Mushroom Marmalade

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

One morning when Benson was having breakfast, his mother said, “I think we’ll go and visit Nanna today.”

Benson said, “Can I make something special for her?”

His mother said, “That would be lovely. Do you need some help?”

Benson said, “No, I don’t think so.” He set to work in the kitchen, chopping and mixing and stirring.

When his mother came in later and said it was time to go, he held up a big jar. “I’ve made mushroom marmalade!”

“Mushroom marmalade!” his mother said. “How did you make it?”

“I got some mushrooms and I mixed them up with some marmalade,” Benson said. “It’s going to be a surprise for Nanna.”

His mother said, “Hmm, it will definitely be a surprise.”

After the kitchen was clean again, they got their hats and their water-bottles and set off to see Nanna. It was a beautiful day, and they talked about all sorts of things as they walked along.

All of a sudden, Benson grabbed his mother’s arm. “A bear!” he said, hardly breathing.

“A what?” his mother said. “You mean a koala?”

“No,” Benson said, “a really truly breathing giant black bear! Over there!” He tried to point over to a spot in the bush and hide behind his mother at the same time.

His mother said. “Benson, I don’t think there are any bears in the bush. In fact, I’m sure there aren’t.”

“Look, just beside the big rock!” Benson said. “It’s a big black bear, and it looks hungry and mean. We should run home again, now, fast!”

His mother peeled Benson’s fingers off her arm and said, “Just wait here a minute.” She walked over to the big rock and looked closely. “It’s just an old burnt tree,” she said. She tapped the bear on the shoulder, plok, plok, plok. “See?”

Benson peeked out from behind his fingers. “Are you sure?” he said.

His mother said, “Yes, absolutely certain. Come and see for yourself.”

Benson went over slowly, ready to run if the tree turned out to be a bear after all. Up close, it was just a broken-down tree that had been all burnt on one side.

Benson said, “It might have been a bear, and then I would have saved us.”

“It might,” said his mother. “It all depends on how you look at it. Anyway, I’m glad it wasn’t.”

They kept going along the track, and Benson kept thinking of what he would have done if it had been a bear, and wondering how fast bears can run and whether they were afraid of wombats.

Nanna was very happy to see them. “The only thing is,” she said, “I haven’t had time to do any shopping, and all I’ve got for morning tea is bread. I can make some nice bread sandwiches, if you like.”

“What’s a bread sandwich?” Benson asked.

“You get two pieces of bread and you put a piece of bread in between them,” Nanna said. “It’s very nice, if you like bread.”

Benson said, “It’s a good thing I brought you a surprise, then!” He held up his jar. “Mushroom marmalade! I made it myself!”

“Thankyou, Benson, that was very kind of you,” Nanna said. She looked at the jar. “Mushroom marmalade!” she said. “Well, that’s something I’ve never had before.”

“No-one has,” said Benson. “I invented it. I think it will be great. Everyone loves marmalade, and everyone loves mushrooms, so why not have them together?”

“Sounds like a great idea,” Nanna said. “Let’s try some.”

She made mushroom marmalade sandwiches for everyone and they started eating.

Benson took a great big bite, then he stopped. It was not a great sandwich. In fact, it was probably the worst sandwich he’d ever tasted.

He put the sandwich down. “It tastes like lumpy orange slime with bits of gooey sponge in it. It’s terrible!” He felt really disappointed. “It wasn’t a very good surprise, was it?”

Nanna said, “It depends on how you look at it. It was a lovely surprise that you made something for me.”

Benson’s mother said, “And it actually tastes surprisingly bad.”

Nanna said, “And think of how surprised the chickens are going to be when I give them these sandwiches!”

There was a kind of hole in Benson’s tummy where he was hoping morning tea would have been, but he really didn’t want to eat any more mushroom marmalade. “Maybe we could have a bread sandwich?” he asked.

Nanna said, “I’ve got a better idea.” She picked the bits of mushroom out of the marmalade and wiped the marmalade off them and she made mushrooms on toast that only tasted slightly weird, and then they had toast-and-marmalade for dessert.

“The best thing is,” she said, “now we know what NOT to have with marmalade.”

“Oh, I can think of LOTS of things not to have marmalade with,” Benson said.

“Well, that’s no surprise,” his mother said.

The Landslide

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.

Aunt Moss was going to visit an old friend who lived a long way away in another valley. Benson’s mother said, “I’m worried about Aunt Moss going all that way by herself. Benson, why don’t you go with her, for company?”

“What’s company?” Benson asked. He imagined it might be a new kind of pudding, maybe with cranberries, or butterscotch sauce.

“It means someone to talk to, or just someone to be with,” his mother said.

“Is that all?” said Benson. He thought about visiting Aunt Moss’s friends. Usually there was a lot of talking, but there was often cake or cookies that went along with the talking. “Okay,” he said. Benson got his hat and his water-bottle, and he and Aunt Moss set out.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and they walked a long way, talking about things. They came to the top of a long ridge, where the land on the other side stretched down and down and down, very steeply. Aunt Moss said it was an old quarry.

“What’s a quarry?” Benson asked.

Aunt Moss said, “A long time ago, people came with big diggers and dug a great, great big hole. They wanted to find coal or something, I don’t remember what. When they found it, they dug it out and then they went away and left this big hole behind.”

The quarry stretched down and along and across nearly as far as Benson could see. There were no trees or bushes, just banks covered in rocky dirt. He peered down to see if he could see the bottom.

Aunt Moss was just saying, “I think we should be very careful, Benson,” when Benson felt something very strange under his feet. He felt as if he was falling but he wasn’t. The land under his feet was falling, and Benson was sliding with it.

Aunt Moss screamed, “Come back!” She reached out and grabbed Benson but they couldn’t stop sliding. The dirt slid away down the slope and they both went with it, tumbling over and over. Benson slid faster and faster, as if he was part of the falling hill-side, then he suddenly banged into something and stopped. Aunt Moss crashed into him and stopped too. The earth slid over them and past them, until it slowed down and stopped too.

There was a heavy blanket of earth on top of Benson. He couldn’t move his arms or his legs, and he couldn’t breathe. Aunt Moss dug and scraped as fast as she could. At last she made a space for Benson’s head to come out, and he could breathe again. She kept digging until his front feet were free, and then he could dig himself out.

He shook his head hard to get the dirt out of his ears, and spat it out of his mouth. “What happened?” he said.

“It must have been a landslide,” Aunt Moss said. “Some of the hill-side just slid away, down into the bottom of the quarry. When there are no trees or plants to hold the soil together, it gets loose and sometimes chunks of it just slide away.” She was very tired from all the digging.

Benson felt around. There was loose dirt all around them, but under his feet there was something solid.

“I think we must have run into an old tree under the dirt,” Aunt Moss said. “That’s what saved us.” They could see their hats, way down at the bottom, so far away they looked like tiny little specks.

Benson looked up. The top of the quarry was a long way up. “How are we going to climb out?” he asked.

Aunt Moss said, “I don’t think we can climb out. The earth is still so loose, we could easily start another landslide.”

“What are we going to do?” Benson said. He had finished being shocked and now he was scared. He didn’t dare to move, in case he started to slide down the hillside again. “Should we shout for help?”

They both shouted as loudly as they could, but their voices sounded very small.

Aunt Moss felt in her pockets. “I’ve got my whistle,” she said. She blew as loudly as she could, but it sounded like a little peep in the great big space of the quarry.

“What else have you got in your pocket?” Benson asked. He was hoping she would say muffins, or a carrot cake.

“Just my tape measure and a hanky in case I need to blow my nose,” Aunt Moss said.

“Why do you have a tape measure?” Benson asked.

“I put it in there this morning after I was measuring the aspidistra to see how much it had grown,” she said. “What do you have in your pocket?”

“A lot of dirt,” Benson said. “And a sultana sandwich from yesterday, and a stone shaped like a frog.”

They both thought about what they had in their pockets and what they wished they had in them.

“I’ve heard of people sending messages by flashing lights at each other,” Aunt Moss said. “My tape-measure is very shiny – we could try reflecting the sunlight with it.”

Benson took the shiny metal tape measure and pointed it at the sun and wriggled it a bit. It made some flashes, but then the sun went behind a cloud.

“I could wave my hanky,” Aunt Moss said. They took turns waving it for a while, but Benson didn’t think it was such a good idea. It was very small and white, and there was no-one in the quarry to see it.

It got hotter and hotter. “How are we ever going to get out of here?” Benson said.

“Don’t worry,” Aunt Moss said, “I’m sure someone will come and find us. We just have to be patient, and try very hard not to move.”

It was very hard trying not to move. Every time they moved even a little bit, more dirt slid down. Benson started to get very hungry. He got the old sultana sandwich out of his pocket and brushed the dirt off it, and they divided it in half very carefully. Aunt Moss gave Benson the biggest half and they ate it. Even with the dirt, it tasted wonderful.

After a long time, it started to get dark and cold. Benson was worried that they would never get out of the quarry, but he didn’t tell Aunt Moss in case it made her worried. After a long time, he went to sleep, even though he was really hungry, with Aunt Moss holding him tightly, in case he slid down the side of the quarry while he was asleep.

When Benson woke up, it was very early and very cold. He was nice and warm, with Aunt Moss’s arms around him, but she was hot and shivering at the same time. “Aunt Moss, are you okay?” he asked.

“I don’t feel very well,” Aunt Moss said, “but don’t worry. I’m sure someone will come soon. Just hold on a bit longer.” She closed her eyes as if she was falling asleep. Benson was worried. He gave her a little shake but she didn’t wake up.

“Aunt Moss!” he said loudly, and shook her hard. She didn’t move.

It was then that Benson saw the earth moving, not far away from them.

“Aunt Moss, wake up!” he shouted. “It’s happening again!” He shut his eyes very hard and clung onto her as tightly as he could.

Then he felt strong hands on his shoulders and he heard a voice say, “It’s all right, Benson, you’re safe now.”

Benson opened his eyes. It was Mr Fenn. He seemed to be inside the hill itself, reaching out of a perfectly beautiful wombat hole, right beside them. He lifted Benson up, and Benson felt his feet dangling in the air. Then he was pulled safely inside the wombat hole beside Mr Fenn.

“Mr Fenn!” Benson said. “How did you get here?”

“We’ve been digging all night to get close enough to you without bringing down more of the dirt,” Mr Fenn explained. “Everyone helped, your mother and Elmer and Teresa and Delia, even young Mick.”

“You have to help Aunt Moss,” Benson said. “I think something’s wrong with her. She won’t wake up.”

“Don’t you worry, young man, I’ll get her out,” Mr Fenn said. He reached his strong arms out of the tunnel and grabbed Aunt Moss. “Come on, Mossy, let’s get you out of here and home safe,” he said.

Aunt Moss stirred and opened her eyes. “Benson!” she said.

“He’s safe,” Mr Fenn told her. “You’ve done a good job. Now it’s your turn. Hold onto me.”

Aunt Moss held onto Mr Fenn and he pulled her up into the tunnel where Benson was waiting. They moved along the tunnel to the other end where everyone was watching and waiting for them to come out. When they saw Aunt Moss and Benson, they clapped and cheered. Benson’s mother kept hugging him and wouldn’t put him down, but he didn’t mind at all.

Aunt Lillibet had a big pot of hot soup ready, and hot chocolate, and Benson had two bowls full of soup and three cups of hot chocolate before he was ready to talk again. “How did you find us?” he asked.

Mr Fenn said, “There was an eagle high above the quarry and he noticed something flashing in the side of the hill. He told some cockatoos who were passing over, and they remembered they had heard a whistle and someone shouting. They told the magpies, and the magpies flew over and saw something white waving. So they let the kookaburras know, and the kookaburras flew past and saw the two of you, so they told the possums and the possums told everyone.”

“You’re safe now, and that’s all that matters,” Benson’s mother said, and gave him another hug.

Benson nodded, full of hot chocolate and soup. “Yes, we’re safe now, all because of Aunt Moss’s pockets.”

Fireworks

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.

One night after dinner, Benson and his mother were just doing the dishes when they heard a big bang outside. “What was that?” Benson said.

They both stopped and listened. There was another loud bang, and a long whistling noise.

Benson’s mother said, “I think I know what it is. It’s fireworks.”

“Fireworks?” Benson said. Fire in the bush always meant danger, and people running and hiding and smoke everywhere. “Should we get some water and go and put them out?” he asked.

His mother shook her head. “Fireworks are like tiny coloured lights that sparkle in the sky,” she said. “They shoot up with a big bang, and then they hang there in the sky for a few seconds and then they go out.”

“What are they for? Where do they come from?” Benson wanted to know.

His mother said, “I don’t know exactly. Most of the animals don’t like them. The noise is very frightening, and the coloured lights dazzle their eyes so they can’t see. Some of them get very scared.”

Benson said, “Do you think we should hide under my bed?”

“There’s no need to hide,” his mother said. “It’s just lights and noise.”

Just then there was another loud bang, and then a whole lot of bangs in a row. Benson put his hands over his ears, and thought that hiding under his bed wasn’t such a bad idea.

His mother said, “When I was little, I used to imagine fireworks were really cicadas.”

“Cicadas?” Benson said. “How can they be?”

“I used to imagine all the cicadas getting together for a big celebration, like a festival of colours,” she said. “They’d paint their wings in bright shiny colours, red and yellow and green and pink and blue, and put glitter on them, then they’d fly up into the air and make patterns like stars and flowers. They’d even have competitions to see who could make the prettiest patterns in the sky.”

Benson started to imagine hundreds of cicadas making flower shapes and star shapes in the night sky. “But why do they have to make all that noise?”

His mother said, “I imagined that that was how they got high up in the sky. They would all stand on one end of a long board, like a see-saw, and then someone would drop a rock on the other end and they would fly way up into the sky.”

There was another bang and Benson jumped. He tried to imagine it was a big rock hitting the end of a board, and hundreds of painted cicadas flying up into the sky.

His mother said, “You know how cicadas get really noisy at this time of year? I used to imagine it was because they were all getting together to talk about what they were going to do at the festival. And afterwards, they kept on talking about it for weeks, and arguing about who made the best patterns.”

“I wish they didn’t have to make such a big noise when they fly up,” Benson said. It made his tummy all jumpy.

His mother said, “I think I’d better go and see Teresa and the rest of the Bushcare group, and ask them if they can keep a look-out for sparks, just in case. You can come along, if you like.”

“Outside?” Benson asked nervously. He didn’t want to go outside where the noise would be even louder, but he didn’t want to be by himself either.

“It’ll be fine,” she said. “Remember, it’s just lights and noise.”

Benson went with her as far as the door, and peeked out. All of a sudden there was a big scary bang and a whoosh, and brightly coloured sparkles filled the whole sky. Benson’s heart jumped and he just about ran inside, but they were so beautiful that he didn’t want to miss seeing them. There was another sharp bang, and this time there was a giant shining fountain of blue and white sparks in the sky. Benson thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful. Then there were three bangs in a row, and three red flowers with sparkly yellow edges exploded in the sky. He forgot about being scared and just looked and looked.

“Maybe I’ll come along, just as far as Zali’s place,” he said. If he held on tight to his mother’s hand, the bangs weren’t so loud.

Before they even got to Zali’s place, they could hear Zali screaming almost as loud as the fireworks. Her mother was trying to get Zali to stop screaming and come out from under the bed. “Benson, could you try?” she asked. “Zali might listen to you. She’s so upset I can’t get her to listen to anything I say.”

Benson suddenly felt very brave. He put his head under Zali’s bed and said, “Hey, Zali.” Then he said in a much louder shout so she could hear him over the noise she was making, “Hey, Zali! Do you want to come and see the cicadas?”

Zali stopped screaming for a minute. “Cicadas?” she said, fearfully.

Benson nodded. “All sparkly, up in the sky. Do you want to see?”

Zali came slowly out from under the bed. Benson held her hand and they went to the door together.

There was a huge bang and a sparkly silver ball filled the sky. “Bang!!” Zali screamed and made a dive for the bed.

“No, Zali, look!” Benson said. He got a spoon and balanced it over a stick on the ground, like a see-saw. He put a pile of leaves in the round end of the spoon, then he banged down on the handle. The leaves all flew up into the air. “See? Bang!” He did it again. The leaves flew into the air. “Cicadas fly up in the air!”

Zali watched. “Bang!” she said. She picked up the stone and dropped it onto the handle of the spoon with a thud. “Bang!” she said. She threw the leaves up into the air. “Cicadas! Bang!” she said.

There was a boom, and red and green wheels of light shone out and twinkled in the sky. “Bang!” shouted Zali happily. “Bang!”

“Bang!” shouted Benson. “Boom, boom, bang!”

He took Zali’s hand and they stood watching the fireworks, side by side. “Cicadas,” Zali said. “Pretty.”

