out of to float on the water.”

His mother said, “I saw some old junk on the side of the road as we were coming along. Why don’t you go and have a look?”

Benson went off to look. There was a big pile of stuff, old furniture and all sorts of things that the people in the house were throwing out. There was a big sign that said, “FREE”.

He found a big sheet of cardboard at the bottom of the pile and dragged it out, and carried it to the lake.

His mother said, “Benson, I don’t think…” but Benson wasn’t listening.

He laid the piece of cardboard on top of the water, and then he jumped right into the middle of it.

The cardboard folded up and sank straight to the bottom. Benson was wet, the cardboard was soggy and there was mud all over his bottom.

He pulled the soggy cardboard out of the water and dragged it back to the junk pile.

He hunted around for something stronger and less folding. He found an old cushion, just big enough for a wombat to stand on.

He carried it back to the lake and threw it out onto the water. It floated nicely.

His mother said, “Benson, I don’t think…” but Benson wasn’t listening.

He made a big jump, right on top of the cushion. For a moment he was standing on top of the cushion floating on the lake. Then the cushion tipped and Benson fell into the water and sank into the mud at the bottom.

Benson pulled the cushion out of the water and dragged it back to the pile of junk.

This time he found an old metal cooking pot. He figured it would be big enough to fit in a young wombat with his feet tucked in. He carried it back to the lake and put it in the water. It bobbed around on the surface nicely.

His mother said, “Benson, I don’t think…” but Benson wasn’t listening. He was too busy climbing into the pot, first his feet, and then his bottom, then the rest of him squashed in on top.

The pot, full of young wombat, sank slowly to the bottom of the lake. Water came in at the top of the pot and filled up all the space that wasn’t already full of wombat. Benson sat in the pot with just his head above the water.

“Help,” he said quietly. There wasn’t room to move his arms or his legs and he couldn’t get out.

His mother and Dellie waded into the water and dragged the pot and Benson out of the water. They tipped the pot over, and Benson and a whole lot of lake water fell out.

Dellie said, “I think you should stick to dry land, young man. You’re not a successful sailor.”

Benson’s mother said, “I think it’s time for lunch, and then we have to get the train home.”

They all went and had lunch together, and then Benson and his mother caught the train home. Benson was still a bit soggy, and there was mud between his toes that was going to take a good scrubbing to get out, but all the way home he dreamed of how he was going to sail on the lake one day.

Ginger Toes

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

Aunt Lillibet had a sniffly nose. She was sitting by herself with a scarf around her head, gloves on her hands, thick warm boots and a thick winter coat on, feeling sorry for herself.

Aunt Moss was knitting. She finished the last stitch, cast off and said, “There! It’s finished!” She held up a warm red woolly hat. She put it on and pulled it down over her ears. “What do you think, Lillibet?” she said.

Aunt Lillibet sniffed. “I think it looks silly. Red doesn’t suit you. It looks ugly.”

Aunt Moss said, “Yes, it is very snuggly. I could make one for you, if you like. You look quite cold, sitting there.”

“Cold?” said Aunt Lillibet. “I’m freezing. My fingers are frozen.”

“Put vinegar on the roses?” Aunt Moss said. “Do you think that’s a good idea, Lillibet? Oh well, whatever you think.” She called Benson. “Benson, dear, would you get the vinegar, please?”

Benson got the vinegar out of the cupboard.

Aunt Lillibet said, “No, Moss, I said my fingers are frozen!”

“Bigger than Moses? Your roses will be that big?” said Aunt Moss. “They’ll need tying up, then. Benson, you’d better get some twine.” Benson put the bottle of vinegar back and got a ball of twine instead.

“No, not roses!” said Aunt Lillibet very loudly. “My FINGERS are FROZEN!” She was quite red in the face.

“Diggers and bulldozers?” said Aunt Moss. “Do you think your roses will be that big? Don’t you think a large trowel would do?” She found a big trowel and gave it to Benson instead of the twine.

Aunt Lillibet shouted, “No, Moss, you’re as deaf as a bat in that silly red hat!” She got up out of her chair and stamped over, very red in the face. “I said my FINGERS are FROZEN!!

“Ginger for your toes?” said Aunt Moss. “Oh, that’s a good idea! My mother always put her feet in a hot mustard bath whenever she had a cold. I suppose ginger would be just as good. Benson, would you get the ginger, please?”

Benson gave Aunt Moss the trowel, and got the ginger out of the cupboard.

Aunt Lillibet looked as if she was going to explode. She pulled Aunt Moss’s warm red woolly hat off and shouted in her ear, “MY FINGERS ARE FROZEN!” She took off her gloves and pointed to her fingers.

Aunt Moss looked at them. “They look nice and warm to me, Lillibet dear. You look very warm all over.”

Aunt Lillibet stopped. She did feel very warm. “I’m going out to the garden,” she said. She took the trowel and the twine and stamped off.

Benson still had the ginger. “Do you think she still wants the ginger?” he asked Aunt Moss.

Aunt Moss smiled at him, and put her hat back on. “I’ll make her a nice cup of ginger and lemon tea. It will be good for her cold.”

Goldilocks and the Three Koalas

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

One week it rained for days and days. On Thursday, Benson and his mother went to his friend Mick’s place. Alejandro was there already, and Mick’s little sister Bonnie Lou. Benson and Mick played hide-and-seek with Alejandro, and then they built giant towers with Bonnie Lou’s blocks and knocked them over again.

The mothers complained that they couldn’t hear themselves talking over the noise, so Mick’s mother suggested they go into Mick’s room and read a nice quiet story.

Mick said, “Benson, you should read. Some of the words are too long for me.”

Alejandro said, “I don’t like reading. I like to practise my dance steps.”

Bonnie Lou said, “I can read. I can read ‘a’ and ‘me’ and ‘dog’ and ‘cat’.”

Benson sighed. “I’ll read,” he said. “What books have you got?”

Mick had eight books. Seven of them were picture books about bikes, and the other one was ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears.’

Benson started reading. “’Once upon a time there were three bears who lived in a cottage in the woods.’”

Bonnie Lou said, “What’s a bear?”

Mick said, “It’s big and furry, like a koala. But bigger, much bigger. With teeth and claws.”

“What’s a cottage?” asked Alejandro.

“Just a house,” said Benson.

