Benson at the Lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson said, “Can I touch it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ginger Toes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson got the vinegar out of the cupboard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goldilocks and the Three Koalas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonnie Lou said, “What’s a bear?”

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

“What’s a cottage?” asked Alejandro.

“Just a house,” said Benson.

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

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

“What’s porridge?” asked Bonnie Lou.

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

“Go on,” Mick said.

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

“What?” said Bonnie Lou.

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

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

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

“That’s very rude!” said Mick.

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

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

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

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

“Did she hurt herself?” asked Bonnie Lou.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Porridge?” asked his mother.

Everyone nodded.

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

Wasp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is it feeling better?” his mother asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That should do it!” she said.

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

Benson peeped over the edge of the blankets. “What are you going to do?” he said.

“I’m going to go outside and deal with the wasps’ nest,” she said.

She picked up all the things, the mop and the broom and the insect spray and everything.

Benson could see that she probably needed a hand to carry everything. He took a deep breath. “Do you need me to help?” he said in a small wobbly voice.

His mother helped him put on long pants and socks and a long-sleeved shirt and his dressing gown over the top in case, and his gumboots and a scarf pulled up over his face, and a pair of washing-up gloves and a hat with an insect net and then they were ready.

They went outside. Benson’s mother found the wasps’ nest underneath the wheelbarrow. She sprayed it a fair bit and then they ran back inside while the wasps flew away.

They waited till the very last wasp had flown away.

Benson’s mother said, “A wasp can give you a very nasty sting.”

“Yes,” said Benson, feeling his nose.

They had some pomegranate and molasses tea, and then Benson went to see what he could use to make some oars with.

Playing Possum

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

One day Benson was making a sandwich – spinach and parsnip – when Aunt Moss came out of her room, limping.

“Did you hurt your leg, Aunt Moss?” asked Benson.

“I might have twisted my ankle,” Aunt Moss said.

“Which ankle did you hurt?” Benson asked.

“I can’t remember,” said Aunt Moss. She sat down looking embarrassed. “Actually my ankle is fine. It’s just that Lillibet wants me to go to a concert with her, and I thought that if I said my ankle was sore, I wouldn’t have to go.”

“Why don’t you want to go?” Benson asked.

Aunt Moss said, “It’s a concert with strings and wind instruments. That means boxes with vines stretched across them, and hollowed-out gourds that you blow into. I just hate it!”

Benson said, “Why don’t you tell Aunt Lillibet you don’t want to go?”

“Oh no!” said Aunt Moss. “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

Benson said, “Why don’t you go anyway? There’s probably afternoon tea after the concert.”

Aunt Moss said, “I just can’t bear it. The strings are twangy and screechy and all out of the tune, and the gourds sound like a cow mooing down a vacuum cleaner hose.”

Benson thought it sounded kind of interesting. He started thinking of the noises he could make if he hollowed out a big pumpkin or a snake gourd or a watermelon. Boom, boom, bam, whoonk, hooonk!

Aunt Moss said, “I think I’ll sit here and pretend I’m asleep. Then she’ll have to leave without me.”

She leant back and shut her eyes.

Aunt Lillibet came out with her going-out hat on. “Come along, Moss,” she said, “it’s time to go.”

Aunt Moss lay still, with her eyes closed.

“Wake up, Moss,” said Aunt Lillibet. “We don’t want to be late.”

Aunt Moss gave a little pretend snore.

“Moss!” said Aunt Lillibet loudly. She gave her a little prod. “Wake up!”

Aunt Moss snored louder.

Aunt Lillibet shook her by the shoulder and said, “Moss! Wake up!” loudly.

Aunt Moss squeezed her eyes very tight and snored hard.

Aunt Lillibet put her lips right up to Aunt Moss’s ear and shouted, “Wake up!”

Aunt Moss jumped and her eyes opened wide. “There’s no need to shout, Lillibet,” she said.

“Hurry up, we’re going to be late,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson stepped up. He said, “Aunt Lillibet, Aunt Moss doesn’t really want to go to the concert.”

“Why not?” Aunt Lillibet said. “Are you too tired, Moss?”

Aunt Moss said in a small voice, “I’m sorry, Lillibet. I just don’t like the music.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Aunt Lillibet said. “I could have asked Elton or Shelley instead. You’re such a silly, Moss. I must go or I’ll be late.”

Aunt Lillibet hurried off.

Benson went into the kitchen and came back with a big spoon.

“What are you doing, Benson?” Aunt Moss asked.

Benson said, “I’m going to get the biggest pumpkin I can find and scoop all the insides out and make a big drum or a honk-a-phone – whoonk, bam, bam! Boom, boom, moooo!”

Aunt Moss said weakly, “I think I’ll lie down and take a nap.”

How to Sew on a Button

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

One morning Benson got out of bed and had a big yawn and a big stretch and one of the buttons on his pyjamas popped off.

He went out to the kitchen where his mother and Aunt Moss were eating breakfast.

He said, “My button came off.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh, we can fix that easily. If you would bring me my needles and thread and scissors, please, Benson, we’ll have your button back on in no time!”

Benson brought Aunt Moss’s needles and thread and scissors. His mother said, “Aunt Moss, why don’t you let Benson sew the button back on? You could show him what to do, and he could do it himself. A young wombat needs to know how to sew a button on, don’t you think?”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh yes!” So they set to work. First there was threading the needle, which took a long time because the hole in the needle was very small and the thread was wobbly. When they got that done, they had to tie a knot in the thread and that was hard because the thread was slippery and the knot either made itself in the middle of the thread or it didn’t make itself at all.

Then they needed to find Aunt Moss’s glasses and then they were ready to start. Aunt Moss did the explaining and Benson did the sewing. The first time he put the knot in the wrong place so they had to start again, but after that it wasn’t hard at all. He sewed through the pyjamas and up through one hole in the button, and then down through the other hole in the button and through the pyjamas again, up and down, up and down, until the button was nice and tight. Then they made a knot so the thread wouldn’t come undone, and cut off the rest of the thread.

“There!” Benson said. He was quite proud of himself.

Aunt Moss said, “Well done!” Then she noticed something. “Oh dear,” she said. “When you were sewing the button onto your pyjamas, you accidentally sewed it onto my dressing-gown as well.” Benson looked. The button and the pyjamas were sewn firmly onto Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown.

They got the scissors and snipped through the thread, and then they had to start again sewing the button onto Benson’s pyjamas. This time Aunt Moss did the sewing.

“There!” she said.

Benson looked, and said, “That’s very nice, Aunt Moss, but you’ve sewn the button onto your dressing-gown instead of my pyjamas.”

“Oh, dear, how did that happen?” Aunt Moss said, getting flustered.

Benson’s mother came over. “Can I help?” she said.

“Oh, yes, please,” said Aunt Moss. Benson’s mother snipped the button off, and they started again. Benson did some of the sewing and his mother did the knot and the snipping and Aunt Moss supervised.

“There!” said Benson’s mother.

Benson held up the pyjamas. This time his pyjamas were sewn to Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown and the button was sewn to the table-cloth.

“Oops!” said Benson’s mother. “We’d better sort that out.” She snipped the button off and snipped the pyjamas away from the dressing-gown and they started again. This time Aunt Moss did the sewing and Benson’s mother did the knots and Benson supervised. When they were finished, the table-cloth was sewn to Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown, the dressing-gown was sewn to Benson’s pyjamas, and the button and the pyjamas were both sewn onto Benson’s mother’s dress.

Aunt Lillibet came out and looked at them, all sewn together. “What on earth are you doing?” she said.

“We’re having a sewing bee,” Benson’s mother said.

“You’re having a sewing catastrophe!” Aunt Lillibet said.

She got Aunt Moss’s scissors and went snip, snip, snip. Then she got the needle and thread and sewed six swift stitches.

“There!” she said. The table-cloth was back on the table, Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown wasn’t sewn to anything, Benson’s mother’s dress was fine again, and the button was back on Benson’s pyjamas.

Then she said, “Oh. Benson, I think I may have accidentally cut a hole in your pyjamas.”

She was right. There was a great big hole in the front of the pyjamas.

“Never mind,” she said. “We can easily sew a button over that. Benson, would you like to help? Every young wombat should know how to sew on a button!”

Shadow Puppets

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

One night there was a big storm with thunder and lightning. Benson was reading in bed when the lights went out. He got out of bed and got his torch from his shelves and turned it on.

His mother called from the lounge room, “Benson, could you bring your torch out here, please? Aunt Moss has dropped her sewing needle, and the batteries in Aunt Lillibet’s torch are flat.”

Benson went out to the lounge room, lighting the way with his torch. His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss were sitting together in the dark.

When Aunt Moss saw the light from Benson’s torch, she said, “Oh, that’s better!”

“Bring the torch over here, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said. She didn’t like thunder and lightning either. The thunder got louder, and the lightning was so bright that it made the torch seem very small.

Benson’s mother said, “Do you remember when you were very little, Benson, and we used to make shadows on the wall with a torch?”

“I can do bunnies,” Aunt Moss said, in a quavery voice.

Benson held the torch, and Aunt Moss put two fingers up and scrunched up the other fingers, and held her hand in front of the torch. A big shadow of a bunny jumped up on the wall. Aunt Moss wriggled her fingers, and the bunny wriggled its ears.

“Bunnies, hmphh,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I can do a bull-dog.” Aunt Lillibet made a complicated shape with her fist and held it up in front of the torch, and a big shadow of a dog jumped up on the wall and chased the bunny shadow. There was a big crash of thunder and the bunny and the bulldog both jumped.

Benson’s mother said, “Watch out for the crocodile!” She made a big crocodile shadow with both hands. It snapped at the bulldog, and made the bunny run away.

Then Benson had a turn and made a kind of duck, and Aunt Moss made a butterfly. Aunt Lillibet turned her bulldog into a swan and then she made an eagle with giant flapping wings. Everyone forgot about the thunder and the lightning until Benson’s mother said, “Listen! I think the storm is over.”

Everyone listened. There was some gentle rain, but no more thunder or lightning. Benson knew his mother was going to say he should go back to bed now, so he said, “What are shadows made of?”

Everyone thought for a minute. Aunt Lillibet said, “They’re not made of anything. They’re where the light isn’t.”

“Like when you put your hand on a rock, and then you spray paint on it and you take your hand away and there’s a shape of your hand on the rock,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson said. “So light is like paint.”

“No,” Benson’s mother said. “Light lets you see things. Like sunlight. When the sun’s shining you can see everything. It’s darkness that covers it up.”

“So darkness is like paint,” Benson said. “And light washes it away.”

“No,” said Benson’s mother. “Paint is like paint. Light makes it easier to see things. The less light there is, the harder it is to see things. Which reminds me, did you find your needle, Moss?”

Aunt Lillibet lifted up her bottom a little bit. “I found it,” she said. She gave the needle back to Aunt Moss.

Benson was still thinking of good questions. He said, “Then why does the torch make it easier to see shadows?”

Benson’s mother said, “I think it’s time for bed, Benson.”

Benson got up slowly and said goodnight to everyone. When he got to the door, he turned around and said, “But what’s lightning made of? And why can you see it in the daytime sometimes?”

His mother said, “That’s a question for tomorrow. Now it’s time for bed.”

Benson got into bed, and imagined painting swirls of light and shadows all over his room until he went to sleep.

Infinity

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

Benson was reading a book about science.

He asked his mother, “What does infinity mean?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I know what infinity is. My mother’s auntie used to have a big pot of soup on the stove, cooking away all day every day, all year round. Whenever she had any leftover vegetables or scraps from the garden, celery leaves or turnip tops, old wrinkly mushrooms or bendy carrots, she’d put them in the soup pot. Every now and then she’d add some more water and some salt. Whenever we went to visit, we had soup from this soup pot. I think she had soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day. That’s infinity, a never-ending pot of soup.”

Aunt Moss said, “It’s like yoghurt. You take a little yoghurt and you mix it into a bowl of milk and let it sit in a warmish place, and in no time you’ve got a bowl of yoghurt. When you start to run out, you take some of the yoghurt and mix it into another bowl of milk, leave it for a while in warmish place and you have more yoghurt. Yoghurt comes from yoghurt. If you keep making it, it never runs out. That’s infinity.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Infinity backwards is chickens and eggs. You can’t have eggs without chickens to lay them, and you can’t have chickens without eggs for them to come from.”

Benson was starting to get the idea. “Is it the same with wombats?” he said. “You can’t have baby wombats without mother wombats, and you can’t have mother wombats unless they were baby wombats once?”

He imagined a long, long line of wombats and joeys stretching back and back, with chickens and eggs all around them, in a big puddle of yoghurt.

“Is everything infinity?” he asked. “Like leaves and trees. The leaves fall off the trees and turn into dirt and compost and that makes the tree grow so it makes more leaves that fall off and make compost and dirt and make the trees grow and make more leaves…” Now there was a whole forest in his imagination, with trees full of chickens eating soup.

“And water,” he said. “The creek fills up with water when it rains, and after a while the water in the creek dries up and goes up into the clouds and then it rains and the water goes into the creek and then it dries up and goes into the clouds and then it rains again…”

Aunt Moss said, “Benson dear, my head is going around. Would you mind stopping?”

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, show me where you were reading.”

Benson showed her the page, and she said, “That’s not ‘infinity’, that’s ‘infinitely’. As in ‘I love you infinitely’.”

She saw the look in Benson’s eye that meant he was going to ask another question that was going to make Aunt Moss’s head spin, so she said, “That means I love you more than anything and I’ll love you forever and forever, forwards and backwards, more than all the chickens and all the water in all the creeks in the world.”

Benson smiled. “I love you infinitely too.” Then he said to Aunt Lillibet, “Does your auntie still have that pot of soup?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “She went to the shops one day and my uncle forgot to add more water and the soup burned a hole right through the bottom of the pot and that was the end of it.”