Sandpit Wars


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 when Benson’s mother took him to the playground, there was a new wombat sitting in the sand-pit. Benson went up to say hello.
“Hi, my name’s Benson,” he said. The other wombat didn’t say anything. He was big, with very dark fur, and he looked a lot older than Benson.
Benson tried again.”Have you just moved here? What’s your name?”
The other wombat stared at Benson for a minute, then he said, “Callum.”
Benson said politely, “Hi, Callum,” then he climbed into the sandpit and started to dig. Benson loved digging. Nothing else in the world made him as happy as digging.
He felt a thump in the middle of his back. He looked around. Callum had kicked him! Callum said, “Get out!This is my sandpit.”
“No it’s not,” Benson said. “The sandpit’s for everyone.”
Callum stared at him for a minute, then he put his head down and rushed at Benson. He hit him right in the middle of his tummy and pushed him over the side of the sandpit.
Benson sat on the ground, stunned. His tummy hurt where Callum had hit him, and his bottom hurt from where he landed on the ground. He got up and shook himself. Callum was looking at him, smiling a nasty little smile.
Benson walked off to the swings. He swung backwards and forwards, worrying about what he should have done. Should he had have pushed Callum back? Should he have told him he had to let him play in the sandpit? But Callum was bigger and heavier than he was, and scary.
His friend Mick arrived and came over to the swings. Benson told him what had happened. Mick said, “That’s not fair. I’m going to tell him.”
He went over to the sandpit, and said loudly, “You can’t kick people out of the sandpit. It’s for sharing.” Callum looked at him with mean eyes, and kicked sand in his face. Then he pushed Mick right over. Mick was so shocked he couldn’t think of anything to say. He went back to see Benson at the swings.
Benson said, “Maybe if we wait for a while, he’ll go somewhere else.” So they waited, taking turns on the swings, but it wasn’t so much fun any more.
In a little while, Zali and her mother arrived, with her baby sister, Zip. Zali’s favourite thing was the sandpit. She went straight over and started to climb in. Callum shouted, “Get out of my sandpit!” but Zali didn’t understand. She lifted her little sister Zip into the sandpit with her.
Callum yelled and then he charged at Zali with his head down. He knocked her over, flat on her back. Zali started to cry. Callum turned towards little Zip.
Benson couldn’t stand it any more. “Hey!” he shouted. “Leave her alone!”
Callum looked at Benson with his flat black eyes. “You wanna fight?” he said.
Zali was crying and little Zip was sitting in the corner of the sandpit looking frightened. Benson didn’t think, he just said, “Okay.” If that was what he had to do, that was what he had to do. His stomach turned over and over and he felt sick. He was so scared he wanted to cry.
Callum got out of the sandpit and walked towards Benson, going ‘chika-chika’ and hissing. Benson’s feet walked backwards without him telling them to. Then he felt his backside going up in the air and his feet coming off the ground. Callum’s feet were coming off the ground too, and he was yelling, “Hey! What’s happening?”
Mr Fenn was holding them both up in the air by the seat of their pants. “What’s going on here?” he growled.
Benson was so happy to hear Mr Fenn’s voice, he nearly cried. “He pushed us!” he said. “He hurt Zali, and Mick and he was going to hurt Zip.”
Mr Fenn put them both down on the ground. He gave Benson a little shake. “No, Benson,” he said, “not ‘he’. Start with ‘I’.”
Benson swallowed and started again, slowly. “I… was going to fight him. I didn’t want him to hurt Zip.”
“That’s better,” Mr Fenn said. He turned to Callum. “Do you have anything to say?”
Callum didn’t say anything. He just looked angry.
Mr Fenn said, “This is a playground for everyone. Everyone should be able to feel safe here. Everyone shares the swings, they share the sandpit, they share everything. Understand?”
Callum nodded. He still looked very angry and fierce.
“If you don’t want to share, you’ll have to go somewhere else,” Mr Fenn said.
Callum looked at Benson as if he were thinking of jumping on him and biting his ears off, but he still didn’t say anything. He looked at Mr Fenn, his big strong shoulders, and his calm, determined face. After a while he nodded, and turned around and walked out of the playground.
Benson was so relieved, his legs folded up underneath him and he flopped down on the ground.
Mr Fenn said to him, “That was a very bad idea, Benson.”
“He started it,” Benson said. “I couldn’t just stand there when he was hurting Zali, could I? And there was little Zip, too.”
“Did you try talking to him?” Mr Fenn said. “Did you ask an adult for help?”
Benson shook his head.
“Fighting is always a bad idea,” Mr Fenn said. “If you lose, then the bully just keeps on bullying. If you win, then you’ve beaten someone and you’re the new bully. That’s not the way to get someone to change their mind. And someone always gets hurt.”
Benson didn’t like that idea. He particularly didn’t like the idea of losing, and Callum going back to hurting little Zip. He thought about it, then he nodded. He said, “I’m sorry.”
Mr Fenn gave him a pat. “Okay. Now why don’t you go and play in the sandpit with Zali?”
And Benson did.

Subscribe to Benson’s own podcast and hear stories from the beginning of the series read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Forgiveness

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

One morning just before lunch, Benson went for a walk down to the creek. His cousin Elmer was there, digging.

“Hi Elmer,” Benson said. “What are you doing here?”

Elmer said, “I’m digging a burrow.”

Benson looked at the hole Elmer was digging. It wasn’t very big, and it was right in the bank of the creek.

Benson said, “You know, if the water comes up, it could easily flood.”

Elmer kept on digging. “It’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s not going to rain, and even if it did, the water won’t come up very far.”

Benson watched him dig. Elmer really wasn’t a very good digger. The hole was too wide and not deep enough, and the dirt was going everywhere. After a while, Elmer stopped, panting.

“Are you just going to stand there and watch?” he asked Benson.

Benson said, “You should dig upwards for a bit, and then dig down deep. That way there’s a bit of a hill to keep the water out. And you should put your shoulders into it, not just scratch with your paws like that.”

Elmer said, “Well if you’re such a great digger, why don’t you do it?”

Benson said, “Sure, I’ll help if you like.” He thought it was the worst wombat hole he had ever seen, but he didn’t want to say so, in case it hurt Elmer’s feelings. He set to work and did some really good digging. The soil was soft and sandy, perfect for digging. In no time he had dug a nice, tidy hole just big enough for one smallish wombat.

“There,” he said, brushing off his paws. “What do you want a burrow for, anyway?”

Elmer said, “To live in. I’m moving out of home.”

Benson was amazed. Elmer was even younger that he was. “Why?” he asked.

Elmer had a look on his face that was partly angry, partly stubborn, and partly embarrassed. He said, “I had a fight with my dad, so I’ve decided to live somewhere else, by myself.”

Benson thought about it. It didn’t seem like a good idea to him. Why would you move out of a warm, safe, comfortable wombat hole with your dad to go and live in a small, damp hole in the side of a creek?

“What did you fight about?” he asked.

Elmer looked even more stubborn and angry. His face was red and he was frowning. “We were going to make some of my favourite bread, you know, with oats and blueberries, but my dad did something to the oven to see if he could get it to add the blueberries automatically, and now it won’t work properly so we couldn’t cook the bread.”

“So why didn’t you just have ordinary bread?” Benson asked. “Or a banana?”

Elmer lifted his chin up. “I wanted bread with oats and blueberries,” he said stubbornly.

“You had a fight about what kind of bread you wanted to eat?” Benson asked.

Elmer put his head down. He mumbled, “I yelled at him.” His face was very red.

“You yelled at your father?” Benson said. He was amazed. He knew Elmer loved his father, and his father loved Elmer more than anything in the world.

Elmer nodded. “I yelled at him and I told him the oven was stupid and HE was stupid. And I kicked the oven and the door fell off.”

Benson was shocked. “Then what did you do?”

Elmer said, “I told him I was leaving, and I left.” His voice wasn’t angry any more. It was kind of sad and sorry. Benson thought that now maybe he wished he hadn’t.

“Why don’t you go back and say you’re sorry?” he said.

“I’m not sorry!” Elmer said. “I’m going to live by myself and do whatever I want.”

Benson looked around. “What are you going to eat?”

“Grass,” Elmer said. “Maybe some roots, or some creek-slime.” He went inside his little wombat hole and curled up with his back to Benson. Benson figured he didn’t want to talk any more.

Benson went home and told his mother all about it.

“He might change his mind when he’s had a chance to think about it,” his mother said.

That night it rained and rained. In the morning, Benson’s mother said, “I’m worried about Elmer. His burrow doesn’t sound like a safe place. Why don’t you go down and see, and take him one of your toasted broccoli sandwiches?”

Benson went down to the creek. Elmer’s wombat hole was full of water and mud. Elmer was standing beside it, dripping and shivering. His fur was soaked and muddy, his ears were dripping, and water was running off his nose. Benson thought he had never seen anyone as wet and muddy as Elmer in his whole life.

Benson said, “Do you want me to help you dig another burrow?”

Elmer opened his mouth and wailed, “I want my Dad!” Big tears rolled down his face.

“Why don’t you just go back home?” Benson said, crunching thoughtfully on his broccoli sandwich.

Elmer said, “I can’t! I said terrible things, and I broke the oven!”

“Just say you’re sorry,” Benson said. “Even if he’s still mad, he might let you live in a dark corner somewhere near the back door. Anything’s better than this!”

Elmer wiped his nose and said, “Okay.”

They started off together. Water sprayed off Elmer with every step he took.

When they got close to Uncle Elton’s place, Benson could see Uncle Elton outside the burrow looking very sad. As soon as he saw Elmer, he ran towards him. He picked up Elmer in his arms and hugged and hugged him.

Elmer cried, and said in a snuffly voice, “I’m sorry, Dad, I didn’t mean it.”

His father said, “I know, son, of course you didn’t. I’ve missed you so much! I was so worried about you.”

They both hugged some more, then Uncle Elton said, “I fixed the oven, and I made your favourite bread, with oats and blueberries. How about we wash all this mud off you and put some warm, dry clothes on, and you can try it?”

Elmer was very, very happy. “Yes, please,” he said.

Uncle Elton said to Benson, “Benson, do you want to come and have some with us?”

Benson absolutely did, so they went inside together and ate until they couldn’t eat any more.

Subscribe to Benson’s own podcast and hear stories from the beginning of the series read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Aunt Moss’s Headache

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

Aunt Moss had a headache. “My head is really hurting,” she said. “I think I’ll go and lie down.”

Benson’s mother made her a nice cup of cardamom and willowbark tea, and Benson took it into her room. Aunt Moss was lying down but she didn’t feel any better. She said, “This pillow is so uncomfortable.”

Benson said, “My pillow is nice and soft. Do you want to try it instead?”

He ran to his room and got his pillow. Aunt Moss tried it, but it wasn’t any better. “Your pillow is lovely and soft, Benson, but it isn’t helping,” she said. “My head still hurts,”

Benson’s mother said, “What if we make you a lovely soft pillow out of a soft pile of leaves?”

“That sounds lovely,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson ran outside and filled up a bag with leaves that were lying on the grass. He took it into Aunt Moss’s room. “Here, try this,” he said.

Aunt Moss lay down on the leaf pillow, but she got up again straight away. “No, this pillow isn’t any better,” she said. “It still hurts my head.”

Benson’s mother said, “I know, let’s get some possum fur and make a pillow out of that. Possum fur is the softest thing in the world.”

Benson ran to his friends, Nils and Nella’s house, and he asked their mum if he could have some possum fur.

“Of course you can,” she said. “Every time Nella brushes her tail, handfuls of fur come out. I’m always picking it up.” She gave Benson a big pile of fur. It was as soft as a cloud. He carried it home and made a beautiful pillow with it, to put under Aunt Moss’s head.

She lay down on the soft possum fur pillow, but she sat up again straight away. “Ow! Ow!” she said. “That hurts!”

Benson said, “Aunt Moss, could I have a look at the back of your head?”

He looked carefully at the back of Aunt Moss’s head, then he reached up and pulled something out of her hair.

“Look,” he said. “This was caught in the hair at the back of your neck.” He held up a hair-clip.

Aunt Moss said, “So that’s where it was! I’ve been looking for that clip for days!” She felt the back of her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all any more!”

Benson’s mother said, “That clip must have been poking into your head all this time and giving you a headache.”

“It wasn’t the pillows that hurt,” Benson said, “it was the clip all the time.”

Aunt Moss said, “Let me see.” She lay down on the possum fur pillow. “It’s beautiful and soft,” she said. “But I think I like my old pillow best.” Benson gave her back her own pillow and she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Benson’s mother took the possum fur away to make into yarn to knit a beautiful soft scarf. Benson took the bag of leaves outside. He filled up another bag with leaves, and then he and Roly played pillow fights until the bags split open and the leaves rained down like a snowstorm.

Quoll

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

Benson and his mother were out shopping. They went past a big paperbark tree and Benson stopped. “What’s that noise?” he said.

His mother looked up into the tree. “Rainbow lorikeets,”she said. “Sounds like they’re having a meeting.”

Benson looked up. The tree was full of brightly coloured birds, green and yellow and orange with bright blue heads and red beaks. There were hundreds of them, all talking and arguing at the top of their voices. It was so loud, Benson had to put his hands over his ears.

“Why are they having a meeting?” he shouted to his mother over the noise of the birds.

His mother listened. “I think they’re talking about possums,” she said. She took Benson’s hand. “Come on,” she said, “they’re always having noisy meetings about something or other. It’s probably nothing.”

But it wasn’t nothing, it was something.

When they got home, Nils and Nella, Benson’s possum friends, were waiting for them. They were very upset.

“What’s wrong?” Benson’s mother asked.

“The lorikeets said we’re stealing their eggs!” Nils said.

“We’d never do that!” Nella said. “Yuck, who’d want to eat a slimy bird’s egg?”

Nils said, “They’re telling everyone we steal their eggs and drop them on the ground and break them.”

Benson said, “That’s really mean. Who would do a thing like that?”

“It wasn’t us!” Nella said.

“No, of course not,” Benson’s mother said. “I think we should go and have a talk with the lorikeets.”

They all set out together and went to the tree where the lorikeets were having their meeting. They were still shouting and yelling, except for one lorikeet who was sniffing sadly, and another one who was patting her on the shoulder and saying, “There, there.”

Benson’s mother raised her voice over the noise. “Could someone tell me what’s going on, please?” she said.

The lorikeets stopped talking and looked down. Then they started all shouting, “Possums! Possums! Get away! Nasty possums!”

Benson’s mother shouted, “Quietttt! If you please!” The lorikeets hushed and listened to her. “Now, would someone please tell me what’s going on?” she said.

One of the lorikeets spoke up. “Nasty possums have been stealing our eggs and eating them!”

“It wasn’t us!” Nils and Nella said together.

Benson’s mother said to the lorikeet, “How do you know it was possums that took the eggs?”

“We saw them! We saw them!” all the lorikeets shouted.

The first lorikeet nodded and said, “That’s right, we saw it. It climbed up the tree and ate our eggs. And now it’s eaten one of Thellie’s babies.”

Everyone looked at the lorikeet who was crying.

Thellie dried her eyes and said, “She was just tiny – she had only just hatched out. I flew off to get her something to eat, and when I came back there was a horrible possum in the tree and it ate my baby!” Thellie started crying again.

Her friend Mavis said, “There, there,” and patted her shoulder.

Benson’s mother said, “What did the possum look like?”

Mavis said, “Like them,” pointing at Nils and Nella. “It had fur and a long tail, and its nose was pink and it had shiny brown eyes.”

“Are you sure?” Benson’s mother said.

Mavis said, “Of course I’m sure! I saw its horrible spotted tail myself!”

“Spotted?” Benson’s mother said. “Did you say it had a spotted tail?”

“That’s right,” Mavis said. “It had brown fur all over, with white spots on its tail.”

“That’s not a possum,” Benson’s mother said. “There’s only one marsupial in the whole country that has a spotted tail, and that’s a quoll.”

“Quoll! Quoll! Oh no! Danger, danger!” shrieked all the lorikeets.

Benson’s mother nodded. “Danger for all of us,” she said. “Quolls don’t just eat eggs and baby birds, they eat frogs and even baby possums and echidnas!”

“Oh no!” gasped Benson. “We’ve got to do something!”

“Save us! Save us!” yelled all the lorikeets at once. Benson put his hands over his ears again. The noise was deafening.

“I’ve got an idea,” Benson’s mother said, “but it might be dangerous.”

“Tell us, tell us!” shouted the tree-full of lorikeets.

Benson’s mother explained her idea to them. They talked and argued among themselves for ages, and then Mavis said, “We’ll do it!”

“We’ll do it! We’ll do it!” shouted all the lorikeets.

Benson and Nils and Nella went down to the creek and collected lots and lots of small white pebbles, and gave them to the lorikeets. The lorikeets hid all their real eggs and put the white pebbles in their nests instead.

That night they waited silently by their nests, pretending to be asleep. As soon as it was dark, they all heard a scratching noise, like claws climbing up a tree. The quoll was coming!

Everyone stayed very still. The quoll went to the first nest and picked up what he thought was a small white egg, and bit into it. “Ow!” he said. “That hurt my tooth!”

He dropped it and went to the next nest. He bit another one, and another one. “Ow! Ow!” he said. “What’s wrong with these eggs?”

All together, the lorikeets shouted, “Go away! Go away! Bad quoll! Bad quoll!” They got the stones out of their nests and threw them at the quoll.

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” the quoll yelled. He scampered down out of the tree and ran away as fast as he could, and he never came back to that part of the country again.

Subscribe to Benson’s own podcast and hear stories from the beginning of the series read aloud by the author at https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/stories-of-benson-the-wombat-his-family-and-friends/id1573140393

Cicadas Singing

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

It was a very hot summer. In the bush where Benson lived, the noise of cicadas singing filled the air all day long. Sometimes it got so loud that Benson’s ears started ringing and he couldn’t hear anything else.

Aunt Lillibet started wearing her pink fluffy earmuffs around the house.

“Aren’t your ears hot?” Benson asked her.

“I can’t hear you,” she said. “I’m wearing ear muffs.”

Aunt Moss, who had a thick woolly hat pulled down over her ears, said, “What did she say?”

“She said she couldn’t hear me,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss said, “Wait a minute, Benson, I can’t hear you with this hat over my ears.” She took the hat off.

Benson said loudly, “She said she can’t hear me!”

Aunt Moss said, “What? I can’t hear you over the noise the cicadas are making.” She pulled the hat back down over her ears. “That’s better,” she said. “Now what did you say?”

Benson sighed. He made some signs to say he was going for a walk, and he went outside. Outside it was even noisier. He walked along with his hands over his ears, and he could still hear the noise of the cicadas.

“Will you be quiet?” he shouted, but the cicadas were so noisy he couldn’t even hear himself shouting.

Further along he came to a long, flat rock. He could see someone on top of it, wearing a pink tutu and doing something that looked like it might be dancing. When he got closer, he could see it was Bonnie Lou, his friend Mick’s little sister. She stopped dancing and made a big bow, even though there was no-one watching. The noise of the cicadas sounded like an audience cheering.

Benson went up to the rock and said, “What are you doing?”

Bonnie Lou stopped bowing and her face went pink. “Nothing,” she said.

“Were you dancing?” Benson said.

Bonnie Lou’s face went as red as a tomato. “I might have been,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Benson said, “Why were you dancing out here all by yourself?”

Bonnie Lou said, “If I dance at home, Mick laughs at me. He says I dance like a bulldozer falling down a hill. So I came out here where no-one can see me.”

“That isn’t very nice of him,” Benson said. “You can keep dancing, I won’t laugh at you.”

Bonnie Lou wouldn’t. She was too embarrassed to dance in front of anybody.

Benson had an idea. He went and found three old banksia cones. He climbed up onto the rock and said loudly, “Benson, the world’s greatest juggler!” He held his tongue between his teeth and threw the three cones into the air. He caught one and dropped one and the third one hit him on the nose. “Ta da!” he said. He bowed, and the noise of the cicadas rose up around him like an audience clapping and cheering.

Bonnie Lou clapped and clapped. “Let me have a turn,” she said. Benson got down and let her climb up onto the rock. She started dancing and twirling and jumping up and down on her toes.

Benson thought she looked like a baby hippopotamus on a trampoline. He rolled around on the ground laughing.

Bonnie Lou stopped dancing and glared at him with her hands on her hips. “You said you wouldn’t laugh!” she said.

Benson said, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it. You look really funny when you dance. Wombats aren’t really built for dancing.”

Bonnie Lou said, “But I love dancing!”