“Why don’t they say ‘house’, then?” Alejandro said. “’Three koalas lived in a house.’”

Benson said, “Do you want to hear the story? ‘One morning the mother bear made some porridge.’”

“What’s porridge?” asked Bonnie Lou.

“Oats,” said Benson. “My auntie makes it sometimes. She puts sugar and milk on it, and sometimes cream. Maybe some banana, or some coconut.” He stopped to think about porridge with sugar and cream and bananas. He started to feel hungry.

“Go on,” Mick said.

Benson kept reading. “’The porridge was too hot so they went for a walk in the woods’ – that’s the bush. ‘Just then along came a little girl named Goldilocks.’”

“What?” said Bonnie Lou.

“Goldilocks,” said Benson. “She had long, curly golden hair.”

“Ooh,” said Bonnie Lou. She started imagining herself with long, curly, golden hair.

Benson kept reading. “’She went into the cottage and ate some of the porridge.’”

“That’s very rude!” said Mick.

Benson ignored him. The next bit was all about porridge. “’She tried the first bowl of porridge but it was too hot. The second bowl was too cold, but the third bowl was just right, so she ate it all up.’”

“She ate their porridge?” said Mick. “That is extremely rude of her!”

“It’s just a story,” said Benson. “’Then Goldilocks went to sit down. The first chair was too hard, the second chair was too soft, so she sat in the baby bear’s chair but she was too big so it broke to pieces.’”

“She broke the chair?” said Mick. “Did she get in trouble?”

“Did she hurt herself?” asked Bonnie Lou.

Alejandro was bored with porridge and chairs. He got up and started practising his dance steps.

Benson said, “No, she didn’t hurt herself. It’s just a story, remember? ‘Goldilocks went up the stairs to the bedroom.’”

Alejandro started doing his high kicks. Mick tried to sit on him.

Bonnie Lou said, “Did she have her hair in a pony-tail?”

Benson was thinking seriously about lunchtime. He decided to skip to the end. “’The three bears found Goldilocks sleeping in the baby bear’s bed. She woke up and jumped out the window and ran away.’”

Mick started jumping on the bed. Alejandro pushed him off and he fell on top of Benson.

Bonnie Lou said, “Did she die?” and started to cry.

Benson said from underneath Mick, “No, she didn’t die. I told you, she ran away.”

“It’s a stupid story,” said Alejandro. He thought any story without dancing was a stupid story.

Mick thought so too. “If you jumped out of a window, you’d die for sure.”

Bonnie Lou grabbed the book away from Benson and started whacking Mick with it. “She didn’t die, she didn’t die!” she screamed.

Alejandro did a giant leap off the bed and landed on top of Mick on top of Benson. Bonnie Lou hit him too. “It’s not stupid!” she screamed.

The door opened and Mick’s mother looked in. “Time for lunch, everyone!” she said. She took the book away from Bonnie Lou.

Bonnie Lou stopped screaming and hitting. Mick scrambled up. “Can we have porridge for lunch?” he said.

“Porridge?” asked his mother.

Everyone nodded.

“With brown sugar and cream,” said Benson. “Mmm.”

Wasp

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

One afternoon Benson was playing outside. He dug a hole in the ground in the shape of a boat and he made a flag out of a stick and a hanky, and he got an old piece of wood he could use for a ship’s wheel, then he stood in the middle of the boat, shouting “Land ho!” and “Batten down the hatches!”

He was just thinking that he needed some oars, when an insect flew up and stung him on the nose.

“Ow!” he said. The insect darted away. Benson’s nose started to hurt.

“Oww!” he said. His nose really hurt. “Oww!”

The hurt was getting worse and worse. “OWW!” he said. It was so bad he started to cry. He ran inside crying and yelling, “Owww, owww!”

His mother stopped folding the washing and said, “What’s the matter?”

“Owww! Owww! Something stung me!” he cried.

His mother took a look at his nose, and then she went straight to the medicine cupboard. She got out a small tube of white ointment and squeezed some onto Benson’s nose.

“It will be all right in a minute,” she said. “Try to take some deep breaths.”

Benson didn’t want to take deep breaths. His nose really really really hurt. It hurt so much it made his whole face hurt. His whole head hurt.

He tried really hard, and took one deep breath and stopped crying. The pain in his nose was getting less and less. In a minute or so, it started to feel better.

“Is it feeling better?” his mother asked.

Benson nodded. It still hurt, but not so much now.

“I’ll make you some warm milk and we’ll sit quietly and I’ll read to you for a while” his mother said.

They sat quietly and after a while his nose didn’t hurt much at all, except when he felt it to see if it still hurt.

“It was probably a wasp,” his mother said. “There might be a nest somewhere in the yard. I’ll have a look tomorrow.”

The next morning, Benson thought about going outside to play, then he thought about wasps and he decided not to. He shut the front door firmly so no wasps could get inside.

Aunt Lillibet came inside from the garden and left the door open. Benson thought about a wasp coming into the house and buzzing around, looking for someone to sting. He ran into his room and shut the door.

He didn’t have to go outside, he thought. He could stay in his room and read a book, or do some drawing, or play his saxophone. There were heaps of things he could do.

Then he started to imagine what would happen if his mother opened the door to see if he was all right and a wasp flew in. He started to feel worried.

The door opened and his mother put her head in. “Are you all right, Benson?” she said.

Benson’s stomach suddenly felt extremely worried. He jumped into the bed and pulled the covers up over his head. “Shut the door!” he said in a muffled way through the blankets.

Benson’s mother came in and shut the door. “Benson,” she said, “you can’t hide under the blankets all day.”

Benson didn’t say anything. He felt safe inside the blankets.

His mother stood there and thought. “All right,” she said. “I’ll have to do something about this.”

She went out and left the door open. Benson started to feel worried again. He peeped out through a tiny gap in the blankets. He could see his mother putting on a long shirt with long sleeves. She put on long pants, and then she put on long socks that came up over the legs of the pants. She put on a balaclava and then she put on long gloves that came up over the long sleeves of the shirt. Then she put on a hat with an insect screen on it.

“That should do it!” she said.

She went into the kitchen and got the insect spray and the broom, and some tongs and an egg flipper and the mop.

Benson peeped over the edge of the blankets. “What are you going to do?” he said.

