Chips

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

Aunt Moss had a party to celebrate World Tomato Day, and after everyone left, there was one bag of chips left over.

Aunt Moss was very fond of chips, and so was Aunt Lillibet, and so was Benson. Even Benson’s mother liked them.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Who’s going to eat the last bag of chips?”

Benson’s mother said, “I was thinking of crushing them up and using them as topping on the turnip roast I’m making tonight.”

“No!” Aunt Moss and Aunt Lillibet said together, “don’t do that!”

Benson said, “How about we have a competition, and the winner gets the chips?”

“What sort of competition?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“We could have a race,” Benson said, “and the fastest one gets the chips.”

Nobody thought that was a good idea. “We could have a no-laughing game,” Aunt Lillibet said. “We all try to make each other laugh, and whoever laughs is out, and the last one in gets the chips.”

“No,” Benson and Aunt Moss said. Aunt Lillibet always won the no-laughing game.

“What about a funny joke game?” suggested Aunt Moss. “Whoever tells the funniest joke gets the chips.”

“How do we know which joke is funniest?” Lillibet said. “I might tell a joke that is very funny but no-one else laughs.”

“That’s very true,” Benson’s mother said. “People have different senses of humour.” She opened the bag of chips just enough so that everyone could smell them. “You know, the first chip is always the best one.”

“My favourite is sour cream and eucalyptus,” Aunt Moss said, breathing in the smell of the chips. “I know, what about we try to name as many flavours of chips as we can, and whoever thinks of the most wins the chips?”

“Good idea,” said Lillibet. “Plain, salt-and-vinegar…”

“Barbecue, cheese…” said Aunt Moss.

“Honey soy,” said Benson, “beetroot and Vegemite…”

“Beetroot and Vegemite?” said his mother. “Is that one flavour or two?” She took one chip out of the packet and crunched it thoughtfully.

“It’s two, beetroot flavoured, and Vegemite flavoured, but it could be both, so that’s three altogether,” he said. He took one chip and ate it with his eyes closed, imagining it was beetroot and Vegemite flavoured.

“If we’re going to make up flavours,” Aunt Lillibet said, “what about cheese and pickles?”

“Or cheese and celery,” Aunt Moss said. They both took a chip each.

“Chocolate,” Benson’s mother said.

“No!” everyone else said, but Benson thought chocolate might be interesting.

“Carrot and banana,” Aunt Moss said.

“Lemon and ginger,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Mustard seed. Pumpkin and walnut.”

“Mmm, delicious,” Aunt Moss said. “And zucchini and roasted capsicum, or tomato and spinach.”

“Tomato and cheese,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Tomato and Vegemite,” Benson said.

“Tomato and cheese AND Vegemite,” Aunt Moss said. “Oh dear.”

Benson’s mother said, “What is it, Moss?”

There were no chips left in the packet. Benson’s mother turned the packet upside down, and not even a crumb came out. “I must say they were the most delicious chips I’ve ever had,” she said.

They all thought about their favourite flavours again.

Benson’s mother said, “I think I’ll make some cookies. Cranberry cookies?”

“Walnut and white chocolate,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“Beetroot and carrot,” Aunt Moss said.

Benson said, “What about…”

“NO Vegemite,” everyone said together.

Weaving

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

Aunt Moss had a friend called Shelley, who was a weaver. She made blankets and scarves and tea-towels on a loom. Aunt Moss was going to spend the day with her, and she wanted Aunt Lillibet to go with her.

“Come with me, Lillibet, you’ll love it,” she said.

Aunt Lillibet shook her head very firmly. “No, thank you. Piles of wool all tangled up together, baskets overflowing everywhere, fluff and mess, no thank you. Benson and I are going to read a very interesting book on exotic weeds and play I Spy.”

Benson’s mother had gone fishing with a friend, and Lillibet was looking after him. Benson would much rather have gone fishing.

Aunt Moss left by herself, and Aunt Lillibet got out the book about weeds. Benson said, “Look, Aunt Moss left her bag behind.”