“So it wasn’t completely infinite, then?” Benson said.

“Infinite enough,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson said to his mother, “Can we have soup for lunch? And eggs? And yoghurt?”

And they did.

The Eagle

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

One day it was so sunny and warm that everyone decided to have a picnic. They went to a big clearing with lots of shady trees for the mothers to sit and chat, and lots of space for everyone else to dig and play. Benson’s friend Mick and his friend Zali were there, and Zali’s baby sister, Zip, and their mother, Teresa. They had mint and carrot paste sandwiches, and potato chips and corn fritters for lunch, then the mothers sat in the shade and talked with Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss, while Benson and Mick played races.

They raced up and down to see who was the fastest. Mick won every time. After a while Benson didn’t want to play any more. It was no fun losing every time. He went off to be by himself for a while.

A bit further on from the trees there was a giant rock, up against a big hill. Benson thought it would be great to be on top of the giant rock, higher than everybody else, but it was way too big to climb. Even the hill was too steep to climb. He started to dig a bit in the bushes at the bottom of the rock, and he found something very interesting.

Behind a clump of bushes, there was a hole. Benson dug a bit, and he found that the hole was the beginning of a tunnel. He dug a bit more, and he found that the tunnel was actually an old wombat hole. Some of the dirt inside had fallen down, but he soon dug that out. The tunnel led down into the dark and then around and along and up and before you know it, it came out at a hole at the other end, at the top of the giant rock!

Benson clambered out onto the rock. He could see for miles around. He could see down into the clearing where Zali was eating watermelon with Mick in the sunshine. He could see Aunt Moss snoozing against a tree. He could see his mother talking to Aunt Lillibet and Zali’s mum, Teresa, and Zali’s baby sister Zip nosing about in the grass nearby. He shouted, “Hey, everyone, I’m up here!” but no-one paid him any attention.

He picked up a stone and threw it down towards them. It hit Mick on the head, and he said, “Ow!” loudly. Benson threw another stone. Mick didn’t know where the stones were coming from, but Benson’s mother looked up and saw him.

“How did you get up there?” she called.

“It’s a secret,” Benson said.

Aunt Lillibet looked up at Benson and she looked at the hill. She said, “I know how he got up there. There’s a secret tunnel.” She got up, and Benson’s mother and Mick went over to the bottom of the rock with her.

“Now, just around here somewhere,” she said, “there’s an opening.” She looked behind the bushes until she found it. “Here it is,” she said.

“How did you know there was a tunnel here?” Benson’s mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I remember we used to play here when we were young. My brother Lionel dug this tunnel so he could climb up onto the rock. He used to throw stones down at us, too.”

Lillibet went first and they all climbed up the tunnel and came out on the rock.

“Cool!” said Mick.

“This is amazing!” Benson’s mother said.

“What’s that?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What? Where?” Benson’s mother said.

“Up there,” said Aunt Lillibet. “I think it’s an eagle.” She pointed to a black dot in the sky, which was getting bigger and bigger as it came towards them.

“Oh no!” Benson’s mother said. They could all see Zali and her mother and Aunt Moss sitting in the shade, and baby Zip toddling around in the middle of the clearing, investigating a butterfly. Benson’s mother shouted as loudly as she could but Aunt Moss and Zali’s mum Teresa were too busy talking to hear them.

“Quickly, everyone, get back into the tunnel and stay there!” Benson’s mother said. “I’ll go down and warn them.” She sped down the secret tunnel. When she got to the bottom she ran over to Teresa and Aunt Moss, shouting.

“It’s an eagle!” she shouted.

“An eagle!” said Teresa, jumping up. “You and Moss take care of Zali. I’ve got to get Zip.” She set off running into the middle of the clearing to get Zip.

Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother got Zali over to the tunnel and safely inside. Aunt Lillibet and Benson were at the top of the tunnel, peeping out to see what was happening. They could see Teresa speeding across the grass, calling to little Zip, but Zip was staring at the butterfly, half-asleep.

The eagle came lower and lower, flying in circles, closer and closer.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Teresa’s fast, but she’s not going to make it.”

Zali’s mother ran faster than Benson had ever seen a wombat run. She grabbed baby Zip and pushed her into her pouch, just as the eagle started to dive.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Now, Benson!”

Benson ran out onto the top of the rock and waved his arms and shouted. He did a little dance, and jumped up and down.

The eagle saw Benson on the top of the rock, a nice plump little wombat. He changed direction and started to dive towards Benson. Benson waited until the very last minute, then he jumped back into the safe darkness of the tunnel. The eagle came zooming down, but when Benson disappeared, it suddenly stopped, wondering where he had got to. It flew in circles around the rock, hunting for him.

Benson and Aunt Lillibet kept perfectly still, and perfectly quiet.

After a while the eagle gave up and flew over the clearing, searching for Zali’s mother and Zip, but they were hidden safely inside the tunnel. After a long time of hunting, it flew off into the sky.

Everyone stayed in the tunnel for a long time, making sure that the eagle was gone. Then they all came out into the sunshine.

“Well done, everybody!” Benson’s mother said. “Benson, that was a very brave thing to do.”

Benson said, “It was Aunt Lillibet’s idea. She told me what to do and I did it.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “My brother Lionel used to do exactly the same thing when he was a young wombat. I think it’s probably the same eagle.”

Everyone was very pleased that no-one had been eaten by the eagle. They walked home together, talking and laughing. Benson said to his mother, “I’m going to practise running. I want to be as fast as Zali’s mum one day.”

“I think that’s a very good idea,” said his mother.

Colours

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

One evening while they were eating dinner, Aunt Lillibet was looking around the room in a thoughtful kind of way.

“You know,” she said, “I think this room would do with a new coat of paint.”

“Oh no,” said Benson’s mother, “not again!”

Aunt Moss said, “It’s not that long since last time you painted it, Lillibet dear.”

“Oh, it’s ages ago,” Aunt Lillibet said. “It really needs freshening up.”

“What colour will it be this time?” Benson asked.

“The same as it is now,” Aunt Lillibet said. “A nice neutral colour goes with everything. Last time we discussed colours over and over, and this was the best we came up with.”

“Oh yes,” Aunt Moss said. “I remember trying to decide on a colour last time. I wanted green, and you wanted white, Lillibet.”

“I wanted orange, didn’t I?” said Benson. Orange was Benson’s favourite colour.

“Yes,” Benson’s mother said. “But I was never happy with this colour.” She looked around the room. The walls were a kind of pale brown-grey beige, like a very dirty old bone. She put her head on one side, considering. “What about blue this time?” she said.

“Oh yes,” said Aunt Moss. “A lovely greeny tealy blue like my dressing-gown.”

“No, no, no,” said Aunt Lillibet. “In a room like this you need a very pale blue, nearly white, otherwise it will make the room seem much smaller than it is.”

Benson’s mother said, “I was thinking of a deep purpley blue, almost like blueberries.”

Benson said, “What about orange?”

“No, not orange,” everyone said together.

They went on talking about colours while Benson washed the dishes, read his book, and had a bath. They were still talking about it when he kissed his mother goodnight and went to bed.

In the morning he woke up early, and he had a great idea. He got out his paints and set to work.

A while later his mother came out to get breakfast. “Benson!” she shrieked. “What have you done?”

Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss rushed out to see what was wrong.

“Oh my goodness!” said Aunt Moss.

“Benson, that was very naughty of you,” said Aunt Lillibet said.

The wall behind the table was painted in big wide stripes in all different colours, pale blue, dark purpley blue, green, white, yellow, red, and orange. The orange stripe was a bit wider than the other stripes.

Aunt Lillibet said sternly, “You’ll have to clean it all off, and then I think you should spend the rest of the day in your room.”

“I was only trying to help,” Benson said. “Aunt Moss said that you can’t really tell what a colour will look like until you see it on the wall.”

“Benson, this is not really what I meant,” Aunt Moss said.

“Wait a minute,” said Benson’s mother. “You know, I like this green. It’s very calming.”

“I know what you mean,” said Aunt Lillibet. “But I think it’s got too much blue in it – it looks cold.”

Aunt Moss said, “I love this red! It’s so bright and cheerful.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “No, it’s much too bright. Imagine coming out to have breakfast every morning with this colour red on the walls! But this yellow would be fine, it were a lot lighter.”

Benson said, “What about this nice orange?”

“No, not orange,” everyone said. “It’s too bright, and too loud, and too… orange.”

Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet and Benson’s mother started talking about the colours that Benson had painted on the wall. After a while Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, go and get your paints again.”

Benson got his paints, and Aunt Lillibet mixed some white with some blue and painted another stripe on the wall. “Too light,” Benson’s mother said. “It looks like a dead jellyfish.” She got the blue and the red and mixed up a bright purple.

“Too purple!” Aunt Lillibet said. “I would have to wear my sunglasses inside.”

Aunt Moss mixed a little bit of blue into a big blob of yellow and painted a greeny yellowy stripe. “Ugh, horrible!” everyone said. “It looks like a mouldy turtle.”

Benson gave up and got himself a banana and read his book. They kept on talking about colours, and trying different ones on the wall.

“This one’s too green!” Aunt Lillibet said, “like someone has squashed peas on the wall.” She had a spot on her nose and her fingers were green like long beans.

“And that one’s too white, “ said Aunt Moss. “I’d feel as if I were living in a refrigerator.” She was waving her brush around and getting spots on the floor and on Benson’s mother.

After a while Benson went outside and dug a big tunnel under the clothes-line and out the other side. He put a little chimney at one end, and a verandah at the other end. It took a long time, and when he went inside again, they were still talking about what colour to paint the room. All the walls were covered in stripes of every colour he could think of.

He made a sandwich and looked around. “I like it like this, with all these colours” he said. “It’s bright and calming and cheerful and relaxing and interesting. Especially the orange.”

Everyone stopped talking and looked at all the stripes. Then they said together, “Not orange!” and went back to discussing.

Storytelling

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

One evening at bedtime, Benson said to his mother, “Can you tell me a story?”

“I’d love to,” said his mother. She tucked Benson up into bed and started.

“Once upon a time there was a prince who wanted to marry a princess. The trouble was, it was very hard to find a true princess. Whenever he met a girl that he thought was a true princess, his mother would say, ‘This girl is not a true princess. Her long golden hair is really brown hair that she has dyed.’ Or ‘That girl is not a true princess. She doesn’t know how to curtsy properly.’ Or ‘A true princess would not have such big feet.’

“The prince began to think that he would never find a true princess. Then one dark and stormy night, there was a knock at the door.”

Just then Aunt Lillibet came into Benson’s room and said to Benson’s mother, “Moss is having problems with her knitting. She’s dropped seven stitches and there’s a big hole. Could you come and help her, please?”

Benson’s mother said, “I was just in the middle of telling Benson a story.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Oh I can do that. Where were you up to?”

Benson’s mother said, “I just got to the part where there was a knock at the door.”

“I know that story,” Aunt Lillibet said. Benson’s mother got up and went to help Aunt Moss. Aunt Lillibet sat down beside the bed and began.

“There was a knock at the door, and the big bad wolf said, ‘Little pig, little pig, let me come in!’ The little pig said, ‘No, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin, I will not let you in!’ The wolf said, ‘Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll BLOW your house in!’ And he huffed, and he puffed, and he BLEW the little pig’s house in, and he ate up the first little pig.

“Next he went to the house that the second little pig had built out of sticks, and he knocked at the door and said…”

Just then Aunt Moss came into Benson’s room. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said, “but I seem to have lost one of the pages of my knitting pattern. I think it may be in your room, Lillibet. Would you mind having a look for it?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I was just up to the exciting part of the story. The big bad wolf was knocking at the door.”

Aunt Moss said, “I know what happens next. Let me tell it.”

Aunt Lillibet got up and went to look for Aunt Moss’s knitting pattern. Aunt Moss sat down and began. “The big bad wolf knocked at the door and the grandmother called out, ‘Who is it?’ The wolf said in a little girl voice, ‘It’s Little Red Riding Hood. I’ve brought you a basket with a little pot of butter, some blackberry jam and a fresh sultana cake.’ The grandmother said, ‘Lift the latch and come in.’ The big bad wolf lifted the latch and came in. He saw the grandmother lying in the bed and he sprang on her and gobbled her up in one bite! Then he put on the grandmother’s spare nightie and her night cap and got into bed.”

Benson was feeling a bit confused, but he loved the story. He snuggled down further in his bed.

Aunt Moss went on, “Soon Little Red Riding Hood came to the grandmother’s house and she knocked at the door. ‘Who is it?’ the wolf said in a grandmothery sort of voice. ‘It’s me, Little Red Riding Hood,’ said Little Red Riding Hood. ‘I’ve brought you a basket with a little pot of butter, some blackberry jam and a fresh sultana cake.’ The wolf said in his grandmother voice, ‘Lift the latch and come in.’ Red Riding Hood came in and she went up to the grandmother’s bed…”

Just then Benson’s mother came into the room, and said, “Moss, we’ve found the pattern so you can go back to your knitting if you like. I’ll finish the story.”

“Thank you, dear,” Aunt Moss said. “I was just up to the part where the girl comes up to the bed…”

“Oh, I know where you’re up to,” Benson’s mother said. She sat down beside the Benson’s bed, and Aunt Moss went out to do her knitting.

Benson’s mother said, “Are you enjoying the story, Benson?”

“It’s very exciting,” Benson said.

Benson’s mother said, “So the girl came up to the bed, which had twenty-three mattresses piled on top of each other. The prince’s mother said, ‘I hope you sleep well,’ but she had secretly hidden a pea under the bottom mattress, and the girl tossed and turned all night, because she could feel the tiny pea all the way through all the mattresses. In the morning the queen and the prince came to wake her up and she said, ‘I didn’t sleep a wink all night. There was something wrong with the bed…’”

Just then Aunt Moss came in again. “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but somehow I’ve got the wool all tangled up, and Lillibet says she needs help untangling it and I seem to be making everything worse. Would you mind giving Lillibet a hand? I can go on with the story if you like.”