“I’m going to go outside and deal with the wasps’ nest,” she said.

She picked up all the things, the mop and the broom and the insect spray and everything.

Benson could see that she probably needed a hand to carry everything. He took a deep breath. “Do you need me to help?” he said in a small wobbly voice.

His mother helped him put on long pants and socks and a long-sleeved shirt and his dressing gown over the top in case, and his gumboots and a scarf pulled up over his face, and a pair of washing-up gloves and a hat with an insect net and then they were ready.

They went outside. Benson’s mother found the wasps’ nest underneath the wheelbarrow. She sprayed it a fair bit and then they ran back inside while the wasps flew away.

They waited till the very last wasp had flown away.

Benson’s mother said, “A wasp can give you a very nasty sting.”

“Yes,” said Benson, feeling his nose.

They had some pomegranate and molasses tea, and then Benson went to see what he could use to make some oars with.

Playing Possum

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

One day Benson was making a sandwich – spinach and parsnip – when Aunt Moss came out of her room, limping.

“Did you hurt your leg, Aunt Moss?” asked Benson.

“I might have twisted my ankle,” Aunt Moss said.

“Which ankle did you hurt?” Benson asked.

“I can’t remember,” said Aunt Moss. She sat down looking embarrassed. “Actually my ankle is fine. It’s just that Lillibet wants me to go to a concert with her, and I thought that if I said my ankle was sore, I wouldn’t have to go.”

“Why don’t you want to go?” Benson asked.

Aunt Moss said, “It’s a concert with strings and wind instruments. That means boxes with vines stretched across them, and hollowed-out gourds that you blow into. I just hate it!”

Benson said, “Why don’t you tell Aunt Lillibet you don’t want to go?”

“Oh no!” said Aunt Moss. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

Benson said, “Why don’t you go anyway? There’s probably afternoon tea after the concert.”

Aunt Moss said, “I just can’t bear it. The strings are twangy and screechy and all out of the tune, and the gourds sound like a cow mooing down a vacuum cleaner hose.”

Benson thought it sounded kind of interesting. He started thinking of the noises he could make if he hollowed out a big pumpkin or a snake gourd or a watermelon. Boom, boom, bam, whoonk, hooonk!

Aunt Moss said, “I think I’ll sit here and pretend I’m asleep. Then she’ll have to leave without me.”

She leant back and shut her eyes.

Aunt Lillibet came out with her going-out hat on. “Come along, Moss,” she said, “it’s time to go.”

Aunt Moss lay still, with her eyes closed.

“Wake up, Moss,” said Aunt Lillibet. “We don’t want to be late.”

Aunt Moss gave a little pretend snore.

“Moss!” said Aunt Lillibet loudly. She gave her a little prod. “Wake up!”

Aunt Moss snored louder.

Aunt Lillibet shook her by the shoulder and said, “Moss! Wake up!” loudly.

Aunt Moss squeezed her eyes very tight and snored hard.

Aunt Lillibet put her lips right up to Aunt Moss’s ear and shouted, “Wake up!”

Aunt Moss jumped and her eyes opened wide. “There’s no need to shout, Lillibet,” she said.

“Hurry up, we’re going to be late,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson stepped up. He said, “Aunt Lillibet, Aunt Moss doesn’t really want to go to the concert.”

“Why not?” Aunt Lillibet said. “Are you too tired, Moss?”

Aunt Moss said in a small voice, “I’m sorry, Lillibet. I just don’t like the music.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Aunt Lillibet said. “I could have asked Elton or Shelley instead. You’re such a silly, Moss. I must go or I’ll be late.”

Aunt Lillibet hurried off.

Benson went into the kitchen and came back with a big spoon.

“What are you doing, Benson?” Aunt Moss asked.

Benson said, “I’m going to get the biggest pumpkin I can find and scoop all the insides out and make a big drum or a honk-a-phone – whoonk, bam, bam! Boom, boom, moooo!”

Aunt Moss said weakly, “I think I’ll lie down and take a nap.”

How to Sew on a Button

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

One morning Benson got out of bed and had a big yawn and a big stretch and one of the buttons on his pyjamas popped off.

He went out to the kitchen where his mother and Aunt Moss were eating breakfast.

He said, “My button came off.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh, we can fix that easily. If you would bring me my needles and thread and scissors, please, Benson, we’ll have your button back on in no time!”

Benson brought Aunt Moss’s needles and thread and scissors. His mother said, “Aunt Moss, why don’t you let Benson sew the button back on? You could show him what to do, and he could do it himself. A young wombat needs to know how to sew a button on, don’t you think?”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh yes!” So they set to work. First there was threading the needle, which took a long time because the hole in the needle was very small and the thread was wobbly. When they got that done, they had to tie a knot in the thread and that was hard because the thread was slippery and the knot either made itself in the middle of the thread or it didn’t make itself at all.

Then they needed to find Aunt Moss’s glasses and then they were ready to start. Aunt Moss did the explaining and Benson did the sewing. The first time he put the knot in the wrong place so they had to start again, but after that it wasn’t hard at all. He sewed through the pyjamas and up through one hole in the button, and then down through the other hole in the button and through the pyjamas again, up and down, up and down, until the button was nice and tight. Then they made a knot so the thread wouldn’t come undone, and cut off the rest of the thread.

“There!” Benson said. He was quite proud of himself.

Aunt Moss said, “Well done!” Then she noticed something. “Oh dear,” she said. “When you were sewing the button onto your pyjamas, you accidentally sewed it onto my dressing-gown as well.” Benson looked. The button and the pyjamas were sewn firmly onto Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown.

They got the scissors and snipped through the thread, and then they had to start again sewing the button onto Benson’s pyjamas. This time Aunt Moss did the sewing.

“There!” she said.

Benson looked, and said, “That’s very nice, Aunt Moss, but you’ve sewn the button onto your dressing-gown instead of my pyjamas.”

“Oh, dear, how did that happen?” Aunt Moss said, getting flustered.

Benson’s mother came over. “Can I help?” she said.

“Oh, yes, please,” said Aunt Moss. Benson’s mother snipped the button off, and they started again. Benson did some of the sewing and his mother did the knot and the snipping and Aunt Moss supervised.

“There!” said Benson’s mother.

