Yes and No

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

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

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

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

His mother said, “Yes, and no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did you lose it?” Benson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll walk along with you,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Time to go home?” his mother said.

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

Benson said, “I broke my pencil.”

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

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

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

The Magpies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow!” said Benson. “You really can!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grass Skiing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s Windy Hill?”Benson asked.

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

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

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

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

He waited and waited.

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

He waited and waited.

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

“Skiing,” Benson said nonchalantly.

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

“Sure,” Benson said.

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

“No snow?” Benson said.

“No,” Snippet said.

“Not ever?” Benson said.

“Never,” Snippet said, shaking his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson and Snippet looked at each other and grinned.

Nesbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson said, “Just to the playground.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson decided he just wanted to go home.

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

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

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

“You can’t eat their eggs!” he said.

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

Benson walked the rest of the way home feeling horrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson nodded again, but it was hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperation or The Perils of Frankie

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

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

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

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

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

“What for?” Benson asked.

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

“Oh,” said Benson. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Platypus Prince

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What for?” Arlette said.

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

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

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

“Are you a princess?” he asked eagerly.

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

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

“Euyewwww! No way!” Arlette said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you know?” Benson said.

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

“Where are we going?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helping People

for Jo

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss. It was World Wombat Day, and everyone was celebrating. There was going to be a big ceremony at the community centre, and Nanna was getting a special award for Helping People.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you making?” Benson asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what about my drawing?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And me!” Mr Fenn called out.

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

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

The Leaf Blower

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

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

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

“What does it do?” asked Aunt Lillibet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I won!” said Aunt Lillibet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Elf

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

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

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

“Okay?” said his mother.

“Okay,” Benson said.

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

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

Benson said, “No, it wasn’t me.”

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

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

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

“I didn’t!” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson nodded. “Yep, an elf.”

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

“It wasn’t me,” Aunt Lillibet said.

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

His mother said, “The what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polar Bears and Fireflies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It looks like a rat,” she said.

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

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

“What about a moose?” Benson said.

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

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

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

Benson said, “Ralph has butterflies.”

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

“What about dragonflies?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, we don’t,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Yes, we do!” Benson said stubbornly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson said, “Where? Can I come?”

“No, I’m going by myself,” Roly said.

Benson said, “When are you coming back?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson nodded. His eyes filled up with tears again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He jumped up and started searching frantically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They hugged one last time, and Roly set off.

Plop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But what about the birds?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melrose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How can anyone own you?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s it for?” Benson asked.

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

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

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

“You bit someone?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melrose said, “Did you get my termites?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yawning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Moss put down her knitting and closed her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Moss mumbled, “Sorry, Lillibet.”

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

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

The Greedy Goanna

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

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

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

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

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

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

The turkey gave a nasty smile and started off again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Macadamia nuts and lemon myrtle,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

Reaching for the Stars

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

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

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

Aunt Lillibet was terrified of being up a ladder.

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you think?” Aunt Lillibet said.

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

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

“Me?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aunt Lillibet froze. “I’m what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t,” he said. “She won’t move.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson said, “What about the ceiling?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panda Buttons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She did!” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh no!” Benson’s mother said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Zip! My Zip!” Zali cried joyfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Rocket

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course you can,” his mother said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” she said, and walked off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bouncy Red Ball

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

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

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

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

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

“Did it?” said Benson.

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

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

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

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

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

“Really!” said Benson.

“Did you throw it at me?” Nils asked.

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

Nils asked Mick, “Is this your ball?”

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

“All right,” Nils said.

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

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

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

“It wasn’t me,” Mick said.

“I didn’t do it,” Benson said.

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

“We’ll play with you,” Mick said.

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

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

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

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

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

Pick Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, all right,” Mick said.

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

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

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

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

Rock Painting

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

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

“Paintings of rocks?” Benson said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone nodded seriously.

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

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

“Keep back!” Gordon said loudly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a pademelon,” Aunt Moss said.

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

Benson hung his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You asked the traditional owners?” Benson’s mother asked. “How did you do that?”

“I asked Nanna,” Aunt Moss said simply.

“Nanna is the traditional owner?” Benson said, amazed.

Aunt Moss nodded. “She’s one of them, around that part of the country. She said it would be all right so long as I showed respect for the land and the rocks I was painting on.”

“I thought I recognised that little wombat in the hat,” Benson’s mother said. “It’s Lillibet, isn’t it?”

Aunt Moss nodded. “Lillibet always had a thing for hats, even when she was very young.”

Benson thought about the paintings, the kangaroo and the fish and the wombats that were so beautiful and looked as if they had been there forever. “I think you were very respectful, Aunt Moss,” he said.

Then he thought some more. “Do you think I could get permission?” He was already thinking about the things he’d like to paint: Pascoe and her mob, and Aunt Moss’s turtles.

Aunt Moss said, “I don’t see why not.”

Benson’s mother got up. “Come on, Benson,” she said.

“Where are we going?” he said.

“To see Nanna,” she said. “Right now.” And off they went.

Rubber Gloves Up!

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a tidy, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson’s friend Roly came over to help him build a new design for an automatic potato peeler and afterwards they had lunch together.

Benson’s mother looked at all the half-peeled and hardly-peeled potatoes and said, “I think we’ll have potato soup for lunch.”

“Oh,” said Roly.

“Don’t you like soup?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“It gets up my nose a bit,” Roly said. “It’s not really echidna food.”

“Then I’ll make a nice lentil and coconut and potato casserole,” she said. “It’s very easy to make, but it’s difficult to wash up. It sticks to the dish like concrete.”

The casserole was delicious, but then it was time to wash up. Aunt Lillibet put on her pink rubber gloves and got her super-heavy-duty dish-scrubber and set to work.

She scrubbed and scrubbed, and then she stopped. “I’ve scrubbed a hole right through these rubber gloves,” she said.

She took them off and was going to throw them in the bin, but Roly said, “If you don’t want them any more, could I have them?”

Benson said, “What do you want rubber gloves with a hole in them for?”

“Oh, nothing,” Roly said, going all pink. He took the old gloves home with him.

The next day Benson went over to see Roly to ask him about something, and he heard Roly talking to someone. When he looked around the other side of the ant-hill, he saw Roly talking to two pink rubber gloves. He had stuffed them with grass so they stood up straight with their pink fingers waving in the air, and he was chatting to them as if they were old friends.

“What are you doing?” Benson asked.

Roly jumped, and looked embarrassed. “Nothing,” he said.

“Are you pretending those rubber gloves are echidnas?” he said.

“No,” said Roly. Then he said, “Well, kind of.” He looked even more embarrassed.

The rubber gloves didn’t look anything like echidnas. They were bright pink and soft and rubbery, not brown and sharp and pointy.

“Why?” Benson asked, amazed.

Roly wriggled a bit and said, “Sometimes I get a bit lonely for other echidnas, to talk to about echidna things, you know, like ants and the best way to get sand off your tongue, that sort of thing.”

Benson said, “You can talk to me about echidna things any time you want.”

Roly said, “I know, but most of the time we talk about wombat stuff. I like wombat stuff okay, digging holes and things, but just sometimes I feel like talking about echidna things.” He stopped talking because he thought he might be hurting Benson’s feelings.

Benson thought about what Roly had said all the way home, and then he talked to his mother about it. They talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and together they came up with a plan.

The next day, Benson went over to see Roly again. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. “It’s an invitation to a party at my place. It’s an echidna party, just for echidnas.”

Roly said he would love to come, but he wondered what sort of party it would be. He only knew one other echidna, and that was his friend Snippet. Two echidnas wasn’t really enough for a party.

The next day he brushed his spines nicely and went over to Benson’s place for the party. When Benson opened the door, he was wearing a stuffed green rubber glove tied to his head. Benson said, “This party is only for echidnas. Are you an echidna?”

“I’ve been an echidna ever since I was born,” Roly said proudly.

“You can come in, then,” Benson said.