“It’s probably full of useless things she won’t need anyway,” Lillibet said. “’Chapter One. Bindweed and asparagus fern.’”

Benson said, “She’s left her hat behind.” The hat was lying on top of the bag.

Lillibet said, “She probably won’t need it. It looks like rain.”

Benson could see Aunt Moss’s umbrella poking out of her bag. “She’s left her umbrella behind too.”

“Stop interrupting, Benson! Now, there’s something very interesting here about propagation and natural methods of controlling weeds.”

“She’s left behind that book she was going to lend to Shelley, ‘Captain Cauliflower and the Wily Fungus Gang’,” Benson said. It sounded way more interesting than bindweed. “And her glasses.”

Aunt Lillibet snapped her book shut. “Very well, then. You’d better go after her and take her bag.”

“Umm,” Benson said. He had been to Shelley’s place before, and he remembered that there was a particularly nasty goose in the front yard. It needed someone as brave as Captain Cauliflower to fend it off. “There’s a lot to carry, the bag, and her hat, and the umbrella, and the book and her glasses.”

Aunt Lillibet grumbled, but she picked up the bag and the umbrella, and Benson collected up the rest of the things, and they went over to Shelley’s. The goose came squawking at them but Aunt Lillibet was ready for it with the umbrella, and they got inside safely.

Aunt Moss was very happy. “Lillibet, you came!”

“We only came because you left so many things behind,” Aunt Lillibet said. “We’re going straight home now.”

Aunt Moss said, “Oh well, while you’re here, why don’t you come in and see what Shelley is doing?”

In a room at the very back, Shelley was sitting in front of a big wooden contraption with levers and pedals, covered with long strands of wool in different coloured stripes. Shelley had a shuttle, a piece of wood with more wool wrapped around it, and she was sliding the shuttle back and forth between the stripes while she stepped on the pedals and flipped the levers.

Benson had been there with Aunt Moss, and he’d been allowed to throw the shuttle back and forth a few times, but this time there was a table with cranberry cookies and coconut milk that looked more interesting.

Aunt Lillibet looked at the loom. She looked at the shelves at the end of the room with tidy baskets of different coloured wool. She looked at the piece of fabric half-made on the loom, with a diamond curlicue pattern in red wool and green and gold silk. Shelley smiled, and said, “Would you like to have a try?”

Lillibet slid onto the weaver’s seat and took the shuttle and threw it across between the rows of thread stretched out in front of her. She swung the beater, and like magic another row of pattern appeared on the piece of fabric. Shelley smiled again, and told her what to do next. “Press this pedal, and now use this shuttle, the green one…” Lillibet pressed and pushed and threw and beat as if there was nothing else in the world she would rather do. She forgot there was anyone else in the room, except Shelley telling her what to do next.

Aunt Moss watched Aunt Lillibet weaving and smiled. She said, “Benson, would you pour me some milk and pass me a cookie, please?”

She got the book Benson had brought, and she and Benson settled down to read together, with the plate of cookies. “’Captain Cauliflower was strong, brave and clever, and his sworn mission was to defend the castle of the White King against all enemies, but especially against the Wily Fungus gang.’”

Whittling Whistles

(for Christopher)

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 winter morning Benson went outside to soak up some sunshine. He dug himself a shallow hole and lay down in it, feeling the warm sun on his tummy. His mother brought her knitting out and sat nearby, and Aunt Moss was sitting in a garden chair, sewing and thinking. Aunt Lillibet came out and sat at the garden table. She had a new book from the library, and she opened it up and started reading. She took out a knife, and a piece of wood.

“What are you doing?” Benson asked her.

“I was thinking of doing some whittling,” Aunt Lillibet said. “I used to whittle when I was younger. I found this book in the library and I thought I might try out some things.”

Aunt Moss opened her eyes. “Oh, yes, I remember you were a very good whittler when we were girls, Lillibet.”

“I can whistle, a bit,” said Benson.

“Not ‘whistle’,” Aunt Lillibet said, “’whittle’. It means carving things with a knife out of a piece of wood.”

Aunt Moss said, “Although you did whittle some very nice whistles, Lillibet, I remember.”