Benson held up the pyjamas. This time his pyjamas were sewn to Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown and the button was sewn to the table-cloth.

“Oops!” said Benson’s mother. “We’d better sort that out.” She snipped the button off and snipped the pyjamas away from the dressing-gown and they started again. This time Aunt Moss did the sewing and Benson’s mother did the knots and Benson supervised. When they were finished, the table-cloth was sewn to Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown, the dressing-gown was sewn to Benson’s pyjamas, and the button and the pyjamas were both sewn onto Benson’s mother’s dress.

Aunt Lillibet came out and looked at them, all sewn together. “What on earth are you doing?” she said.

“We’re having a sewing bee,” Benson’s mother said.

“You’re having a sewing catastrophe!” Aunt Lillibet said.

She got Aunt Moss’s scissors and went snip, snip, snip. Then she got the needle and thread and sewed six swift stitches.

“There!” she said. The table-cloth was back on the table, Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown wasn’t sewn to anything, Benson’s mother’s dress was fine again, and the button was back on Benson’s pyjamas.

Then she said, “Oh. Benson, I think I may have accidentally cut a hole in your pyjamas.”

She was right. There was a great big hole in the front of the pyjamas.

“Never mind,” she said. “We can easily sew a button over that. Benson, would you like to help? Every young wombat should know how to sew on a button!”

Shadow Puppets

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

One night there was a big storm with thunder and lightning. Benson was reading in bed when the lights went out. He got out of bed and got his torch from his shelves and turned it on.

His mother called from the lounge room, “Benson, could you bring your torch out here, please? Aunt Moss has dropped her sewing needle, and the batteries in Aunt Lillibet’s torch are flat.”

Benson went out to the lounge room, lighting the way with his torch. His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were sitting together in the dark.

When Aunt Moss saw the light from Benson’s torch, she said, “Oh, that’s better!”

“Bring the torch over here, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said. She didn’t like thunder and lightning either. The thunder got louder, and the lightning was so bright that it made the torch seem very small.

Benson’s mother said, “Do you remember when you were very little, Benson, and we used to make shadows on the wall with a torch?”

“I can do bunnies,” Aunt Moss said, in a quavery voice.

Benson held the torch, and Aunt Moss put two fingers up and scrunched up the other fingers, and held her hand in front of the torch. A big shadow of a bunny jumped up on the wall. Aunt Moss wriggled her fingers, and the bunny wriggled its ears.

“Bunnies, hmphh,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I can do a bull-dog.” Aunt Lillibet made a complicated shape with her fist and held it up in front of the torch, and a big shadow of a dog jumped up on the wall and chased the bunny shadow. There was a big crash of thunder and the bunny and the bulldog both jumped.

Benson’s mother said, “Watch out for the crocodile!” She made a big crocodile shadow with both hands. It snapped at the bulldog, and made the bunny run away.

Then Benson had a turn and made a kind of duck, and Aunt Moss made a butterfly. Aunt Lillibet turned her bulldog into a swan and then she made an eagle with giant flapping wings. Everyone forgot about the thunder and the lightning until Benson’s mother said, “Listen! I think the storm is over.”

Everyone listened. There was some gentle rain, but no more thunder or lightning. Benson knew his mother was going to say he should go back to bed now, so he said, “What are shadows made of?”

Everyone thought for a minute. Aunt Lillibet said, “They’re not made of anything. They’re where the light isn’t.”

“Like when you put your hand on a rock, and then you spray paint on it and you take your hand away and there’s a shape of your hand on the rock,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson said. “So light is like paint.”

“No,” Benson’s mother said. “Light lets you see things. Like sunlight. When the sun’s shining you can see everything. It’s darkness that covers it up.”

“So darkness is like paint,” Benson said. “And light washes it away.”

“No,” said Benson’s mother. “Paint is like paint. Light makes it easier to see things. The less light there is, the harder it is to see things. Which reminds me, did you find your needle, Moss?”

Aunt Lillibet lifted up her bottom a little bit. “I found it,” she said. She gave the needle back to Aunt Moss.

Benson was still thinking of good questions. He said, “Then why does the torch make it easier to see shadows?”

Benson’s mother said, “I think it’s time for bed, Benson.”

Benson got up slowly and said goodnight to everyone. When he got to the door, he turned around and said, “But what’s lightning made of? And why can you see it in the daytime sometimes?”

His mother said, “That’s a question for tomorrow. Now it’s time for bed.”

Benson got into bed, and imagined painting swirls of light and shadows all over his room until he went to sleep.

Infinity

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

Benson was reading a book about science.

He asked his mother, “What does infinity mean?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I know what infinity is. My mother’s auntie used to have a big pot of soup on the stove, cooking away all day every day, all year round. Whenever she had any leftover vegetables or scraps from the garden, celery leaves or turnip tops, old wrinkly mushrooms or bendy carrots, she’d put them in the soup pot. Every now and then she’d add some more water and some salt. Whenever we went to visit, we had soup from this soup pot. I think she had soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day. That’s infinity, a never-ending pot of soup.”

Aunt Moss said, “It’s like yoghurt. You take a little yoghurt and you mix it into a bowl of milk and let it sit in a warmish place, and in no time you’ve got a bowl of yoghurt. When you start to run out, you take some of the yoghurt and mix it into another bowl of milk, leave it for a while in warmish place and you have more yoghurt. Yoghurt comes from yoghurt. If you keep making it, it never runs out. That’s infinity.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Infinity backwards is chickens and eggs. You can’t have eggs without chickens to lay them, and you can’t have chickens without eggs for them to come from.”

Benson was starting to get the idea. “Is it the same with wombats?” he said. “You can’t have baby wombats without mother wombats, and you can’t have mother wombats unless they were baby wombats once?”

He imagined a long, long line of wombats and joeys stretching back and back, with chickens and eggs all around them, in a big puddle of yoghurt.

“Is everything infinity?” he asked. “Like leaves and trees. The leaves fall off the trees and turn into dirt and compost and that makes the tree grow so it makes more leaves that fall off and make compost and dirt and make the trees grow and make more leaves…” Now there was a whole forest in his imagination, with trees full of chickens eating soup.

“And water,” he said. “The creek fills up with water when it rains, and after a while the water in the creek dries up and goes up into the clouds and then it rains and the water goes into the creek and then it dries up and goes into the clouds and then it rains again…”

Aunt Moss said, “Benson dear, my head is going around. Would you mind stopping?”