Snippet, Roly’s echidna friend, was there, and Snippet had brought a friend called Snickle that Roly hadn’t met yet, from the other side of the creek.

Benson’s mother came up with a bowl full of shiny black ants. She had pink rubber gloves on her ears, and rows of rubber glove fingers stuck on her back. “Would you like an ant?” she asked Roly.

“Yes, please!” said Roly. His tongue went zot-zot-zot. “Mmm, delicious!” he said.

“Termites, anyone?” said Aunt Lillibet. She had yellow rubber gloves tied all over her hat. Even Aunt Moss had green rubber glove fingers standing up in a row all down the middle of her back. She looked more like an unusual dinosaur than an echidna, but Roly didn’t say anything. He was too busy trying out all the wonderful echidna food.

There were plates of ants in all different colours and flavours, green ants and red ants and brown ants, and there were sugar ants and beetle larvae cookies for dessert. There were separate plates of chocolate sprinkles and poppy-seed muffins for the rubber-glove echidnas, and cookies without the beetle larvae.

They blew rubber gloves up like balloons and played rubber glove soccer and rubber glove tennis with them, and they drew faces on the fingertips and played finger puppets with them. Everyone said it was the best echidna party they had ever been to. Snickle had such a good time that she invited everyone to come to her birthday party the week after.

When it was time to go home, Roly said to Benson’s mother, “Thank you for the echidna party. It was amazing.”

She gave him a hug, carefully, and said, “I know you miss your mother and your home, Roly. But even though we’re only wombats, we love you, and our home is your home, as long as you need it.”

Roly hugged her back, and gave her the very last sugar ant.

The Stick

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Everyone was going to Nanna’s place for a quilting bee.

“What’s a quilting bee?” Benson asked his mother.

“It’s when everyone gets together and helps make a quilt,” she said. “You know, like the quilt that Nanna made for you.”

Benson had a beautiful quilt on his bed that was made of squares and triangles of all sorts of different coloured materials. “Why would they put bees in it?” he asked.

“They don’t put bees in it, they work like bees, you know, all busy and buzzy,” his mother said. “Anyway, this quilt is not for a bed, it’s for the library.”

“There’s going to be a bed in the library? That’s a great idea!” Benson said. He loved going to the library, and sometimes he really did wish he could sleep there.

“No, there isn’t going to be a bed at the library,” his mother said. “It’s to decorate the wall, in lots of different colours for Harmony Day.”

“Can I help?” Benson asked.

“No, you cannot,” Aunt Lillibet said very firmly. “Quilting takes years of practice. We’re not letting children with sticky fingers spoil it.”

Aunt Moss said, “Aunt Lillibet is an excellent quilter. She likes things to be perfect.”

“Quilting is for experts,” Aunt Lillibet said, “not for people with three thumbs who don’t know one end of a needle from the other.”

Aunt Moss sighed. “I’m not allowed to quilt. I’m only going to help choose the colours,” she said.

Benson’s mother said, “I’m only going to help with morning tea.”

Benson said, “What am I going for?”

Aunt Lillibet looked at him. His hands and feet were grubby from digging a hole before breakfast, and there were sticks and leaves in this hair from chasing a lizard out of the compost heap, and there was a dribble of cranberry yoghurt on his tummy from breakfast.

“You’re going to keep out of the way,” Aunt Lillibet said.

They set off together, Aunt Lillibet carrying her needles and thread, and Benson’s mother bringing a basket of lentil and cucumber sandwiches. Benson was lagging behind.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Hurry up, Benson, you’re holding everyone up.”

Benson had found a long straight branch that had fallen off a gum tree. “I found a stick,” he said. “I think it might be useful.”

“A stick?” Aunt Lillibet said. “Put that dirty old thing down. It’s just going to get in the way.”

Benson didn’t say anything. It was a very good stick, smooth and not too long or too short, just the right size.

His mother called from up ahead, “The creek is pretty full. It might be too deep for us to cross.”

Benson said, “I’ve got a stick we could use to measure how deep the water is.” He gave the stick to his mother and she stood it up straight in the deepest part of the creek.

“It’s not as deep as I thought,” she said. “It will be okay to cross here.” She gave the stick back to Benson and they crossed the creek.

Aunt Lillibet sniffed. “Throw that muddy old stick away, Benson! Your hands are filthy.”

Then Aunt Moss said in a worried voice, “There’s a big spider’s web right across the path.”

Benson said, “Don’t worry, Aunt Moss, I’ll take care of it.” He swooshed his stick through the air and swept the spider’s web out of the way. “There you are,” he said. “All safe now.”

Aunt Lillibet snorted. “Sticks, huh! A complete waste of time!” Then she tripped on a rock and fell over. “Ow, my ankle!” she said.

Benson’s mother helped her up. “Will you be able to walk all right?” she asked.

Benson said, “You can use my stick for a walking stick if you like.”

“I’m perfectly all right,” Aunt Lillibet said, but she wasn’t really. Her ankle hurt and she couldn’t walk very well.

Benson said, “If you get tired, you could hold on to the end of my stick and I could give you a tow.”

“No, thank you, I’ll be fine,” Aunt Lillibet said, limping along slowly.

It took them so long to get to Nanna’s that the quilting was nearly all done by the time they got there.

“Poor old Lillibet!” Nanna said. “Why don’t you sit down and have a nice cup of tea? Moss can help me finish the last bit of quilting.”

Aunt Moss was very pleased to be allowed to help with the quilting. Benson’s mother got the sandwiches out of the basket and made camomile tea for everyone. When it was finished, Nanna said, “All it needs now is a nice, straight stick to hang it up with.”

Benson gave a little cough. “Actually, I happen to have a very nice stick that I brought with me.” He got his stick and showed it to Nanna.

“Hmm, it’s a bit muddy at one end and there are cobwebs at the other end, but if we clean it up, I think it will do very nicely,” Nanna said.

She and Benson gave the stick a good scrub. Then she tied a piece of string from one end to the other and hung the quilt over it carefully. It was perfect.

Everybody stood back and looked at it. “I think that will look very nice hanging on the wall at the library,” Nanna said.

Benson agreed. Aunt Lillibet sniffed.

Ear Mites

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One day when Benson went to the playground, someone new was there. He was a young wombat like Benson, but he didn’t look the same. Benson went up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Benson.”

The other wombat said, “Hi. My name’s Rodney.”

Benson said, “Is there something wrong with your nose?”

Rodney felt his nose and looked worried. “I don’t know. Is there?”

Benson said, “It’s kind of hairy.” It actually looked a if he had run into a wall and squashed it flat, but Benson didn’t say that.

Rodney said, “Maybe it’s because I’m a hairy-nosed wombat.”

“Oh,” said Benson. “Do you want to come and play in the sand-pit?” They both went over to the sandpit and started digging a tunnel to the North Pole.

Arlette, who was another wombat Benson knew but they weren’t really friends, waved to him from the other side of the playground. “Come over here,” she called. “Twiss and me want to tell you something.” Twiss was her sister.

Benson left Rodney at round about Iceland and went over. Arlette came up close and whispered, “You shouldn’t be playing with that strange wombat.”

“Why?” Benson said.

“Because he’s not from here,” she said. “He’s different.”

“You’re different,” Benson said. “You’re a girl.”

Twiss said, “His face is different. Look at his hairy nose.”

Benson said, “Mr Fenn has hair sticking out of his nose and his ears. What’s wrong with having a hairy nose?”

Arlette folded her arms and said, “How do you think we get all those diseases and stuff? From wombats who aren’t from here, that’s how!”

“What diseases?” Benson said. “Are you crazy? He’s just a wombat, like us.”

Arlette was angry. “Just you wait!” she said. “When your nose goes flat and giant hairs spring out of it, and you get the mange and die, then you’ll know I was right!”

Benson ignored her and went back to the sandpit.

The next morning when he was having breakfast, his ear was really itchy. He rubbed it and scratched it all day. By dinner time both his ears were itchy and it was driving him crazy.