Benson said, “You know what? I love dancing too!” He climbed up onto the rock beside her and they both danced. Benson did some tap-dancing steps and jumped and kicked his feet up into the air. It looked pretty silly but it felt great. Bonnie Lou twirled and swayed. They both had a great time, and when they finished they bowed and curtsied, and the noise of the cicadas rang out like a huge crowd cheering.

The See-Saw

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

Benson went to the playground with his mother. It was a beautiful sunny day, and everyone was there, playing and talking to each other.

Benson’s friend Mick said, “Let’s go on the see-saw.”

They both went over to the see-saw. There were two bush turkeys sitting on the see-saw, not moving. The see-saw was exactly level in mid-air. There was a bush turkey on each end, not going up or down, just sitting there.

Benson said, “Are you going to be finished soon? We want a turn.”

One of the turkeys said, “Don’t know.”

The other turkey said, “It’s our turn.”

Benson thought he recognised them. “Is your name Kenny?” he asked.

“It’s Ken,” said the turkey. “Kenny for short.”

The other turkey said, “I’m Kenny, but my friends call me Ken.”

“You’re both called Ken?” Mick said.

“No, I’m Ken,” the first one said. “He’s Kenny, aren’t you, Ken?” he said to his friend.

“That’s right, Kenny,” said the other one.

Benson felt tired just thinking about it. “I think it’s our turn now,” he said.

“We’re still having our turn,” Kenny said. “We’re waiting for the see-saw to go down.”

“It doesn’t just GO down,” Mick said. “You have to push off the ground and one of you goes up, and that makes the other one go down. That’s how a see-saw works.”

“That won’t work,” said Ken. “Neither of us wants to go up, do we, Ken?”

The other one shook his turkey head. Benson watched his wattle wobble. “We don’t like going up, we only like going down, don’t we, Ken?”

“You can’t both go down at the same time,” Mick said.

“Why not?” said Kenny. “It’s a see-saw, isn’t it?”

Mick was getting more and more exasperated. “See-saws don’t work like that!” he said.

The two turkeys looked at each other and shook their heads. “He hasn’t done the research, has he Kenny?” said the first one.

“Not like we have,” said the other one. “Listen, when there’s a flood and the creek gets full, what happens? You wait, and the water goes down.”

“Yeah,” said the other turkey. “And when you blow up a balloon it’s big and shiny but after a couple of days, what happens? It goes down.”

“You see?” the first one said to Mick. “We just have to wait and the see-saw will go down.”

Mick’s face was red and he looked like he was going to do something he shouldn’t, like push both turkeys off the see-saw. Benson said, “You guys are turkeys, aren’t you? Can turkeys fly?”

Ken, or Kenny, said, “We’re birds, aren’t we? Of course we can fly!”

Benson sat down heavily on one end of the see-saw. The other end shot up and the turkey sitting on it flew into the air with a squawk. He flapped a few times and landed back down on the ground.

The turkey at Benson’s end was sitting down on the ground. He got up and shook his feathers.

“Now you’re both down,” Benson said. “Come on, Mick, it’s our turn.”

Mick got on the other end of the see-saw and they went up and down.

The turkeys said to each other, “See? We knew it would work if we waited long enough.” And they walked off together.

Decisions, Decisions

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

Benson spent the morning digging. When his tummy told him it was just about lunchtime, he came in to wash his hands. His mother and Aunt Moss were in the kitchen.

Aunt Lillibet was sitting at the table, perfectly still, not doing anything. On the table there were two plates, one on each side of her. She kept looking at one, then at the other one.

Benson said, “Aunt Lillibet, what are you doing?”

Aunt Lillibet sighed. “I made a beautiful turnip and sweet potato pie with green banana chips.” She pointed to the plate on her right. “And I also made some pasta with spinach and elephant ear stalks and okra.” She pointed to the plate on her left. “Now they both look so delicious, I can’t decide which one to eat.”

Aunt Moss said, “The pie looks very good, but the pasta looks wonderful.” Aunt Lillibet picked up her fork and turned towards the pasta.

Benson’s mother said, “The pasta smells delicious, but the pie smells amazing!”

Aunt Lillibet turned to the pie, then she put down her fork and sighed. “If I eat one, I’ll be too full to eat any of the other one,” she said. “I can’t decide.”

Benson said, “Why don’t you have a little bit of both?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Have you ever tried having a little bit of turnip pie, or a little bit of spinach and okra pasta? It’s impossible! Once you start eating, you can’t stop at just a little bit.” She looked from one plate to the other and sighed.

Benson said, “I could taste them for you if you like, so then you’d really know which one is better.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Hmmm. It’s worth a try, I suppose.” She gave the fork to Benson.

He put a small piece of pie on his plate and ate it slowly and thoughtfully, rolling the pastry around on his tongue. “I’d give it nine out of ten,” he said. “Delicious.”

He put a small amount of pasta on his plate and ate it piece by piece, savouring every bite. “Yummy,” he said. “I’d give it nine out of ten too.”

“That’s no help,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Maybe I didn’t eat enough,” Benson said. “I’ll try again.” He put a larger piece of pie on his plate and ate it up. “No, I was wrong, the pie is definitely nine and a half out of ten.”

He put some more pasta on his plate and ate it up. “Fantastic!” he said. “I’d give it nine and a half out of ten too.”

Aunt Lillibet groaned.

Benson said, “I’ll just check the pie again.” He cut a very large piece of pie and and ate it. “Beautiful!” he said. “This is a ten out of ten. What was I thinking? But then the pasta might taste better now that it’s cooled down a bit.” He piled pasta onto his plate and started eating.

“Fantastic!”he said. “This pasta definitely deserves ten out of ten. I’ll just try the pie again.”

“Stop!” said Aunt Lillibet. She took the fork away from Benson. “If you keep going, there’ll be no pie and no pasta left. I know what I’ll do. I won’t eat anything for lunch, and when it’s time for dinner, I’ll be so hungry I’ll be able to eat both.” So that’s what she did. Benson’s mother and Aunt Moss had a lovely mango and finger lime salad for lunch, while Aunt Lillibet sat in front of her plates and didn’t eat anything. Benson didn’t eat much either. He wasn’t really hungry.

At dinner-time Aunt Lillibet was so hungry, she piled ALL the pie and ALL the pasta onto her plate and started eating. “Delicious! Wonderful! Fantastic!” she said. She ate up every single bit. She was so full that her tummy was bumping against the edge of the table.

“That was absolutely delicious!” she said.

Benson’s mother said, “I’m glad you enjoyed your dinner so much. I’ve made something special for dessert tonight.”

She got two big plates out of the pantry. “There’s fig and plum chocolate pudding, with extra chocolate sprinkles and cream on the top, AND there’s caramel popcorn coconut cake, with honeycomb pieces and orange cream cheese icing.” Benson’s eyes grew rounder and rounder.

His mother put the plates on the table in front of Aunt Lillibet. “Now, Lillibet, which one would you like?”

Mountain Climbing

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’s Uncle Elton came over with Benson’s cousin Elmer. “I’m taking Elmer climbing up on Black Mountain,” he said. “I thought Benson might like to come along too.”

“Mountain climbing?” Benson said. He wasn’t too sure about mountain climbing. Walking was fine, digging was great, but climbing up a steep mountainside wasn’t so good for a solid young wombat.

“Don’t worry, it’s easy,” Uncle Elton said. “I’ve been up and down it hundreds of times. It’s not really a mountain, more like a tall hill.”

Benson’s mother said, “I’ve heard it can be quite a difficult climb.”

Uncle Elton said, “We’ll only go up halfway, just the easy part, then we’ll stop and have some lunch and come down again. Elmer’s really excited, aren’t you, Elmer?”

Elmer nodded enthusiastically. “It’ll be great. Dad says we might see an eagle’s nest!”

Benson liked the idea of lunch. It was starting to sound as if it could be fun.

His mother still looked worried. “Are you sure it will be safe?” she said.

“Yes, of course!” Uncle Elton said. “I’ve got all sorts of ropes, all the safety equipment you need for climbing. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of him.”

Benson made his favourite lime-butter-and-apple sandwiches and his mother helped him pack his backpack with oranges and nuts in case he needed a snack. He got his hat and his water-bottle and they set out.

It was a long way to Black Mountain. They went through a deep gully and then up a hill and along the top of the ridge. After a while Benson said, “I think I’ve got a blister.”

Uncle Elton said, “Oh, have you?” and kept walking.

Benson sat down and got a band-aid out of his backpack and put it over the blister. It felt much better.

They kept going along a narrow track through thick bush, until they came to the bottom of the mountain. “Here we are!” Uncle Elton said. “Are we all ready?”

It was then that Benson looked in his backpack and made a terrible discovery. “I’ve left my lunch at home!” he said.

“That’s a shame,” said Uncle Elton. “I’m sorry but Elmer and I have only got enough for ourselves.”

The thought of climbing up a mountain and there being no lunch when they got there didn’t make Benson feel happy.

He had an idea. Along the way they had passed a plum tree covered in fruit. He went back and filled up his backpack with plums and some wild spinach he found growing nearby.

He went back to where Uncle Elton and Elmer were waiting. “Okay, I’m ready,” he said.

Uncle Elton tied a strong climbing rope around himself, then he tied it to Elmer and to Benson. There were special clips that the rope passed through, so they were all joined together safely. “Off we go!” said Uncle Elton.

Climbing was hard. They went up and up, over sharp rocks and slippery stones. Elmer was a good climber, but Benson was heavier and slower. After a while he got very hot, and he was glad he had his water-bottle. After a lot of climbing, when Benson’s feet were sore and his legs were tired, Uncle Elton said, “Here we are!”

They were on a flat part covered with grass halfway up the mountain. The view was amazing.

They sat down and ate their lunch, looking out over all the trees. Benson ate his plums and his spinach, and shared his oranges and nuts.

When all the lunch was gone, Uncle Elton said, “Who wants to keep going up to the top?”

Benson looked up. The next part of the mountain was very steep and rough.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I think I’ll just stay here.”

Uncle Elton said, “Come on, it’s not that far! You’ve made it this far, the next bit will be easy. Think of how good it will feel, knowing that you’ve made it all the way to the top.”

Benson wasn’t so sure.

Uncle Elton said, “Elmer’s coming, aren’t you, Elmer?”

Elmer nodded. If his father said it was easy, he was sure it would be.

Benson didn’t want to be the only one staying behind if Elmer was going. “Okay,” he said.

“Good boy!” Uncle Elton said. “You and Elmer go ahead, and I’ll follow behind, in case either of you needs a hand.”

Elmer said, “Dad, there’s a knot in my rope and it’s digging into me.”

Uncle Elton took the rope off Elmer and tried to untie the knot but it was too hard. “We don’t really need ropes for this bit anyway,” he said. “It’s not that far. We’ll be fine so long as we’re careful.”

He got all the ropes and stuck them in his backpack. “Right, let’s go!” he said.

Elmer started climbing first, and Benson followed. It was much steeper and slipperier, and Benson had to stop all the time and get his breath.

Then Elmer yelled, “I think I can see the eagle’s nest!” He started climbing over towards it.

Uncle Elton said, “That’s great, son! Be careful now, the mother eagle might be still around.”

Benson kept going, but the next rock he put his foot on was loose. It came out and his foot slipped. He could feel himself starting to fall.

“Help! Help!” he yelled.

“Hang on! I’m coming!” Uncle Elton shouted.

Just then Elmer lost his hold and started to slip. “Dad! Dad!” he yelled. “Help me!”

Uncle Elton was halfway between Benson and Elmer. He couldn’t help them both.

“Dad! Help me!” cried Elmer. Uncle Elton went towards Elmer and grabbed him.

Benson couldn’t hold on. He slithered down the mountainside. His feet scratched wildly at the rocks but they couldn’t get any grip. He fell down, and down.

Then he felt warm, strong arms around him. A voice in his ear said, “I’ve got you!”

He opened his eyes and he was looking into his mother’s face.

“It’s all right, you’re safe now,” she said.

Benson clung onto her with all his arms and legs. “I was falling,” he said. “I couldn’t hold on.”

“I know,” she said. “It’s all right now. You did your best but the rocks are loose and slippery.”

They climbed slowly down the mountain to the grassy patch. Benson’s mother stayed beside him and helped him every step of the way.

Uncle Elton helped Elmer down, and they all sat down on the grassy patch together.

“I’m sorry, Benson,” he said. “I couldn’t get over to you fast enough. I had to help Elmer.”

“What about the safety equipment?” Benson’s mother said.

Uncle Elton hung his head. “I thought we could do without it.” He looked up and when he saw the look Benson’s mother was giving him, he looked down again quickly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have known better.”

Benson said to his mother, “How did you come to be there, just when I needed you?”

His mother said, “I was worried, so I followed you. I was just behind you the whole way.”

“The whole way?” Benson asked.

“The whole way,” she nodded.

“When I got the blister?” he asked.

“Mmm-hmm,” she nodded.

“When I didn’t have my lunch?” he asked.

“I was there too,” she said.

Benson thought. He said, “I don’t suppose you brought my lime-butter-and-apple sandwiches, did you?”

His mother smiled. “Actually, I did,” she said.

And they all sat on the grass on the side of the mountain, sharing the sandwiches and feeling how wonderful it was to be there.

Gliding

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

One day Benson was over at Nils and Nella’s house playing hide-and-seek, when he saw something white flash between the trees up high, and he heard someone call, “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!”

“What was that?” Benson said.

“It’s just a sugar glider,” Nella said.

“There’s sugar, gliding through the trees?” Benson asked, amazed.

“No, stupid, not sugar, that’s just what he is, a sugar glider,” Nils said. “They eat lots of nectar so they’re called sugar gliders, but they’re just a kind of possum, really, except for the gliding.”

“Yeah, I think they’re kind of cousins of ours,” Nella said. “But their tails are straight, so they can’t hang or swing at all, and they’re not great at jumping so they have to fly.”

“Fly? They fly?” Benson said, his eyes shining. “Can they show me how?”

“It’s not exactly flying,” Nils said. “It’s more like jumping with their arms spread out, so they glide down.”

“I can do that!” Benson said. “I can jump with my arms out. But I don’t glide, I just drop, plonk.”

“Hang on,” Nils said. He shouted, “Whipple, come here!”

There was another flash of white, gliding across to the tree beside them with a “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!” Then a little possumy head poked up and a squeaky voice said, “What?”

Nils said, “This is Benson. He wants to know how you glide.”

“It’s easy,” Whipple said. “I just spread out, like this, and then I jump off.” The skin on his back reached all the way from his wrists to his ankles, so when he stretched out his arms and his legs, he looked like a little furry mat, with hands at two corners and feet at the other two.

“You want to watch?” Whipple asked. He ran up the tree beside them. For a possum, he was tiny, so he was very light and quick. When he got up high enough, he spread out his arms and legs till his skin was stretched out flat like a hairy leaf. He jumped off and glided across to another branch and then to another one and another one, calling, “Yip, yip, yip, yippee!”

Benson looked down at his own short arms and legs. He started thinking about how he was going to glide through the trees.

He thought about it all the way home, and all the time when he was going to sleep, and he was still thinking about it when he woke up in the morning.

At breakfast time he said, “I’m going to glide.”

“Slide?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“No, GLIDE,” Benson said. “Through the trees. Like a sugar glider. I just have to figure out how.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Wombats can’t glide. It’s impossible.”

Aunt Moss said, “Don’t spoil it for him, Lillibet. It doesn’t hurt to dream.”

Aunt Lillibet snorted. “Dream, huh!” She went and got a big sheet of paper and a rock. “Benson, see this piece of paper?” She dropped the piece of paper and it floated from side to side and gently floated down to the floor. “That’s a sugar glider.” She picked up the piece of paper and wrapped it around the rock. She dropped it and it fell straight down and hit the floor with a bang. “That’s you,” she said.

Benson looked at the piece of paper and thought. He went into the bathroom and came back with a towel tied to his ankles and his wrists. “I think this will work,” he said.

He climbed up onto a chair, spread out his arms and his legs and jumped.

Aunt Moss gave a little, “Eep!”

Flumppp! Benson landed flat on the floor on his tummy. Aunt Lillibet said, “Told you so.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh Benson, are you all right?”

Benson got up off the floor. “I need to get higher,” he said. He climbed onto the chair and then he climbed onto the table.

Aunt Moss closed her eyes and held her breath.

Benson stretched his arms and legs as far as he possibly could, and jumped.

Flummmppp! He landed flat on the floor.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Never in a million years.”

Aunt Moss said, “Benson, dear, I don’t think that’s very safe!”

Benson said, “If I could just get a bit higher.” He put the chair on top of the table and started to climb up.

His mother came in just then. “What’s making all this noise? It sounds like someone dropping mattresses.”

Benson explained, “I’m gliding, just like a sugar glider.”

His mother looked at him, and the towel, and the chair and the table. “No, Benson,” she said. “This is a very bad idea. Sugar gliders are tiny, and very light. Wombats are big, solid animals. If you jump from something that high, you’ll break something, your arms or your legs.”

Benson had a stubborn look on his face that his mother recognised. She said, “Come on, put the towel away and we’ll go to the playground.”

Benson got his hat and his water-bottle and they set off. He kept thinking about sugar-gliders, and he felt more and more disappointed. He could imagine the feeling of flying through the air, light as a feather, looking down on the earth, and it made him sad that he would never be able to feel like that.

His mother said, “Hop on the swing and I’ll give you a push.”

Benson climbed onto the swing and his mother started to push him. She pushed strong and hard, until Benson was swinging higher and higher through the air. She pushed harder and harder, until he was so high he could see the playground spread out underneath him. The wind rushed through his hair and he felt as light as a feather. “Yippppeeeee!” he shouted. It was just like flying.

Spelling

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 writing a letter. “How do you spell alphabetically?” he asked Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Lillibet didn’t know exactly, so she asked, “Why do you want to know?” while she thought about it.

“I’m putting it in my letter to Nanna,” he said.

“What are you writing about that’s alphabetical?” Aunt Lillibet said. She was having a hard time remembering where the ‘h’ went exactly.

“Nanna likes interesting words, so I thought I’d just put it in,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss said, “I think you just put ‘alphabet’ and then add some bits on the end.”

“Anyway, you shouldn’t use big words if you don’t know what they mean,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“I do know what it means,” Benson said. “It’s like the books in the library. The ones on the first shelf have names that start with A, and then the ones that start with B come next, and then C and all the other letters of the alphabet, in the right order, so you can find a book if you want it.”

“Why don’t you put in a word that you can spell?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Like what?” Benson said.

“What about ‘cantankerous’?” she said. Now that was a word she knew how to spell.

“What does that mean?” Benson asked, writing it down and spelling it wrong, with two ‘c’s and a ‘g’.