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, show me where you were reading.”

Benson showed her the page, and she said, “That’s not ‘infinity’, that’s ‘infinitely’. As in ‘I love you infinitely’.”

She saw the look in Benson’s eye that meant he was going to ask another question that was going to make Aunt Moss’s head spin, so she said, “That means I love you more than anything and I’ll love you forever and forever, forwards and backwards, more than all the chickens and all the water in all the creeks in the world.”

Benson smiled. “I love you infinitely too.” Then he said to Aunt Lillibet, “Does your auntie still have that pot of soup?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “She went to the shops one day and my uncle forgot to add more water and the soup burned a hole right through the bottom of the pot and that was the end of it.”

“So it wasn’t completely infinite, then?” Benson said.

“Infinite enough,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said to his mother, “Can we have soup for lunch? And eggs? And yoghurt?”

And they did.

The Eagle

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

One day it was so sunny and warm that everyone decided to have a picnic. They went to a big clearing with lots of shady trees for the mothers to sit and chat, and lots of space for everyone else to dig and play. Benson’s friend Mick and his friend Zali were there, and Zali’s baby sister, Zip, and their mother, Teresa. They had mint and carrot paste sandwiches, and potato chips and corn fritters for lunch, then the mothers sat in the shade and talked with Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss, while Benson and Mick played races.

They raced up and down to see who was the fastest. Mick won every time. After a while Benson didn’t want to play any more. It was no fun losing every time. He went off to be by himself for a while.

A bit further on from the trees there was a giant rock, up against a big hill. Benson thought it would be great to be on top of the giant rock, higher than everybody else, but it was way too big to climb. Even the hill was too steep to climb. He started to dig a bit in the bushes at the bottom of the rock, and he found something very interesting.

Behind a clump of bushes, there was a hole. Benson dug a bit, and he found that the hole was the beginning of a tunnel. He dug a bit more, and he found that the tunnel was actually an old wombat hole. Some of the dirt inside had fallen down, but he soon dug that out. The tunnel led down into the dark and then around and along and up and before you know it, it came out at a hole at the other end, at the top of the giant rock!

Benson clambered out onto the rock. He could see for miles around. He could see down into the clearing where Zali was eating watermelon with Mick in the sunshine. He could see Aunt Moss snoozing against a tree. He could see his mother talking to Aunt Lillibet and Zali’s mum, Teresa, and Zali’s baby sister Zip nosing about in the grass nearby. He shouted, “Hey, everyone, I’m up here!” but no-one paid him any attention.

He picked up a stone and threw it down towards them. It hit Mick on the head, and he said, “Ow!” loudly. Benson threw another stone. Mick didn’t know where the stones were coming from, but Benson’s mother looked up and saw him.

“How did you get up there?” she called.

“It’s a secret,” Benson said.

Aunt Lillibet looked up at Benson and she looked at the hill. She said, “I know how he got up there. There’s a secret tunnel.” She got up, and Benson’s mother and Mick went over to the bottom of the rock with her.

“Now, just around here somewhere,” she said, “there’s an opening.” She looked behind the bushes until she found it. “Here it is,” she said.

“How did you know there was a tunnel here?” Benson’s mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I remember we used to play here when we were young. My brother Lionel dug this tunnel so he could climb up onto the rock. He used to throw stones down at us, too.”

Lillibet went first and they all climbed up the tunnel and came out on the rock.

“Cool!” said Mick.

“This is amazing!” Benson’s mother said.

“What’s that?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What? Where?” Benson’s mother said.

“Up there,” said Aunt Lillibet. “I think it’s an eagle.” She pointed to a black dot in the sky, which was getting bigger and bigger as it came towards them.

“Oh no!” Benson’s mother said. They could all see Zali and her mother and Aunt Moss sitting in the shade, and baby Zip toddling around in the middle of the clearing, investigating a butterfly. Benson’s mother shouted as loudly as she could but Aunt Moss and Zali’s mum Teresa were too busy talking to hear them.

“Quickly, everyone, get back into the tunnel and stay there!” Benson’s mother said. “I’ll go down and warn them.” She sped down the secret tunnel. When she got to the bottom she ran over to Teresa and Aunt Moss, shouting.

“It’s an eagle!” she shouted.

“An eagle!” said Teresa, jumping up. “You and Moss take care of Zali. I’ve got to get Zip.” She set off running into the middle of the clearing to get Zip.

Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother got Zali over to the tunnel and safely inside. Aunt Lillibet and Benson were at the top of the tunnel, peeping out to see what was happening. They could see Teresa speeding across the grass, calling to little Zip, but Zip was staring at the butterfly, half-asleep.

The eagle came lower and lower, flying in circles, closer and closer.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Teresa’s fast, but she’s not going to make it.”

Zali’s mother ran faster than Benson had ever seen a wombat run. She grabbed baby Zip and pushed her into her pouch, just as the eagle started to dive.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Now, Benson!”

Benson ran out onto the top of the rock and waved his arms and shouted. He did a little dance, and jumped up and down.

The eagle saw Benson on the top of the rock, a nice plump little wombat. He changed direction and started to dive towards Benson. Benson waited until the very last minute, then he jumped back into the safe darkness of the tunnel. The eagle came zooming down, but when Benson disappeared, it suddenly stopped, wondering where he had got to. It flew in circles around the rock, hunting for him.

Benson and Aunt Lillibet kept perfectly still, and perfectly quiet.

After a while the eagle gave up and flew over the clearing, searching for Zali’s mother and Zip, but they were hidden safely inside the tunnel. After a long time of hunting, it flew off into the sky.

Everyone stayed in the tunnel for a long time, making sure that the eagle was gone. Then they all came out into the sunshine.

“Well done, everybody!” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, that was a very brave thing to do.”

Benson said, “It was Aunt Lillibet’s idea. She told me what to do and I did it.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “My brother Lionel used to do exactly the same thing when he was a young wombat. I think it’s probably the same eagle.”

Everyone was very pleased that no-one had been eaten by the eagle. They walked home together, talking and laughing. Benson said to his mother, “I’m going to practise running. I want to be as fast as Zali’s mum one day.”

“I think that’s a very good idea,” said his mother.