Benson’s mother got up. “I was just up to the part where the girl thinks there is something wrong with the bed.”

“Oh, this is my favourite part,” said Aunt Moss. Benson’s mother went out to help Aunt Lillibet, and Aunt Moss sat down beside Benson and went on, “Little Red Riding Hood knew at once that there was something wrong, and she said, ‘Oh Grandmother, what big eyes you have!’ The wolf said, ‘All the better to see you with, my dear.’ Little Red Riding Hood said, ‘Oh Grandmother, what a big nose you have!’ The wolf said, ‘All the better to smell you with, my dear.’

“Then Little Red Riding Hood said, ‘Oh Grandmother, what big TEETH you have!’ The wolf said, ‘All the better to EAT you with, my dear!’ And he sprang up…”

Just then Aunt Lillibet came back into the room. “Moss, we’ve got all the knots untangled. You can go on with your knitting. I’ll finish the story.”

Aunt Moss said, “Thankyou, Lillibet dear, that’s very good of you. We were just up to the most exciting part of the story. The wolf sprang up…”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Oh yes, I know what happens next.”

Aunt Moss went out, and Aunt Lillibet sat down beside Benson. He could hardly wait to hear what happened next. She said, “The wolf sprang up onto the roof and jumped down the chimney. But the little pig had a huge cauldron of water boiling on the fire and the wolf fell into it and was killed at once.”

Just then Benson’s mother came in, with Aunt Moss. “We both wanted to hear the end of the story,” she said. “Did you tell him the part where the prince finds that the girl is a true princess?”

Aunt Moss said, “Don’t you mean the part where the woodcutter kills the wolf and rescues Little Red Riding Hood?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “No, it’s the third little pig who kills the wolf.”

Benson’s mother looked at Aunt Moss, and Aunt Moss looked at Aunt Lillibet, and they all looked at Benson. Benson smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I know exactly what happens in the end. The princess and the prince and Little Red Riding Hood and the little pig all live happily ever after!”

Mick and Zali

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

It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and Benson and his mother went to the playground. His friend Zali was there, sitting in the sandpit, and Benson went over and said hi and started playing with her. Benson’s mother and Zali’s mother sat down on one of the parent seats and started talking.

Benson always liked playing with Zali because she didn’t really talk, so he could say anything he liked, and she didn’t really dig so he could do everything the way he wanted. He dug a hole all around her, and then he made a wall around her and pretended she was a lion trapped in a cage and he was coming to rescue her. He swooshed the wall over with his feet and Zali laughed.

Then he built a really big wall and poked his fingers through one at a time like monster fingers, and Zali laughed and laughed.

Benson’s friend, Mick, came riding up on his bike. “Hi Benson,” he said. “Let’s go play on the slippery-slide.”

Benson was in the middle of building the biggest wall ever. “I’m doing something right now,” he said. “I’ll come in a minute.”

Mick said, “Why do you want to play with that big baby?”

Benson said, “Zali’s not a baby.”

Mick said, “She acts like one.”

Benson suddenly got really angry. He gave Mick a big push and shouted at him.

Mick pushed him back and they both fell over, and starting rolling around on the ground fighting.

The mothers came running over.

“Benson! Stop that right now!” his mother said.

Benson didn’t stop. He pushed Mick’s head down on the ground and sat on it.

His mother grabbed him and pulled him away. “Stop it!’ she said very firmly.

Zali was crying, and Mick was crying and his glasses were crooked.

Benson felt really bad. He was still feeling angry at Mick, and he was angry that now he was in trouble and it wasn’t his fault, and he was angry because he had hurt his friend Mick.

His mother said, “Say sorry to Mick at once!”

“I’m not sorry!” Benson yelled, and stomped off to the other end of the playground.

Zali’s mother looked after Zali, and Benson’s mother made sure Mick wasn’t hurt, and gave him a drink of water and straightened his glasses out. Mick got back on his bike and went home. Zali’s mother took her home too.

Benson’s mother went over to where he was sitting. She sat down beside him and said, “Tell me what happened.”

Benson told her everything that had happened. He felt angry and upset, and he felt terrible about fighting with his friend Mick.

His mother said, “You shouldn’t have hit Mick,”

Benson said, “He was mean to Zali, and she’s my friend.”

“Mick’s your friend, too,” his mother said, “and Zali was frightened and upset.”

Benson felt more and more terrible. “What should I do?” he said.

“Well the first thing you should do is say sorry to Mick for hitting him. Hurting someone is a very bad way of making them do what you want. And you have to make sure Zali is okay.”

Benson didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to say sorry to someone when he didn’t feel sorry.

On the way home they went to Zali’s place and he gave Zali a hug and said sorry to her for making her upset. Zali hugged him back. She liked hugging.

When they got home, Benson went to his room and lay down on his bed, but that didn’t help. He went outside and did some digging. Digging always made him feel better, and helped him think.

At dinner time he still didn’t know what to do. After dinner he got out his pencils and started drawing. He drew a picture of himself and Zali holding hands, and then he drew Mick holding his other hand. Then he drew a picture of Mick and Zali holding hands. Then he knew what to do.

The next day he rode his bike over the Mick’s house. “I’m sorry about fighting yesterday.”

Mick looked at the ground and didn’t say anything.

Benson said, “You shouldn’t have said that about Zali, but I shouldn’t have punched you anyway.”

Mick still looked at the ground. Benson kept trying. “My friend Zali is coming over to my place to play. Do you want to come and play too? My mum’s making jelly-bean cupcakes.”

Mick nodded. He said, “Sorry about what I said yesterday.”

Benson said, “That’s okay.”

They both rode their bikes back to Benson’s place and ate jelly-bean cupcakes and played with Zali all afternoon.

Giraffes and Geraniums

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

One day Benson spent the morning making a skipping rope and practising his skipping. It was very tiring work, and after a while he came in and made himself a sandwich with celery and macadamia butter.

Aunt Moss came into the kitchen and he said, “Aunt Moss, would you like me to make you a sandwich too?”

“No, thank you, Benson,” Aunt Moss said. “I’m just going to Bernice’s to get some geranium cuttings so we can grow our own geraniums. Would you like to come too?”

Benson remembered that Aunt Moss’s friend Bernice made excellent ginger brownies. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll bring my sandwich and eat it on the way.”

On the way to Bernice’s, they went past Nils and Nella’s place. Nils and Nella were playing in the big gum tree in their front yard. Benson waved to them and they yelled back, “Hi, Benson! What are you doing?”

Benson had his mouth full of sandwich but he yelled anyway, “We’re going to get some geraniums.”

The words didn’t come out exactly the way he meant, because of the sticky macadamia butter and the crusty bread.

Nils said to Nella, “What did he say?”

Nella said, “He said they’re going to get a giraffe.”

“No,” said Nils, “that’s not right. I think he said they were going to get a gymnasium.”

“A gymnasium? What’s that?” asked Nella.

“You know, a gym. A place where you do lots of exercises, like with a trampoline and climbing ropes and beams you can balance on and stuff like that. A gymnasium would be cool!”

“A giraffe would be better,” Nella said. “I’ve never seen a giraffe. How about we go over to Benson’s place after lunch, and see the giraffe?”

“You mean the gymnasium,” Nils said.

Straight after lunch, they went over to Benson’s place. They were so excited, they told everyone they saw on the way, and by the time they got to Benson’s place there was quite a crowd.

Benson came out, and Nella said, “Where’s the giraffe? Can I see it?”

Benson said, “What giraffe?”

Nils said to his sister, “See I told you it was a gymnasium!” He said to Benson, “Can I go on the trampoline?”

Benson said, “What trampoline?”

Nils said, “You said you were going to get a gymnasium!”

“No,” Nella said, “he said he was going to get a giraffe.” They both looked very disappointed, and so did the crowd of friends they had brought with them.

Benson’s mother came out to see why there were so many sad people in the yard. Benson explained about the sandwich and the macadamia butter.

Benson’s mother said, “Let’s see what we can do. Benson, pop in and get the air-bed – that will make a nice trampoline. Nils, there’s some rope that Benson was using this morning. Do you think you could tie it up between the trees to make a climbing rope?”

Nils said he could. He was an expert at climbing ropes.

Benson’s mother found a long straight branch to be a balance beam, and Aunt Moss brought out her yoga mat so everyone could practise their handstands and cartwheels.

Everyone had a great time, climbing and bouncing and balancing and doing handstands, except Nella.

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

“I thought there would be a giraffe,”said Nella.

Benson’s mother thought. She didn’t want Nella to be sad. “Let me see what I can do,” she said.

Everyone went on playing on the gym equipment and having a great time, and then suddenly everyone stopped and looked. Something came out of Benson’s house that was yellow with brown spots with a long, long neck, and a face with brown eyes and a long purple tongue.

“A giraffe!” Nella said.

The very youngest possum, who was called Wilbur, started to cry.

Benson’s mother poked her head out of the giraffe costume and said, “It’s only me, Wilbur. Don’t cry!” She was wearing Aunt Lillibet’s big yellow jumper with brown spots painted on it, and she was carrying a long broom handle with a face drawn on a paper plate at the top.

Benson said to his mother, “That’s a really good giraffe! Can I have a turn?”

His mother said, “Of course you can.” She let him put the jumper on and she gave him the broom handle. He gave Wilbur a ride on his back, and then everyone wanted a turn.

When it was Nella’s turn, she walked all around the yard pretending to eat the highest leaves on the trees with the broom. “Yum, yum,” she said, waggling the purple tongue so that it licked Nils at the top of the climbing rope.

“Why does it have to have a purple tongue?” Nils said.

“Because giraffes have purple tongues,” Nella said. “Don’t you know anything?”

She climbed up the rope and chased Nils all the way to the top of the tree.

Benson said to his mother, “I’ve never seen a giraffe climb a tree before.”

His mother agreed. “It’s not something you see very often.”

They all had snacks and then they climbed and bounced and chased some more and then it was time to go home. Wilbur, the smallest baby possum, started to cry again.

Nella took his hand and said, “Don’t cry, Wilbur. I’ll make you a giraffe of your very own when we get home.” And she did.

The Jigsaw Puzzle

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 week it rained and rained every day. Benson had to stay inside all day. It was too wet to dig and too wet to ride his bike. It was too wet for Aunt Lillibet to work in her garden, and too wet for Aunt Moss to walk over to her friends’ places or practise throwing her boomerang. Benson’s mother complained because the washing wouldn’t dry, and it was too noisy with everyone inside for her to get any work done.

By Friday afternoon everyone was getting very grumpy. Benson was trying to play his saxophone and Aunt Moss was doing tai chi and kept bumping the music stand. Aunt Lillibet said she couldn’t concentrate on her embroidery with all that noise, and then Aunt Moss bumped Aunt Lillibet and she pricked her finger with her needle and Aunt Lillibet started to say mean things to Aunt Moss, and suddenly Benson’s mother said, “I know!”

Everyone stopped and looked at her.

“I know something we can all do together and have a lovely time,” she said.

She went into her bedroom and brought out a big flat box. “This is a jigsaw puzzle that Benson’s Uncle Elton and I used to do on rainy afternoons when we were young. I think it’s still got all the pieces.”

“I hope it has,” said Aunt Lillibet. “There’s nothing worse than a jigsaw with a piece missing.”

She put away her embroidery and Benson put away his saxophone, and Aunt Moss got changed out of her leotard and they all sat down together at the table.

Benson’s mother tipped all the pieces out. Aunt Lillibet said, “Edges first.” She started sorting through the pieces to find all the edge pieces. “The blue ones are the sky so they go at the top, and the green ones are the grass so they go at the bottom.”

They all set to work, trying to fit all the pieces together, but Aunt Lillibet loved making the nice straight sides of the puzzle so she grabbed all the edge pieces and kept them in her hand, and the others had to just wait.

Benson didn’t mind doing jigsaw puzzles, but what he really liked was putting the very last piece in. There was something very satisfying about putting in the last piece, so that suddenly the jigsaw stopped being a puzzle and started being a picture.

He had a sneaky idea. While no-one was looking he took one of the pieces and held it tight in his other hand. His idea was that at the very end, when the jigsaw puzzle was all done except for one piece, he would have the last piece and he would be the one to put it in.

This jigsaw puzzle was a picture of a boat and a lake and some grass and sky, and pink and red flowers and a lady with an umbrella. Benson found a piece of the umbrella and started going through all the pieces looking for the piece that went next to it.

Aunt Lillibet complained, “Benson, you’re messing everything up! I just sorted out all the sky pieces, and you’re mixing them up with the boat pieces!”

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, why don’t you help me with the grass down here at the bottom?” She gave him all the green pieces she had found, and they worked happily together making the grass.

Aunt Lillibet kept looking over their shoulders, going, “That piece doesn’t go there, Benson. Try it over here.” And then she took the green pieces out of their hands and start working on the grass.

Benson and his mother moved around to the other side of the table and started putting pieces of the sky in, but Lillibet said, “Don’t do that! I’m doing the sky, as soon as this grass is finished.”

“Well then, Benson and I will do the boat,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson picked up some brown pieces and started fitting them together.

“No, Benson, you’ve got it all wrong,” said Aunt Lillibet. “That piece is upside down, and that piece is backwards. I’ll do it.”

She took the brown pieces away and quickly joined them up and made the boat.

Benson thought it was much more fun doing the puzzle than watching someone else do it.

Suddenly Aunt Lillibet said loudly, “Moss, what do you think you’re doing?”

Aunt Moss had lots of pink and red flower pieces and she was putting them together with pieces of sky.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Those pink flowers don’t go in the sky!”

Aunt Moss said, “But they make such a nice pattern, Lillibet dear.”