“Sometimes Mr Fenn says that Lillibet is cantankerous,” Aunt Moss said. “I think it means…”

“Never you mind,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Aunt Moss said, “If you really want a big word, what about ‘watermelonlessness’?”

“What does that mean?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“It means not having any watermelon,” Aunt Moss said.

“Is that a real word?” Benson asked, writing it down and looking at it.

“If you know what it means and you can spell it, doesn’t that make it a real word?” Aunt Moss said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t just make words up, Moss. If everyone could just make words up whenever they wanted to, there’d be so many words that all the dictionaries would explode!”

“You did it yesterday, Aunt Lillibet,” Benson said. “You said Aunt Moss’s soup was the ultrahorriblest soup you’ve ever had.”

“That’s different,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Extreme situations call for extraordinary measures. That mushroom and lemonade soup was extra-super-revolting.”

Benson wrote that down too. “Can you make up a new word if there isn’t one for what you want to say?” he asked.

“I do, all the time,” said Aunt Moss. “Sometimes I have an idea and there just isn’t a word for it. Like ‘comfortablefulness’, when things are as comfortable as they can be. When it’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone’s sitting around the table, talking happily together, and there are fresh chocolate and raspberry muffins waiting to be eaten, that’s comfortablefulness.”

Benson stopped writing and thought about muffins, fresh and warm and steaming. Then he started to think about cake, and blueberry pie, and he forgot all about writing, until Aunt Moss said, thoughtfully, “‘De-uglification’ is a useful word, when you’re trying to make things less ugly, like when your mother cut the plastic spiders off Aunt Lillibet’s hat.”

“But then Aunt Lillibet got all the plastic spiders back out of the bin and glued them back on again,” Benson said. “That’s what you call ‘re-spiderising’.”

“I prefer to call it ‘re-beautification’,” Aunt Lillibet said smugly, “making things beautiful again.”

Aunt Moss and Benson looked at each other and shrugged.

Benson said, “What about words for things that you think of that nobody’s thought of yet? Like window-elbows, and wheelbarrow-seatbelts, and cloud-cushions, and skyfish?”

“No!'” said Aunt Lillibet. “Definitely not! Impossible!”

Aunt Moss said, “What about ‘impossibilisation’, when someone says that something’s impossible when they haven’t even tried it yet?”

“I think that’s quite enough, Moss,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “It’s definitely enough. I can’t fit any more into my letter.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t possibly write a letter to someone that’s just a lot of words.”

“Isn’t that what a letter is?” Benson said.

“You know what I mean,” Aunt Lillibet said. “If you just have a list of made-up words it doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes sense to me,” Benson said. He started reading out the letter he had written to Nanna. “‘Have you ever seen a cantankerous skyfish? You’d better be careful in case they try to re-spiderise your window-elbows. If they did, that would be extra-super-revolting. Have you got any cloud-cushions? I think cloud-cushions make lots of comfortablefulness, and they’re very slithersoftish.'” He looked up from the letter. “I made that last one up,” he said modestly.

Aunt Moss listened thoughtfully. “It’s very interesting, even though I’m not exactly sure what all of it means. I think Nanna will like it.”

“That’s what I think,” Benson said.

“Altogether too much watermelonlessness,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Lost and Found

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

Benson was walking along one day when something fell out of the sky and hit him on the head.

“Ow!” he said.

He looked around for what had hit him and he found a small, bright green ball. He picked it up. It was firm and slightly fuzzy. He threw it on the ground and it bounced back up to his hand, straight and fast. He threw it at a tree, and it bounced back and he caught it. It was a pretty good ball.

He threw the ball at the tree lots of times, up high and down low and in the middle. Sometimes he caught it and sometimes he missed and had to go and look for it.

He was having fun playing his game when he heard a voice say, “That’s my ball. Give it back.”

It was Arnette, a girl he knew but he wasn’t really friends with.

“I found it,” he said, “so it’s mine.” He kept on playing.

“I lost it. It’s mine,” Arnette said. “I was playing with it and it bounced away.”

“But you lost it,” Benson said, “and I found it so now it’s mine.”

Arnette said, “You found my ball that I lost. Give it back.”

Benson thought about it. Just because he found it didn’t make it his. He gave the ball back to Arnette. “Here,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said. “Do you want to play handball with me?”

“Okay,” said Benson.

Arnette hit the ball on the ground and when it bounced, Benson hit it back and then Arnette hit it back again. Sometimes Benson missed and had to run after the ball, and sometimes Arnette missed and Benson had to run and get the ball anyway. It was a pretty fun game.

Then they heard a voice say, “You’ve got our ball. Hand it over.”

It was Nils and Nella. They were hanging out of a tree by their tails.

Arnette hid the ball behind her back. “What ball?” she said.

“That one you’re playing with,” Nils said. “It’s ours. We were playing with it, and it bounced away.”

“How do I know it’s yours?” Arnette said. “A ball is a ball.”

“It’s green and fuzzy and about this big,” Nils said, holding his hands apart about the size of the ball.

Benson got the ball from behind Arnette’s back. “Like this?” he said.

“That’s it,” Nella said.

“Where did you get it from?” Arnette said.

“Nella gave it to me,” Nils said.

Arnette’s face fell. “I guess it’s yours, then,” she said. She gave the ball back to Nils. “Here,” she said.

“Thanks,” said Nils. Then he said, “Hey, do you guys want to play cricket with us? I’ve got a stick we can use for a bat.”

They played cricket. Benson was the wicket-keeper, and Nils had the first bat because he was the one who found the stick. Nella was a really good bowler and Arnette was a mean fielder. Every time Nils hit the ball, Arnette had to run after it. If Nils didn’t hit the ball, Benson had to run after it. After a while Benson wished Nils would hit the ball more often.

Then they head a voice say, “Excuse me, I think you’ve got my ball.” It was Mr Fenn.

Nella wrapped her tail tightly around the ball. “This is our ball,” she said.

Mr Fenn said, “I think it’s mine. Could I have it back, please?”

Nils said, “This isn’t your ball, it’s ours.”

Mr Fenn said, “Where did you get it?”

Nils said, “Nella gave it to me.”

Mr Fenn said to Nella, “Where did you get it from?”

“I found it,” Nella said. “It was in the sandpit all by itself and no-one wanted it so I got it.”

Mr Fenn said, “I had a ball just like that in my pocket this morning. I went for a walk near the playground, and when I got home it had fallen out of my pocket. I think you must have found my ball.”

“Maybe it’s a different ball that just looks like yours,” Nils said. “How do you know it’s yours?”

“I scratched my name on my ball,” Mr Fenn said. “If it is my ball, it should have F-E-N-N in small letters.”

Everybody peered at the ball. Once you looked, you could see wombat claw marks spelling F-E-N-N, Fenn.

“You’re right, it is your ball,” Nils said. He gave the ball back to Mr Fenn. “Here,” he said.

“Thank you,” said Mr Fenn. “My friend Gordon and I are just going to play tennis together. Would you like to come and be ball-boys and ball-girls and run after the ball for us and bring it back when we hit it out of the tennis court? There’ll be oranges, and lemonade.”

“I will, I will!” said Nils and Nella.

“Me too!” said Arnette.

Benson said, “Um, I think I might just go home and have a rest.”

Waddle

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

One day Benson’s mother came home from her Bushcare group looking worried. She went into the kitchen where Aunt Lillibet was making a rockmelon smoothie for Benson and his friend, Roly.

Benson’s mother said, “We found a baby echidna in a little burrow near the paperbark gully. It looks like he’s been abandoned by his mother.”

“Abandoned?” Benson said, shocked. “You mean his mother just went away and left him?”

“It’s more likely that something happened to her,” his mother said. “Mother echidnas make a special burrow for their puggles when they get too spiky to be carried in their pouches. The mothers go off to get some ants for themselves, but they always come back to give their babies their milk.”

Benson said, “Maybe she forgot where the burrow was.”

“More likely a snake or a feral cat,” Aunt Lillibet said quietly. She didn’t want to frighten Roly.

Roly’s eyes grew big and round, and his snout started to tremble. “Cats!” he whispered.

“What’s wrong with cats?” Benson asked. The cats he had read about in stories were soft and furry and curled up in front of the fireplace, purring. Sometimes when he was full of lemon delicious pudding and he had his warmest socks on, he felt a bit like a contented cat himself.

“Claws!” Roly said, “and horrible sharp teeth! They slink around in the dark with their green eyes and their whiskers and they kill soft baby animals whose spines haven’t grown yet.”

Benson didn’t like the sound of that at all. “But cats live in houses, and eat food out of tins, don’t they?” he said.

“Feral cats are different,” Aunt Lillibet said. “People dump them in the bush when they’re kittens and they grow up wild. They eat anything they can find, birds, lizards, mice – anything they can catch. They’re expert hunters.”

Benson thought of a baby puggle alone in a burrow in the middle of the bush, with a hungry cat slinking through the bush towards it.

“We should go and get the puggle,” he said very firmly. “Right now.”

His mother said, “It’s not that easy. He’s very little and he’s frightened of strangers. I tried to pick him up but he dug himself in further and I can’t get him out without hurting him.”

Roly said, “I’ll do it. He won’t be frightened of me.”

“I’ll come too,” Benson said. “I’m not scary.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “What about the cat? If it was a feral cat that took the mother echidna, it’s probably hanging around, looking for a soft juicy puggle.”

“Don’t, Lillibet!” Benson’s mother said, shuddering.

Roly said, “If there is a cat, then the sooner we get the baby echidna, the better.”

Benson’s mother knew that Roly was right. It was dark now, and if a cat found the little puggle, nothing could save it. They set off straight away.

They took the track that led down to the paperbark gully. Benson’s mother led the way and Benson followed her with Roly getting a lift on his back.

When they got to the trees near the puggle’s burrow, Roly went up by himself to talk to the little echidna.

“Hello,” he said in a quiet, friendly way. “What’s your name?”

The little echidna had dug himself so far into the ground that only the very tip of his nose was showing and two little button eyes. He sniffed, and whispered, “Waddle.” He was so frightened he could hardly talk.

Roly sat down by the side of the burrow and talked to him quietly and gently until the little puggle stopped shaking. He asked him about his mother, and when she had gone away.

Over in the trees, Benson was feeling worried, as if a big old water dragon was doing somersaults in his tummy. “Can’t Roly just grab him and run?” he asked his mother.

“Shh!” said his mother sharply. “I think I can hear something!”

The water dragon in Benson’s tummy started jumping up and down. “Is it a cat?” he whispered.

His mother didn’t answer. Instead she walked softly over to Roly and murmured to him, “We have to go, now!”

Roly nodded. He said to the little echidna, “Waddle, it’s time to go now. How would you like a special ride on a nice, friendly wombat? And some lovely warm milk?”

The little echidna let Roly pull him out of the burrow. Roly helped him climb onto Benson’s back, and he climbed onto Benson’s mother’s back. They set off through the bush as quickly as they could.

A couple of times Benson thought he could see something dark slipping between the trees just beside them and he tried to hurry a bit faster, but the little puggle had never had a ride on a wombat before, and he kept slipping off. Benson kept having to stop and hitch him up again. He was very glad when he saw his front door just up ahead.

Aunt Lillibet opened the door for them, and Benson tipped the little puggle off his back. Then he heard a sharp, “Meowwrr!” Five sharp claws swished past him with a fierce hiss. The cat was there, nearly on top of him.

There was no time to think. Benson pushed the puggle inside and scrambled in after him. Right behind him, he heard his mother shout, “Get inside, Roly!” then Roly tumbled in after to him.

They heard spitting and howling just inside the doorway, then there was a sharp crack and a long yowl, and the sound of a cat running away.

Benson’s mother came in and shut the door firmly. “It’s gone,” she said.

“Are you all right?” Benson asked anxiously. “What was that noise?”

“I’m fine,” his mother smiled. “A wombat’s backside is made tough and hard for a reason. Claws and teeth hardly even make a scratch. The cat tried to get past me so it could get at little Waddle, so I just lifted up my rump and squashed its head against the roof.”

“You squashed the feral cat’s head?” Benson asked, amazed that his mother would do such a thing.

“Just a bit,” his mother said. “Just enough so it won’t try and break into a wombat hole again, not while the wombats are home, anyway.”

She made some warm milk for Waddle, and hot chocolate for everyone else. Roly played with little Waddle until he got sleepy, then they found a soft blanket to cuddle him up in. Roly said quietly to Benson, “I think your mother is the bravest person I know.”

Benson’s mother lifted Roly up onto her lap with tears in her eyes and said, “It’s all right to be brave when you’re not frightened, but I knew you were so frightened of that cat and yet you stayed with Waddle and talked to him so calmly – I’ve never seen anyone as brave as you were! You were amazing!” She gave him a special kiss on the end of his little snout, and Roly went pink all over.

The White Wombat

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 Benson was exploring in the bush down by the creek with his friend, Roly, when they heard a noise like an animal calling for help.

“What’s that?” Roly said.

“Let’s go and investigate,” Benson said. Benson liked the idea of ‘investigating’. It made him think of detectives and alligators.

They followed the sound until they came to a clearing. Someone had put up a tent and made a camp-fire. There was a metal cage on the grass under a big mahogany tree, and inside the cage there was a small echidna.

“It’s Snippet!” Roly gasped.

Benson knew that Snippet was Roly’s best echidna friend. “What’s he doing in a cage?” Benson said.

As soon as Snippet saw them, he cried, “Roly, get me out of here, please!”

Roly said, “What happened? How did you get put in a cage?”

Snippet said, “A man grabbed me and put me in this cage and locked it. You’ve got to get me out of here, quick, before he comes back.”

Roly looked at the cage. It looked very strong, and it had a big padlock on the door.

Just then Benson heard someone coming. He hissed, “Roly! Quick, we’ve got to hide!”

Roly slipped into the bushes, and Benson scampered in beside him. A man came into the clearing. He went over to Snippet’s cage and said, “Hello there, my little echidna friend! You’re very cute, did you know that? You’re going to make someone a very good pet, and I’m going to make lots of money!” He got a stick and poked Snippet. Snippet curled up into a ball, and the man laughed. Then he went into his tent, singing a song about stealing sheep.

Benson whispered to Roly, “This is bad. We have to save Snippet.”

“What are we going to do?” Roly whispered back.

“I’ll bite the man on the leg, and you get Snippet out and run away,” Benson said.

Roly thought for a minute. “I don’t think that will work,” he said. “The man will put you in the cage instead. Besides, there’s a big lock on the cage. How will I get Snippet out?”

They both thought a bit more. Benson said, “I think the only way to save Snippet is with brains and sneakiness. You be the brains, and I’ll do the sneaking.”

“Okay,” Roly said. “This is what I think. What would the man want more than a cute little echidna?”

“Two cute little echidnas?” Benson said. “A banana and coconut sandwich?”

“A white wombat,” Roly said.

Benson looked around. “Do you know any white wombats?” he said.

Roly said, “Well, you’re a wombat, and there’s lots of white clay down on the banks of the creek.”

Benson smiled. “I knew it,” he said. “Brains and sneakiness.”

They went quietly down to the creek and Benson rolled himself in the clay until he was covered all over. “How do I look?” Benson said.

Roly said, “Spooky. A bit like a very short polar bear. Your nose is still black, though.” Roly patted a blob of clay on Benson’s nose. “There, now you’re perfect. This is what I think we should do,” he said.

They talked and thought and talked again until they had a good plan worked out. “The man will have to open the cage to feed Snippet,” Roly said. “As soon as he unlocks the cage, you walk along where he can see you. That will make him stop what he’s doing and try to catch you. You run away, and I’ll get Snippet out while he’s chasing you.”

It sounded like a good plan, Benson thought, except for the running and chasing part. He wasn’t a very fast wombat. “Just wait a minute,” Benson said. First he dug himself a short tunnel. Then he dragged a short hollow log over to the opening of the tunnel.

“I’m ready,” he said.

They waited in the bushes until it was time for the man to feed Snippet. When the man unlocked the cage, Benson walked out of the bushes, right where the man could see him.

The man stopped what he was doing and stared at Benson. “A white wombat!” he said. “That’s amazing! Come here, little wombat! I’ve got a special cage just for you!”

The man came after him. Benson started to run, but the clay had gotten harder while he was waiting in the bushes, so his legs would hardly move.

“Run, Benson!” Roly shouted. Benson clumped and staggered along as fast as he could, with the man chasing after him.

Roly grabbed Snippet and they both ran into the bush and dug themselves into the ground as quickly as they could. In a few seconds they were safe and snug underground.

Benson could hear the man getting closer and closer until he was right behind him, but just up ahead he could see the hollow log. Just as the man went to grab him, Benson slipped inside the log.

The man laughed. “Hah!” he said.”I’ve got you now!” He picked up the hollow log, thinking that Benson was inside, but Benson had already sneaked out the other end and was hiding in the tunnel he had dug in the ground.

The man carried the log back to his camp. He tipped the log up, but no wombat came out. “Where did you go?” he said. Then he noticed that Snippet was gone too. He shouted and stamped around and searched the bush around his camp, but Benson and Roly and Snippet were long gone. He shouted some more angry words, and then he packed up his tent and went home.

Benson went home too. When his mother saw him covered in clay, she said, “Benson! What have you done to yourself?”

“Oh, nothing much,” he said. “This is just my disguise for rescuing echidnas and stuff.”

A Bird on Your Head

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

One day when Benson was at the playground with his friend, Mick and his sister Bonnie Lou, a bird came and landed on his head.

Mick said, “Watch out, Benson, there’s a bird on your head.”

Benson said, “What kind of bird is it?”

Mick said, “A big one, with a long sharp beak. Get it off!”

Benson tried to look up and see the bird, but whenever he tipped his head up or around, the bird hung on to his head with its claws and he could only see the tip of its beak.

“It could be useful to have a bird on your head,” Benson said. “What if you got a tick? The bird could get it and eat it.”

“If it spread its wings out, it would be nice and shady,” Bonnie Lou said.

“That’s right,” said Benson. “I think I’ll train it.”

“That’s dumb,” said Mick. “What would you train it to do?”

“Stuff,” Benson said. “Maybe a guard bird, or a look-out bird.” He imagined a bird flying above him, then coming down to perch on his head and tell him that there was a snake up ahead, or a blackberry bush covered in blackberries.

“What do you know about training birds?” Mick said. “You don’t know anything about birds.”

“Well, I think you just be polite and ask it to do something, and if it does it, you give it a reward to say thank you,” Benson said.

“What sort of reward?” Bonnie Lou asked. If it was something good like chocolate, she wouldn’t mind being trained herself.

“Maybe I’ll give it some of my pear and parsley sandwich,” Benson said. He broke off a tiny piece of sandwich and held it up to the bird. The bird snapped it up.