“Why are you scratching your ears like that?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“They’re itchy,” Benson said. He shook his head, trying to shake the itchy feeling off.

“Let me have a look,” his mother said. She looked carefully into his ear. “Ear mites!” she said.

“Oh no!” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What’s wrong with my ears?” Benson said. “Am I going to get sick?”

“It’s all right,” his mother said, “don’t worry. Ear mites are just little tiny bugs that get inside your ears and bite them and make them itchy. They don’t hurt you, and they don’t make you sick.”

“My ears aren’t going to fall off?” Benson asked.

“No, Benson,” his mother said. “We’ll get rid of these in time. It’s just a bit of a nuisance, that’s all.”

“A bit of a nuisance?” Aunt Lillibet said. “We have to wash all the sheets and blankets and pillows, and all his clothes and his hat in hot water and then we have to vacuum all the floors and all the furniture.”

“There’s no use complaining,” Benson’s mother said. “We just have to do it. But first we’ll deal with the ones in Benson’s ears.”

“Do you have to wash my ears in hot water too?” Benson said.

“No, Nanna’s got a special mixture for getting rid of ear mites,” his mother said.

Nanna came over with a bottle of her special mixture. “It’s mostly olive oil,” she said, “with a few drops of peppermint to kill any germs, and calendula for healing, and lavender to soothe your poor scratched ears.” She rubbed his ears gently with the oil. It didn’t hurt at all. Benson thought it smelled lovely.

His mother and Aunt Lillibet washed everything that could be washed and vacuumed everything else. Aunt Lillibet sat down, exhausted. “That’s that!” she said. “Please don’t bring any more ear mites home again!”

The day after, Benson went to the playground again. Rodney was in the sandpit and Benson was just going over to play with him, when Arlette yelled out from the other side of the playground, “Don’t go near him! He’s got bitey-mites! You’ll catch mites if you play with him!”

Rodney went all red. He got put of the sandpit and went over to his mother and they both left.

Benson went over to Arlette and said, “What did you say that for?”

“It’s true!” she said. “Everyone keeps getting ear mites since he came.” She leaned over and said in his ear, “He gave them to you, didn’t he?”

“I don’t know where I got them from,” Benson said. “Maybe I got them from you!”

Arlette sniffed. “No way!” she said. “My mother says I’ve got beautiful clean hair.”

That night at dinner-time, Benson’s ears were itchy again. His mother had a look at them and said, “Oh no! Not again! Ear mites!” She went and got Nanna’s special mixture and started rubbing and cleaning Benson’s ears again.

“Arlette said it’s because of Rodney,” Benson said. He told her all about what Arlette had said. “And Rodney got upset and went home,” he said sadly.

“So you didn’t play with Rodney at all yesterday?” she asked. “Then you couldn’t have caught them from him. Ear mites can jump from one wombat to another, but you have to be really close, about as close as two wombats whispering.”

Benson’s eyes opened wide. “You mean I caught them from Arlette?”

“Probably,” his mother said. “I’d better go and see her mother.”

“You’d better take some of Nanna’s special mixture,” Aunt Lillibet said.

The next day when Benson went to the playground, Rodney was in the sandpit but when he saw Benson coming, he got out and went over to his mother. Benson went over and said, “Hi, Rodney. Do you want to come and play in the sandpit?”

Rodney said, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll get mites if you talk to me?”

Benson said, “No, I’m the one who had the mites. I hope you didn’t catch them from me.”

A smile spread over Rodney’s face. “No, I’m okay. No mites here.”

“Me neither,” Benson said. “Come on!” and they went off to dig in the sandpit together.

The Leaky Tree

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, cosy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson had a secret. It was such a good secret, he could hardly stop himself talking about it.

“You’re going to love it,” he said to his mother, and then he clapped his hand over his mouth.

His mother was busy working. She looked up from her papers and said, “What am I going to love?”

“Nothing,” Benson said. He really really meant not to say anything, but he couldn’t help himself. The words just came bursting out. “What I’m giving you for Mother’s Day,” he said. Then he put both hands over his mouth to try and stop any more words coming out.

“Is it a surprise?” his mother said.

Benson still had his hands over his mouth, so he just nodded.

“You don’t want me to know?” his mother asked.

The words came bursting out again. “It’s really special! I thought of it all by myself,” he said.

“Stop!” his mother said, putting her hands over her ears. “Don’t say any more!”

“I can’t help it,” Benson said.

“Why don’t you go and tell someone else?” his mother suggested. “Tell Aunt Moss.”

“No, Aunt Moss wouldn’t remember it was a secret and she’d start talking about it in the middle of something,” Benson said.

“Well, tell Aunt Lillibet then,” his mother said.

“Aunt Lillibet can’t keep a secret!” Benson said. “She thinks if she tells someone the secret and tells them not to tell anyone, it’s the same as keeping the secret.”

Benson’s mother thought. “When I was little,” she said, “if I had a secret that was just bursting out of me, I used to go to a big old gum tree in the back yard and tell the old tree all about it.”

“A tree?” Benson said. “A tree can’t hear you.”

“Don’t you believe it,” his mother said. “A tree can be a very good listener.”

Benson thought it was a pretty silly idea, but the secret got harder and harder to keep, so he decided to give it a try. He found an old red gum in the middle of a clearing, with no bushes around where anybody could be hiding. He looked behind the tree and up in the branches to make sure there weren’t any birds or possums or anything listening. Then he sat down under the tree and told the tree all about his secret.

The very next day Aunt Moss said to him, “Oh, Benson, what a lovely idea! Your mother will love it!”

Benson said, “How did you find out about my secret?”

“Lillibet told me,” she said. “But don’t worry, she told me it was a secret and not to tell anyone else.”

Just then, Aunt Lillibet came out of her room. Benson said to her, “Did you tell Aunt Moss my secret?”

Aunt Lillibet looked a bit guilty. “She promised not to tell anyone,” she said.

“How did you find out about it?” Benson asked. “I must have been talking to a leaky tree.”

“Everyone knows,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I heard it at my sewing group this morning. Nella’s mother said that Nella heard it from a couple of crickets who were under the bark of the tree. You know how crickets are. They can never keep a secret.”

Just then Benson heard his mother coming. “Don’t say a word to her!” he whispered to Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet.

“Cross my heart,” Aunt Lillibet said solemnly. “Unless Nella’s mother says something, or Teresa or Delia or Gordon, and then I can’t promise anything.”

“Oh dear!” said Aunt Moss. “I hope I don’t forget and let something out without thinking!”

Benson’s mother came into the kitchen. She was wearing big pink fluffy ear-muffs over her ears.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Why are you wearing those ear-muffs?”

Benson’s mother didn’t hear her.

Aunt Lillibet stood in front of her and shouted.

Benson’s mother said, “Sorry, Lillibet, I can’t hear you.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Take those ear-muffs off and you’ll be able to hear me!”

Benson’s mother said, “It’s no use talking to me, I can’t hear a thing with these ear-muffs on. I’m going to keep them on until Mother’s Day, so I don’t accidentally hear anything and spoil the surprise.”

“That’s just being silly,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I’m sorry, Lillibet, I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” Benson’s mother said.

She kept the ear-muffs on all the time except when she was in the shower, and then she sang very loudly so that she couldn’t hear what anybody was saying.

On Mother’s Day she finally took them off. The first thing she heard was Benson saying, “Happy Mother’s Day!”

She gave him a hug and said, “Now, do you want to tell me your secret?”

He nodded. “I made up a song for you.” And he sang it to her.

“I’m a little wombat, short and round.

I love to dig big holes in the ground.

But my very favourite thing to do

is to tell you, I love you!”

Benson’s mother was so happy she cried. “That’s the nicest song anyone has ever made up for me,” she said. “I love it!”

Aunt Lillibet said she thought it was very nice, and Aunt Moss cried too.

Benson’s mother said, “It makes me want to sing a song to you too.” So she did.

“I’m a mother wombat, big and strong.

You make me happy, all day long.

You’re my favourite wombat, because you’re you!