Colours

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.

One evening while they were eating dinner, Aunt Lillibet was looking around the room in a thoughtful kind of way.

“You know,” she said, “I think this room would do with a new coat of paint.”

“Oh no,” said Benson’s mother, “not again!”

Aunt Moss said, “It’s not that long since last time you painted it, Lillibet dear.”

“Oh, it’s ages ago,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It really needs freshening up.”

“What colour will it be this time?” Benson asked.

“The same as it is now,” Aunt Lillibet said. “A nice neutral colour goes with everything. Last time we discussed colours over and over, and this was the best we came up with.”

“Oh yes,” Aunt Moss said. “I remember trying to decide on a colour last time. I wanted green, and you wanted white, Lillibet.”

“I wanted orange, didn’t I?” said Benson. Orange was Benson’s favourite colour.

“Yes,” Benson’s mother said. “But I was never happy with this colour.” She looked around the room. The walls were a kind of pale brown-grey beige, like a very dirty old bone. She put her head on one side, considering. “What about blue this time?” she said.

“Oh yes,” said Aunt Moss. “A lovely greeny tealy blue like my dressing-gown.”

“No, no, no,” said Aunt Lillibet. “In a room like this you need a very pale blue, nearly white, otherwise it will make the room seem much smaller than it is.”

Benson’s mother said, “I was thinking of a deep purpley blue, almost like blueberries.”

Benson said, “What about orange?”

“No, not orange,” everyone said together.

They went on talking about colours while Benson washed the dishes, read his book, and had a bath. They were still talking about it when he kissed his mother goodnight and went to bed.

In the morning he woke up early, and he had a great idea. He got out his paints and set to work.

A while later his mother came out to get breakfast. “Benson!” she shrieked. “What have you done?”

Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss rushed out to see what was wrong.

“Oh my goodness!” said Aunt Moss.

“Benson, that was very naughty of you,” said Aunt Lillibet said.

The wall behind the table was painted in big wide stripes in all different colours, pale blue, dark purpley blue, green, white, yellow, red, and orange. The orange stripe was a bit wider than the other stripes.

Aunt Lillibet said sternly, “You’ll have to clean it all off, and then I think you should spend the rest of the day in your room.”

“I was only trying to help,” Benson said. “Aunt Moss said that you can’t really tell what a colour will look like until you see it on the wall.”

“Benson, this is not really what I meant,” Aunt Moss said.

“Wait a minute,” said Benson’s mother. “You know, I like this green. It’s very calming.”

“I know what you mean,” said Aunt Lillibet. “But I think it’s got too much blue in it – it looks cold.”

Aunt Moss said, “I love this red! It’s so bright and cheerful.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “No, it’s much too bright. Imagine coming out to have breakfast every morning with this colour red on the walls! But this yellow would be fine, it were a lot lighter.”

Benson said, “What about this nice orange?”

“No, not orange,” everyone said. “It’s too bright, and too loud, and too… orange.”

Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet and Benson’s mother started talking about the colours that Benson had painted on the wall. After a while Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, go and get your paints again.”

Benson got his paints, and Aunt Lillibet mixed some white with some blue and painted another stripe on the wall. “Too light,” Benson’s mother said. “It looks like a dead jellyfish.” She got the blue and the red and mixed up a bright purple.

“Too purple!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I would have to wear my sunglasses inside.”

Aunt Moss mixed a little bit of blue into a big blob of yellow and painted a greeny yellowy stripe. “Ugh, horrible!” everyone said. “It looks like a mouldy turtle.”

Benson gave up and got himself a banana and read his book. They kept on talking about colours, and trying different ones on the wall.

“This one’s too green!” Aunt Lillibet said, “like someone has squashed peas on the wall.” She had a spot on her nose and her fingers were green like long beans.

“And that one’s too white, “ said Aunt Moss. “I’d feel as if I were living in a refrigerator.” She was waving her brush around and getting spots on the floor and on Benson’s mother.

After a while Benson went outside and dug a big tunnel under the clothes-line and out the other side. He put a little chimney at one end, and a verandah at the other end. It took a long time, and when he went inside again, they were still talking about what colour to paint the room. All the walls were covered in stripes of every colour he could think of.

He made a sandwich and looked around. “I like it like this, with all these colours” he said. “It’s bright and calming and cheerful and relaxing and interesting. Especially the orange.”

Everyone stopped talking and looked at all the stripes. Then they said together, “Not orange!” and went back to discussing.

Storytelling

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

One evening at bedtime, Benson said to his mother, “Can you tell me a story?”

“I’d love to,” said his mother. She tucked Benson up into bed and started.

“Once upon a time there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess. The trouble was, it was very hard to find a true princess. Whenever he met a girl that he thought was a true princess, his mother would say, ‘This girl is not a true princess. Her long golden hair is really brown hair that she has dyed.’ Or ‘That girl is not a true princess. She doesn’t know how to curtsy properly.’ Or ‘A true princess would not have such big feet.’

“The prince began to think that he would never find a true princess. Then one dark and stormy night, there was a knock at the door.”

Just then Aunt Lillibet came into Benson’s room and said to Benson’s mother, “Moss is having problems with her knitting. She’s dropped seven stitches and there’s a big hole. Could you come and help her, please?”

Benson’s mother said, “I was just in the middle of telling Benson a story.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Oh I can do that. Where were you up to?”

Benson’s mother said, “I just got to the part where there was a knock at the door.”

“I know that story,” Aunt Lillibet said. Benson’s mother got up and went to help Aunt Moss. Aunt Lillibet sat down beside the bed and began.

“There was a knock at the door, and the big bad wolf said, ‘Little pig, little pig, let me come in!’ The little pig said, ‘No, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin, I will not let you in!’ The wolf said, ‘Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll BLOW your house in!’ And he huffed, and he puffed, and he BLEW the little pig’s house in, and he ate up the first little pig.

“Next he went to the house that the second little pig had built out of sticks, and he knocked at the door and said…”

Just then Aunt Moss came into Benson’s room. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but I seem to have lost one of the pages of my knitting pattern. I think it may be in your room, Lillibet. Would you mind having a look for it?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I was just up to the exciting part of the story. The big bad wolf was knocking at the door.”

Aunt Moss said, “I know what happens next. Let me tell it.”