“Are you going to train it to do tricks?” asked Mick. “Like juggling, and balancing a ball on its nose?”

“I think it’s pretty smart already,” Benson said. “It picked me, didn’t it? And I’m the one with the sandwich.” He gave the bird another tiny piece.

“Birds are dumb, anyway,” Mick said.

“They are not!” Benson said. “Watch this.” He asked the bird, “If I had two apples and Mick ate one and Bonnie Lou ate one, what would I have left?”

The bird said nothing.

“See?” Benson said. “I told you it was smart.”

“It just said nothing,” Mick said.

“That’s because it was the right answer,” Benson said. He asked the bird, “What if I had a big bowl of custard and I ate half and Mick ate half, what would be left?”

The bird said nothing. Benson said, “Correct!” He gave the bird another piece of sandwich. “You’re a pretty smart bird,” he said.

“He’s not smart!” Mick said. “He’s just not saying anything.”

“He’s waiting for a hard question,” Benson said. “Anyway, I bet he knows when something’s funny.” He said to the bird, “What do you call a wombat that steals things? Nick.”

Bonnie Lou said, “He’s smiling!”

“See? I knew he was smart,” Benson said. He asked the bird, “What do you call a wombat that’s good at fixing things? Andy.”

The bird gave a little chuckle. Bonnie Lou giggled, but Mick said, “That’s not even funny.”

“Yes, it is,” Benson said. “The bird thinks so. What bird is the best at digging holes? A miner,” he said. The bird chortled deep in its throat.

“I know one,” Bonnie Lou said. “What animal sounds like a bell?”

“A ding-o,” said Benson.

“A du-gong,” Bonnie Lou said.

They both laughed.

Mick said, “That’s just stupid.”

Bonnie Lou shouted, “It’s not stupid, you’re stupid!”

Mick shouted back, “You’re stupid, and that bird’s stupid!” Then he shouted at Benson, “And you’re the stupidest of all!”

He went to give Benson a push, but the bird on Benson’s head snapped its long sharp beak suddenly. Mick jumped back and fell over on his bottom.

The bird opened its mouth and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Hairy Nose Day

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.

Aunt Lillibet’s friend Gordon came over to ask Benson something. He said, “It’s Hairy Nose Day soon, you know. The committee has decided that this year we want something very special to celebrate all wombats everywhere.”

“What’s a committee?” Benson whispered to his mother.

“It’s a group of people who like meetings,” his mother whispered back.

Gordon coughed importantly. “As I was saying, the committee had a meeting and decided to have a mural painted.”

“A Muriel? Is that one of Aunt Moss’s friends?” Benson whispered.

“No,” his mother whispered, “it’s a painting on a wall.”

“Like I get in trouble for doing?” Benson asked.

Gordon said in a loud voice, “The mural will remind everyone of all the great things wombats do for our community. A painting to celebrate wombatness!”

“Wombatness?” Benson’s mother said.

“You know, everything that makes wombats special!” Gordon said.

“Where is it going to be?” Aunt Lillibet asked.

“That’s a secret,” Gordon said. “No-one will see it until we unveil it, on Hairy Nose Day.”

Early the next morning, Benson got his backpack and filled it up with his paints and brushes, and his mother made him a lettuce and banana sandwich. He got his hat and his water-bottle and he and Gordon set off.

They walked a long way, until they came to a big road full of cars and trucks whizzing past. It was so noisy that Benson had to shout, “Where is the wall I’m supposed to be painting on?”

“There!” Gordon said. He pointed to a big grey concrete wall on the other side of the road.

“Over there?” Benson said. “How do I get over there?”

“You wait until there are no cars coming and then you run!” Gordon said.

“What?!” Benson squeaked.

“Now!” Gordon yelled. He gave Benson a huge push and shouted, “Run!”

Benson landed in the middle of the road with hundreds of cars zooming past. He was sure he was going to be squished into wombat jam at any minute. His mother had told him over and over that he should never run on the road so he stopped still and scrunched up into a small wombat ball.

A car came screaming towards him but then it jammed on its brakes just before it got to him. It stopped so close that Benson could feel its hot breath on him. The people started to get out, saying, “It’s a wombat! Did you hit him? Is he dead?”

Benson opened his eyes. For just a second there were no cars coming, so he walked quickly to the other side of the road. He lay down flat on the grass, waiting for his heart to stop pounding.

A voice said, “Wow! That was close!”

Benson opened his eyes. There was a big wombat standing next to him. He said, “I saw that! You were so lucky!”

Benson looked back at the busy road, and he felt sick.

“What are you doing here anyway?” the big wombat asked him.

“My name’s Benson. I’m supposed to be painting a picture on the wall,” Benson said.

The wombat said, “I’m Gizmo. Wow! I’ve never met a painter before. What are you going to paint?”

Benson looked at the big grey wall. He said, “I don’t know. I haven’t thought of it yet.”

Gizmo said, “Wow! You can paint something you haven’t even thought of! That’s incredible”

Benson got his paints out and tried to think of what he should paint, that showed what wombats did that was so important.

Gizmo said, “Hey, can you do something for me?”

“Sure,” Benson said. “What do you want me to do?”

Gizmo held up a small, round rock. “Can you paint a name on this rock for me? It’s for my brother, Gomez.”

Benson asked him how to spell it, and then he wrote it carefully on the rock. “What do you want your brother’s name on a rock for?” Benson asked.

“It’s what we do when someone gets killed crossing the road,” Gizmo said. “See all these stones?”

Along the grass there was a row of stones, each of them with a name or a picture of a flower or a heart on it. There were so many of them, Benson was shocked. “All these animals were killed crossing the road?” he said. “Your brother too?”

Gizmo nodded. “He thought he could get across the road, but he didn’t make it.” He put the rock down with all the others.

Benson said, “If the road is so dangerous, how do you get across it?”

“I don’t,” Gizmo said. “I was born on this side.”

Benson felt a bad sinking feeling in his stomach. How was he going to get home again? He looked at the big wall, and he looked at his paints, and an idea started to grow in his mind. He said, “Are you good at digging?” And he told Gizmo his idea.

Gizmo smiled. He said, “I’ll go and get some mates to help.” Benson started painting. He painted all day, while Gizmo and his friends dug and dug. He painted a big wombat pushing its way out of a big tunnel that he had dug, and next to the wombat he painted lots of other animals, koalas and wallabies, and lizards and possums and echidnas.

In the afternoon Gordon came back and stood on the other side of the road. “Have you finished yet?” he shouted across the noise of all the trucks and cars and motorbikes.

Benson shouted back, “Nearly, but I can’t come home yet,” and he told Gordon the reason why. Gordon looked at the traffic, and he looked at the painting. He said, “You know, it will be finished faster if I get some more wombats to work on this side.” He trundled off, and came back in a little while with Mr Fenn and Benson’s mother and Uncle Elton and lots more friends. They all started digging on their side of the road.

By the end of the day, the tunnel under the road was finished. All the wombats and the other animals started crossing from one side to the other under the busy road, smiling and saying hello to each other.

Benson’s mother came through the tunnel to Benson’s side. “That’s a good painting,” she said.

“Just one more thing,” Benson said. He got his biggest brush and painted a sign at the top of the painting that said, ‘Hairy Nose Tunnel’.

“There, it’s finished,” he said, and they walked safely through the tunnel and went home.

Penguin

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.

Aunt Moss’s friend, Shelley, had a party to celebrate Earth Day, and everyone had to come as an animal.

Benson said to his mother, “I want to be a penguin.”

“That’s easy,” she said. She gave him a long white t-shirt that covered his tummy and came down to his feet, and her old black cardigan to cover his arms and all the way down the back, trailing a bit behind like a penguin tail. She gave him a black beanie to cover his ears, and black socks for his feet, and she made him a beak out of cardboard.

“There,” she said, “now you’re a penguin. If you keep your arms against your sides and stick your hands out like this, and walk as if your legs are glued together, you’ll look exactly like a penguin.”

Benson loved his penguin outfit. He had a great time at the party being a penguin, and when he got home, he didn’t want to take it off. He wore it to bed and in the morning he still didn’t want to take it off. “I like being a penguin,” he said.

His mother said, “That’s nice, dear. Here’s your porridge.”

“Penguins don’t eat porridge,” Benson said. “They only eat fish.”

“Fish?” said his mother. “We don’t have any fish.”

“Penguins only eat fish,” Benson said firmly.

His mother tried cutting some bread in the shape of fish and some cheese slices too. “Since you’re not actually a really truly penguin,” she said, “you could eat fish that aren’t really truly fish.”

“No,” said Benson, “I AM really and truly a penguin. I have to have really truly fish. And I want to drink sea-water.”

His mother found some fish paste way up the back of the cupboard. She made him a fish paste sandwich and gave him a glass of salty water.

Benson ate the fish paste sandwich, but only because he was very hungry. The salty water was so awful, he decided he wasn’t thirsty after all.

He kept being a penguin all day, and he slept in his penguin suit that night and the next day he was still a penguin. He spent all day in a bath full of cold water. He didn’t go out and dig even once.

His mother made him tuna salad for lunch and dinner, and salmon sandwiches for breakfast. His white t-shirt got very grubby, and his black beanie was tight and scratchy, but he didn’t take them off.

His mother made him a nice snack of ice cubes. “Why do you want to be a penguin, Benson?” she asked.

“Because everyone says penguins are adorable,” Benson said, crunching on his ice cubes, “cute and adorable.”

“Wombats are cute and adorable too,” his mother said.

“Wombats are ordinary,” Benson said. “Everyone’s a wombat. I’m an adorable penguin.” It sounded like ‘amorable benben’ because his tongue was frozen.

His mother gave him a kiss. “Whatever you think,” she said.

Benson went back to the bathroom and sat in the water. It was very cold. His toes and his ears were cold, and his beak was soggy and starting to melt. He wished he could read his library book but he didn’t think penguins would read books about excavators. After a little while, he heard talking and laughing coming from the kitchen. He got out of the bath, wet and dripping, and went into the kitchen.

His mother was there with Roly, eating lemon myrtle and macadamia muffins.

“Hi, Benson,” Roly said. “Do you want to come outside and dig?”

Benson said, “Penguins don’t dig.” Then he started to cry. Big tears ran down his face and dripped off his nose.

“What’s the matter?” his mother said.

“I love digging,” he said, “and I HATE tuna salad.”

His mother picked him up and gave him a big cuddle.

Benson said, “I love being a penguin, but I love all the things wombats do, digging and eating porridge and muffins, and lying in the sun.”

Roly said, “You could be a kind of wombat-penguin, a penguin that digs, or a wombat that likes eating fish.”

His mother said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a penguin or a wombat, or a wenguin or a pombat, or an orangutan or even a Komodo dragon, you’ll always be adorable to me.”

Benson gave a watery smile. “Maybe I could be a wombat today, and tomorrow I’ll be a penguin again.”

“That sounds like a very good idea,” his mother said. “Would you like a muffin?”

“Yes, please,” Benson said. They all sat down and ate muffins, and then Benson and Roly went outside and dug all afternoon.

Roly said to Benson, “I wonder what it’s like being a Komodo dragon?”

Music in your Head

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

One morning Benson woke up and there was a song stuck in his head.

He went out to see his mother. “There’s something stuck in my head,” he said.

“Did you put something in your ear?” she said sharply.

“No,” he said.

“Did you put something up your nose?” she said.

“No,” he said. “It’s music. There’s a song stuck in my head.”

His mother relaxed. “Is that all?” she said. “That’s all right, then.”

“It won’t stop playing,” Benson said. “It just goes round and round and round, like this: ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands….”

“That’s enough,” his mother said. “I don’t want it stuck in my head, thankyou.”

“I can even hear the ‘clap clap’ at the end,” Benson said.

“It’ll probably be gone after breakfast,” his mother said.

It wasn’t gone after breakfast. “It’s still there,” Benson said. He stood on one leg and tipped his head over to one side and hopped.

“What are you doing?” his mother said.

“That’s what I do if I get water in my ear,” he said.

“Is it helping?” she asked.

He stopped hopping and checked. The song was still playing in his head. “No,” he said.

He blocked one nostril and blew hard through the other one.

“What are you doing now?” his mother asked.

“That’s what you tell me to do when I get something in my eye,” Benson said.

“Is it working?” she asked.

Benson stopped blowing his nose and listened inside his head. “No,” he said.

“Why don’t you go and read a book? The music will probably stop as soon as you forget about it and stop paying attention to it,” she said.

Benson went to his room and read his library book which was all about a bunyip who didn’t know he was a bunyip. The song in his head kept playing all the time he was reading, and when he finished the book, the song was still going. He closed the book with a sigh and went out to see his mother.

“It’s still there,” he said.

“What if you try playing the saxophone?” she suggested. “Playing music must stop music playing in your head, don’t you think?”

Benson got out his saxophone and played for a bit. The song in his head stopped. He breathed a sigh of relief. While he was putting the saxophone away, the song in his head started up again, exactly where it had left off before.

He went out to see his mother.

“Is it still there?” she asked.

“It went away for a bit but it came back,” Benson said.

Aunt Lillibet asked, “What’s the matter?”

“Benson has a song stuck in his head,” his mother said.

“Is it something nice?” asked Aunt Moss. “I always seem to have some music or other playing in my head. I don’t know where it comes from. Sometimes even two things at the same time.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “If it was anyone else, it would drive them crazy, but not you, Moss.”

Benson started to say, “It’s…” but Aunt Lillibet clapped her hands over her ears.

“Don’t say it!” she said. “I don’t want it stuck in my head!”

“I know,” said Benson’s mother. “Sing something that you really like, until that gets stuck in your head instead.”

“Okay,” Benson said. He thought of his favourite song and he started to sing it. His mother joined in, and Aunt Moss. When he got to the end, he checked inside his head again.

“You were right,” he told his mother. “It’s gone!” He went off to his room, humming his favourite song. “That’s much better,” he said.

“Anything would be better than ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’,” his mother said.

“Oh no! Why did you have to say that?” Aunt Lillibet said. She quickly stood on one leg and hopped and blew her nose. “It’s no use,” she groaned. “Now it’s stuck in MY head.”

Not Going on Holidays

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.

In the summertime, nearly everyone went away on holidays. Benson’s friend Mick and his family were going to the beach for a week, and Alejandro and his family were going camping at a lake, and Uncle Elton and Elmer were going to a holiday camp in the national park.

Benson asked his mother, “Where are we going for the holidays?”

“I’m sorry, Benson,” she said, “Aunt Moss still isn’t well enough to go anywhere, and Aunt Lillibet and I don’t want to leave her by herself.” Aunt Moss had been very sick, and she still had a bad cough. Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet were worn out from looking after her.

“Can’t Nanna look after her?” Benson asked. He didn’t want to stay home for the whole holidays.

“I don’t want Nanna to catch what Aunt Moss had,” his mother said.

Benson was really disappointed. Not only were they not going anywhere, all his friends were going away and there’d be no-one to play with.

Aunt Lillibet said, “You and Benson could go somewhere. I can look after Moss.”

Benson’s mother said, “That’s very kind, Lillibet, but I know you’re just as tired as I am. This year we’ll just have a nice, restful holiday at home.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You know what they say, a change is as good as a holiday.”

Benson said, “But staying home isn’t a change, it’s the same as we are now.”

Benson’s mother was thinking. “You know, Lillibet, that’s not such a bad idea.” She turned to Aunt Moss, who was wrapped up in two blankets, with three boxes of tissues. “Aunt Moss, if you could go on holiday anywhere in the world, where would you go?”

Aunt Moss said wistfully, “I’ve always wanted to go to Spain.”

Benson had never heard of Spain. “Is it near the beach?” he asked.

“It’s a whole different country on the other side of the world,” his mother said. “They have wonderful music and dancing, and fantastic food, rice and beans and oranges…”

“Oranges?” said Benson. He liked oranges.

“Oranges everywhere, in the streets and the cafes, even painted on the buildings,” his mother said.

“So many beautiful buildings,” Aunt Moss sighed.

“Bull-fighting!” Aunt Lillibet said. Her eyes lit up. She put two fingers on her head like horns and said, “Olé!”

Benson’s mother said, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we go to Spain for our holidays – right here!”

Benson liked the first part of the idea, but not the second part.

“Here is boring,” he said.

“Just wait and see,” said his mother. “I’ll be in charge of food. Benson, you can be in charge of art and architecture.”

“What’s that?” Benson asked.

“It’s buildings and things,” his mother said. “Aunt Moss knows all about it.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Can I be in charge of bull-fighting?”

“No,” said Benson’s mother, “you can be in charge of music.”

Everyone set to work. Aunt Moss told Benson about all the beautiful buildings in Spain and he painted bridges and archways and buildings with oranges painted on them on big sheets of paper and stuck them up on the walls. Before long the whole room started to look like they were actually in Spain. Then she told him about the most famous artists in Spain, and he painted bulls and battles and put them up on the walls too.

His mother cooked a big pan of yellow rice with sultanas and nuts and things, and a big pot of beans, and orange cake and orange juice and orange pancakes.

Aunt Lillibet made an amazing dress covered in ruffles, and a red cape. She sent Benson over to Mr Fenn’s place to ask if he could play his guitar for them. Aunt Lillibet put on the ruffly dress and Mr Fenn played the guitar really fast, and Benson’s mother had jars full of rice to be maracas and Aunt Moss hit two spoons together for castanets. Everyone danced and laughed until they couldn’t dance any more.

Then Aunt Lillibet got the red cape, and Mr Fenn pretended he was a bull and ran at the cape while Aunt Lillibet twirled it around and everyone shouted “Olé!” and stamped their feet as hard as they could. Then Benson had a turn at being the bull and then Aunt Lillibet wanted to be the bull and she ran around snorting and yelling, “Olé!” until Benson’s mother said that was quite enough and it was time to eat.

They all sat down and had rice and beans and cake. After lunch Aunt Lillibet wanted to play bull-fighting again, but Benson’s mother said it was time for Aunt Moss’s nap and they could all do with some quiet time.

Mr Fenn went home and Aunt Lillibet had a nap too, and Benson drew oranges all over the buildings in the pictures on the walls, and in one corner he painted a bull-fighter with a red cape and a lady in a ruffled dress.

Just before bedtime Benson’s friend Mick came around to say goodbye before they went on their holidays. “You must be mad that you’re not going anywhere,” he said to Benson.

“No,” said Benson, his eyes shining. “Today we went to Spain, and tomorrow we’re going to Italy! I’m going to build a giant leaning tower and we’re going to stick paintings on the ceiling. We’re going to have spaghetti and macaroni and cannoli and ravioli, and Nanna is going to come over and sing opera and teach us to say things in Italian. Aunt Lillibet wants to fill up the kitchen with water and paddle a boat around, but I don’t think she’s allowed.”