“It’s not about making a pattern,” Lillibet shouted. “It’s about getting the picture right!”

Benson’s mother could see that everyone would soon be getting grumpy again. “I think it might be time for snacks,” she said. She went into the kitchen and filled up a bowl with carrot chips and celery sticks. “Here we are,” she said.

Aunt Lillibet was too busy to eat. “There, I’ve finished the grass,” she said. “Give me all those flower pieces, Moss, they go just here.”

Aunt Moss gave her the red and pink flower pieces, and starting making a nice ladder using the sky pieces and the grass pieces. “Moss!” shouted Aunt Lillibet. “I just finished that section. What are you doing?”

Aunt Moss said, “There’s no need to shout, Lillibet. I think this looks lovely.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “You’re ruining the grass I just made. Just leave it alone!”

“Now, Lillibet,” said Benson’s mother, “we’re all working on the puzzle together. Let Moss have some pieces.”

Benson said, “Aunt Moss and I will do the lady with the umbrella.” He got some pieces with lots of different colours that looked as if they would make a nice umbrella and he and Aunt Moss had a lovely time. They didn’t exactly make an umbrella – it was more like a squashed pizza.

Aunt Lillibet finished the flowers and the boat and the grass and the sky, and she looked at what Benson and Aunt Moss were doing. “You two are hopeless,” she said. “You’ve got everything mixed up.” She took all the pieces away from them and put them into the right places in the puzzle. Aunt Moss wanted to do some too, but Aunt Lillibet said, “No, I think you’ve done enough, Moss.”

She was up to the last few pieces, and Benson and his mother and Aunt Moss got so excited that they were eating the carrot chips without even looking at them.

Finally Aunt Lillibet was down to the very last hole in the puzzle. She looked around. “Where’s the last piece?” she said.

Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother looked all over the table and under the table, but it was nowhere to be found.

Aunt Lillibet started to get very angry. “This is terrible!” she said. “A puzzle with a missing piece is the worst thing in the world.”

Benson smiled. “Actually,” he said, “I happen to have a piece just here.”

“Benson, have you been hiding the last piece?” said Aunt Lillibet.

Benson said, “Not exactly hiding it. More like keeping it safe.” He opened his hand, and then he stopped. There was nothing in his hand.

He looked all over the table and under the table and in the puzzle box and in his pockets. He couldn’t find the last piece anywhere. Then he remembered and his face went very red. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I think I must have thought it was a chip, and I ate it.”

Benson and the Frog

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

One day Benson went down to the creek to splash about, and he saw a water dragon just about to catch a small green frog. He clapped his hands and shouted, and the water dragon slid away. Benson put his hand down and picked up the frog.

The frog said, “Thank you for scaring the water dragon away. You can put me down now.”

“I don’t want to put you down,” Benson said. The frog was bright green and smooth and stretchy. It felt cool and damp in Benson’s hand.

The frog said, “Please put me down. You’re making my skin feel warm and dry. I like to be damp and cool.”

Benson sprinkled a few drops of water on the frog. Then he said, “I could take you home with me. I could dig you a pool in my back yard and fill it up with water. And when I have a bath, you could swim in the bath with me. You’d love it.”

“I love it here,” said the frog. “I can swim among the fish in the cool green creek, and climb the trees and lie on the branches in the sun.”

Benson said, “I could ask my mother to make us chocolate cake and banana muffins and custard. You’d love it.”

“I love it here,” said the frog. “I can catch bugs and spiders and mosquitoes with my long springy tongue. I can get fresh green weed any time I want.”

Benson said, “I could take you to the playground and show you to all my friends, and we could go on the swings and the slippery slide, and play in the sand pit. You’d love it.”

“I love it here,” said the frog. “I croak with my friends all night long if I like, and sometimes we see who can make the biggest bubbles or who can burp the loudest.”

Benson said, “I could read stories to you, and let you play my saxophone, and we could do painting together. You’d love it.”

“I love it here,” said the frog. “I play games with the other frogs, leap-frog and jumping races, seeing who can jump the furthest and who can jump the highest. Sometimes we play with the turtles, and sometimes we hide from the water dragons.”

Benson said, “You could live in my house. I could get you a special box with stones and plants, and you could live in my room. I could put you in my pocket and take you for rides on my bike. You’d love it. ”

“I love it here,” said the frog. “This is my place, where I live.”

Benson looked at the creek, and the tall gum trees and the smooth rocks at the edge of the creek. Then he looked at the frog. He put the frog down. The frog hopped away into the water.

Benson sat on a big warm rock and watched the tiny fish swimming around. He picked up some stones and dropped them into the clear green water and listened to them plopp. He watched them sink to the bottom.

After a while the frog came back, and they chased dragonflies together.

When he was tired, Benson picked some lillipillies off a lillipilly tree and ate them in the shade with his toes in the water. “I love it here,” he said.

Baked Cauliflower

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

Benson didn’t like cauliflower. At all. He didn’t like the way it was all white, and kind of stalky, all legs, and crunchy. And he especially didn’t like the taste.

Aunt Lillibet loved cauliflower. She loved cauliflower soup and steamed cauliflower and cauliflower casserole and she especially loved baked cauliflower.

One day Benson’s Uncle Elton came over with his son Elmer, Benson’s cousin, and he brought a big cauliflower that he had grown himself. Aunt Lillibet was very pleased.

“It’s a beautiful cauliflower,” she said, “and so big!”

Uncle Elton was very happy that she liked it. “My cauliflowers have done very well this year,” he said, “but you can only eat so much cauliflower.”

“Oh, I could eat cauliflower all day!” Aunt Lillibet said.

At dinner-time, Benson said to his mother, “Can I just have dessert tonight?”

“Of course not,” she said. “Why don’t you help me cook the cauliflower? Then you might enjoy eating it more.”

Benson didn’t think he would enjoy eating it at all.

Benson’s mother cut off the green leaves and put the cauliflower in a big pan. Benson trickled some oil over it, and sprinkled spices on it, some nutmeg and some paprika. His mother put it in the oven. Then they made grated cheese to go with it, and salad with carrots sticks and tomatoes and capsicum and spinach leaves and chopped-up beetroot.

When it was time for dinner, Benson’s mother took the cauliflower out of the oven. Benson’s heart sank. There was so much of it, and it was all white and cauliflowery.

“Can I just have the cheese?” he said.

“Certainly not,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Cauliflower is very good for you. If you don’t try it, how do you know you don’t like it?”

Benson said, “It’s cauliflower. I know I don’t like it.”

“Nonsense,” said Aunt Lillibet. “You just need to get used to it. When I was a girl I didn’t like turnips, and my mother made me eat them anyway and now I love them.”

Benson’s mother put a small amount of cauliflower on his plate, with lots of cheese and a big pile of salad. He held his breath and ate the cauliflower fast, then he had a big piece of tomato to take the taste of the cauliflower away.

Aunt Lillibet ate lots and lots of cauliflower. “You should have some more of this delicious cauliflower, Benson,” she said.

“No, thankyou,” said Benson politely.

Aunt Moss said, “I never liked cauliflower when I was a girl, but my mother always made me eat it anyway.” She thought about it a bit. “I still don’t like it much,” she said.

Finally it was time for dessert: ginger pudding and custard, Benson’s favourite.

Aunt Lillibet didn’t care for ginger pudding at all. “I’m so full,” she said, “I think I’ll just have the custard.”

“Nonsense,” Benson’s mother said. “ If you don’t try it, how do you know you don’t like it?”

She cut a big piece of pudding and put it on Lillibet’s plate.

“It’s very good for you,” Aunt Moss said. “It’s full of vitamins and fibre.” She loved ginger pudding. “Mmm, delicious!” she said.

Benson ate his pudding. “Mmmm, delicious,” he said. He and Aunt Moss smiled at each other. His mother gave them both extra pudding, and extra custard.

Saying Thankyou

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

Benson was in a bad mood. He had been in a bad mood all day. When he woke up, it was cold and he wanted to stay in bed and snuggle down but Aunt Lillibet wanted to wash the sheets so he had to get up. When he got dressed, his favourite orange jumper was in the wash so he had to wear his scratchy blue jumper, and that made him really grumpy. He took all his clothes out of his cupboard looking for his jumper and made such a mess that his mother made him tidy up his room before he was allowed to go out and play. That made him so cranky that he took forever to put his clothes away, and when he finally finished it was raining and he couldn’t ride his bike.

He sat on the floor feeling mad and grumpy and cranky and grizzly and angry and generally growly with everyone.

His mother said, “You’re in a bad mood, aren’t you?”

Benson grumped, “It’s raining and now I can’t go out. If you hadn’t made me tidy my room, I would have been able to go out and play.”

His mother said, “If you hadn’t made such a big mess, you wouldn’t have had to tidy it.”

Benson said, “That wasn’t my fault! I couldn’t find my orange jumper because Aunt Lillibet was washing it. And I have to wear this one and it scratches me.”

His mother looked at him. Then she came and sat down beside him. “You’re feeling bad now because you can’t do what you wanted to do.”

Benson growled in a grumpy way.

His mother said, “I think I know something that will make you feel happier.”

Benson humphed. He didn’t want to be happy, he wanted to be mad at everyone.

His mother said, “Sometimes when I feel bad, I try to think of something I can be thankful for. Remember that time we had a picnic and you dropped the whole apple pie in the creek? I was cranky because we weren’t going to get any apple pie, but then I felt thankful that you didn’t fall in too, and I didn’t feel angry or unhappy any more.”

Benson thought about it, but he still felt grumpy. “I can’t think of anything,” he said.

“Well, you can be thankful that this scratchy jumper is too small for you and I’m going to give it to your cousin Elmer so you’ll never have to wear it again.”

“Really?” said Benson.

“Mmm-hmm,” said his mother. “And you can be thankful you didn’t go out on your bike or you would have gotten all wet when it started to rain.”

Benson imagined riding his bike in the rain, cold and wet. He said, “Mmm, maybe.”

“Can you think of something to be thankful for?” his mother asked.

“I could be thankful that my room is tidy and I won’t have to tidy it again. And also, I found the missing pieces from my Snakes and Ladders game when I was tidying. And also, I found the library book that I lost, the one about making paper planes. I found it down the side of my bed when I was taking the sheets off.”

“You know what I can be thankful for?” his mother said. “That even though it’s raining, we can still play Snakes and Ladders.”

Benson smiled. He said, “And we can make paper planes and fly them in the kitchen because it’s too wet to go outside.”

“You’ll have to fly them in your room,” said his mother. “We can’t fly them in the kitchen because Aunt Moss is making banana muffins.”

“Banana muffins?” Benson said. He was feeling much happier.

His mother nodded. “You know she always loves to cook when it’s cold and rainy.”

They went out to the kitchen together to see if Aunt Moss needed any help with stirring or licking the bowl. The muffins were in the oven, smelling wonderful. Benson said, “Thankyou, Aunt Moss.”

Aunt Lillibet came into the kitchen, looking very cranky.

“I’ve washed all the sheets,” she said, “and now it’s raining and I can’t hang them out to dry.”

“Don’t worry,” Benson said. “You can be thankful that you won’t have to bring them in again. And there are muffins. And after we’ve eaten the muffins we’re going to make paper planes and play Snakes and Ladders.”

“Muffins?” Aunt Lillibet said. “I might make my chocolate-almond-beetroot cake.”

“Wonderful,” Benson’s mother said. “Thankyou, Lillibet.”

They ate the muffins while they were still warm, and then they played Snakes and Ladders until the chocolate cake was ready.

Benson and the Rabbit

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

One night after dinner, Benson’s mother said, “Time for bed, Benson. Don’t forget to clean your teeth.”

Benson went into the bathroom and then he came back out again. “I can’t clean my teeth,” he said. “There’s a rabbit using my toothbrush.”

“Don’t be silly,” Benson’s mother said. “Clean your teeth and hop into bed.”

Benson went back to the bathroom and cleaned his teeth. He went into his bedroom, then he came back out again. “I can’t go to bed,” he said. “There’s a rabbit in my bed, reading my book and wearing my pyjamas.”

Benson’s mother said, “If I went into your room, would I see a rabbit in your bed?”

Benson said, “Yes. Unless he hides under the bed.”

Benson’s mother got up and went into his room. There was a rabbit in Benson’s bed, wearing Benson’s pyjamas and reading a book.

Benson and his mother both looked at the rabbit. It twitched its nose and rubbed its face with its paws.

Benson’s mother said, “Those pyjamas are much too big.”

Benson said, “That’s my favourite book.”

The rabbit twitched its ears and rubbed its nose with its paw.

“You’d better sleep in my room tonight, Benson,” said his mother.

In the morning when Benson got up, the rabbit was sitting at the table. Benson made some porridge and put some in a bowl for himself and some for the rabbit. The rabbit twitched its ears and wriggled its nose. Benson thought about it. He got a carrot and gave it to the rabbit instead. The rabbit ate the carrot, and Benson ate both bowls of porridge.

The rabbit went back to Benson’s room and jumped on the bed. Then it jumped on the desk and on Benson’s pillow, and on the desk again. Then it jumped on Benson’s basketball, and then on the bed again and then on Benson’s saxophone.

Benson sighed. The rabbit stopped jumping and chewed on Benson’s snorkel.

Benson went back to the kitchen. Aunt Moss was there with Benson’s mother, eating the porridge Benson had made. Benson said, “There’s a rabbit in my room eating my snorkel.”

“Is there?” Aunt Moss said. “I must go and say hello.”

Benson’s mother said, “Can you speak Rabbit?”

“Oh yes,” said Moss. “We had a rabbit family staying with us for a while when I was a girl.”

The rabbit came out, wearing Benson’s flippers on its ears.

Aunt Moss twitched her nose. The rabbit twitched its nose and wriggled its ears.