“Can you whittle whistles, Aunt Lillibet?” asked Benson. “Will you whittle one for me?”

“I might,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“Maybe you could make him a small one,” Benson’s mother said. “You could whittle a little whistle.”

Aunt Moss said, “Yes, I’d like to see Lillibet whittling a little whistle.”

“If you don’t mind,” Aunt Lillibet said, “I would like to read my book in peace, without all this chattering.”

Benson’s mother said, “Is there anything in your book about whittling willow? You could make a whistle out of willow. You could whittle little willow whistles.”

Benson said, “And you could paint them yellow.”

His mother said, “Definitely. Yellow willow whistles would be lovely. Would you like to whittle little yellow willow whistles, Lillibet?”

“That will do,” Aunt Lillibet said firmly. “I will not be painting any willow whistles yellow!”

Aunt Moss said, “Would you rather whittle little white whistles, Lillibet? You could whittle little white and yellow willow whistles.”

“Not just now, thank you,” Lillibet said, in a beginning-to-be-cross voice. “I don’t believe I have any willow for whittling.”

“Will you get some willow in a little while, Aunt Lillibet?” said Benson.

“We could get some willow for Lillibet to whittle with,” said his mother. “Then in a little while, Lillibet will whittle little white and yellow whistles.”

Aunt Lillibet snapped the book shut and stood up. She went inside, taking the book with her. In a few minutes she came out again, with a bowl of fruit.

“Aunt Lillibet, what are you doing?” Benson asked her.

Aunt Lillibet picked up her knife. “I’m peeling a peach,” she said. “Then I will probably peel a persimmon, or a prickly pineapple, or a perfectly pink pomegranate, or possibly a whole pile of plump purple plums.”

Reading Aloud

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

One afternoon Benson was sitting at the table in the kitchen reading a very exciting book he got from the library, about pirates and a kangaroo and an elephant called Jade.

He’d just gotten to a very exciting part where a big storm was coming when his mother came into the kitchen to get dinner ready.

When she saw the book he was reading, she said, “Oh, I love that book! Can you read it to me while I’m cooking?”

So Benson started reading it aloud. “’The waves got bigger and bigger until they were so enormous that…’”

“I love this part!” his mother said. “Can you go back a bit, just to the beginning of this part?”

Benson turned back to the page before and starting reading again. “’By midday, storm clouds were gathering. The pirate captain called to his first mate and whispered – ‘”

Benson’s mother called out, “What did you say? I can’t hear you.” She was chopping potatoes so loudly it sounded like dinosaurs galloping over a wooden bridge. “Can you read a bit louder?”

Benson read loudly, “’The pirate captain called to his first mate and whispered, ‘Don’t breathe a word to the others, but the treasure is hidden in- ‘’”

“What?” said his mother. “I can’t hear you!”

Benson shouted, “’Don’t breathe a word to the others – ‘”

Just then Aunt Lillibet walked in. “Don’t breathe a word about what? Oh, I remember that book. In the end the elephant gets the – “

“Don’t tell me!” Benson said.

“Yes, don’t spoil the ending for him, Lillibet,” Benson’s mother said. “Go on, Benson, you were just getting to the exciting part.”

Benson read, “’Don’t breathe a word -’”

“It doesn’t make any sense starting in the middle of a chapter like that,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Go back to the start of the chapter.”

Benson sighed. He turned back six pages and started to read again. “’The pirate ship sailed for weeks through shark-infested waters, through tropical monsoons and cyclones, until they came to the fabled Antimacassar Islands. The sailors caught sight of a huge grey beast on a tiny island, the most fearsome creature they had ever seen. They took their harpoons – ‘”

Benson’s mother put some carrots in the blender and turned it on. A noise like a million hailstones filled the kitchen. Even Benson couldn’t hear himself.

“Can’t you read any louder?” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson raised his voice. “’They took their harpoons and crept up behind it. ‘Shhh, said the captain, don’t make a sound or – ‘’”

“Louder!” shouted Aunt Lillibet. “I can’t hear a word you’re saying!”