Mick said, “Oh. Sounds boring,” but it didn’t sound boring at all. “I’ll see you after the holidays, then,” he said.

Ciao!” said Benson.

Getting Elmer Down

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 Moss made some of her very best lime butter, and she decided to take some over to Uncle Elton. “Elton loves lime butter,” she said.

“Everyone loves your lime butter,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson nodded enthusiastically. He went over to see if there was a spoon or a saucepan that needed licking.

“I’ll come with you to Elton’s place,” Benson’s mother said. “Benson has grown out of his racing-car pyjamas, and I think they will fit Elmer.” Benson’s cousin Elmer was younger and smaller than Benson.

“Can I come?” Benson said. He had finished licking the last bits of lime butter off the spoon and the saucepan, and he expected there could well be some lime-butter-tasting and maybe even some lime butter sandwiches over at Uncle Elton’s place.

They all put on their hats and took their water-bottles and set out. Aunt Moss took two jars of lime butter.

Uncle Elton was pleased to see them, and extremely pleased to see the lime butter. “Wonderful!” he said. “Excellent!” He gave Aunt Moss a kiss and thanked her.

“Why don’t we have a cup of lemon grass and aniseed tea and I’ll make some lime butter sandwiches?” he said.

Benson volunteered to hold the jar while Uncle Elton made the sandwiches but Uncle Elton said he could manage.

They were just about to sit down and try the sandwiches when a fleck of dust dropped onto the plate.

Uncle Elton looked up. “Look at that nasty, dirty spiderweb on the ceiling,” he said.

Everyone looked up except Benson who was keeping a firm eye on the sandwiches.

“I’ll just get the duster and get that down,” Uncle Elton said. He whisked the plate of sandwiches out of the way, onto the kitchen bench. Benson went over to watch them and make sure nothing happened to them.

Uncle Elton poked at the cobweb with the feather duster but it was too high to reach. He said, “Elmer, climb up on the table and see if you can reach it.”

Elmer climbed onto the table, but the spiderweb was still out of reach. “I know,” said Uncle Elton. He went outside and fetched the ladder, and set it up on top of the table.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Aunt Moss said.

“It’ll be fine,” Uncle Elton said. Elmer climbed to the top of the ladder, but he still couldn’t reach the spiderweb.

Uncle Elton said, “I know!” He got a stool and balanced it on top of the ladder.

“Elton, I don’t think that’s safe,” Benson’s mother said. Aunt Moss went pale and closed her eyes.

Uncle Elton said, “Don’t fuss, ladies! Elmer might not be as good a digger as Benson is, but he’s the best climber I know. Go on, Elmer, show them!”

Elmer went up the ladder and then he climbed onto the stool. Balancing carefully, he swept the spiderweb off the ceiling with the feather duster.

Uncle Elton clapped. “Well done, Elmer! See, I told you he was a great climber!”

Elmer was still standing on top of the stool balanced on the top of the ladder standing on the table. “Dad,” he said in a small voice, “I don’t think I can get down.”

“You’ll be fine,” his father said, but Elmer wasn’t. When he tried to get down, the stool wobbled and the ladder shifted and the table shook.

“Elmer, stand still!” Benson’s mother said quite sharply. She and Aunt Moss grabbed the legs of the ladder and held it firmly.

“I’ll come up and get you,” Uncle Elton said, but when he tried to get onto the table, the ladder jerked and the stool wobbled even more. Elmer gave a frightened sort of squeak and Uncle Elton got down again quickly.

Aunt Moss said thoughtfully, “This reminds me of an old riddle about an elephant.”

Benson’s mother said, “You mean, ‘How do you get an elephant out of a tree?'”

Benson knew that one. He said, “You make him sit on a leaf and wait until autumn.” He was taking very good care of the lime butter sandwiches.

Uncle Elton said, “This is no time for joking!”

Aunt Moss said, “No, I was thinking of ‘How do you get down off an elephant?'”

Benson’s mother said, “You don’t get down off an elephant, you get down off a duck.”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Aunt Moss said. “You don’t get down.”

Uncle Elton was wringing his hands. “But we don’t have any elephants or any ducks. How are we going to get Elmer down?”

“We’re not,” Benson’s mother said. “We’re going to get him up.” She pointed to the ceiling above Elmer’s head. “If you go outside and dig down from the top, you should be able to lift him out that way.”

Uncle Elton said, “But how will I know where to dig?”

Benson’s mother said, “If Elmer thumps on the ceiling with the handle of the feather duster, you should be able to hear it from outside. Try it, Elmer.”

Elmer hit the ceiling as hard as he could. It made a loud thump. “Good boy, Elmer!” his father said. “Keep on thumping, I’ll get you!”

He ran outside and ran back and forth, trying to hear where the thumping was loudest. When he found the spot, he started to dig.

Inside, bits of dirt and dust rained down on Elmer and everybody and everything. Benson decided that there was only one safe place for the lime butter sandwiches.

In a few minutes, a hole appeared in the ceiling, and in another minute Uncle Elton’s face popped through. “Dad!” shouted Elmer.

“Hang on, son, I’m nearly there!” Uncle Elton said. He made the hole bigger and bigger, until it was big enough to lift Elmer through. He reached in and pulled Elmer up out of the hole. “Got you!” he said. Everybody cheered.

When they were all inside again and the stool had been lifted down and the ladder, and all the dirt was swept up, Elmer said, “But what are we going to do about the hole in the ceiling?”

Uncle Elton said, “I think it’s a perfect place for a skylight, don’t you? Now, where are those sandwiches?”

Wombat Pizza

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’s friend Mick and his little sister Bonnie Lou came over to play, and Benson’s friend Roly was there too, and Benson’s mother said they could make a big pizza for lunch. She made some pizza dough and everyone had a turn rolling it out. Benson picked it up and tried to twirl it around to make it spread out into a big circle. He threw it up into the air and it came down splat on his face.

Mick and Bonnie Lou laughed. Benson’s mother peeled the dough off his face. It still had the shape of his nose and his ears in it.

“Look,” said Mick, “wombat pizza!”

Benson’s mother straightened it out and made it a nice circle. “Everyone can pick their favourite topping,” she said.

Mick said straight away, “Mushrooms.”

“I hate mushrooms!” Bonnie Lou said.

“That’s okay,” Benson’s mother said. “We’ll put mushrooms on one side and no mushrooms on the other. What are you going to have, Bonnie Lou?”

“Fairy floss and ice-cream,” Bonnie Lou said.

Mick said, “You can’t put ice-cream on a pizza. It will melt everywhere.”

“Well, sultanas and strawberry jam, then,” Bonnie Lou said.

Benson’s mother made a line across the middle of the pizza. “Roly, what’s your favourite topping?” she asked.

“Ants, of course,” he said. He had already been outside and collected some bull-ants in a cup. He tipped them out onto the pizza.

“Hey! Your ants are walking onto my side of the pizza!” Bonnie Lou said.

The ants spread out all over the pizza, and all over the table.

Benson’s mother thought that maybe one big pizza wasn’t such a good idea. “Everyone can have their own small pizza,” she said. She rolled the dough back up again and divided it into four balls and gave them one each.

They all tried to make a nice round pizza shape, but it wasn’t easy. Bonnie Lou’s was full of holes and Roly’s was fat at one end and not at the other, but Benson’s mother said it didn’t matter really. Benson made a kind of circle and put two triangles at the top on the sides. “These are going to be the ears,” he explained.

“What are you making?” his mother asked.

“A wombat pizza,” he said. He went to the cupboard and got some coconut and the chocolate sprinkles.

“Wait,” said his mother. “I’ve got an idea.” She put some of the coconut into a frying pan and cooked it until it turned brown and smelled delicious.

Benson said, “Perfect.” He spread cream cheese all over his pizza, and then he sprinkled brown coconut all over it. He thought it looked just like wombat fur. He used his fist to make a nose-sized dip in the middle, and he put the chocolate sprinkles in the dip.

Roly’s tongue shot out, zot, zot, zot-zot-zot-zot, and ate up all the sprinkles.

“Hey, stop that!” Benson said.

“Sorry, Benson,” Roly said. “They look so much like ants, I got carried away for a minute.”

Benson put some more sprinkles on where the nose was supposed to be.

Bonnie Lou was impressed. “It looks actually like a wombat,” she said.

“What about the eyes?” Mick said.

Benson got two cherries and squooshed them onto the pizza. “There!” he said.

“No, they’re the wrong colour,” Bonnie Lou said. “They should be brown.” She took the cherries off and gave them to Mick and he ate them. Then she got two big raisins and put them on Benson’s pizza instead.

“That’s good,” Benson said, “but it needs a mouth, a smiley mouth.”

“How about raspberries?” Bonnie Lou said.

“Good idea,” Benson said. He made a curvy row with the raspberries, and the wombat pizza was smiling.

Benson was very excited. “This is going to taste great,” he said.

“I want to make a wombat pizza too,” Bonnie Lou said.

“Me too,” Mick said, “but I’m putting mushrooms on mine.”

So Bonnie Lou made a wombat pizza with a sultana necklace and a strawberry-jam smile and chocolate buttons for eyes, and Mick made his with mushroom ears and broccoli eyes and chunks of cheese for teeth. Roly made an echidna pizza covered with grated carrot and zucchini, with chocolate sprinkles on top.

Benson’s mother put all the pizzas in the oven. After a while, when they started to smell amazing and they could tell they were done, she took them out and let them cool down a bit. Roly sprinkled ants on top of his because he said everything tastes better with ants, and they took them outside to eat them. They were the most delicious pizzas they had ever eaten.

The Little Koala and the Hailstorm

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

It was a hot summer’s day and everyone was outside. Aunt Lillibet was picking caterpillars off her rhubarb plants, Aunt Moss was practising her ukulele and Benson was digging. His mother put down the papers she was reading and looked up at the sky.

“It looks like there’s a storm coming,” she said. “I don’t like the look of those clouds.”

Benson looked at the clouds. They were heavy and dark purple, and moving very quickly.

Just then Pascoe, the story-teller, came bounding up. She was panting so hard she could hardly talk. “Big storm coming,” she panted. “Very bad. Big hailstones. Danger for everyone.”

Everyone knew that Pascoe remembered all the stories of thunderstorms and floods and fires for generations. If Pascoe said there was a dangerous storm coming, everyone listened.

Benson’s mother said, “I’ll go and warn Teresa and Mr Fenn straight away.” In a storm, lots of animals took refuge in wombat holes because they were safe places.

Pascoe nodded. “I’ll tell the possums to spread the word to the other animals,” she said. “There’s not much time.” She bounded away.

There was a great flash of lightning and a deep rumbling growl of thunder.

“My tomatoes!” Aunt Lillibet squeaked. “My beans!” She ran to the garden.

Benson’s mother said to him, “Go down to the back door and make sure it’s clear. If the storm is very bad, a lot of animals may need to come in for shelter. Then stay inside where it’s safe.” She hurried off.

Aunt Moss said, “I’ll start making sandwiches.”

Aunt Lillibet came up with her arms full of tomatoes and beans. “I’ll make a big pot of soup,” she said.

Benson went inside and went all the way down to the back door and cleared away the weeds and long grass. He could see the storm coming closer. The purple clouds had turned a weird green colour, and they were coming down very low. The thunder got louder and louder, and the lightning was so bright it hurt his eyes.

The wind was so strong that the trees and the bushes were swaying wildly. Benson saw an old gum tree in the bush start to lean over, and then it fell down with a crash. As it was falling, something small and grey dropped out of it. It was a young koala, not much bigger than a baby.

“Hey!” Benson shouted. “Come inside! There’s a storm coming!”

The baby koala didn’t know anything about storms or wombats. All he knew was that the sky was flashing and making big loud noises and he wanted his mother. When he saw Benson shouting and waving at him, he ran away as fast as he could.

There was a huge crash of thunder and big lumps of hail started to fall out of the sky. Benson could see that if one of the hailstones hit the little koala, he could be badly hurt. Someone had to go after him and bring him in to where it was safe. Benson looked around, but there was no-one there except himself. He ran out into the storm to get the koala.

The hailstones rained down on him so hard that it felt as if someone was throwing great big rocks at him. He could hear the koala screaming with fright. He ran towards him but as soon as he got close, the koala started to run back towards the trees again.

“No!” Benson shouted. His mother always told him to keep away from trees in a thunderstorm because that’s where lightning struck. He caught the koala’s hand and pulled him back, away from the trees. Heavy curtains of rain started to pour down, so heavy that Benson couldn’t see where to go. He put his arms over his head and shouted as loud as he could, “Help! Help!”

From a long way away he heard a voice. “Benson?”

“Help! Help!” he yelled with all his might.

“Benson!” the voice called, coming closer. “Where are you?”

“Here!” Benson shouted. “We’re over here!”

He kept shouting, and then he could see his mother running through the rain towards him, and her warm, strong arms wrapped around him. “This way!” she shouted. She picked up the baby koala with one hand, and they ran together through the rain and hail, with lightning flashing all around them. Then with a jump and a tumble they were safe inside the wombat hole.

Benson stood there, panting and dripping, and grinning from ear to ear. It felt so good to be in a safe, dry wombat hole. It was already crowded with lots of people Benson knew, Nils and Nella and their mother, and their smallest cousin, Wilbur, and lots of lots of little dunnarts. Pascoe was there too, eating soup and listening to everyone talking about how they were nearly caught in the storm and they only just made it to the wombat hole in time.

Benson’s mother got a blanket for the baby koala and they wrapped him up, safe and warm. Aunt Moss made a very big sandwich for Benson, and got some warm milk for the baby koala, but the koala kept crying for his mother.

Benson said, “Don’t cry. As soon as the storm is over we’ll go and find your mother.” But the little koala wouldn’t stop crying.

Pascoe picked up the baby koala and put him on her lap, and called all the little ones to sit in a circle. “It’s time for a story,” she said. “This is the story of the Little Koala and the Hailstorm. When everyone is sitting quietly, I’ll begin.” Everyone was very quiet. Even the baby koala stopped crying and looked at Pascoe to see what she was going to say.

Pascoe said, “It was a hot summer’s day, and everyone was outside. The little koala was in a big old gum tree with his mother, when suddenly a great wind shook the tree. The tree fell over and the little koala fell onto the ground. There were big flashes of lightning, and great big rocks made of ice were falling down out of the sky. But worst of all, there was a big, brown hairy monster shouting at the little koala. The koala tried to run away, but the monster grabbed him.”

Benson listened to the story, amazed. He didn’t remember a monster at all.

Pascoe kept telling the story. “The monster yelled and shouted, and then another monster, even bigger than the first one, came and picked the koala up. The koala was very frightened. He shut his eyes and cried and cried. The monsters took him to a deep, dark hole, and wrapped him up in a blanket. But the koala didn’t need to be frightened, because they weren’t bad monsters, they were nice, friendly wombats.”

Benson’s eyes opened wide. Did the little koala really think that he was a monster?

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was a big, soft, grey koala, looking very worried and upset. “Has anyone seen my baby?” she asked. Then she saw the little furry bundle snuggled up on Pascoe’s lap. “My baby!” she cried, and ran and gathered him up into her arms. “My baby,” she murmured softly. And the little koala smiled and hugged her as tightly as he could.

Our Wonderful Waterways

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.

Every year on Our Wonderful Waterways day, there was a big picnic for everyone down by the creek. Everyone brought their picnic blankets and they ate waffles and watermelon and watercress sandwiches, and they paddled and swam in the creek.

When they all got to the creek, it was deeper than Benson had ever seen it. There was white foam on top of the water in lots of places, and it was so noisy they could hardly hear themselves.

Benson’s mother was worried. She talked to all the other grown-ups. “We’ve had so much rain, the creek’s running really fast. It isn’t safe to swim.”

Everyone agreed. “No swimming, and no paddling,” they all said to the young ones. “It’s too dangerous.”

Mick said, “It looks fine to me. I could wade across easily.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “It may look all right, but when the water is running this strongly, it could knock you off your feet. I’ve seen it before, young wombats thinking it’s not that fast, and they take one step and then whoosh! They’re gone!”

“Gone?” said Bonnie Lou.

“Gone,” Aunt Lillibet nodded, “never to be seen again.”

All the children stepped back from the edge. Mick threw a stick in, just to be certain, and the water grabbed it and sucked it under in a second.

They put the picnic blankets under the trees a long way from the rushing water. While they were eating the waffles and the wild rice with wasabi, Benson felt something itchy on his leg. He looked down and there was a black, slimy thing like a finger made of mud on his leg. One end was stuck to his leg, and the other end was waving around in the air.

“You’ve got a leech on your leg,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Just flick it off.”

“Eeuywwh!” Mick said, moving back. “It’s slimy and ugghh!”

Arlette picked the leech off Benson’s leg. She waved it in front of Mick. “Look, a slimy, sucky leech,” she said.

Mick backed away. “Don’t put it on me!” he said.

Arlette followed him, waggling the leech. “It wants to suck your blood!” she said.

Mick turned and ran. Arlette chased after him, waving the leech. Her little sister Twiss was right where Mick was running, and he crashed into her. She fell over backwards, and toppled into the creek.

Arlette screamed. Everyone ran over. They yelled to Twiss to try to swim, but the water grabbed her and tumbled her over and over.

“Float on your back!” Benson’s mother shouted, but the noise of the water was too loud. Twiss struggled, trying to get her head out of the water, but it was too strong for her. She disappeared under the water.

“I’m going in after her,” Benson’s mother said. She turned to Zali’s mother, Teresa. “You’re the fastest,” she said. “Run and get Fenn, as fast as you can, and tell him to bring a rope.”

Teresa flew off, running as fast as the wind. Benson’s mother said to him, “Take care of Zip and Zali,” and then she jumped into the water.

Benson’s heart leapt into his mouth. Twiss was gone, out of sight, and his mother had jumped into the water. She was a strong swimmer but the creek was very deep and very fast. Benson just wanted to go after her and bring her back.

Aunt Lillibet said sharply, “Everyone away from the edge! We don’t want anyone else falling in! Benson, mind the little ones.”

Benson got Zali and Zip and held onto their hands tightly. He watched his mother swim across the creek to where Twiss had gone under. The power of the water crashed her against the rocks in the creek and dragged her back, but she kept going. She dived under the water, and Benson held his breath. He waited, hoping and hoping, and then he saw her head come up out of the water, and her arms, holding Twiss.

She turned on her back straight away, holding Twiss tight against her chest. She kept her feet up, to push away any sticks or rocks that got in the way. The rushing water pushed them along faster and faster, down the creek.