“He says these pyjamas are much too big,” Aunt Moss said.

The rabbit brushed his face with his paws. “He says these ear warmers are too big too, and they smell funny.”

Benson said, “Can you teach me how to speak Rabbit?”

“Of course,” said Aunt Moss. “It’s easy.” She showed Benson some easy signs, how to say hello, how are you, and Are there any more carrots?

Benson twitched his nose at the rabbit, and it twitched its ears back. “He said hello to me!” Benson said.

Aunt Moss showed him how to say My name is Benson, and Where do you live, and It’s Tuesday tomorrow and lots of other things. Benson watched carefully and practised. After a while he knew lots of Rabbit words. He talked to the rabbit, and the rabbit talked to him. He asked the rabbit not to jump on his saxophone, but the rabbit pretended he didn’t understand.

After a few days the rabbit hopped away again. Benson’s mother thought maybe there had been a fox hanging around, and the rabbit wanted to take shelter in the wombat hole until the fox went away again.

“Did you enjoy having the rabbit here?” she asked Benson.

Benson said, “It was interesting, but it was very tiring. He never stops talking!”

Hearts

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

One night Benson went to bed but he didn’t go to sleep straight away. He lay there thinking.

His mother looked in later on, and he was still awake.

“Not asleep yet?” she asked.

“No, I’m just listening to my heart beating,” he said.

She came in and lay down on the bed beside him.

He said, “Do you think my heart is soft or hard?”

“What do you think?” she said.

“I don’t know,” he said. “When Aunt Lillibet said Aunt Moss had to take the turtles back to the creek where they belong, Aunt Moss said she was hard-hearted. And then when Aunt Moss took them back and then she came home and cried, Aunt Lillibet said she was too soft-hearted.

“And then the turtles walked all the way back all by themselves and Aunt Moss wanted to put them in the bath with their favourite chopped up broccoli leaves, and Aunt Lillibet said no, she had to send them straight back to the creek, Aunt Moss said Aunt Lillibet must have a heart made of stone.”

“I remember that,” Benson’s mother said. “And Aunt Moss talked to the turtles and explained why they would be much happier living at the creek and then she carried them all the way back.”

“Yes,” said Benson, “and then she came home and cried all over again, and Aunt Lillibet said her heart was as soft as marshmallow.”

They lay there in the dark for a while, thinking. Benson’s mother said, “I think Aunt Moss was very brave, to take them back to the creek and leave them there, even though it made her so sad.”

Benson said, “Even if her heart is soft, it’s really strong, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said, “That’s what I think. And Aunt Lillibet made her some hot chocolate and gave her the last pumpkin muffin. That was very kind, not hard-hearted at all.”

Benson thought for a while, and then he said, “I don’t think they meant each other’s actual hearts.”

“No,” said his mother.

Benson leaned his head against his mother’s chest, and listened to her heart beating, until he went to sleep.

Spots

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 his mother was out doing the shopping and when she came home Aunt Moss was waiting for her by the door, looking very worried.

“Is everything okay?” she asked Aunt Moss.

“Benson’s friend Zali came over to play, and they’ve both come out in spots!” Aunt Moss said.

Aunt Lillibet was reading her favourite plant book. She looked up and said, “Spots? It could be measles!”

“Or a heat rash,” Aunt Moss said.

“Or mumps,” Lillibet said.

“Or hives,” Aunt Moss said.

“Or chicken pox,” Lillibet said.

“Chicken pox?” Aunt Moss said. “Oh no!”

“It’s all right, Moss, don’t get upset,” Benson’s mother said. “Where are the spots?”

“All over his tummy and his face, and all over his arms and his legs,” said Aunt Moss. “And poor little Zali has them too, all over her poor little body!” She started to cry.

“All right, try and keep calm, Moss,” Benson’s mother said. “It’s probably best if you keep away from them, in case you catch it. You too, Lillibet.”

“Oh no!” Aunt Moss said. “Lillibet, what if you catch the chickenpox too?”

“Not me,” Lillibet said. “I had them when I was a little joey. Didn’t you?”

“I don’t remember,” Aunt Moss wailed. “The poor little things!”

“Now, Moss, try and keep calm,” Benson’s mother said. “It might not be chickenpox at all. Does he have a fever? Is he hot?”

Aunt Moss nodded. “His face is very red and he’s very hot.”

“I’ll go and see him,” said Benson’s mother.

She went into Benson’s bedroom. Benson and Zali were running around the room, leaping onto the bed and jumping off onto the floor, roaring as loudly as they could. Benson had big red spots on his face and his hands and his tummy, as well as his arms and his legs. Zali had some spots, but she had some stripes as well, all down her tummy and on her back.

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, you’ve got spots on you.”

Benson stopped roaring and so did Zali. His face was very red from all the running and leaping and roaring. “I’m being a leopard,” he said. “Leopards have spots.”

“And Zali?” said his mother.

“Zali was a leopard, but now she’s a zebra,” Benson said.

“How did you make the spots?” his mother asked.

“I was reading in my library book about how the leopard got his spots and it sounded easy. You just go dab, dab, dab. We tried mud, but it fell off, so I got some beetroot juice.”

“Did you make Zali’s stripes too?”

Benson nodded. “It was easy. I just joined up the spots.”

Benson’s mother said, “It’s just about time for Zali to go home. I think maybe she should have a bath first, and see if we can get those stripes off.”

In the bath, some of the red came off, but not all of it. Zali had pink stripes, and Benson had pink spots.

Benson’s mother said, “I don’t know what Zali’s mother will think. Zali used to be a wombat and now she’s a zebra.”

Benson already had an idea. “We could fill up the bath with beetroot juice, and it would cover up the stripes. She wouldn’t be a zebra any more, she’d be a pink wombat.”

So that’s what they did. Zali’s mother was surprised, but Zali loved it.

Magic

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

Benson’s friend Mick had an uncle who could do magic. He could make a rabbit come out of a hat, Mick said. Benson thought that wasn’t very magic. The hard part would be getting a rabbit into a hat.

He thought about it for a while, and then he made a plan. He got some chopped apple and he put it inside his bike helmet, and he left his bike helmet outside all night.

For the first two nights nothing happened, but on the third night, his plan worked. In the morning after breakfast he said to his mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss, “I’m going to be doing magic this morning. Do you want to come and watch?”

“Magic!” said Aunt Moss. She clapped her hands. “I love magic!”

Benson’s mother said, “That’s a very good idea, Benson. Zali and her mother are coming over for morning tea. I’m sure Zali will love it.”

Benson thought she would too.

He got everything ready. He took a small table outside and put it in a shady spot under a tree, where the branches made interesting shadows on the ground. He got his bike helmet, and he put it carefully under the table.

Benson’s mother and Zali and Zali’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss came and sat in front of the table.

Benson started. “This is the magic,” he said. He put his bike helmet carefully on the table. Straight away a small dunnart ran up and jumped into it.

Everyone clapped.

Benson said, “No, that wasn’t it.” Everyone stopped clapping. He put his hand into the helmet and took the dunnart out. Everyone clapped again. “That wasn’t it either,” Benson said. He put the little dunnart on the ground and it ran off after a beetle.

Benson said, “Now I will say the magic word.” He waved his hands over the helmet and said, “Government-subsidy!” in a loud voice. He didn’t know what it meant, but he liked the sound of it. Nothing happened.

He said the magic word again, a bit louder. “Government-subsidy!!” Still nothing happened. Benson had thought this might happen, and he had a plan. He held some rose petals over the helmet and rubbed them together and rustled them a bit.

A sleepy possum head came out of the helmet. Two sleepy paws reached up and took the rose petals. Then a baby possum climbed out of the helmet and sat on the table, nibbling the rose petals.

Everyone clapped and clapped. The possum woke up suddenly and scampered off, and disappeared into the bush. Benson bowed to everyone, and put the helmet on his head.

His mother stood up and said, “Thank you, Benson, that was lovely. Time for a cup of eucalyptus tea and oatmeal and raisin cookies.” Everyone got up and went inside.

Benson’s mother said to him, “That was pretty magical, Benson. You did an excellent job.”

“Thank you,” Benson said.

His mother said, “You know, I can do magic too.”

“Can you?” said Benson.

She nodded. “I can make a wombat come out of a hat,” she said, “like this.”

She took Benson’s helmet off.

Benson smiled. “I think you’re pretty magical, too,” he said to his mother.

“I’ve always thought so,” she said.

Measles

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

Aunt Lillibet had a runny nose and a cough. Aunt Moss said, “Lillibet, you don’t look very well. Are you sure you don’t have a fever?”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I feel terrible,” and coughed some more.

Benson’s mother felt Aunt Lillibet’s forehead. “Lillibet, you’re very hot. I think you have a fever. Let me look at your throat.”

Aunt Lillibet opened her mouth and said, “Aaah.” Benson’s mother had a look and said, “Hmm.” She looked behind Aunt Lillibet’s ears and then she said, “Let me have a look at your tummy.”

Aunt Lillibet’s tummy was covered with a red splotchy rash. Benson’s mother looked at Aunt Moss and they both nodded. “Measles,” they said.

“What are measles?” asked Benson.

His mother said, “When you get measles you feel very hot and unwell. You get a rash like this, and you feel tired and sometimes you feel grumpy. Sometimes your nose might be runny and you get a cough. If you get measles very badly, you could be very sick.”

Aunt Moss helped her to put Aunt Lillibet to bed. They gave her some hot tea and medicine for her fever. Then Benson’s mother came and sat down with Benson.

“Measles is very contagious,” she said. “That means that it’s easy to catch them from someone else.”

Benson’s eyes grew rounder. “Am I going to catch them from Aunt Lillibet?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said his mother.

Benson lifted up his shirt and looked at his tummy. It was plain brown as usual. “Nope,” he said, “no measles.”

“The thing is,” said his mother, “when you get the measles, you can’t see them for a couple of weeks. They’re there, but they’re invisible. You don’t know you’ve got them until you start to get sick.”

Benson’s eyes got even rounder. He imagined a small measle growing inside of him, then more and more measles, until blam! Measles everywhere!

“Do measles kill you?” he asked.

“No, no, no,” his mother said. “Aunt Lillibet will probably be sick for a week or so, and then she’ll be fine again.”

Benson gave a big sigh of relief.

His mother said, “And the good news is that once you’ve had them, you can’t catch them again. You can only have measles once. I had them when I was a little girl, so I can’t get them again, and Aunt Moss has had them too.”

“Have I had them?” Benson asked.

“No, you haven’t,” said his mother. “But you might have caught them from Aunt Lillibet. We won’t know for about two weeks.”

That felt a bit strange to Benson. Maybe he had measles, and maybe he didn’t. It was a bit like picking an apple from an old tree. Maybe it had a worm in the middle and maybe it didn’t.

His mother said, “None of your friends have had the measles and we wouldn’t want to give it to them and make them sick, would we?”

“No,” said Benson.

His mother took a deep breath. “So you’re not going to be able to see any of your friends for two weeks,” she said.

“But I don’t have the measles, Aunt Lillibet does!” Benson said.

“You might have them, that’s the problem,” his mother said. “We can’t tell, unless you get sick. If you don’t get sick, then you didn’t catch them. But we have to wait for a couple of weeks to know for sure.”

“But I’m fine,” he said. He lifted up his shirt again. “Look, no spots.”

“You might still have them, even if you look fine,” his mother explained patiently. “And if you have got them, then other people can catch them from you even if you look perfectly well.”

“But that’s not fair!” said Benson.

“It’s the way it is,” said his mother. “You’re going to have to stay home for the next two weeks, until we know whether or not you’ve got them.”

“Two weeks!” said Benson.

His mother nodded. “Aunt Moss is going to stay with Nanna in case she gets sick, because Nanna hasn’t had them either. I’ll be looking after Aunt Lillibet, so you’ll have to take care of yourself.”

Benson was not happy. In fact, he was definitely grumpy. His mother spent the rest of the day looking after Aunt Lillibet. Benson stamped and growled and thought of all the things he couldn’t do. He couldn’t go to the playground, he couldn’t go to the library, he couldn’t play with his friends, he couldn’t go anywhere! It just wasn’t fair.

He had nothing to do all afternoon, and then he had to get his own dinner because Aunt Lillibet got even sicker and needed his mother to look after her. He went to bed very grumpy.

The next day was the same except it was raining. He spent the morning staring out of the front door wishing he was at the Library Lovers’ morning tea, and he spent the whole afternoon poking holes in a piece of cardboard with a pencil. Once he tried playing his saxophone, but his mother came out and asked him to stop playing because the noise was making Aunt Lillibet’s headache worse. He had to get his own dinner again, and he went to bed extremely grumpy.

In the middle of the night he got up to go to the toilet. When he went past Aunt Lillibet’s room he could hear her saying, “I’m so hot! The light hurts my eyes!” and he could hear his mother saying, “Lie still, dear, and have your medicine. You’ll feel better soon.”

Benson got back into bed and started to think. He thought of how tired his mother must be, and how kind she was being to Aunt Lillibet who was cranky because she was so sick. Then he thought about how grumpy he had been for no reason at all.

In the morning he got up and tidied his room and made his breakfast. Then he thought his mother might like some pancakes, so he made some pancakes and then he washed up and tidied up the kitchen.

When his mother came out, she said, “Where did these pancakes come from?”

“I made them for you,” Benson said.

“And you washed up! Oh, Benson, that’s so kind!” his mother said. “I’m sorry you have to play all by yourself.”

“That’s okay,” Benson said. “I like being by myself sometimes.”

It was raining again, so Benson spent the rest of the morning reading and playing quietly. He painted a picture of his friend Zali in her favourite astronaut suit, then he had a really good idea. He made a spaceport out of an old cereal packet, and he painted some rocks to be little spacemen and aliens and he played space wars for ages. He even made up a little song about an alien space-ship and he made up a little dance to go with it. He practised very quietly

When it was lunchtime he made himself a sandwich, and when his mother came out, he made a sandwich for her too. He sang his alien song for her, and she laughed and clapped very quietly until Aunt Lillibet started calling again.