Most of all, I love you too!”

Benson was amazed. “That’s a very good song, nearly as good as mine,” he said. He sang his song again to see and he agreed with himself. Everyone clapped and Aunt Moss cried again.

Then Benson’s mother said, “I know, let’s go and sing it for Nanna!” So they did, and she loved it too.

Benson and the Box

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning Benson woke up early and went out to the kitchen before anyone else was up, to get a drink of water. In the middle of the kitchen there was a box.

It was a big box, just bigger than Benson. It was brown cardboard, with no writing on it. Benson wondered what was inside it. Maybe it was a puppy. He put his ear up against the box and listened hard. It was completely silent. Not a puppy then, he thought, sadly, unless it was a very quiet one, or it was asleep. Maybe it was a new piano, or a cupboard full of books. He gave the box a little push. It slid along the floor lightly and easily. Not a piano then, Benson thought, and not books.

Maybe it was a whole box of chocolate buttons, or oranges! Benson put his nose up to the box and sniffed hard. It smelled like cardboard and plastic. Not oranges then, or chocolates. He sighed.

He stood on tippy-toes to see if there was anything on top of the box. He could see something white that looked like a label. He went and got a chair and climbed up so he could see what the label said. It said, FOR AUNT MOSS.

Now Benson knew that you should never ever open someone else’s packages or letters. He would have to wait until Aunt Moss came out and opened it herself. On the other hand, he could see a tiny little hole right on the corner. He put his eye up against the hole and peered in. All he could see was small white things.

Maybe someone had sent Aunt Moss a whole box of snow! he thought. He wished Aunt Moss would come out before it melted. They could make a snowman, or have snowball fights.

He noticed that the sticky tape across the top was unpeeling itself just a little bit. If someone gave it a little pull, not a big strong pull, just a bit of a tug, it might unpeel a bit more, and then he could see inside a bit more.

He took the end of the sticky tape and pulled it just a little bit. Nothing happened. He pulled harder. The sticky tape came off in his hand and Benson fell head-first into the box. The flaps fell shut on top of him. He was inside the box, completely in the dark.

It wasn’t full of snow, he could tell that straight away. Snow was cold and wet. These small white things were warm and soft. There were also a lot of them. There was a whole boxful, and they didn’t leave much room for a sturdy young wombat. Benson couldn’t move his arms or his legs or his head. He couldn’t turn himself up the right way. He was stuck upside down in the box.

“Help,” he said quietly.

He didn’t really want Aunt Moss to come and find him in the box. He hadn’t exactly opened it, but in a kind of a way he had, even if it was by accident. Maybe he could burrow his way out, he thought.

He started to dig. Bits of plastic went everywhere, up his nose and into his ears, but every time he moved some of the bits out of the way, more fell in to take their place. He was deeper into the box, and jammed tighter.

“Help!” he said, a bit more loudly. He heard a noise, and he stopped to listen.

His mother and Aunt Moss had come into the kitchen. “This box was delivered for you yesterday evening,” Benson’s mother was saying to Aunt Moss.

“My friend Shelley said she would be sending me a surprise,” Aunt Moss said. “I wonder what’s in it?”

Benson thought to himself that it was a bigger surprise than she was expecting. He gave a little cough and said, “Hello? Could somebody give me a hand, please?”

Aunt Moss said, “There’s something talking inside the box! Do you think Shelley sent me a talking parrot?”

“I don’t think so,” Benson’s mother said.

“It could be a lyre-bird,” Aunt Moss said. “Lyre birds can mimic all sorts of sounds.”

“I don’t think it’s a lyre-bird,” Benson’s mother said. She lifted up the flap and peered into the box. Benson’s feet were sticking up out of the white plastic packing pieces. “Benson, is that you?” she said.

Benson wriggled his toes to say yes. His mother said, “Are you coming out?”

Benson wiggled his toes sadly, to say he had tried but he couldn’t.

“I suppose we’d better get you out, then,” his mother said. She took one foot and Aunt Moss took the other. Benson wriggled his toes wildly. He was very ticklish.

“One-two, pull!” his mother said. She pulled and Aunt Moss pulled, but Benson was too heavy and the sides of the box were too high. They stopped pulling. “This is going to take some thinking,” she said.

“We could push the box over,” Aunt Moss said.

“Yes,” said Benson’s mother, “if we were very strong and we didn’t mind whatever is inside getting broken. I’ve got another idea.”

She tore a hole in the side of the box. Lots of small white pieces of packing plastic poured out onto the kitchen floor. Benson poked his head out through the hole. “Hello,” he said. “Is it time for breakfast?”

“It will be, once you’ve swept up all these pieces of plastic,” his mother said. “What are you doing inside Aunt Moss’s box?”

“Nothing,” Benson said. “Just waiting around for breakfast, I suppose.”

“Did you climb up on that chair and get into the box?” his mother said.

“I climbed up and the box sort of opened up and swallowed me,” Benson said. “Anyway, it was a nice surprise, wasn’t it, Aunt Moss?”

“Yes, dear,” Aunt Moss said, “but not the surprise I was hoping for. Are you all that’s in the box?”

“I don’t know,” Benson said. He figured that the mess in the kitchen couldn’t get any worse, so he tipped the box up. Hundreds and millions of pieces of plastic went everywhere all over the kitchen. The mess in the kitchen got much, much worse.

At the very bottom of the box there was something small and round. Benson picked it up and gave it to Aunt Moss. “Oh!” she said. “How lovely!” It was a snow-globe. She shook it, and tiny pieces of snow inside the snowglobe started swirling around.

“Is that all?” Benson said. He sighed. He looked around the kitchen and sighed much louder. Then he had an idea. “Before I clean all this up, can I go and get Roly so we can play snowglobes in it?” he asked his mother.

“No,” his mother said firmly. “No, no and no.” She could imagine little pieces of white plastic spread all over the house. “But you could dig a big square hole in the back yard and pile all these pieces into it and pretend it’s a swimming pool.”

So Benson did. He dug a square, shallow hole outside, and then he carried buckets and buckets full of the plastic pieces out and tipped them into the hole, and he and Roly spent the whole morning playing in it.

When is a Pancake Not a Pancake?

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a tidy, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning Benson woke up early and he was hungry. He went out to the kitchen and decided to make some pancakes.

“Pancakes are easy,” he thought to himself. He imagined a pile of fresh pancakes lying on his plate, covered in golden syrup and lemon juice. He could almost smell them.

He got the big bowl out of the cupboard.

“Flour,” he said to himself, “that’s the first thing I need.” He opened the cupboard and looked high and low but he couldn’t find the flour anywhere.

“Oh well, ” he thought, “there’s some icing sugar – it’s white and it looks like flour, so it must be nearly the same as flour.” He tipped a cup of icing sugar into the bowl.

“Now I need an egg,” he thought. He looked in the fridge and he looked in the cupboard but he couldn’t find any eggs anywhere.

“Oh, well,” he thought, “here’s a passionfruit. It’s round and it’s about the same size as an egg. It’s probably nearly the same.”

He used his strong claws to open up the passionfruit and he tipped all the seeds and the delicious juice into the bowl.

“Now the last thing I need is milk,” he said to himself. He looked in the fridge but there was no milk, not even a drop. “Here’s some orange juice,” he said to himself. “It’s cold and you can drink it like milk. I’ll use that instead.” He poured some orange juice into the bowl and mixed everything together until it looked about right. It had lots of seeds in it from the passionfruit, but it smelled really good.

He got the big frying pan out and put it on the stove.

Just then his mother came into the kitchen. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m making pancakes,” Benson said.

His mother looked into the bowl. She sniffed. Then she dipped her finger into the mixture in the bowl and tasted it.

“What did you put in it?” she asked.

“Well, there was no flour and no milk and no eggs, so I used icing sugar and passionfruit and orange juice instead,” Benson said.

His mother said, “I used all the flour and the last egg and the rest of the milk last night, making a cake for Aunt Lillibet’s belly-dancing group.”