Then Mr Fenn came running up, with Teresa, carrying his strongest rope. They ran along the side of the creek until they found a place where the water was a bit quieter. “Over here!” Mr Fenn shouted to Benson’s mother. She started to swim towards the spot, holding Twiss tightly with one arm.

Teresa and Uncle Elton held on to one end of the rope, and Mr Fenn took the other end and waded into the water as far as he dared. The water snatched and shoved at him, trying to push him over, but he used his claws to grab on to the rocks in the bottom of the creek.

Little by little, Benson’s mother swam closer. Mr Fenn threw the rope and she caught it and held it tight. Then Mr Fenn started to pull. Uncle Elton and Teresa pulled too, as hard as they could. The water pulled back and Benson’s mother nearly let go of the slippery rope, but Mr Fenn pulled harder and then they were safe, with Mr Fenn’s strong arms around them.

Twiss was okay, once they gave her a good rub-down with a blanket and wrapped her up warmly. Benson kept holding Zip and Zali’s hands to make sure they didn’t get near the water, until Teresa came over and picked them both up and hugged them.

Benson’s mother was dripping with creek water but Benson didn’t care. He hugged her as tight as he could, and then Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss hugged her, and then Mr Fenn hugged her and then everyone hugged Twiss and Uncle Elton hugged everyone. When finally all the hugging was over, they all sat under the trees together, a long way from the water, and ate walnut and white chocolate muffins and the rest of the watermelon, and talked about the creek and how happy they were that everyone was safe, until they all felt much better.

Benson said to his mother on the way home, “Jumping into the creek was very brave, wasn’t it? But I wasn’t proud of you, I was just frightened.”

“Twiss was the brave one, I think,” his mother said. “She didn’t panic, she just held on, and she was even more scared than I was.”

“Were you scared?” Benson asked, surprised.

“Really, really scared,” his mother said.

Benson thought about that. Then he stopped and gave her a very special hug.

Ronda, or Getting Old

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

Benson’s mother went to a meeting called the Community Association every month, and she usually took Benson with her. At the meeting they talked about the most boring things Benson could think of, like how many garbage bins there should be at the park and whether the fire safety sign needed to be bigger. Benson usually took a book to read.

One time he finished his book before the meeting ended. He looked around for something to do. Everyone was discussing whether they should have a roster for weeding the garden outside the library – boring. He looked at the person next to him. She looked as bored as he was. She was kind of grey all over, with dull grey eyes. She never said anything, and no-one ever said anything to her.

Benson said, “Hello.”

She looked around, as if she couldn’t believe he could be talking to her.

Benson said, “I’m Benson.”

She just stared at him, shocked that someone was talking to her.

Benson said, “This is pretty boring, isn’t it?”

She said in a kind of rusty voice, “Hello.”

Benson thought that was a good start. “What’s your name?”

“Ronda,” she said.

“It’s a very nice day, isn’t it, Aunty Ronda?” Benson said. He knew that it was good manners to call older ladies Aunty, and he knew it was good manners to talk about the weather.

Ronda said, “Yes.”

Benson was running out of things to say. “What do you like to do?” he asked.

Ronda said, “Nothing much.” Benson was just about to say all the things he liked to do, swimming in the creek, riding his bike, drawing, digging big holes, digging little holes, eating, when Ronda said, “I used to work in a shop when I was younger.”

Benson said, “Like a supermarket? Or a cake shop?”

“Not that kind of shop,” she said. “It was a motorcycle shop.”

Benson was rapt. “You used to sell motorbikes?”

“Not so much sell them,” she said. “I used to repair them, and re-build the engines to make them more powerful.”

Benson’s eyes sparkled. “Motorbike engines? Powerful?” He asked her about how fast they could go, and what was the biggest one she had ever made and how many spanners she had and all sorts of cool stuff. The meeting kept going, but neither of them paid any attention to it.

Benson said, “Why did you stop working there?” He couldn’t imagine any reason why someone would give up such a brilliant job.

“I got too old,” Ronda said.

“Too old?” he said. “How did you know you were too old?” He imagined looking at himself in the mirror and discovering that he was old. “Did you feel old? Did you get all wrinkly and needed someone to hold your arm so you could walk?”

She said, “It’s the way people look at you. They look at you like they think you’re too old to do things any more.”

“What people?” Benson asked.

“Oh, just people,” Ronda said.

Benson felt very sad for her, being too old to do something she loved. The meeting ended and he said goodbye, and then he said, “I’m sorry you’re so old.”

A few days later he was at the playground, when a black shiny motorbike came roaring up. The rider took off her helmet which was black with red flames painted on the sides, and Benson could see it was Ronda inside.

“Would you like to come for a ride, Benson?” she said.

“Would I!” Benson said. He ran and asked his mother and she said yes, and he ran back to the bike. Ronda gave him her spare helmet and he climbed on the back of the bike. They sped off in a cloud of petrol and flying dirt.

They roared down the track. The wind blew Benson’s ears flat inside the helmet, and made all his hair lie down. It was like flying, except much noisier and bumpier. Benson loved it.

When they came back, Ronda did a big skid in the dirt and stones flew up everywhere. Benson climbed down and straightened his ears up again and said thank you. He said, “Can I have a ride again another day, if you’re not too old?”

Ronda laughed and said yes, and zoomed off.

Mick and Alejandro and Ralph and Arlette all crowded around Benson. “Who was that? Was that a real motorbike? Can we have a turn?” they demanded.

Benson said proudly, “That’s Ronda. She’s an old friend.”

Simple Things

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’s mother asked him to take some things over to his cousin Lance’s place. “Lance has a Very Special Friend coming for lunch, and he needs some mushrooms and oranges.”

Benson took the mushrooms and a big bag of oranges to Lance’s. Everything was extremely clean and tidy. There was a beautiful table-cloth on the table, and Lance’s best plates and glasses, and there was some screechy violin music playing.

Benson said, “Everything looks very tidy!”

Lance said, “My friend, Wilma, is coming for lunch, and I want everything to be nice for her.”

“What are you having for dessert?” Benson asked. “Is it oranges?” Dessert was his favourite part of lunch.

Lance said, “No, the oranges are for ambience.”

“Ambience? Like if someone has to go to hospital?” Benson said.

“Not ambulance, AMBIENCE,” Lance said. “I’m going to scrape bits of orange skin off and put it in my spray gun and spray the air with it, so even the air will smell delicious!”

Benson wasn’t so sure. He thought eating the oranges would be more delicious. “What are you going to do with the mushrooms?”

Lance said, “I’m going to make mushroom dust to sprinkle on the milk-thistle custard tarts I made.” He opened the bag of mushrooms, and his face fell. “Oh no! They’re the wrong colour! ” he said,

Benson peered into the bag. “What’s wrong with them?”

“They’re too white! They need to be off-white, to go with the zucchini foam.” He looked at his watch. “If I hurry, I can pick some more and be back before she gets here.” He grabbed a basket and raced off.

Benson sat down to wait. He wondered if cousin Lance would miss one of the oranges. Then he heard a knock at the door.

When he opened the door, there was a very pretty wombat outside. She had red eyelashes, and shiny diamond sparkles on her fingernails. “Hello, I’m Wilma,” she said. “Is Lance here?”

Benson said, “He had to go and get some mushrooms. I’m Benson.”

Wilma said, “I’m a bit early. I didn’t want to get lost – I’ve never been to a place like this before, way out in the country.”

Benson didn’t know what he should talk about to a pretty wombat with red eyelashes, so he said, “Would you like something to eat?”

“That would be lovely,” Wilma said.

Benson looked around the kitchen. “Um, the only thing I know how to make is damper,” he said. “Cousin Lance showed me once.”

“Damper?” said Wilma. “What’s that?”

Benson said,”I’ll show you.” He got out Lance’s biggest bowl and tipped in some flour. He put in a pinch of salt and some butter.

Wilma was looking at Lance’s shelves, stacked full of shiny equipment. “Which machine are you going to use?” she said.

“You don’t need a machine,” Benson said, “you just use your fingers.” He showed her how to rub the butter into the flour with her fingertips until it was all mixed in.

“Now we add the water,” he said.

“How much water?” Wilma said.

“Just enough,” Benson said. “Sometimes it’s a bit more, it just depends. If I put in too much water, I just add some more flour.”

He mixed in some water and stirred the dough until it made a nice doughy blob. He plopped the dough onto an oven tray and patted it down into a nice flat circle. “There,” he said.

“Is that all?” Wilma asked.

“No, you have to cook it first,” Benson said.

They put the tray into the oven. “Now we wait,” Benson said. He looked at the table that Lance had made so beautiful. He didn’t want to make a mess on it. “I know,” he said, “let’s eat it outside.”

“Can you do that?” Wilma asked.

“Sure,” Benson said. He got Lance’s picnic blanket and they put it under the big ironbark tree near the orange jasmine bushes. Wilma sniffed the air suspiciously. “What’s that smell?” she said.

Benson sniffed. “It’s just the bush and the flowers, and the eucalyptus smell from the gum trees.”

Wilma sniffed again and breathed in deeply. “I like it,” she said.

Then she stopped suddenly and looked worried. “What’s that noise?” she said.

“That’s just magpies singing,” Benson said, “and some lorikeets chatting to each other. It’s just birds, don’t worry.”

Benson was getting a bit thirsty with all this work. He had an idea. “Do you like orange juice?” he asked Wilma.

“Yes, have you got some?” she asked.

“We can make some,” he said.

They went inside and got the orange squeezer and cut the oranges in half and squeezed the juice into two plastic cups Benson found in the cupboard. “This is the best orange juice I’ve ever had,” Wilma said.

When the damper was done, Wilma got it carefully out of the hot oven. Benson tapped it on the top, and then he tapped it on the bottom. “That’s how you can tell if it’s cooked,” he told Wilma. “It’s perfect.”

Wilma cut two big pieces of damper. Benson got the golden syrup and two spoons. “Why do we need two spoons?” Wilma asked.

“So we can do this,” Benson said. He dipped one spoon into the golden syrup and trickled it in swirly patterns on top of his piece of damper. Then he put the spoon in his mouth and licked it clean. It was delicious.

They took their damper and their orange juice outside and ate it under the ironbark tree. It was just about all gone when Lance came running up.

“Wilma!” he said. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here when you got here!”

“That’s okay,” Wilma said. “Benson’s been looking after me. We made damper, and orange juice.”

“Damper?” said Lance. He thought of all the trouble he’d gone to, to make a special lunch for her. He looked at the old picnic blanket, and the cups Benson had put the orange juice in.

“It was lovely!” Wilma said. “Everything here is lovely.” She looked around and sighed. “I could live here forever!” she said.

“Really?” Lance said. “I was going to ask you about that.”

Benson decided it was time to leave them alone together, so he thoughtfully took the last piece of damper and set off for home.

The Strawberry Ladder

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 went over to his friend Mick’s place to play one day. They were playing outside with Mick’s sister Bonnie Lou, when they heard a noise in the bush like someone crying. They all went into the bush to find out who was making the noise.

They saw a lyre-bird standing there crying, and in front of her was a big old goanna. The reason the lyre-bird was crying was that the goanna had taken the lyre-bird’s egg out of her nest and he was just about it eat it.

“Don’t, you mean old goanna!” Bonnie Lou shouted. “Put that egg down!”

The goanna laughed. “Why should I?” he said. “I’m hungry, and this egg looks delicious.”

The lyre-bird cried, “Please give me back my egg! It’s the only one I have.”

The goanna said, “Now let me think. What would make me give you back this egg? Hmm.” He had a nasty yellow eye, and a nasty flicking forked tongue.

“I know,” said the goanna. “I’ve always wanted a ladder to make it easy for me to pick my strawberries. If you get me a strawberry ladder, I might give you this egg.”

“But – ” Benson started to say, but Bonnie Lou jumped up straight away.

“I’ll get you one, just wait!” she said, and she ran off.

The goanna grinned. “Nothing in her head but dust,” he said. He opened his mouth ready to crush the lyre-bird’s egg.

“Wait!” cried the lyre-bird. “Please don’t eat my egg!”

The goanna said, “Hmm, let me see. What might make me give you back this egg?” His nasty yellow eye-lid flickered over his beady eye. “I know,” he said. “If I had a big glass of turtle milk, it might be so delicious that I wouldn’t want this egg.”

“I’ll get you some,” said Mick. “Just don’t eat the egg.”

Benson said, “But turtles – ” but Mick had already run off.

The goanna chuckled. “Not even half a brain between the two of them,” he said. He flickered his nasty tongue over the egg and opened his mouth full of nasty yellow teeth, ready to take a bite of the egg.

“Oh, please don’t eat my egg!” cried the lyre-bird.

The goanna stopped and looked sneaky. “You know,” he said, “what I’d really like is a nice fresh kangaroo egg. A big juicy kangaroo egg would be better than an old lyre-bird’s egg any day.”

Benson said, “As a matter of fact, I just happen to have one right here in my pouch.”

“No!” said the goanna. “You can’t have!”

“If you don’t believe me, why don’t you come and look?” Benson said.

“A real kangaroo egg?” said the goanna.

“Uh huh,” Benson nodded. “Right here in my pouch.”

“Let me see,” said the greedy old goanna. He dropped the lyre-bird’s egg and waddled over to Benson.

As soon as the goanna let go of the egg, the lyre-bird ran and grabbed it and carried it back to her nest and sat on it.

The goanna was too busy looking all over Benson to notice. “Where’s your pouch, then?” he asked.

Benson laughed. “Nothing in his head but fresh air!” he said.

The goanna growled and swung his nasty tail to smack Benson but just then Mick and Bonnie Lou came running back with their mother. She had a big bucket of cold water, and she threw it over the old goanna. “Go away and stop frightening the children!” she shouted at him.

“Arrrk!” yowled the goanna. He was soaking wet, from head to toe. He waddled away into the bush as fast as his legs would carry him.

Zali’s Rock Garden

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

Aunt Moss got out her paints and sat down at the table ready to do some painting.

Benson said, “Can I do some painting too?”

Aunt Moss said that he could, and Benson said, “Do you want me to get some paper to paint on?”

“I’m not painting on paper today,” Aunt Moss said. “I’m going to paint these nice little rocks. Your friend Zali is making a rock garden, and I thought it would be nice to paint some special rocks for her, to make her garden look nice.”

Benson said, “Why would you paint rocks?”

Aunt Moss showed him some of the rocks she had. “See how this one is smooth and round? It reminds me of a wombat, so I’m going to paint it to look like a little wombat. And this one is square around the edges, so I’m going to paint it like a little car.”

“Okay,” Benson said. He sat down and started painting.

After a while Aunt Moss said, “What are you doing, dear?”

He said, “I’m painting this rock.” He had painted a rock brown and grey. It looked like a rock.

Aunt Moss said, “Oh. I think it’s more interesting if we paint the rocks to look like something else.” She showed him the rock she had painted to look like a wombat. It was brown all over, with a tiny black dot for an eye, and tiny black claws. “See?”

“Okay,” Benson said. He painted his rock green all over instead.

Aunt Moss said, “What are you painting this time?”

He said, “It’s a green rock.”

Aunt Moss sighed. She took Benson’s green rock and painted black lines back and forth across it. “Isn’t this more interesting?” she said.

“It looks like a turtle!” Benson said.

“That’s right,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson took another rock and painted it white all over.

“What is that, dear? A white rock?” Aunt Moss asked.

“It’s an egg,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss took the white rock and painted a face on it.

Benson said, “Why did you paint a face on my egg?”

She said, “I thought it would be more fun this way. Besides, what if an animal saw your rock and thought it was an egg and tried to eat it?”

Benson rubbed out the face, then he drew a zigzag line down the middle of the rock to look like a crack and painted a very small dinosaur popping out of the crack. “No-one would want to eat it now,” he said.

He took another rock and painted it red all over.

Aunt Moss said, “What if someone thinks that’s a ball and throws it at someone else?”

Benson said, “I haven’t finished yet.” He painted a sign on the red rock that said, ‘This is not a ball, it’s a rock.’

When the paint was dry, they took all the rocks over to Zali’s place.

“Oh, they’re lovely,” said Zali’s mother. “Benson, why don’t you take them outside and give them to Zali? She’s in her rock garden.”

Benson went to find Zali. She was sitting beside a pile of rocks, staring at something. “Hi, Zali,” he said.

“Shhhh!” Zali said, still staring.

Benson looked to see what she was staring at. There was something scaly under the rocks, that slithered a bit. “A snake!” he yelled. He grabbed Zali’s hand and tried to pull her away.

“Shhh!” Zali said, pulling her hand back. She pointed at the rocks.

Benson looked closer. The scaly thing lifted up its head and poked out a long blue tongue.

“Oh, it’s a blue-tongue!” he said, very relieved. He sat down next to Zali to watch.

The big, fat lizard scratched a bit under the rocks, and snapped up an insect.

Zali smiled. “Lizard,” she said. She poked her tongue out and in again.

Benson said, “Well, Uncle Lizard, I’ve brought you some things to play with.” He put the painted rocks on the ground in front of the lizard. “This one is a little car, and this is a tiny little wombat, and this is a kind of turtle and this is an egg but I wouldn’t eat it if I were you.”

Zali picked up the red rock and went to throw it. “NO, Zali!” Benson said. “It’s not a ball. See? It says right here.”

Then Zali tried to bite it. Benson said, “It’s not a tomato either.” He took the rock and rubbed it in the dirt to get the red paint off. “It’s just a rock,” he said.

Zali smiled and put it in the rock garden for the lizard. The lizard poked out his tongue to smell the rock, and then he went back to sleep. Zali picked up the tiny little wombat rock and gave it a kiss and put it in her pocket.

Turning Left

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

One day Aunt Lillibet said to Benson, “I want to make some cheese and herb scones, but I need some wild mint. I want you to go pick some for me – it will only take five minutes. There’s a great big patch out under the muntry bushes beside the big rock.”

“What big rock?” Benson said.

“The big rock shaped like a bear lying down, you know!” said Aunt Lillibet. “We’ve been there dozens of times!” She was in a hurry. Benson’s mother was bringing a friend home for lunch and Aunt Lillibet had promised to make scones, but she had been reading a very exciting story about rabbits and had forgotten the time. “Hurry up, now!” she said to Benson.

“I don’t know where the rock is,” he said.

“You just go down the track to the first crossing and turn left and keep going,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson put on his hat and took a basket for the mint and set off. He went down the track and when he came to the first crossroad he turned left. He knew it was left because that was the hand he didn’t draw with.

He went along and then he came to another crossroad. He said to himself, “Aunt Lillibet said keep going so that means keep turning left,” and he turned left. He went along and after a while he came to another crossroad, and he turned left again.