After lunch, he stuck his painting of Zali on the wall, and it looked a bit lonely, so he started painting pictures of all his friends. When his mother came out at dinner-time, he was still busy.

“This looks lovely,” she said. “That’s a painting of Zali, isn’t it? And that’s Mick, and that’s Bonnie Lou, and that’s Alejandro. They’re beautiful, Benson.”

Benson said, “Tomorrow I’m going to do Philip and Kendall and Nils and Nella and Nanna and Aunt Moss and put them all up.”

“It’s like having all your friends here,” his mother said.

“A bit,” said Benson.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” his mother said, giving him a hug.

“Me too,” said Benson.

Purple Pyjamas

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

Benson’s old pyjamas were too small. “I think we’d better give those to your cousin Elmer,” his mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ll make him a new pair. I’ve got a nice piece of fabric that will do perfectly.”

Aunt Lillibet made new pyjamas for Benson. Benson didn’t like them one bit, but he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to hurt Aunt Lillibet’s feelings. They had big white buttons like squashed cheese, and the elastic around the middle was so tight that it made wrinkles in Benson’s tummy, and they were PURPLE. They were so purple that Benson couldn’t sleep.

His mother looked into his bedroom. Benson was sitting up in bed in his purple pyjamas. “Are you okay?” she said.

“My pyjamas are keeping me awake,” he said.

“Never mind,” she said. “Just wear your old ones for tonight. I’ll give the new ones a wash in the morning, and maybe they’ll be more comfortable.”

In the morning she washed the new pyjamas and hung them on the line. Just after that a very strong wind came up, so strong that it blew the pyjamas right off the line. They flew through the air and got caught on an old banksia tree. The elastic in the pants snapped and all the buttons came off.

“Oh dear,” Benson’s mother said. “I can put new buttons on, but they’ll be odd ones from my button jar.” First she fixed the elastic, and then she sewed on new buttons, one in the shape of a pineapple, two green ones and one in the shape of a red bunny. Benson loved them.

“I’ll have to put them in the wash again,” his mother said.

She put the pyjamas in the washing machine with the rest of the clothes. When the wash was finished, she got them out again. “Oh dear!” she said. “I’m sorry Benson, but I accidentally left one of Aunt Moss’s red socks in the wash, and the colour’s come out all over your pyjamas!”

Benson’s pyjamas were a kind of glowing magenta. He loved it.

His mother said, “I’ll see if I can wash it out with some bleach.” She got the bottle of bleach, but just as she was pouring it very carefully, the bottle slipped in her hand and bleach splashed all over Benson’s pyjamas.

“Oh, no!” she said. She held up the pyjamas. They looked like they had lightning flashes all over them. Benson loved it.

“I’m sorry, Benson,” his mother said. “Maybe it will wash out.” She washed them very carefully and hung them on the line with extra pegs so they didn’t blow away. The splashes didn’t wash out and they were still glowing magenta.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Those pyjamas are ruined.”

Benson’s mother said, “I’m sorry, Lillibet.”

Benson gave his mother a hug. “Don’t worry, they’re perfect the way they are.”

At bedtime, he put his new pyjamas on and he felt so happy he went straight to sleep. He loved them so much, sometimes he didn’t take them off all day.

The Model

(for Miranda)

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’s grandmother sent him a birthday card in an envelope with a stamp on it, and there was a picture of a wombat on the stamp.

“Look at this!” he said to his mother. “There’s a picture of a wombat on this stamp!”

His mother said, “Oh, yes, that’s your great-great-aunt Miranda. She was a famous model.”

“A model?” said Benson. “Someone put her together with glue and matchsticks?”

“No, not like a model airplane,” said his mother. “A model for an artist.”

“I don’t understand,” Benson said.

“It was like this,” his mother said. “There were scientists who wanted to put a drawing of a wombat in a book so that anyone who had never seen a wombat before and wanted to know what they looked like could look it up in a book.”

Benson tried to imagine someone who had never seen a wombat. Everyone he knew had seen a wombat. He imagined wombats skulking around, hiding in bushes where no-one could see them.

His mother went on explaining. “So they needed a wombat that they could draw, and it had to be a perfect wombat.”

“Why did it have to be a perfect wombat?” Benson asked.

“Well, imagine if someone put a picture of Aunt Lillibet in a book with a label underneath that said ‘Wombat’ (Vombatus ursinus) Then people who looked at it might think that all wombats were tall and skinny with glasses and an unusual hat.”

“Or if it was Uncle Elton they put in the book then people might think that all wombats have purple ponytails and glitter nail-polish,” Benson said.

“Exactly,” said his mother. “So they wanted to find the perfect wombat,” she said. “Some wombats were too fat, some were too skinny, some had funny feet, some had big bottoms, some had ears that were too pointy and some had ears that were not pointy enough.”

“And then,” Benson said, “they found Miranda, and she was perfect.”

“Yes, Miranda was perfect,” said Benson’s mother.

Benson suddenly had a sneaky feeling that he wasn’t perfect enough. He had a look in the mirror. Was he too fat? Were his ears too pointy?

“Is my bottom too big?” he asked his mother.

“You,” said his mother, “are completely, totally, utterly perfect. You are the only Benson there is, and you’re perfect for Benson.”

Benson thought about that. He thought about Aunt Lillibet and imagined if she were shorter and rounder, and he thought about Aunt Moss and imagined if she were taller and had ordinary ears. They wouldn’t really be themselves then, he thought. He looked at himself in the mirror and smiled. A perfect Benson smiled back at him.

“So what made Great-great-aunt Miranda perfect?” he asked his mother.

Aunt Lillibet came in from the garden just then, tall and skinny with dirt on her glasses and a dead leaf on her purple pumpkin hat.

“Miranda was perfectly ordinary,” said Aunt Lillibet. “The scientists chose her for their book because she was the sleepiest. All the other wombats kept wandering away. Miranda was the only one who would stand still for long enough for them to draw her.”

Snowman

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

Benson had a special friend called Zali. Zali’s mother had a problem and she came to talk to Benson’s mother.

“It’s Zali’s birthday, and all she wants is a snowman. I’ve suggested all sorts of things, everything I can think of, but just keeps saying, ‘Snowman! Snowman!’ What am I going to do? How can I give her a snowman?”

Benson said, “What is a snowman?”

“Well obviously, it’s a man made out of snow,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What is snow?” Benson asked.

“It’s supposed to be like rain, but white and soft,” Benson’s mother said. “It sort of floats.”

“Floating rain?” Benson said. He tried to imagine it. “Have you ever seen snow?” he asked.

“No,” said his mother.

“I haven’t,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“I haven’t,” said Aunt Moss.

“I haven’t either,” said Zali’s mother. “Is it like sugar?”

“I think it’s made of ice,” Benson’s mother said.

“I think it’s like moths’ wings, soft and floating,” Aunt Moss said.

“I think it’s cold and hard like hailstones,” said Aunt Lillibet.

Benson found a picture of a snowman in a book. They all looked at it carefully.

“How can I make a snowman without any snow?” Zali’s mother said. “Zali is going to be so disappointed.”

Benson said, “I’ve got an idea!”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve got an idea too.”

They all started to talk at the same time.

Benson’s mother said to Zali’s mother, “Don’t worry, we can have the party here. We’ll sort everything out.”

They invited Benson’s friend, Philip and his friend Kendall, and Nils and Nella and Mick. Zali was very happy that it was her birthday. She kept saying, “Snowman! Snowman! Snowman!”

Benson said, “Let’s all go down to the creek.”

They all went down to the creek, to a spot where Benson knew there was lots of white clay in the bank of the creek. They dug out lumps and rolled it into balls, and made snowmen with sticks for noses and stones for eyes and little black seeds for the mouth. Zali was very happy.

When it was time for the birthday cake, they all sat under a tree in the shade, and Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet brought out the cake they had made. It was made of two white meringues with whipped cream spread over the top, exactly in the shape of a snowman, with strawberries for eyes, paw-paw for the nose and a row of blueberries for the mouth. Zali clapped her hands and said, “Snowman! Snowman!” It was delicious.

Then it was time for presents, and Benson’s mother gave Zali something very special that she had made herself. It was a white pillow, tied around the middle with a ribbon, with a carrot nose painted on and two brown eyes, and a big smile. Zali cuddled it and closed her eyes, and said softly, “Snowman!” She was very happy.

Raisins

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

Once day Benson was putting things away after breakfast when he found an old jar with raisins in it. Benson liked raisins. Actually, he really liked raisins.

He took the lid off, to see if they were all right or if they were too old. He took a deep sniff. The raisins smelled perfectly all right.

He started to think about all the things you could put raisins in: raisin bread, apple and raisin pudding, oatmeal and raisin cookies, raisin and walnut muffins, raisin and banana bread. He imagined all of these, one at a time, warm and golden from the oven, and while he was imagining, his hand picked up raisins out of the jar and put them in his mouth, without him even noticing.

He chewed thoughtfully, and started to think about what raisins wouldn’t go with. Raisins and Vegemite. Raisin and leek soup. Raisin sausages. Raisins and watermelon. It was funny how two perfectly delicious things wouldn’t taste very good together. Raisins and tomato sauce, scrambled eggs with raisins..

Suddenly he stopped thinking. He looked down at his hand. His hand was empty. The jar was empty. He wondered where all the raisins had gone.

“Benson!” said his mother.

Benson jumped.

“What have you done with all the raisins?”

“What raisins?” said Benson. “They’ve gone.”

“Yes, I can see they’ve gone,” his mother said. “You’ve eaten them all! I was just going to make oatmeal and raisin cookies and now there are no raisins left. I can’t make oatmeal-and-no-raisins cookies, can I?”

Benson thought sadly of oatmeal and raisin cookies without the raisins. Then he had a good idea. “You could make apple and oatmeal cookies. Or caramel oatmeal cookies. Or caramel and pecan and oatmeal cookies. Or caramel and pecan and oatmeal and…”

“Benson, stop!” said his mother.

Benson kept on going. Those raisins had given him lots of ideas. “But don’t make caramel and Vegemite muffins, or corn and pecan cookies, or leek and blueberry bread, or carrot and strawberry sandwiches, or…”

“Benson!” his mother said, quite loudly. “I don’t need you to tell me what not to make. I know what I want to make and that’s oatmeal and raisin cookies, and I can’t, can I?”

“No,” Benson said sadly. Then he had another idea. “But we’ve got sultanas.”

His mother thought. “Oatmeal and sultana cookies are nearly the same, aren’t they?”

Benson nodded.

“All right, I’ll make oatmeal and sultana cookies,” she said.

“Can I help?” Benson said. “We could put in some pecans, and some cranberries, and maybe some cinnamon or banana chips…”

“ I don’t think I need any help today, thank you, Benson,” his mother said. “How about you play outside until they’re done?”

So he did. And when they were done, they were nearly as nice as oatmeal and raisin cookies.

Benson Climbs a Tree

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

One day Benson was coming home from visiting his grandmother with his mother when he noticed something big and furry in a tree. “Look, there’s a really big possum,” he said to his mother.

“I think it’s a tree kangaroo,” she said, “although they usually don’t come this far south.”

Benson rolled over on the ground, laughing. “A tree kangaroo?”

His mother said. “There’s a special kind of kangaroo that lives in trees. They’re very good at climbing and jumping.”

Benson thought that was an amazing idea. “Are there tree wombats, too?”

“No, of course not, “ his mother said.

Benson started thinking about it. He couldn’t see why not. He imagined looking out from the top of a tree, seeing the whole bush spread out below him. All it needed was the right kind of tree, with strong branches that wouldn’t snap off when he sat on them. As soon as they got home, he started looking around.

Later on he came into the kitchen where his mother was working.

“Can you hold the ladder for me, please?” he asked.

“The ladder?” his mother said. “What do you need the ladder for?”

“Well, I found a tree just the right size, but the branches are a bit too high up from the ground.”

“A tree the right size for what?” his mother asked.

“For me to live in,” Benson said. “I’m going to be the first tree wombat.”

“Benson,” his mother said, “have you thought about this?”

“Yep,” Benson said. “I’ve got my books and a bucket to catch rain water, and a torch, and some apples and carrots. And maybe my paints, but I’m not sure if the branch will be big enough.”

Benson’s mother wasn’t sure either, but she went out and held the ladder. Benson climbed up slowly, holding the bucket in one hand. Even climbing the ladder wasn’t easy. At the top, he climbed out onto a strong branch, and gave a little jump. Nothing happened, except his mother gave a little squeak. He gave a bigger jump, and a bigger jump. “This one seems strong enough,” he said.

He hung the bucket up, then he climbed down the ladder. He got the torch and climbed up again. He put it in a crack in the tree trunk and he climbed down again. He picked up one of the apples and went up again and put it in a hollow in the branch and came down again. He picked up the next apple.

“Benson,” his mother said, “I’ve got a lot of work to do to get ready for the council meeting tonight. I can’t hold this ladder all afternoon.”

“Okay, I’ll get the rest later,” he said. “I’ll just get one of my books. “ He chose his favourite book and climbed up again.

Benson’s mother went inside. She sat down and got ready to work and then she heard him calling from the back yard.

She went back out again. “What is it?” she asked.

“I finished my book,” Benson said. “Could you hold the ladder while I get another one, please?”

Benson’s mother went inside and got a basket and some rope. She threw the rope up to Benson and he tied it to his branch. She filled the basket with books and Benson hauled it up with the rope. She went inside again.

She sat down and picked up her pen and found the place she was up to and then she heard Benson calling again. She went back out outside. “What is it?” she asked.

“I finished my apple,” he said.