She tasted the mixture again. “You haven’t made pancakes,” she said. “You’ve made passionfruit icing.”

“Have I?” Benson said. “How did I do that?”

His mother said, “When you’re cooking, you can’t use different things just because they look the same or because they’re the same shape or the same colour. You have to use the right ingredients. You wouldn’t use washing powder instead of flour, would you?”

“No,” said Benson.

“Or glue instead of milk?” his mother asked.

“No way,” Benson said.

“Or a ping-pong ball instead of an egg?” she said.

“No, that’d be silly,” Benson said. He looked at his pancake mixture that wasn’t pancake mixture at all. “I suppose I’ll have to throw this away then,” he said.

“No, don’t do that” his mother said. “It’s really good passionfruit icing. We can put it on the cake I made.”

Benson helped her spread the passionfruit icing on the cake. Then she put the bowl and the spoon in the sink. “I think Aunt Lillibet and her friends are going to love that,” she said. “Next time I go shopping I’ll get some flour and milk and eggs, and then we’ll make pancakes properly.”

Benson remembered something. “I’m still hungry,” he said.

“Have an apple,” his mother said.

Benson’s Diary

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

At the beginning of the year, Aunt Lillibet gave Benson a present. “It’s a diary,” she said.

It was a book with no pictures, and no stories, just dates and days of the week in boxes on every page. “What’s a diary?” Benson asked.

“It’s to help you be more organised,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You write down the important things that happen each day, so you don’t forget.”

“What sort of things?” Benson said.

“All the important things you need to remember,” Aunt Lillibet said. “For instance, I write down all the things I’ve planted in the garden and what the weather’s like, and how many carrots came up this year and whether the cabbages were as big as last year – all sorts of interesting things.”

Benson couldn’t imagine a more boring book. He asked his mother, “Do you have a diary?”

“Yes,” she said. “It tells me what meetings I have to go to, and reminds me about birthdays and special celebrations. Sometimes I write down interesting things that have happened, like the big storm, and Nanna getting a new washing machine.”

Benson looked at his new diary, with all its blank pages. It was like a big empty year stretching out in front of him with nothing at all happening in it. It was so awful that he decided to do something about it straight away. He went and got his pencils.

He started on the first page, and he wrote, “Today.” He drew a picture of himself writing in his diary and drawing a picture of himself writing in his diary and drawing a picture. He turned over the page and wrote, ‘Tomorrow’. He drew a picture of himself writing ‘Tomorrow’ in his diary, and then he remembered that tomorrow he wouldn’t write ‘Tomorrow’ because it would be today tomorrow.

He thought about the next day and the next day, and he decided that after so much writing he would probably want to go outside and do some digging, so he wrote, ‘Digging’ and next to it he drew a big hole. It went under the clothesline, past the garden, under the fence, along to Roly’s best termite mound, past the fallen tree with the tree-house, around by the blackberry bushes and then home again.

It was such a good tunnel that it went over lots of pages. Benson found he was already up to next week. He remembered it was Roly’s birthday soon so he wrote ‘Roly’s birthday’ and he drew a picture of a cake. It was really hard deciding what kind of cake to draw, until he had a great idea. There were lots of birthdays in a year, and everyone could have a different cake.

He drew a marshmallow and pineapple cake for Aunt Lillibet’s birthday, and a mandarin caramel pillow cake for Aunt Moss. For his mother he drew an enormous chocolate-raspberry-raisin cake and he wrote ‘with silver sparkles on top’ because he didn’t have a silver pencil.

He thought Roly would probably like an ant cake, so he drew lots and lots of ants piled up in the shape of a cake. The ants kept walking off so he drew little tracks all over the page that overflowed onto the next page and the next page.

He stopped for a rest and got himself an apple and a drink of water. Keeping a diary took a lot of work, he thought.

He knew that winter was always in the middle of the year, so he opened the diary right in the middle of the book and wrote, ‘Winter. Wear warm socks and hat. Wear gumboots, if it rains.’ Gumboots made him think about sploshing in puddles so he drew big splotches of mud all over the next page. That made him think of soup, warm, steaming, delicious soup. He drew himself sitting at the table with his hat and his socks on, eating a big bowl of soup. He couldn’t remember if his favourite soup was leek and potato or tomato with beans, so he drew both, and then he drew a big plate of cornbread and a cup of hot chocolate, and then he drew himself lying down with a full tummy.

After winter came spring, so he drew all the flowers in the wild-flower garden and wrote their names beside them. After spring was summer, his favourite time of the year. He wrote down, ‘Go swimming. Dig. Eat watermelon. Go to creek. Dig. Go to playground. Ride bike. Dig.’ The list got longer and longer until he had to stop because he was at the back cover of the book.

He looked back through the diary. There were still lots of blank pages. That meant lots of room to try out things he’d always wanted to do. He wrote ‘hang-gliding’ on one page, and ‘sailing’ on another one and then his imagination went wild: ‘space travel’, ‘become invisible’, ‘rescue koalas from giant dinosaur’, ‘cook pavlova big enough for everyone we know’, ‘float on clouds’, ‘dig swimming pool for Nanna’, ‘fly helicopter’. Before long, every single page was filled up.

Benson put his head down on the table, exhausted. His mother came in to see what he was doing.

“I’m writing in my diary,” he said.

His mother picked it up and looked through all the pages. She said, “Some people write things down in their diary after they’ve done them, but this is a wonderful idea.” She turned to the page where it was her birthday and a smile spread over her face.

Underneath the picture of the cake, it said, ‘Have pancakes with lemon and sugar and butter. Go and see Nanna and have cake. Fly to Jupiter. Walk home in moonlight.’

She said, “It’s a long time to wait till my birthday. Why don’t we do this now?”

Benson jumped up, not tired any more.

His mother said, “Except for flying to Jupiter. I’m not sure how we’ll manage that. But we can talk about it.”

They had pancakes and made a chocolate-raspberry-raisin cake with silver sprinkles and took it to Nanna’s and had a lovely time eating it. They talked about flying to Jupiter all the way there, and all the way home again, in the moonlight.

Aunt Moss’s Kayaking Lesson

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a tidy, clean wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning, Benson’s uncle Elton came over. “Guess what?” he said. “The most tremendous thing has happened!”

“What’s happened?” Aunt Lillibet said. “You found your missing purple sock?”

“No, nothing like that,” Uncle Elton said.

“You found a tame elephant and we’re all going for a ride?” Benson said hopefully.

“No, better than that,” Uncle Elton said. “A friend of mine from up north has given me his kayak! Isn’t that wonderful? We can all go kayaking and paddling on the creek!”

Aunt Moss clapped her hands together. “How lovely!” she said, dreamily. “I’ve always wanted to paddle along the creek, listening to the little frogs, trailing my fingers in the clear brown water and watching the baby fish swimming down below.”

Benson said, “Can we go try it now?”

“Just a minute,” said his mother. “Do you have life-jackets?”

“Yes, of course,” said Uncle Elton. “Well, one life-jacket, anyway. Actually it’s a bit small for me.” Then he said brightly, “But it fits Elmer perfectly. And I can swim, anyway.”

They all went down to the creek. Benson’s mother went because she was worried that there weren’t enough life-jackets. Aunt Moss went because she thought it would be beautiful to watch someone gliding along the water in a kayak, and Aunt Lillibet went because she expected someone would fall in and she didn’t want to miss it. Benson went because he loved anything to do with the creek.

Uncle Elton said he would go first and show everyone how it was done.

“Have you paddled a kayak before?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“No, but it’s very easy,” Uncle Elton said. “You just sit on it and paddle. Watch me.”

He climbed onto the kayak and sat down. The kayak tipped onto its side and Uncle Elton fell into the creek. Aunt Lillibet hooted with laughter.

Uncle Elton got out of the water. He was completely soaked. “Sometimes the balance takes a bit of getting used to,” he said. He climbed onto the kayak again and sat down. The kayak tipped over the other way and Elton fell into the water again. Aunt Lillibet roared laughing.