Aunt Lillibet got up and went to look for Aunt Moss’s knitting pattern. Aunt Moss sat down and began. “The big bad wolf knocked at the door and the grandmother called out, ‘Who is it?’ The wolf said in a little girl voice, ‘It’s Little Red Riding Hood. I’ve brought you a basket with a little pot of butter, some blackberry jam and a fresh sultana cake.’ The grandmother said, ‘Lift the latch and come in.’ The big bad wolf lifted the latch and came in. He saw the grandmother lying in the bed and he sprang on her and gobbled her up in one bite! Then he put on the grandmother’s spare nightie and her night cap and got into bed.”

Benson was feeling a bit confused, but he loved the story. He snuggled down further in his bed.

Aunt Moss went on, “Soon Little Red Riding Hood came to the grandmother’s house and she knocked at the door. ‘Who is it?’ the wolf said in a grandmothery sort of voice. ‘It’s me, Little Red Riding Hood,’ said Little Red Riding Hood. ‘I’ve brought you a basket with a little pot of butter, some blackberry jam and a fresh sultana cake.’ The wolf said in his grandmother voice, ‘Lift the latch and come in.’ Red Riding Hood came in and she went up to the grandmother’s bed…”

Just then Benson’s mother came into the room, and said, “Moss, we’ve found the pattern so you can go back to your knitting if you like. I’ll finish the story.”

“Thank you, dear,” Aunt Moss said. “I was just up to the part where the girl comes up to the bed…”

“Oh, I know where you’re up to,” Benson’s mother said. She sat down beside the Benson’s bed, and Aunt Moss went out to do her knitting.

Benson’s mother said, “Are you enjoying the story, Benson?”

“It’s very exciting,” Benson said.

Benson’s mother said, “So the girl came up to the bed, which had twenty-three mattresses piled on top of each other. The prince’s mother said, ‘I hope you sleep well,’ but she had secretly hidden a pea under the bottom mattress, and the girl tossed and turned all night, because she could feel the tiny pea all the way through all the mattresses. In the morning the queen and the prince came to wake her up and she said, ‘I didn’t sleep a wink all night. There was something wrong with the bed…’”

Just then Aunt Moss came in again. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but somehow I’ve got the wool all tangled up, and Lillibet says she needs help untangling it and I seem to be making everything worse. Would you mind giving Lillibet a hand? I can go on with the story if you like.”

Benson’s mother got up. “I was just up to the part where the girl thinks there is something wrong with the bed.”

“Oh, this is my favourite part,” said Aunt Moss. Benson’s mother went out to help Aunt Lillibet, and Aunt Moss sat down beside Benson and went on, “Little Red Riding Hood knew at once that there was something wrong, and she said, ‘Oh Grandmother, what big eyes you have!’ The wolf said, ‘All the better to see you with, my dear.’ Little Red Riding Hood said, ‘Oh Grandmother, what a big nose you have!’ The wolf said, ‘All the better to smell you with, my dear.’

“Then Little Red Riding Hood said, ‘Oh Grandmother, what big TEETH you have!’ The wolf said, ‘All the better to EAT you with, my dear!’ And he sprang up…”

Just then Aunt Lillibet came back into the room. “Moss, we’ve got all the knots untangled. You can go on with your knitting. I’ll finish the story.”

Aunt Moss said, “Thankyou, Lillibet dear, that’s very good of you. We were just up to the most exciting part of the story. The wolf sprang up…”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Oh yes, I know what happens next.”

Aunt Moss went out, and Aunt Lillibet sat down beside Benson. He could hardly wait to hear what happened next. She said, “The wolf sprang up onto the roof and jumped down the chimney. But the little pig had a huge cauldron of water boiling on the fire and the wolf fell into it and was killed at once.”

Just then Benson’s mother came in, with Aunt Moss. “We both wanted to hear the end of the story,” she said. “Did you tell him the part where the prince finds that the girl is a true princess?”

Aunt Moss said, “Don’t you mean the part where the woodcutter kills the wolf and rescues Little Red Riding Hood?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “No, it’s the third little pig who kills the wolf.”

Benson’s mother looked at Aunt Moss, and Aunt Moss looked at Aunt Lillibet, and they all looked at Benson. Benson smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I know exactly what happens in the end. The princess and the prince and Little Red Riding Hood and the little pig all live happily ever after!”

Mick and Zali

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

It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and Benson and his mother went to the playground. His friend Zali was there, sitting in the sandpit, and Benson went over and said hi and started playing with her. Benson’s mother and Zali’s mother sat down on one of the parent seats and started talking.

Benson always liked playing with Zali because she didn’t really talk, so he could say anything he liked, and she didn’t really dig so he could do everything the way he wanted. He dug a hole all around her, and then he made a wall around her and pretended she was a lion trapped in a cage and he was coming to rescue her. He swooshed the wall over with his feet and Zali laughed.

Then he built a really big wall and poked his fingers through one at a time like monster fingers, and Zali laughed and laughed.

Benson’s friend, Mick, came riding up on his bike. “Hi Benson,” he said. “Let’s go play on the slippery-slide.”

Benson was in the middle of building the biggest wall ever. “I’m doing something right now,” he said. “I’ll come in a minute.”

Mick said, “Why do you want to play with that big baby?”

Benson said, “Zali’s not a baby.”

Mick said, “She acts like one.”

Benson suddenly got really angry. He gave Mick a big push and shouted at him.

Mick pushed him back and they both fell over, and starting rolling around on the ground fighting.

The mothers came running over.

“Benson! Stop that right now!” his mother said.

Benson didn’t stop. He pushed Mick’s head down on the ground and sat on it.

His mother grabbed him and pulled him away. “Stop it!’ she said very firmly.

Zali was crying, and Mick was crying and his glasses were crooked.

Benson felt really bad. He was still feeling angry at Mick, and he was angry that now he was in trouble and it wasn’t his fault, and he was angry because he had hurt his friend Mick.

His mother said, “Say sorry to Mick at once!”

“I’m not sorry!” Benson yelled, and stomped off to the other end of the playground.

Zali’s mother looked after Zali, and Benson’s mother made sure Mick wasn’t hurt, and gave him a drink of water and straightened his glasses out. Mick got back on his bike and went home. Zali’s mother took her home too.