He dropped the basket down to her and she filled it up with apples and carrots, and he hauled it up to the branch. She went inside again.

She made a cup of tea and sat down to work and then she heard Benson calling again.

“I finished all the apples and the carrots, and I want to get down and do some digging,” he said.

Benson’s mother held the ladder while he climbed down.

“When you’re a tree wombat, you miss digging,” he said.

“I can imagine,” his mother said. She went back inside. She folded the washing and she made some soup then she made a cake and then she heard him calling again. She put down the spoon and went outside.

“I’ve found a better tree,” he said. He took her into the bush a little way, and there was an old, old gum tree that had fallen down in a storm many years ago. It was resting flat on the earth, and part of its trunk was rotten and hollowed out by small animals and termites.

“I’ve dug a tunnel that comes up right in the middle of the old tree where the trunk is hollow,” he said. “There’s room for everything, all my books, the torch, the bucket and even my paints.”

“It’s very nice,” said his mother, “and no need for a ladder.”

“I think that to be a tree wombat, you need the right kind of tree,” he said.

“Yes,” said his mother.

“You can come and visit, if you like,” Benson said.

“Why don’t I bring some banana and walnut cake, and we can have a house-warming?” his mother said.

“Great idea,” Benson said.

The Dunnarts

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

One morning at breakfast, Benson’s mother said, “You know how there have been lots of bushfires in the north? Well there are a lot of animals whose homes have been burnt out so they have nowhere to live, and there’s nothing left for them to eat. So we’re going to have a family come and stay with us for a while.”

“Oh, how lovely!” said Aunt Moss. “Is it a mother and a father, and maybe a young wombat for Benson to play with?”

“It’s a mother and her children,” Benson’s mother said, “but they’re not wombats.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I hope they’re not bandicoots. Bandicoots eat everything in sight and they always bring ticks with them.”

“Now you know that’s not true, Lillibet,” said Aunt Moss.

“They’re not bandicoots” Benson’s mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “We don’t have a lot of room to spare, you know.”

Benson said, “There’s space in my room. I can sleep on the floor, and they can have my bed.” Benson thought it would be fun to sleep on the floor for a change.

“Thankyou, Benson,” said his mother, “but I don’t think they’ll need much room. They’re dunnarts.”

“Dunnarts!” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Oh, how lovely!” Aunt Moss said.

The dunnart family arrived just before lunch. Aunt Lillibet was in her room, and when she came out, she said “A mouse!” and got up on a chair.

“Don’t be silly, Lillibet,” Benson’s mother said. “This is Mrs Dunnart and her family. These are the little ones over here, and there’s a very small one just behind you and there are four babies… well, they’re here somewhere.”

“Oh.” Aunt Lillibet got off the chair. The dunnarts were small and grey, with long tails and little sharp noses and big ears.

Aunt Moss came out and said, “Oh, they’re so cute!” She picked up two tiny dunnarts and gave them a kiss each on top of their little stripy heads.

There were two little ones under the lounge, another one nosing around behind the curtains, a very small one trying to climb up the leg of the chair, and two babies just peeping out of their mother’s pouch. Aunt Lillibet picked a medium-sized one out of the fruit bowl. “Seven children?” she said. It was hard to keep count.

Benson came out of his room. “I think it’s more than that. There are two in my room trying to eat a sock, and I saw one in the bathroom chewing the soap.”

“Oh,” said Benson’s mother, “that’s not good for them. Go and get them, Benson. I should see about getting lunch for everyone.”

“I think they’re looking after themselves,” Aunt Lillibet said. The mother dunnart had caught a mosquito and was feeding it to two of the little ones, and the medium-sized one was trying to catch a spider in the corner.

Benson went back to his room. The two small dunnarts ran over over his feet, chasing a beetle. He went into the bathroom, and found the other one looking for bugs in the plughole.

He went into the kitchen and got an apple and took it outside. It felt like there were dunnarts everywhere. When he had finished his apple, he decided to do some digging, to help him think. He dug a nice wide hole and sat in it, thinking.

His mother came out, trailing a line of small dunnarts behind her. They scattered over the garden, looking for flies and bugs, their noses and tails twitching.

Benson said to his mother, “I’ve been thinking.”

“So have I,” said his mother.

Benson said, “With the bushfires, there must be lots of animals with no homes.”

“Yes,” said his mother.

“Wombat holes are safe, aren’t they? Even if a fire comes, they can’t burn.”

“That’s right,” said his mother.

They both thought for a while.

Benson said, “We could easily make our wombat hole bigger, and add on some more rooms, couldn’t we? They wouldn’t have to be big, for small animals like the dunnarts, and antechinuses and bettongs and bilbies.”

“Yes, we could,” said his mother. “And even the bigger animals like potoroos and quolls don’t need much room. I know there are lots of empty wombat holes around with no-one using them at the moment. Mr Fenn down the road has two old burrows he doesn’t use much any more.”

They both got up. “I’ll go and have a chat to Mr Fenn, and then I’ll tell Mrs Dunnart to let her friends know,” said Benson’s mother.

“I’ll start digging,” Benson said.

Nils and Nella

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

Benson’s mother had to go and look after her grandmother who was feeling a bit poorly, and Aunt Lillibet had a library committee meeting, and Aunt Moss was having morning tea with her folk dancing group, so Benson went to spend the day with his friends, Nils and Nella. Nils and Nella were twins, and they were possums. They loved climbing as much as Benson loved digging.

They took Benson to their favourite adventure playground. It was amazing, full of things Benson’s regular playground didn’t have. In the middle there was an enormously high climbing frame made of ropes and cables. It had little platforms here and there that you had to swing out and jump to. Nils and Nella raced each other to the top, and swung from their tails and played trapezes.

Benson couldn’t even climb onto the first rope. His hands were the wrong shape for holding on tight, and he was too heavy to lift himself up. He stayed on the ground and watched his friends swinging and flying.

“Hey, Benson, let’s go on the flying fox!” Nils said. The flying fox was a kind of metal hook on a long cable stretched between two trees, way off the ground. “Like this,” Nils said. He scampered up a pole, grabbed the hook with his tail and pushed off with his feet. The hook sped along the cable like a rocket, all the way to a platform at the other end.

“Your turn,” Nils said.

Benson couldn’t see how he could. He couldn’t climb up the pole, and he couldn’t hang onto the hook thing. “Umm, maybe I’ll just watch,” he said.

Nella was climbing on the high ropes that stretched between the tops of the trees. There was a long rope ladder reaching up from the ground. “Benson, do you want to come on the high ropes with me?” she said. “I’ll help you if you like.”

Benson put his feet on the bottom of the rope ladder and tried to climb up. The rope ladder twisted and swayed, and Benson’s hands got stuck and his stomach kind of swirled around and he couldn’t go up or down. Nella tried pulling him up but he was too heavy for her. She tried pushing him but that didn’t work, even when Nils came over to help. Benson’s hands finally slipped off and he fell ‘plomp’ onto the ground.

“Umm, maybe not,” he said. Nella ran up the ladder and disappeared among the tree tops, leaping between the branches and singing.

“How about rock-climbing?” Nils said. There were some really high rocks with bumps and knobs you could hold onto while you climbed.

Benson thought about it. He didn’t think so. “I think I’ll go over to the sand pit for a while,” he said. He felt left out and disappointed because he couldn’t do any of the things his friends were doing. They were having so much fun, and he wasn’t having any fun at all. He wished he could go home.

The sand-pit was full of baby possums who were too small to go on the equipment by themselves. One of them looked at Benson and started to cry.

Benson was surprised to think he looked scary to a small possum. He tried to think of something to make the little possum feel better. He smoothed out a section of the sand and patted it flat. With his finger, he drew a smiley face. The little possum stopped crying and looked.

Benson smoothed the sand out again and drew a birthday cake with candles. The little possum smiled. Benson got a bucket and started making sand castles, lots of them in rows for the baby possum to smash. The other little possums gathered around and everyone had a good time smashing Benson’s castles.

He built an enormous castle and the little possums climbed up it and jumped off the top. He dug a hole and covered himself with sand and pretended to be a dragon in the dungeon poking his fingers out to get the baby possums. They jumped on him and pulled his ears and played all over him. He had a great time.

When Nils and Nella came over and said it was time to go, he said, “Do we have to go already? This is a great playground!”

The Snail

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

One morning, Benson ate his breakfast in a hurry: cold mashed potatoes and nettles. He was meeting his friend, Philip, down by the creek and he didn’t want to be late. Philip was bringing his friend Kendall, and they were going to build a new bridge and play Battles and Castles. He hurried outside and grabbed his bike. He was just about to get on when he saw there was a snail on the seat of the bike.

He picked it off and dropped it on the ground. He lifted up his foot ready to crunch the snail when Aunt Lillibet came out and said, “Benson, what are you doing?”

Benson stopped. “Um, nothing. Just getting a snail off my bike,” he said.

“Well, you can’t put it there. Someone might step on it and slip and hurt themselves,” she said.

Benson picked the snail up. It shrank inside its shell, which made Benson feel a bit better. He felt funny about snails, the way their bodies were made of jelly and kind of slimed along. It was easier when they were folded back into their shells.

“I’ll put him in the garden,” he said.

“I don’t think Aunt Moss will be pleased to have a snail in her garden eating the kale and the lettuces,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Okay, I’ll put it in the compost heap,” Benson said.

“The old goanna will like that,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I often hear him down there, crunching away on the snails he finds.”

Eeuuwww. Benson didn’t like that idea. “I’ll just put him on the grass then, and he can go wherever he likes.”

By now the snail had started to unfold itself, and put its weird jelly head out of its shell, and poke its slimy wavy horns out. Benson really wanted to put it down. He picked a wide open place in the grass and put the snail down.

Immediately there was a rustle in the trees and a kookaburra swooped down. Benson picked up the snail again quickly, and the kookaburra flew past.

Benson didn’t know what to do with the snail. He stood there holding it, and its snail horns started reaching out to touch his fingers. He put it down quickly on his bike seat. It waved its horns and started sliming along, leaving a shiny trail on the seat.

Benson sighed. “I’ll just wait till it gets off and goes somewhere else,” he thought. The snail moved along slowly. Benson thought of Philip, waiting for him down by the creek, and wished the snail would hurry up.

Just then Philip rode up on his bike, looking worried.

“I can’t come down to the creek with you, Benson,” he said. “Kendall is lost. I have to go look for him.”

“That’s okay,” Benson said. “I was going to be late anyway. There’s this snail.” He pointed to the snail sliding along his bike seat.

“Kendall!” Philip shouted. “You found him! Benson, you’re amazing!” He picked up the snail and lifted it up so the wavy horns were touching his nose. “Kendall, I was so worried about you,” he said.

Seeing the snail touching Philip’s nose made Benson feel eeuuwwwy. “How do you know this is Kendall?” he asked.

“Of course it’s Kendall,” said Philip. “See these curvy lives on his shell, this big brown swirl and the little grey lines? And see how one of his horns is a bit shorter than the other one, and he waves it kind of funny? It’s always been like that, ever since he was little.”

Benson looked closely, but it just looked like a snail to him.

“Do you still want to go down to the creek?” he asked.

“Sure,” Philip said. “Kendall loves it down there.” He put Kendall on his handle-bars, they got on their bikes and rode off.

Throwing Sand

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

One day Benson was at the playground, playing with his friend Mick on the roundabout, taking turns to push it while the other one lay flat on their back on the roundabout and stared at the sky going round and round.

Then Santo came up. Santo was a numbat. He was visiting from another part of the country. He had a sharp, pointy face and brown and red stripes and a long tail. Benson didn’t like him.

Santo stood beside the roundabout, flicking his long tongue in and out.

Benson said to Mick, “Come on, let’s go to the sandpit.” They both went off, leaving Santo by himself.

There were two baby possums in the sandpit, playing tea parties. They had gum leaves they were pretending were plates, and gum nuts they were pretending were cups. Benson said to Mick, “Let’s dig a tunnel. You start over there and I’ll start over here and we’ll meet in the middle.”

They started digging, then Santo came up again. Benson kept digging, and didn’t look at him. Santo started flicking sand with his tail, and some of it went in Benson’s face.

Benson shouted, “Hey, don’t throw sand, it’s dangerous!”

Mick said, “Yeah!” and picked up a handful of sand and threw it at Santo. Santo jumped back and the sand went into the baby possums’ eyes.

The possums started to cry and their mother came running over. Benson’s mother came over too, and Mick’s mother.

The possums’ mother wrapped her arms around the two little girls and brushed their faces with her soft tail. When they stopped crying, she gathered them up and took them home.

Mick said, “It was Santo’s fault! He was throwing sand!”

Santo smiled his sneaky smile and ran off.

Benson wanted to say something, but the words got stuck and wouldn’t come out.

Benson’s mother looked at Benson, and he looked at her, and for a second it felt like she could see him the way he saw himself.

“Is this true?” she said.

Benson looked down and shook his head.

His mother said, “Did Mick throw the sand?” Benson nodded, just once. Mick started to cry.

Then Benson said, “But it was my fault too, because I wouldn’t let Santo play with us, so he started flicking the sand and that made Mick angry.”

Mick’s mother scolded him, and Benson’s mother said it wasn’t all Mick’s fault, everyone could have done better. Mick stopped crying and his mother took him home.

Benson and his mother went home. She didn’t say anything, and he didn’t say anything, but when they got home, she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a big hug.

Santo

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

Benson loved to dig. He loved reading, and cooking and playing with his friends, and visiting his grandmother, but most of all he loved to dig. One morning it was a spectacularly good day for digging, so he decided to dig a really really big tunnel, all the way to the creek. He chose a good spot in the back yard and started digging.

It was the greatest fun. The dirt was just right, soft and damp, with some hard spots here and there. Sometimes there was a rock or maybe a big root from a gum tree but he just went around them, or under them. He dug for hours, and then he decided it was time to stop for lunch.