He saw lots of rocks but none of them were very big and none of them were shaped like bears. One was shaped like a tea-pot, and lots of them were shaped like rocks.

After a while he came to another crossing and he turned left again. He went along a bit more and there was his house!

Benson was astonished. “How did that get there?” he said.

He went inside and there was Aunt Lillibet, waiting impatiently. “Well, where’s the mint?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Benson said. “I turned left, like you said, but I couldn’t find any rock shaped like a bear. I saw one shaped like a tea-pot – was that it?”

“Of course not!” said Aunt Lillibet. “You just weren’t looking! Go back and look properly this time. It’s a big rock shaped like a bear – you can’t miss it!”

Benson set off again. He went slowly along the track, looking as hard as he could. He found a lizard that was shaped like a leaf, and a leaf that was shaped like a fan, and an ant hill that looked exactly like an ant hill, but no rocks that looked like bears, or lions, or tigers.

He kept turning left like before, and he ended up back home again. He went inside and said to Aunt Lillibet, “I couldn’t find it. Maybe someone moved it.”

“You’re just being silly,” she said. “Who could move a great big rock like that?”

“I don’t know,” said Benson. “A great big strong giant with a great big spade?”

“What am I going to do without any mint?” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said, “I looked really hard, like you said, but there wasn’t any mint anywhere. All I could find was a patch of nasturtiums, and some dandelions, and some mulberries.” He showed her his basket, overflowing with orange nasturtiums and bright yellow dandelions and purple mulberries.

Aunt Lillibet was quite pleased to see what Benson had gathered. She stopped being angry and they set to work. Aunt Lillibet made dandelion salad and nasturtium jelly and Benson washed the mulberries and put them in a nice bowl.

When Benson’s mother came home with her friend, they said, “Nasturtium jelly! How unusual!” but everyone ate it and it tasted just fine.

The Bushranger

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 when Benson was just finishing his breakfast – chopped carrot and lemongrass and sweet potato – his mother said, “Benson, I wanted to make some bread this morning but there’s no wattle seed left. Would you mind going and collecting some for me, please?”

Benson got a bag for the wattle seed and set off. He took an apple with him for a snack in case he got hungry.

He went along the track where the best wattle trees were, and he collected a whole bag full of seeds. Then he set off for home again. He was just thinking about eating his apple when he heard a voice say, “Stand and deliver!”

The voice came from high up in a big old gum tree.

“What do you mean?” Benson said. “Deliver what?”

“That’s what bushrangers say,” said the voice. “It means give me your apple.”

It was actually a very nice Pink Lady apple, and Benson didn’t see why he should give it to someone who didn’t even say please. “It’s my apple,” he said. “Get your own.”

The voice said, “Throw it up into the tree, or else!”

Benson said, “Or else what?”

All of a sudden a big gumnut flew down out of the tree and hit Benson on the nose. “Ow!” he said. Another gumnut hit him on the ear, and two more hit his back. “Ow! Stop it!” he shouted.

“I’ll stop if you give me your apple,” the voice said.

Benson threw his apple up into the tree. He heard the voice say, “Got it!” and then there was a crunching sound and a “Mmmm, yummy,” and then Benson heard someone scamper off through the branches of the tree.

“You meanie!” he shouted.

He walked all the way home, very upset.

“A bushranger took my apple,” he said to his mother.

“What?” she said.

“A bushranger in a gum tree,” Benson said. “He threw big sharp gumnuts at me and made me give him my apple. See?” He showed his mother the bump on his nose where the gumnut had hit him.

“We’ll see about that,” said his mother, taking off her apron. “Come on!”

They went back to the place on the track where the gum tree with the bushranger was, but there was no sign of anyone.

“Hmm,” said Benson’s mother. “Let’s go home. I’ve got an idea.”

The next morning they set off again. Benson took another apple, and his mother took a big green honeydew melon.

When they got to the tree, a voice said, “Stand and deliver!” just like the day before.

Benson shouted, “You’re not getting my apple this time!”

The voice said, “Give me that apple, or you know what will happen.”

Benson’s mother stepped under the tree and called, “Oh, Mr Bushranger, are you sure you don’t want this lovely big green apple instead? It’s much bigger than that little apple.”

The voice said, “Throw it up into the tree.”

Benson’s mother threw the melon up into the tree. The voice said, “Got it!” and then, “Uh-oh.”

There was a lot of crashing, and a possum clutching a big honeydew melon fell out of the tree and landed on the ground in front of Benson and his mother,.

“You’re a very naughty possum,” Benson’s mother said, “and I’m telling your mother!”

She took him by the fur at the back of his neck and marched him straight off to tell his mother what he’d been doing. His mother was very angry with him, and made him go straight to bed. For the whole next week he had to help his mother take food to other animals that didn’t have enough to eat.

On the way home, Benson said to his mother, “Bushranging is just stealing, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is,” she said, “and hurting people so you can steal from them is even worse.”

Benson felt the end of his nose and nodded.

How Many Ducks?

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.

As the summer days grew longer, Benson and his family decided to go on a camping trip with some other families. At the camping ground, they built a big camp fire and cooked corn and potatoes and damper with golden syrup, and made a big stew full of sweet potatoes and carrots and lentils. When everyone was as full as they could possibly be, they all sat around the camp fire, watching the flames and putting sticks on now and then.

Mr Fenn started to sing old folk songs about shearers and bushrangers, and everyone joined in. Aunt Lillibet sang a song about heather and thyme that nobody knew and everyone listened politely until she was finished.

Alejandro went to sleep and Bonnie Lou was going to sleep too, snuggled up against her mother. Benson was wondering if there were any potatoes that everyone had overlooked, somewhere among the coals. Mr Fenn said, “Does anyone know any good riddles?”

Benson knew lots of riddles, but he could never remember the answers.

Roly whispered to him, “What are riddles?”

Benson said, “You know, tricky questions, with tricky answers. Like, why did the chicken cross the road?”

“To get to the other side?” Roly said.

“That’s right!” Benson said. “You’re really good at this!”

Mr Fenn said, “I’ll start. The best riddle wins the last piece of damper. Are you ready? What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?”

Mick said, “A woolly jumper.” Mick was good at riddles. He remembered all the answers. “My turn,” he said. “What do you get if you cross a kangaroo with an elephant?”

“Great big holes all over the country,” Mr Fenn said.

Everybody laughed and Bonnie Lou woke up. She said, “Can I have a turn? What do you call an echidna that’s afraid of ants? An eek-chidna.”

Mr Fenn laughed and asked her, “How do you know the ocean is friendly? Because it waves to you.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I know an old riddle that my mother used to ask. ‘Two ducks behind a duck, two ducks in front of a duck, and a duck in the middle. How many ducks?”

“Seven,” Mick said straight away.

“Six?” said Bonnie Lou.

“In the middle of what?” said Benson.

“It’s seven, definitely,” said Mick. “Two and one and two and one and one, that’s seven.”

Aunt Lillibet shook her head. “No, it’s not seven.”

Mick got some stones and started lining them up and counting in his head.

“Is is ducks doing ballet?” Bonnie Lou asked hopefully.

“Five!” shouted Mick, waking everyone up. “It’s five, look!” He had five stones lined up. “Two ducks in front of the middle one, and two ducks behind the middle one, and the middle one. One, two, three, four, five!”

“That’s very good, Mick,” said Benson’s mother, but Aunt Lillibet shook her head.

“No, that’s not the answer,” she said.

Mick said, “Yes it is! It must be!”

Benson didn’t really care. Ducks in woolly jumpers were crossing the road inside his head, making him sleepy. Next to him, Roly said quietly, “It’s not five.”

Benson woke up, and said more loudly than he meant, “It’s not five.”

Mick jumped on him and sat on his head. “How would you know?”

Benson wrestled with Mick for a minute until he could get his face free, and then he said, “I don’t know, but Roly does.”

Roly didn’t want to say anything in case Mick jumped on him next, but Mr Fenn said, “What do you think it is, Roly?”

Roly said, “I think it’s three.”

Mick laughed. “How could it be three? Can’t you even count?”

But Mr Fenn said, “Show us what you think, Roly.”

Roly got Bonnie Lou to sit in front of Benson, and then he got Mick to sit behind Benson. “Look,” he said. “Mick and Benson are in front of Bonnie Lou, that’s two in front of one, and Benson and Mick are behind Bonnie Lou, that’s two behind one, and Benson is in the middle. Three.”

Mick looked, and counted, and looked again. He changed places with Benson and counted again until a big smile spread over his face. “It is three!” he said. He said to Roly, “That’s really smart.”

Aunt Lillibet nodded. “Three is the right answer. I think Roly should get the last piece of damper.”

Roly was very pleased. “I think we should share it,” he said. “Who wants to share it with me?”

“Me!” said Mick.

“Me!” said Benson.

“And me!” said Bonnie Lou. And they all did.

Ken and Kenny

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

Benson was lying on his back in the sun, in the sunny spot just outside the front door when he heard a kind of scritching noise. He opened his eyes and there were two bush turkeys scratching around in Aunt Lillibet’s garden.

He got up and went over. “Hi,” he said. “What are you two doing?”

The bush turkeys stopped and looked at him. “You’re not him,” they said, and went back to scratching. Two of Aunt Lillibet’s carrot seedlings came out of the ground and went flying.

“I’m not who?” Benson said. He watched them dig up a baby potato. “You’d better stop doing that,” he said, “or Aunt Lillibet will be mad.”

“Is she the one?” the first turkey said.

“What one?” Benson said.

One of the turkeys said, “I’m Ken and this is Kenny. We want to see the big wombat.”

“Yeah,” said the other turkey. “We want to see the big wombat.” The turkeys went back to scratching. Another carrot seedling and a young tomato plant flew out of the ground.

“What big wombat?” Benson said. “Mr Fenn?”

“No, not him,” said one of the turkeys, Ken or Kenny. They both looked exactly the same and Benson couldn’t tell them apart.

The other turkey said, “We saw this sign up on the road that had a picture of a wombat with “1 km” underneath. That’s a really big wombat, one kilometre long. We want to see the big wombat.”

Benson thought. “I think that means that there are wombats for the next one kilometre,” he said.

Ken and Kenny looked around. “Do you see that many wombats?” one of them said.

The other one said, “Nah, just this one. That can’t be right.”

The first turkey, Kenny or Ken, said, “No, show us the really big wombat, the one that’s one kilometre long.”

Benson said, “But there isn’t one.”

The turkeys paid no attention to him. They kept scratching around in the garden. They dug up a whole row of leeks and Aunt Lillibet’s favourite rhubarb plant.

Benson went inside and got Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Lillibet got the broom and went outside. “Shoo, you turkeys!” she said. “Get out of my garden!”

The turkeys shooed, but not very far. When Aunt Lillibet whooshed Ken, or Kenny, with the broom, Kenny, or Ken, scooted around behind her and went back to the garden. When she swished Kenny, or Ken, the other one nipped back into the garden.

“We’re not leaving until we see the big wombat,” Ken said, or Kenny.

“All right, then,” said Aunt Lillibet. The turkeys stopped scratching and waited.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, you go and wake up the big wombat, but be careful. You know how she gets cranky when you wake her up.”

Ken and Kenny got closer together, feeling a bit worried.

Aunt Lillibet whispered to Benson. Benson nodded and scampered off.

Aunt Lillibet said to Ken and Kenny, “Come on, then, but you’d better not get too close. She doesn’t like turkeys, and she hates anyone messing up her garden.”

The turkeys followed her around to the back door of the wombat hole. “See?” said Aunt Lillibet. Aunt Moss’s back legs were sticking out of the back door, waggling. All the turkeys could see was the back half of a wombat.

“Now come up to the other end,” Aunt Lillibet said. The turkeys followed her up to the front door. Benson’s mother put her head out and growled in a very fierce voice, “Who’s been digging up my garden?”

The turkeys looked at Aunt Moss’s legs way down at the back door, and Benson’s mother’s head, all the way up at the front door, and they grabbed each other in fright.

“That’s the biggest wombat I’ve ever seen!” said Ken, or Kenny.

“Let’s get out of here!” said Kenny, or Ken, and they ran off as fast as they could go.

The Quandong Tree

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 was making himself a sandwich with macadamia butter and celery and lettuce. He took it outside to sit in the sunshine where his friend Roly was zotting ants with his speedy tongue. Nils and Nella, the twin possums, came racing up.

“The quandongs on the big tree are ripe,” they shouted. “We’re going up to get some. Do you want to come?”

The big quandong tree was very special. Every year everyone waited for the fruit to be ripe and then they went and ate as much as they possibly could, and carried home as much as they could possibly carry.

“Sure,” said Benson, “as soon as I finish my sandwich.”

Nils and Nella looked at the delicious sandwich. “Can we share your sandwich?” they asked.

Benson considered. “You can have half,” he said.

Quick as a flash, the sandwich was gone.

“Hey, where’s my sandwich gone?” Benson asked.

Nils and Nella looked everywhere. “I don’t know,” said Nils. “We only had half.”

“You both had half,” Roly said. “A sandwich only has two halves.”

“How do you know?” Nils said. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?”

Benson said firmly, “He is smart.”

He went inside and quietly made another sandwich, but this time he ate it in the kitchen. He asked his mother if he could go with Nils and Nella.

His mother thought that was a good idea. “If you bring some back, I’ll make quandong ice-cream.”

Everyone loved quandong ice-cream.

His mother gave him a big bag to put the quandongs in. Benson got his hat and his water-bottle, and they all set off.

There was so much fruit on the big quandong tree that the branches were weighed right down. Benson and Roly ate the ones that had fallen on the ground, and Nils and Nella roamed all over the tree, stuffing themselves with quandongs until they were so full they fell out of the tree.

Benson filled up the bag his mother had given him and they set off for home.

When they came to the creek, Nella said, “I’m too full to swim. Benson, can you carry me over?”

Nils said, “Me too! Can you carry me too?”

The creek wasn’t very deep so Benson could wade over easily, but he couldn’t carry two possums full of quandongs at the same time. He said, “I’ll carry Nella over first, and then I’ll come back for Nils.”

He put the bag of quandongs down and picked Nella up. Straight away, Nils opened the bag and started eating the quandongs.

“Hey!” Benson said. He dropped Nella and grabbed the bag away from Nils. “I’m taking these home to make ice-cream, remember?”

Nils said, “Sorry, I forgot.”

“I think I’d better take you first,” Benson said.

He picked Nils up and stepped into the creek. In a second, Nella opened the bag and started eating the quandongs.

“Hey!” Benson shouted. He dropped Nils and grabbed the bag away from Nella. “What are you doing?”

“Sorry,” Nella said. “I couldn’t help it.”

Benson said, “I think I’d better take the bag over first.”

He picked up the bag of quandongs and carried it safely across the creek and came back. “Okay,” he said, “now I’ll take Nella over.” He picked up Nella and then he stopped. If he left Nella on the other side of the creek with the quandongs while he came back to get Nils, he knew for an absolute fact that there wouldn’t be one quandong left by the time he carried Nils across. They would all be in Nella’s tummy. And if he took Nils across, it would be just as bad. The quandongs would end up in Nils’s tummy.

He looked at the possums and they looked at him. They looked across the creek at the bag of quandongs. Benson could see them getting hungrier.

He turned to Roly. “Do you have any ideas?” he said.

Roly said, “Can I whisper?”

Benson whispered, “Why do you want to whisper?”

Roly whispered, “I don’t want Nils to say that I think I’m smart again.”

“There’s no use pretending you’re not smart,” Benson said. “Everyone knows you’re really clever.” He said in a loud voice, “Roly’s got an idea.”

Roly went pink.

Nils said, “Roly always thinks he’s so smart,” but Benson looked very hard at him and he stopped and muttered, “Sorry, Roly.”

Roly said, “You should take Nils over first.”

“Yes!” said Nils.

“But he’ll eat all the quandongs,” Benson said. He didn’t think it was such a good idea.

Roly said, “Not if you bring the bag of quandongs back with you. Then you leave the bag here with me and you take Nella over, and then you come back and get the bag of quandongs.”

Benson thought it over. A smile spread over his face. “That’s a great idea!” he said. “How did you think of it?”

“Oh, I read it in a book somewhere,” Roly said.

“There’s only one thing,” Benson said. “How will you get over the creek?”

“Easy, I’ll just swim over,” Roly said, and he did.

Everyone got across the creek safely, including all the quandongs. There were enough to make heaps of quandong ice cream, and everyone had plenty. It was delicious.

Going South

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.

It was a very hot summer, so hot that Benson spent day after day inside because it was too hot to play outside or ride his bike or even to dig. Even deep inside the wombat hole it was too hot to do anything.

Benson’s mother was sick of cooking and cleaning and doing the washing. “It’s too hot for all this work,” she said. “I’m taking a holiday. Let’s go away somewhere,” she said to Benson.

“How about we go to the beach?” Benson said.

“No, it’s too hot for the beach,” his mother said. “The sand would burn our feet, and there would be crowds of people.”

“How about going to the mountains?” he said.

“No, it’s too hot to climb all that way,” his mother said. “I know. Let’s go south.”

She packed some things into a bag, and they both got their hats and their water-bottles and said goodbye to Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and set off.

They walked and walked a long way through the bush, for a long time. They came to a valley filled with tall, tall trees with smooth, white bark. “Is this south?” Benson asked.

“No,” said his mother, “not yet.”

They kept walking, through deep forests and thick bush, along tracks that Benson had never seen before. They came to a wide, smooth, shining lake. “Is this south?” Benson asked.

“No, not yet,” his mother said.

They kept on walking, up hills and down into valleys and up hills on the other side. Benson started to get very tired. All this walking was making him hotter than he had been at home. They saw some mountains in the distance, with a covering of white snow on the very top. “Is this south?” he asked.

“No, not yet,” his mother said.

They kept on walking. Benson’s feet were tired, and his water-bottle was nearly empty. He was just about to say that he thought going south was a bad idea when they came to a great wide sea. Cold blue waves washed against the shore and stretched away as far as he could see. He stood and stared. “Is this south?” he asked.

“Nearly,” his mother said.

They got into a big boat and sailed over the huge waves, up and down. Benson started to get very cold. “Is this south?” he asked, his teeth chattering.

“Just about,” his mother said.

Then they came to a place where giant mountains of ice rose out of the sea, and enormous blocks of ice bobbed in the water around them. Snow started to fall, like fluffy white rain. Benson gazed around, catching flakes of snow on his tongue and shivering. A penguin slid down the side of an ice hill and plopped into the water.

“Is this south?” Benson asked.

“Yes,” said his mother, “this is south.” She opened the bag and got out their warm, puffy jackets, their scarves and their woolly hats.

“Beautiful,” she smiled, looking around. “Now this is what I call going on holidays.”