Uncle Elton climbed out of the creek, even wetter than before. “There must be something wrong with this kayak,” he said. “It’s obviously faulty.”

Elmer said, “Can I have a go?”

“You can have a try if you like, son,” Uncle Elton said, “but I think it’s got a leak or something.”

Benson’s mother helped Elmer put the life-jacket on, and then he climbed onto the kayak very carefully and sat there. The kayak floated nicely without tipping over. “Well done!” Uncle Elmer said. “Maybe it just needed warming up.” He handed Elmer the paddle.

Elmer paddled on one side, then the other side. The kayak stayed perfectly still. Elmer’s arms were so short that the paddle didn’t actually reach the water. Aunt Lillibet laughed so much the tears ran down her cheeks.

Uncle Elton helped Elmer off the kayak. “There’s something wrong with the paddle, too,” he said. “Maybe it’s made for a left-handed person.”

Aunt Lillibet wiped her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with the paddle,” she said. “It’s the paddler that’s got it wrong.”

Uncle Elton said, “Why don’t you show us, then, if you know so much about it?”

Aunt Lillibet took the paddle and climbed aboard the kayak. “There’s nothing to it,” she said. She dug the paddle into the water and gave a mighty sweep. A flood of creek water swooshed up and over her. It poured over her hat and down her face and over her nose.

She climbed back off the kayak and wiped her glasses. Her hat was flopping down over her ears and its feathers were drooping into her eyes. “This kayak is ridiculous,” she said. “You should take it away and burn it.”

Uncle Elton said, “It’s probably an ocean-going kayak. Why didn’t I think of that before? No wonder it won’t work in the creek.” He said to Elmer, “Sorry, son, it was a good idea but it’s just not going to work. Let’s go home, everybody.”

Benson could see that Aunt Moss was really disappointed. “Did you want to have a turn, Aunt Moss?” he asked her.

Aunt Moss looked as if she really wanted to but she wasn’t sure if she should. “If Elton says there’s something wrong with it, I probably shouldn’t,” she said. “It might not be safe.”

“Can you swim?” Benson asked her.

“Oh, yes,” Aunt Moss said. “I actually have my bathers on under my frock, just in case.” She showed Benson her yellow swimmers with bright pink flowers on them.

“Then you’ll be okay if you fall off,” Benson said. “Didn’t you tell me that if you don’t try, you’ll never know?” He smiled at her and she smiled back.

Benson helped her pull the kayak right up to the bank of the creek, so it sat in the shallowest part of the water. Aunt Moss climbed aboard and sat down right in the middle. The kayak bobbed a bit but it didn’t tip over. Benson handed Aunt Moss the paddle. She straightened her shoulders and used the paddle to push off from the bank. The kayak slid into the middle of the creek.

She paddled on one side then on the other. The kayak moved along smoothly. She paddled a little more strongly and the kayak sped along, moving swiftly down the creek.

“Aunt Moss! Where are you going?” Uncle Elton shouted.

Aunt Moss turned the kayak around and paddled back. “I think I’ll just see where the creek takes me,” she said. She turned the kayak around again and paddled away serenely.

Benson sat down on the bank of the creek. He said, “When she comes back, I’m going to ask her to show me how to do it.”

“Me too,” said Elmer.

“Me too,” said Uncle Elton.

“Good idea,” said Aunt Lillibet. And they watched the kayak as it sped out of sight down the creek.

Want to listen to Benson’s own podcast on Spotify? Search for ‘Stories of Benson the Wombat, his family and friends’ and listen to stories read aloud by the author.

The Endling

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

One morning after breakfast, Benson went out to ride his bike. He hadn’t gone very far when he noticed something lying under some bushes at the side of the track. He got off his bike and went to have a look. It was a little mouse.

At first he thought it was dead, but then he saw it move a tiny bit. It was very thin and looked really sick. Benson knew his mother would know what to do, so he carefully slid his hanky underneath it and picked it up by the four corners and carried it home.

As soon as she saw it, his mother said, “Oh, the poor thing!” It was hardly as long as Benson’s hand, and it weighed about as much as a leaf.

Benson’s mother looked at the mouse all over, then she said, “I’m sorry, Benson, there really isn’t anything we can do. He’s very, very sick.”

“Is he going to die?” Benson asked.

His mother nodded. “All we can do is make him comfortable. We can’t make him better.”

They got a very soft towel and put it in a small box and laid the little mouse in it.

Aunt Lillibet looked at it carefully and said, “I think it might be a blue-grey mouse. I haven’t seen one for years and years. I thought they were all gone.”

“Nanna will know,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, would you go and see Nanna and ask her if she can come?”

Nanna stopped what she was doing straight away and came with Benson. “Oh, dear,” she said, “this must be little Timmy. I knew his grandfather, many years ago, before the big drought. They were the last family then, and Timmy and his sister Tippy were just babies.”

Aunt Moss said, “I heard that Tippy died in the big bushfires, so Timmy must be the only one left.”

Benson said, “What do you mean, the only one?”

Nanna sat down and Benson sat down beside her. “Not so long ago, when I was a girl, there were lots and lots of blue-grey mice, hundreds, maybe even thousands. But they’ve gradually all died out.”

“What made them die?” Benson asked. “Did they get sick, like this one?”

“No, they didn’t get sick,” Nanna said. “Some of them died in the droughts, and some of them died in bushfires. For some of them, the places where they lived were turned into farms, so there was no food for them, and they starved to death. Sometimes the farmers put out poison, because they didn’t want mice eating their grain. Some of them were killed by foxes, or by feral cats or wild dogs.”

Aunt Moss said, “After a while there were hardly any left, and one by one they died too. Timmy is the very last blue-grey mouse.”

“The last one?” Benson said, horrified. “And then there’ll be no more? Not even one?” Benson couldn’t believe that a whole family of animals would be completely gone and never come back again.

“It’s called being extinct,” Nanna said. “It’s a terrible thing. It’s happened to lots of animals over the years. Nobody looked after them, and they all died out.”

Benson huddled down next to Nanna and thought about animals disappearing off the earth, like stars going out in the sky.

“What about wombats?” he said, suddenly worried.

Nanna smiled. “There are lots and lots of wombats, don’t worry,” she said. “There was a time when people tried to kill as many as they could, but now it’s not allowed.”

“Kill them?” Benson couldn’t believe his ears. “People wanted to kill wombats?” He thought about Elmer and Zali and little Zip, and Aunt Moss. “Why? Who would want to kill a wombat?”

“Oh, people have different ways and different ideas,” Nanna said. “Wombats can be a nuisance for farmers, digging holes and pushing down fences. That’s why you should always try to use the wombat gate in a fence.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “We’ve got some cousins in the north of the country, who were very close to becoming extinct. They’re hairy-nosed wombats.”

“What?” Benson couldn’t believe it. Tiny tiny mice he could imagine being eaten up by foxes and cats, but how could big strong wombats die out? “What happened to them? Did someone kill them?”

“Some of them,” Nanna said. “Some of them had their homes destroyed by farmers and builders, so they had no food and no shelter and they died.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Now there’s a specially protected place for them, with fences to keep wild dogs and cats out, where they can live peacefully and have plenty of food, and no-one is going to hurt them.”

Benson thought about the great big bush where he lived, the creek and the hills. He was glad he didn’t have to live inside a fence to be safe.

The little blue-grey mouse stayed in his soft little nest for the next couple of days, and then he died quietly. Lots of other animals came to say goodbye, possums and dunnarts and koalas and echidnas and lots of rats and other kinds of mice. Some of them brought flowers, and some of them just stood quietly, feeling sad.

Benson’s mother said to them, “This is a sad day for everyone, not just for us but for the whole world. Timmy was just a very little mouse, but he was all of the blue-grey mice left in the world. The same thing could happen to any one of us, no matter how big or small we are. It might be bushfires, or floods, or losing our homes somehow. Because once a creature is gone, it’s gone forever.”