When he came up out of the tunnel, he saw a funny-looking animal in the strawberry patch. It was small and furry with a pointy nose like a rat, and a long tail, and red and brown stripes on its body. It smiled a sneaky smile at Benson.

Its long, sticky tongue shot out of its mouth and poked a hole in one of the strawberries. Zap. While Benson watched, the speedy tongue shot out again. Zap, another strawberry. Zap, zap, two more strawberries. Benson shouted, “Stop it! Leave the strawberries alone!” The stripy animal grinned at him. Zap, zap, another two strawberries. Zap, zap, zap.

“Don’t!” Benson yelled. Benson went to grab him, but the animal ran off as fast as a rat, over to the compost heap.

The animal grinned at him again and picked up a banana skin and threw it at Benson. Splat, right in Benson’s face. Then it picked up an avocado seed and threw it at Benson. Plock, right on Benson’s head. “Hey, don’t do that!” Benson shouted.

The animal picked up a rotten potato and some apple cores and some really old orange peel and some mouldy mushrooms and threw them at Benson. Benson jumped out of the way but the mouldy mushrooms hit him right on the ear, smoosh.

Benson picked up a stick and started to chase after the creature. It ran into the herb garden and scratched up the coriander and crushed the new parsley leaves. Benson shouted and waved his stick, but the stripy animal grinned at him again and ran off, quick as a snake, under the fence and out of sight.

Aunt Lillibet came out to see what all the noise was about. “Benson! What have you done!”

There was compost all over the yard, and the herb garden was a mess. “Look at this mess!” she said. “What have you been doing?”

“It wasn’t me,” Benson said.

“Look at my parsley, and the strawberries! Benson, that was very, very naughty! “

“I didn’t do it,” Benson tried to explain.

Aunt Lillibet was very angry. She wasn’t in the mood for listening. “Don’t try and tell me that you didn’t do it, Benson! Every one of my strawberries has a hole in it and I can see the stick in your hand! Of course it was you! Go inside right now and go to your room! I’m extremely angry with you!”

Benson was really upset. No-one would listen to him. It didn’t matter what he said, no-one would believe him. He had to go to his room and stay there, hungry and upset and smelling like mouldy mushrooms.

After a long time, his mother opened his door and said, “Come out now, Benson, and behave yourself, please. Mrs Carlos has come for a visit. She’s brought a little friend who is visiting from another part of the country.”

Benson went out to the kitchen with her. Mrs Carlos was there, with a small furry animal with a pointy face like a rat, and red and brown stripes. He grinned at Benson.

“This is Santo,” Benson’s mother said. “He’s just about your age. I’m sure you’re going to be great friends.”

Benson opened his mouth to say all the things that were piled up inside of him, but Aunt Moss was patting Santo’s soft fur and Aunt Lillibet was saying how neat his little stripes were, and his mother was chatting with Mrs Carlos. He shut his mouth again. No-one would believe him before, why would they believe him now?

He went over to the fruit bowl and got a big, red, juicy strawberry. He held it out, and said, “Here, Santo, would you like a strawberry?”

Zap, zap-zap, zap.

Wings

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

One afternoon there was a thunderstorm, with lightning and thunder. Benson didn’t mind, because he and his mother were busy cooking for the library cake stall, and with all the measuring and mixing and pouring and tasting he could hardly hear the noise of the storm at all. But the next day, Aunt Lillibet told them that the lightning had started a fire in the bush near a patch of eucalypt forest.

“Oh dear,” said Aunt Moss. “I hope they weren’t the trees the koalas lived in, were they?”

“Yes, they were,” said Aunt Lillibet. “They managed to scramble down and get away safely, but now they have no homes. They’re all at the koala refuge, feeling very sad, and I’ve thought of something very exciting that will cheer them up.”

“We could take them some of the cakes we baked,” Benson said.

“No, Benson, don’t be silly, koalas only eat gum leaves,” Aunt Lillibet said. “No, we’re going to put on a play for them.”

“We’re going to play with them?” Benson asked. That sounded like a good idea.

“No, we’re going to act out a Play,” Aunt Lillibet said. “A play is when you tell a story with acting and you dress up as the characters. I’ve decided we’re going to do a play about butterflies and bunny-rabbits to make all the baby koalas feel happy.”

“Oh, a play!” said Aunt Moss. “Can I be in it?”

“We’re all going to be in it,” said Aunt Lillibet. “Except me, because I have to direct the play. That means, tell everyone what to do. Now, Moss, you can be a sweet little bunny-rabbit.”

Aunt Moss looked very happy. Benson’s mother said, “Do you think a play about rabbits is a good idea?”

“Yes, of course it is,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You’re going to be the naughty snake that the bunny-rabbits teach to be a kind and caring reptile.”

Benson started to creep out of the room, hoping no-one would see him. “Benson!” Aunt Lillibet said. “You are going to be a pretty little butterfly.”

Benson said, “I can’t be a butterfly, I don’t have any wings.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve already made you some.” She brought something out from behind her back. It was a pair of butterfly wings, made out of bent wire and elastic and coloured paper. “Here, try them on.” The elastic went over Benson’s shoulders and the wire poked into his back. He moved his arms and the coloured paper tore in three places.

“Um, I don’t think they fit,” Benson said. “Can I be another naughty snake?”

“Nonsense, a bit of sticky tape and they will be fine.”

Aunt Lillibet told them what they had to say, and made them practise over and over. The butterfly wings were so tight Benson couldn’t move his arms, and all the way to the koala refuge he had to walk extremely carefully so they didn’t rip again.

There was a big crowd of koalas, lots of mother koalas with baby koalas and young koalas, and some old koalas who were mostly asleep. Benson felt really weird, dressed as a giant butterfly with paper wings with sticky-tape on them. His mother was wearing one of Aunt Lillibet’s old stockings pulled down over her head and arms, painted green to make her look like a snake, and Aunt Moss had long, white, furry ears on her head.

Aunt Lillibet made all the koalas sit down and then she began the play. “Once upon a time a beautiful butterfly lived in a pretty meadow filled with beautiful flowers.” Benson was supposed to flap around the room, but his wings were so tight he couldn’t move his arms. He twirled around a bit, then one of his wings got caught on Aunt Moss’s rabbit ears and he sat down suddenly with a thump. His mother went to help him up, but her arms were stuck inside the stocking. She tipped over onto the ground and lay there trying to wriggle her arms out. The baby koalas all started to cry.

“Don’t worry, children,” Aunt Lillibet called out, “the naughty snake doesn’t hurt anyone.” The young koalas started to cry too, and one of the babies crawled into his mother’s pouch and wouldn’t come out again. Aunt Moss decided that she should hop about, to make the little koalas feel better, but her bunny-ears were still caught on the wire of Benson’s wings and they popped off her head and boinged into the air. Benson’s wings ripped with a loud tearing sound.

“Oh, for goodness sake!” Aunt Lillibet yelled, and everyone started to cry louder.

Benson’s mother sat up and pulled the stocking off her head. She helped Benson take his wings off, and she shushed all the crying koalas. “That’s enough of the play,” she said. “Now I’m going to tell you a story.”

“A story about snakes?” said one of the little koalas, hiding behind his mother.

“No,” Benson’s mother said, “a story about wombats. Like us. Now is everybody sitting comfortably?”

The mother koalas gathered the baby koalas and the little ones onto their laps, and the old koalas woke up to listen to what was happening.

“Good, then, this is the story. Once there was a young wombat named Benson, and he lived in a very comfortable wombat hole, with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss. One day Benson and his mother were in the kitchen making gum-leaf ice-cream when a turtle with a funny hat came into the kitchen…”

Benson’s mother went on telling the story to the very end, and all the koalas listened and clapped, except for the tiniest babies who had gone to sleep in their mothers’ pouches. Then they all had gum-leaf tea and gum-nut butter sandwiches and everyone felt much better.

The Umbrella

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

Aunt Lillibet had a new umbrella, which her friend Marigold had given her. It was very beautiful, with drawings of Canada geese all around it, and a smooth, carved wooden handle. She called Aunt Moss into her room to show her.

“See, it has these beautiful drawings of geese all over it,” she said.

“I can’t see them properly,” Aunt Moss said. “Can’t you open it?”

Aunt Lillibet was very pleased to be asked to open her umbrella, even though it was inside the house, and it wasn’t even raining outside. “It’s automatic, you know,” she said. “You just push this button here, and it opens by itself.”

She pushed the button near the handle and foooop, the umbrella suddenly opened. It was bigger than she expected. In fact it took up nearly the whole room. She and Moss were pushed up against the bed, and the umbrella took all the rest of the space.

“Oh, it is very beautiful,” Aunt Moss said. “I can see all the geese flying around now.”

“Never mind the geese,” Lillibet said, “help me get it folded down again. It’s poking into my leg, and making holes in the walls.”

“How does it fold down again?” Aunt Moss asked. “Is there another button?”

“I don’t know,” Lillibet said. “Help me pull on the handle.”

They pulled on the handle together, but the umbrella just twisted around and swept everything off the shelf onto the floor.”

“Look out, Moss! Try to be more careful! You’ve knocked over my bedside lamp now.”

“There’s a spring up near the top of the umbrella. Why don’t you try to pull that down? I’ll hold the bottom of the handle and you reach up,” Aunt Moss said.

“I can’t reach it!” Lillibet said. Pulling on the handle just made the umbrella jam harder against the sides of the doorway. They both stopped, and tried to think of a way around it. The two of them were squashed into one corner of the room, and the umbrella filled up every other piece of the room.

Just then Benson walked past and stopped. It looked like a very big balloon was filling up Aunt Lillibet’s bedroom and coming out the doorway. He gave it a gentle poke.

“Benson!” Lillibet shouted. “Are you out there?”

“Yes, Aunt Lillibet,” he answered. “Are you playing with a balloon in your room?”

“Oh, Benson, can you help us?” Aunt Moss cried. “This silly umbrella won’t go down and we’re stuck in here.”

Benson looked at all the umbrella he could see, and tried to imagine all the umbrella he couldn’t see, inside Aunt Lillibet’s room.

He said, “It won’t fit through the doorway, and I can’t get in with it in the way. I could get a knife and poke a hole in it?”

“No!” said Aunt Lillibet. “It was a gift from my friend, Marigold. You don’t poke holes in gifts with knives.”

“I think I remember Marigold saying she always had trouble with this umbrella,” Aunt Moss said. “She often had to leave it outside because she couldn’t fold it up.”

Aunt Lillibet didn’t say anything, but Benson could imagine her getting very upset.

“I can only think of one thing,” Benson said.

“What?” said Aunt Lillibet. It really was getting very tight in that room. There was far too much umbrella for comfort. The umbrella seemed to have more pointy parts and stabby ends than umbrellas usually have.

“You could lift the handle up, and hook it around the light in the ceiling, and then you might be able to climb out underneath it.”

“What a good idea!” said Aunt Moss.

“I suppose it’s worth a try,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Come on, Moss, lift your side. Stop poking me – ow!”

Benson could hear them struggling and pushing, and then the part of the umbrella that was bulging out through the doorway disappeared into the room. He put his head inside to have a look. The umbrella was hanging upside down from the light in the middle of the ceiling. Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet were sitting on the bed, panting.

“It’s not much use as an umbrella up there,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“But it does make a pretty light-shade,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson switched on the light. Beautiful Canada geese floated around the ceiling.

“Ohh,” Moss said. “How beautiful!”

And even Aunt Lillibet was pleased.

Beetroot and Custard

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

Aunt Moss was feeling poorly, so Benson’s mother asked him to help getting lunch ready. They were having beetroot and spinach and corn bread. Benson’s mother had cooked the beetroot in a big pot and she asked Benson to peel them while she made the corn bread.

Peeling beetroot is very messy, Benson found. The water they were cooked in was dark red beetroot coloured, and the beetroot were even darker red, with slippery red skins. Benson tried to fish one out of the pot, and the water made his hands all red.

“Use a fork,” his mother said. Benson got a fork and tried to stab the beetroot in the pot, but they bounced out of the way, and the red water splashed up onto his chest and left red marks.

“Try using the tongs,” Aunt Lillibet said. She was making a big pot of custard at the other end of the stove.

Benson got the tongs, and managed to grab one of the beetroot and get it out of the pot. He started to peel it, and the red juice went all over his hands, making them even redder. He wondered if it would ever wash out or if his hands would be beetroot-red for ever.

Benson’s mother put the cornbread in the oven and went in to see Aunt Moss. When she came out again she was shaking her head. “I’m really worried about Moss,” she said to Aunt Lillibet. “She hasn’t eaten anything much for three days, and she still says she isn’t hungry.”

“Take her in some of this custard,” Lillibet said. “She loves custard.” She poured some into a bowl, and Benson’s mother carried it carefully into Aunt Moss’s room. In a minute she came out again, bringing the bowl of custard.

“She said she isn’t hungry,” Benson’s mother said. “I think I’m going to have to ring the doctor if she doesn’t eat or drink something soon.”

Benson had a kind of an idea. “Let me try,” he said. He carefully lifted up one of the beetroot, and dropped it into the saucepan with the custard in it.

“No!” his mother and Aunt Lillibet said together. They looked into the saucepan.

“You’ve ruined the custard, Benson,” Aunt Lillibet said very crossly. Aunt Lillibet loved custard too.

The beetroot colour had spread into the custard in big red splotches. Benson carefully lifted the beetroot out of the custard. Then he stirred the custard gently. After a minute it was a very pretty pink colour.

He poured some of it into a bowl and took it into Aunt Moss’s room.

“Oh, pink custard, how pretty!” she said. She tried a tiny spoonful of it. “It has a funny taste,” she said. “A bit like… beetroot.” She tried another spoonful. “Mmm, I like it,” she said. And she ate the whole bowl-full.