Benson’s mother went over to where he was sitting. She sat down beside him and said, “Tell me what happened.”

Benson told her everything that had happened. He felt angry and upset, and he felt terrible about fighting with his friend Mick.

His mother said, “You shouldn’t have hit Mick,”

Benson said, “He was mean to Zali, and she’s my friend.”

“Mick’s your friend, too,” his mother said, “and Zali was frightened and upset.”

Benson felt more and more terrible. “What should I do?” he said.

“Well the first thing you should do is say sorry to Mick for hitting him. Hurting someone is a very bad way of making them do what you want. And you have to make sure Zali is okay.”

Benson didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to say sorry to someone when he didn’t feel sorry.

On the way home they went to Zali’s place and he gave Zali a hug and said sorry to her for making her upset. Zali hugged him back. She liked hugging.

When they got home, Benson went to his room and lay down on his bed, but that didn’t help. He went outside and did some digging. Digging always made him feel better, and helped him think.

At dinner time he still didn’t know what to do. After dinner he got out his pencils and started drawing. He drew a picture of himself and Zali holding hands, and then he drew Mick holding his other hand. Then he drew a picture of Mick and Zali holding hands. Then he knew what to do.

The next day he rode his bike over the Mick’s house. “I’m sorry about fighting yesterday.”

Mick looked at the ground and didn’t say anything.

Benson said, “You shouldn’t have said that about Zali, but I shouldn’t have punched you anyway.”

Mick still looked at the ground. Benson kept trying. “My friend Zali is coming over to my place to play. Do you want to come and play too? My mum’s making jelly-bean cupcakes.”

Mick nodded. He said, “Sorry about what I said yesterday.”

Benson said, “That’s okay.”

They both rode their bikes back to Benson’s place and ate jelly-bean cupcakes and played with Zali all afternoon.

Giraffes and Geraniums

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

One day Benson spent the morning making a skipping rope and practising his skipping. It was very tiring work, and after a while he came in and made himself a sandwich with celery and macadamia butter.

Aunt Moss came into the kitchen and he said, “Aunt Moss, would you like me to make you a sandwich too?”

“No, thank you, Benson,” Aunt Moss said. “I’m just going to Bernice’s to get some geranium cuttings so we can grow our own geraniums. Would you like to come too?”

Benson remembered that Aunt Moss’s friend Bernice made excellent ginger brownies. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll bring my sandwich and eat it on the way.”

On the way to Bernice’s, they went past Nils and Nella’s place. Nils and Nella were playing in the big gum tree in their front yard. Benson waved to them and they yelled back, “Hi, Benson! What are you doing?”

Benson had his mouth full of sandwich but he yelled anyway, “We’re going to get some geraniums.”

The words didn’t come out exactly the way he meant, because of the sticky macadamia butter and the crusty bread.

Nils said to Nella, “What did he say?”

Nella said, “He said they’re going to get a giraffe.”

“No,” said Nils, “that’s not right. I think he said they were going to get a gymnasium.”

“A gymnasium? What’s that?” asked Nella.

“You know, a gym. A place where you do lots of exercises, like with a trampoline and climbing ropes and beams you can balance on and stuff like that. A gymnasium would be cool!”

“A giraffe would be better,” Nella said. “I’ve never seen a giraffe. How about we go over to Benson’s place after lunch, and see the giraffe?”

“You mean the gymnasium,” Nils said.

Straight after lunch, they went over to Benson’s place. They were so excited, they told everyone they saw on the way, and by the time they got to Benson’s place there was quite a crowd.

Benson came out, and Nella said, “Where’s the giraffe? Can I see it?”

Benson said, “What giraffe?”

Nils said to his sister, “See I told you it was a gymnasium!” He said to Benson, “Can I go on the trampoline?”

Benson said, “What trampoline?”

Nils said, “You said you were going to get a gymnasium!”

“No,” Nella said, “he said he was going to get a giraffe.” They both looked very disappointed, and so did the crowd of friends they had brought with them.

Benson’s mother came out to see why there were so many sad people in the yard. Benson explained about the sandwich and the macadamia butter.

Benson’s mother said, “Let’s see what we can do. Benson, pop in and get the air-bed – that will make a nice trampoline. Nils, there’s some rope that Benson was using this morning. Do you think you could tie it up between the trees to make a climbing rope?”

Nils said he could. He was an expert at climbing ropes.

Benson’s mother found a long straight branch to be a balance beam, and Aunt Moss brought out her yoga mat so everyone could practise their handstands and cartwheels.

Everyone had a great time, climbing and bouncing and balancing and doing handstands, except Nella.

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

“I thought there would be a giraffe,”said Nella.

Benson’s mother thought. She didn’t want Nella to be sad. “Let me see what I can do,” she said.

Everyone went on playing on the gym equipment and having a great time, and then suddenly everyone stopped and looked. Something came out of Benson’s house that was yellow with brown spots with a long, long neck, and a face with brown eyes and a long purple tongue.

“A giraffe!” Nella said.

The very youngest possum, who was called Wilbur, started to cry.

Benson’s mother poked her head out of the giraffe costume and said, “It’s only me, Wilbur. Don’t cry!” She was wearing Aunt Lillibet’s big yellow jumper with brown spots painted on it, and she was carrying a long broom handle with a face drawn on a paper plate at the top.

Benson said to his mother, “That’s a really good giraffe! Can I have a turn?”

His mother said, “Of course you can.” She let him put the jumper on and she gave him the broom handle. He gave Wilbur a ride on his back, and then everyone wanted a turn.

When it was Nella’s turn, she walked all around the yard pretending to eat the highest leaves on the trees with the broom. “Yum, yum,” she said, waggling the purple tongue so that it licked Nils at the top of the climbing rope.

“Why does it have to have a purple tongue?” Nils said.

“Because giraffes have purple tongues,” Nella said. “Don’t you know anything?”

She climbed up the rope and chased Nils all the way to the top of the tree.

Benson said to his mother, “I’ve never seen a giraffe climb a tree before.”

His mother agreed. “It’s not something you see very often.”

They all had snacks and then they climbed and bounced and chased some more and then it was time to go home. Wilbur, the smallest baby possum, started to cry again.

Nella took his hand and said, “Don’t cry, Wilbur. I’ll make you a giraffe of your very own when we get home.” And she did.