Benson looked at all the different animals and birds who had come to say goodbye to the mouse, and he tried to imagine what it would be like with no koalas, or no echidnas, or no wombats. “What are we going to do?” he asked his mother.

“All we can do is look after the bush and look after each other,” his mother said. “The rest is up to other people.”

Want to listen to Benson’s own podcast? Search for ‘Stories of Benson the Wombat, his family and friends’ and listen to stories read aloud by the author.

The Soccer Ball

Once there was a young wombat named Benson, who lived in a safe, warm wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson and his mother were going to the big park to have a picnic. Benson made some sandwiches with almond butter and watercress and celery, and his mother made some cheese sticks and cut up some watermelon. They put everything into a big basket and they got their hats and water-bottles and set off.

It was a beautiful day. Zali and her mother and little Zip were at the big park too, and Arlette and Twiss, and Mick and Bonnie Lou and their mother as well.

Mick said to Benson, “Look what I found.” It was a ball the size of a small watermelon, and it had a word written on the side, that said ‘soccer’.

“Wow,” said Benson. “What’s it for?”

“You play soccer with it,” Mick said. “I saw some people playing a game once. You kick the ball and run a lot.”

“Sounds great” said Benson. “Let’s do it.”

Mick kicked the ball and they both ran after it. They kicked it some more and fell over it and ran into each other. “This is great,” Benson said, panting. “You’re really good at soccer.”

“I know,” Mick said. They both stopped to get their breath back. “But I think we should have a goal.”

“I thought the goal was to kick the ball,” Benson said.

“But you have to kick it somewhere, like between two trees, and then you have a goal,” Mick said. They looked around and picked two trees far enough apart. Mick took a run-up and kicked the ball right between them. “Goal!!” he said. Benson cheered and gave Mick a pat on the back. Then Benson had a go. He kicked the ball seven times and missed every time.

Bonnie Lou came over to see what they were doing. “Can I have a go?” she asked.

“No, this is a boys’ game,” Mick said.

“Awwrrrr,” Bonnie Lou growled. She grabbed the ball away from Mick and gave it a big kick. It went right between the trees, first go. “Goal!” she yelled.

Mick said, “Go away! It’s my ball, and I say you can’t play!” He kicked the ball to Benson and Benson kicked it back. Bonnie Lou ran in between them and kicked the ball back the other way, all the way to the other side of the park,

She picked two trees close together and said, “This is my goal,” then she kicked the ball between the trees and yelled, “Goal!”

Mick went and grabbed the ball back. “You’re not playing! Go away!” He kicked the ball back towards his two trees. But Zali was walking between the trees, and the soccer ball bounced off her bottom.

“No goal!” Bonnie Lou said. “It didn’t go in!”

“Not fair!” yelled Mick. “Zali was in the way!”

Bonnie Lou told Zali to stay between Mick’s trees and every time he tried to kick the ball in, she should stop it going in. “Zali’s my bottom-stopper,” she said. “She’s going to stop you getting goals.”

Mick said, “Well, Benson’s going to be my bottom-stopper, aren’t you, Benson?”

Benson wasn’t sure about this. “Why can’t you be the bottom-stopper?” he said.

“Because I’m better at kicking than you are,” Mick said, which was true so Benson didn’t argue any more. He went and stood between Bonnie Lou’s trees.

Bonnie Lou said, “Awwrrrrr,” and kicked the ball really hard towards Benson. Benson saw it coming and jumped out of the way. “Yay! Goal!” yelled Bonnie Lou, dancing around.

Arlette and Twiss came over to see what the dancing was about.

“No girls!” Mick said, grabbing the ball.

Bonnie Lou said to Arlette, “You two can be on my team, if you like. We have to get the ball away from Mick and kick it at Benson.”

“Okay,” said Arlette. She grabbed the ball away from Mick and ran towards Benson. Mick tried to get it back from her, but she threw it to Twiss. Twiss passed it to Bonnie Lou, and Bonnie Lou put the ball down and kicked it hard, right at where Benson was standing between the trees.

Benson didn’t have time to run. He just curled up with his hands over his head. The ball hit him right between the ears and bounced out again.

“No goal!!” yelled Mick.

“Awwwrrrrrrr,” growled Bonnie Lou. She tackled Mick and threw him onto the ground and jumped on top of him.

Arlette said, “Where’s the ball gone?”

Bonnie Lou stopped jumping on Mick and they both looked around. Zali was sitting in the middle of the field, taking big bites out of the soccer ball. “No, Zali!” Mick shouted, but it was too late. The ball wasn’t a ball any more.

Arlette said, “It was a stupid game anyway.” She and Twiss and Bonnie Lou went to see if there was any watermelon left.

Benson thought that was a very good idea. He and Mick got some leftover cheese sticks and mushroom patties, and sat under the tree to eat them. Mick said to Benson, “We need to find another ball. Maybe we could use a coconut?”

Benson imagined Bonnie Lou kicking a coconut at him and shook his head fast. “How about a nice soft pillow?” he suggested.

“No way,” Mick said. “Maybe a watermelon?”

“That could work,” Benson said, imagining the watermelon hitting the ground in front on him and breaking open and pieces of juicy watermelon going everywhere. “That could definitely work.”

Listen to Benson stories read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Echidna on a Skateboard

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, happy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson went to visit his friend, Roly, one day, to have a chat about things. He liked talking to Roly because Roly knew things, and he always listened without interrupting, and he always had interesting things to say.

Roly was packing. Benson said, “Where are you going? Are you moving somewhere?”

Roly said, ‘Not exactly. I’m going on a trip.”

“Where to?” Benson asked. “Can I come?”

Roly didn’t want to hurt Benson’s feelings. He tried to think of how to explain. “This is a trip I want to go on by myself,” he said. “I’m not a little puggle any more and I’ve got a kind of feeling inside that I want to go to different places and see different things.”

Benson asked, “Why do you have to go by yourself?”

Roly said, “I just want to. I want to go and see where my mother came from.”

Benson thought about it. “Do you think you can walk that far?” Roly couldn’t walk very well because his back legs didn’t really work.

Roly wrinkled up his nose. “It’s a bit of a problem, but I’ll manage somehow.”

Benson had an idea. “What about wheels? Wouldn’t that make it easier?”

Roly said, “Yes, but I can’t ride a bike, you know.”

“No, I was thinking more of a skateboard,” Benson said. “We could go and ask Hazel. Hazel’s really good at making things.”

Benson asked his mother, and they all went to see Hazel. Benson explained. “Roly is going on a long trip, and I thought it would be easier if he had some kind of wheels, like maybe a skateboard.”

Hazel looked at Roly and walked all around him, thinking, and trying out ideas. “I think we can work something out,” Hazel said at last. “Come around to my workshop.”

In the workshop, Hazel had an old broken skateboard. Hazel took the wheels off the broken skateboard, and found a piece of board that was nice and smooth. Benson’s mother measured Roly from one end to the other and from side to side, and then Hazel sawed the board to the right size, sanded all the rough parts off, and screwed the wheels on. It looked very cool, like a short, flat skateboard.

“Try this for size,” Hazel said.

Roly climbed on and lay down flat on his tummy. His front paws hung over the sides and he could reach the ground easily. He pushed off, and the skateboard started to move.

Roly lifted his paws off the ground and the skateboard zoomed along. The wind rushed past his ears. He felt like singing. He ran straight into Hazel’s rhubarb bush and fell off.

Hazel said, “Oops! I forgot to give it brakes!”

Benson looked through Hazel’s wood pile and found a stick about the right size and Hazel trimmed it and planed it a bit so it would fit Roly’s paw comfortably. Roly practised using it to slow the skateboard down, until he could stop whenever he wanted, and even steer around corners.

“This is perfect!” he said. “Thank you very much.”

He rode his new skateboard all the way home. Benson had to run most of the way to keep up with him.

The next day Roly left on his trip. Benson’s mother made him some lillypilly jelly sandwiches, and Aunt Lillibet made him her special chocolate raspberry date muffins.

Benson said, “I’ve got something for you too.” It was an echidna-sized helmet, made out of a coconut shell. “For when you go really fast,” he said.

Roly gave him a big hug. “Thanks, Benson. I’ll be back soon.” He climbed onto his echidna-board and sped off.

Nanna’s Holiday

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a nice, comfortable wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson’s Nanna had a cough that wouldn’t go away. It made her very tired. Sometimes she was so tired, she couldn’t work in the the garden and she just sat inside all day resting.

Benson’s mother was worried about her. She talked to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss, and they all agreed that something should be done. “She needs a proper rest,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“A nice holiday,” said Aunt Moss.

“That’s a good idea,” said Benson’s mother. “A holiday at the beach. I’ll talk to her and see what she thinks.”

“Can I go on Nanna’s holiday?” Benson said.

“No, Benson, Nanna needs a proper rest, so she can get over this cough and get back to her old self,” his mother said.

Benson thought Nanna wouldn’t like anyone thinking her self was old. He thought it would be better if she could get back to her younger self.

Nanna was lying down then they got to her house. Benson’s mother told her their idea for a holiday and asked her what she thought.

“It sounds lovely,” Nanna said “All of us going to the beach together, collecting shells, paddling, chasing crabs, going for long walks…”

“No, not all of us, ” Benson’s mother said, “just you. You wouldn’t get a proper rest with all of us around. You’d be cooking and running around after us and you wouldn’t get any rest at all. You know you wouldn’t.”

Nanna said, “I suppose you’re right.” Benson and his mother helped her pack, and she went off on her holiday, all by herself.

For the first few days Benson didn’t think about Nanna at all. Then he got a book out of the library about sharks, and he started to worry.

“What if Nanna gets bitten by a tiger shark, or a blue whale, and there’s nobody there to save her?” he said to his mother.

“Nanna only goes into the water up to her knees,” his mother said. “She’ll be perfectly safe.”

“What if a tsunami comes, like a giant wave, and whooshes her over and the tiger sharks come and get her?” Benson said.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” his mother said. “You don’t have to worry about her. She’ll be lying on the sand having a nice rest, I’m sure.”

“But she’ll get sunburnt!” Benson said.

“She always wears her hat and her long-sleeved shirt and her sunglasses, and puts her sunscreen on,” his mother said. “She’ll be fine.”

“What if she forgot to take her hat?” Benson said.

“She didn’t,” his mother said. “I packed it myself.” Then she said, “Benson, is something wrong? Why are you so worried about Nanna?”

Benson burst into tears. “I miss her!” he said. “I miss Nanna!” He sobbed and sobbed.

His mother put her arms around him and gave him a long hug. “It’s all right, you’ll see her again soon,” she said.

“But not soon enough!” Benson bawled, crying all over his mother’s nice clean apron.

She sat down and lifted him onto her lap, and gave him a hanky to blow his nose. “Maybe we need to go and visit Nanna at the beach,” she said.

Benson nodded, and tears splashed all over his mother’s nose.

“Okay, let’s go,” she said.

Benson was glad his mother was the kind of person who did what they said they were going to do straight away, without dithering around. They packed some things in a backpack, some cheese crackles and green apples and fresh feijoas, and they got their hats and their water-bottles and they set off.

When they got there, Nanna was sitting on the beach with her hat and her shirt and her sunglasses on, looking sadly at the waves. When she saw Benson and his mother, she was so happy she cried.

“Benson!” she said, “I missed you so much!” She hugged him, and then she hugged his mother. “I missed everyone. A holiday by yourself is nice, but a holiday with people you love is a real holiday.”

They sat on the sand and ate feijoas and apples, and Benson’s mother decided that it would be a good idea to stay and share Nanna’s holiday, so they did. Benson paddled and made a giant sea-weed castle, and made sea-monsters on the sand out of shells. They went for long walks and Nanna had long naps on the beach while Benson and his mother played volleyball and had competitions to see who could dig the longest tunnel and the biggest hole. At the end of every day, Benson was very tired, and Nanna was more and more rested.

Benson’s mother said to her, “It’s good to see you getting back to your old self again.”

Benson said, “I think she’s more like a new self,” and Nanna gave him a hug.

A Splinter in Your Finger

Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a comfortable, tidy wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.

Benson was trying to build a fort out of old pieces of wood, and he got a splinter in his finger. “My finger hurts,” he said to his mother. “It’s got a splinter in it.”

His mother said, “Let me see.” It wasn’t a big splinter, but it was buried deep in his finger. Only a little bit was showing. His mother said, “Hold still and I’ll see if I can pull it out.”

“No!” Benson said. “It’ll hurt!”

“If you don’t let me get it out now, it will hurt more later,” his mother said. But Benson wouldn’t let her touch it.

“Well, you could put it in your mouth and suck it, and it might get soft enough for you to get it out yourself,” his mother said.

Benson put his finger in his mouth and sucked it for a long time, but it didn’t help. His finger hurt more and more.

Aunt Lillibet said, “That’s a bad splinter you’ve got there. It must hurt a lot. Let me get my sewing needle and I’ll get it out in two seconds.”

She got a small sharp needle ready to get the splinter out, but as soon as she took hold of his hand, Benson jerked it away. “No!” he said, “it’s going to hurt!”

“It will hurt a lot more if you don’t let me get it out,” Aunt Lillibet said. But Benson wouldn’t let her touch it.

His finger started to get red and swollen. “It really hurts!” he complained.

Aunt Moss said, “You could try soaking it in a bowl of hot water with salt in it. Then you might be able to pull it out more easily.”

She got a bowl of really hot water and took Benson’s hand. “No!” he yelled. “It’s too hot! It’s going to hurt too much!” He pulled his hand away and wouldn’t let her touch it.

By now his finger was really hurting. It was all red and tight and it wouldn’t stop hurting. “Make it stop!” he cried to his mother.

“I’ll get my tweezers,” she said. “It will only hurt a little bit and then it will be over.”

She got her tweezers and took Benson’s hand. “No!” he said, and pulled his hand away. “You’re going to hurt it!”

She took his hand again gently, and said, “Just let me look at it.” She looked at his finger very carefully. The splinter was sticking out just a tiny bit.

“Aunt Lillibet,” she said, “were you going to make a jelly cake for lunch?”

“A jelly cake?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Oh yes,” Aunt Moss said, “a jelly cake with passionfruit icing!”

Benson said, “What’s a jelly cake?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Oh, you know, you make a cake and then you cut it in half and put jelly in the middle and then you put the other half on top and put icing on top of that. Sometimes you can put pineapple in the jelly, if you want, or peaches.”

“Peaches?” Benson said. This cake sounded really good.

“And make sure you put sprinkles on top, Lillibet,” Aunt Moss said. “And maybe some chopped up almonds, and some chocolate curls?”

“Chocolate curls?” Benson said. It made him hungry just thinking about it. “What are they?”

“Oh you know,” Aunt Lillibet said, “when you get a big piece of chocolate and you scrape some off the top and it curls up like a ribbon. You can make lots of them and put them on top of the icing on the cake. But that’s not the best part.”

“There’s a better part?” Benson said. “Better than cake with jelly and peaches and icing and sprinkles and chocolate curls?” He couldn’t wait to hear what could be better than that.

His mother gave a sharp tug and pulled the splinter out. “There!” she said.

“Ow!” said Benson.

“The best part,” Aunt Lillibet said, “is that the splinter is out of your finger.”

Benson looked at his finger. There was a small hole where the splinter used to be, but that was all. It felt much better already.

He looked at Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and his mother. “Were you just making it up about the cake so you could get the splinter out without me noticing?” He felt very disappointed. Now that the splinter was out, he forgot how much it had hurt, but he hadn’t forgotten what the cake was going to be like.

“Maybe,” said his mother. “But I think Aunt Lillibet might make us a jelly cake for lunch, if you ask her nicely.”

Benson asked very very nicely, and Aunt Lillibet made a wonderful jelly cake. She even let Benson make the chocolate curls.