Benson shouted at the top of his voice, “’’Shhh,’ said the captain, ‘don’t make a sound or – ‘’”

The blender stopped. Aunt Moss came into the kitchen, and asked, “What’s all the shouting about?”

“Benson’s reading to us,” Lillibet said, “but he’s reading much too quietly. You have to try harder, Benson.”

Benson started again. “’’Shhh,’ said the captain, ‘don’t make a sound or – ‘’”

“Oh,” said Aunt Moss, “is this the part where the pirates come to the island where Jade the elephant has build a hospital over the cave where the treasure is buried and the captain sends the sailors to burn it down and then the monsoon comes up – or is it a hurricane?”

“It’s just a big storm,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“No, I think it was a hurricane,” Benson’s mother said. “Or a cyclone.”

“Can you read that part again, dear?” Aunt Moss asked Benson. “Just so we know.”

Benson started again, “’’Shhh,’ said the captain, ‘don’t make sound or – ‘’”

“No, no, go back to the start,” Lillibet said.

Benson’s mother said, “There’s no need to go all the way back to the start. Just go on, Benson.”

Benson started reading, “’’Don’t make a sound or you may enrage the beast and it will turn on us. And if the beast turns on us, none of us will escape with our lives. We must get close enough-’’”

“I love this part!” Aunt Moss said. “Just after this Jade meets the young cabin-boy who – “

Benson’s mother turned the blender on again. Aunt Lillibet started chopping turnips. “Louder! I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” she yelled over the noise.

Benson shouted, “’Enough!’”

Everyone stopped and looked at Benson. He cleared his throat with a small cough. “I think my voice is getting tired,” he said. “I think I’ll read in my room for a while.”

Aunt Moss said, “What a shame. The next part is my very favourite, where Jade is struck by a giant coconut during the storm – “

“Oh no, dear, that’s much later,” Lillibet said. “First they have to hunt for the treasure -”

“But don’t you remember, dear, the treasure isn’t where the captain says it is because the first mate -”

“No, it isn’t the first mate,” Lillibet said, “it’s the cabin boy who was hiding in the kangaroo’s pouch all along.”

“But that’s after the hospital burns down, isn’t it?” Benson’s mother said.

The three of them went on talking, and didn’t notice Benson putting his hands over his ears and going quietly to his room and shutting the door.

Best Friends

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 had a best friend called Zali. As soon as he met her one day in the playground they became friends. They loved being together and talking and doing things. Benson liked digging and Zali loved sitting in holes. Zali loved climbing trees and Benson liked making piles of leaves for people to jump out of trees into. Benson loved mucking around in the creek, and Zali liked making bridges and crossing back and forth.

They spent lots of time together for ages and then Zali stopped coming to the playground. Benson didn’t see her for weeks and weeks, and he wondered what had happened to her. Sometimes he looked at her favourite spot in the sandpit and he felt an empty hole in his middle. He missed her very much.

After a while he got used to not seeing her and he nearly forgot her. He had lots of other friends.

Then one day he went to the playground with his mother and there was someone who looked exactly like Zali. She was sitting by herself in the sandpit. He went up closer to the sandpit and he was pretty sure it was Zali, but she looked different somehow.

Benson’s mother was sitting on the mothers’ bench with Zali’s mother. Benson went over to her and said, ‘Is that Zali?’

Benson’s mother said, ‘Yes, it’s Zali. But I’m not sure if she remembers you, Benson.’

Zali’s mother said quietly, ‘Zali had a very serious accident and she hurt her head badly. She doesn’t remember things very well any more.’

‘Is she sick?’ Benson asked. Zali didn’t look sick. She just looked… different. Kind of lost, and quiet.

‘No, she’s not sick,’ Zali’s mother said. ‘She was sick for a long time, but she’s better now. She just doesn’t think as quickly as she used to any more.’

Zali’s mother looked as if she was going to get upset, and Benson’s mother took her hand. Benson decided it was all confusing and the best way to work it out was to go and see Zali for himself.

He went over to the sandpit and said, ‘Hi, Zali.’ Zali looked up but she didn’t smile or say hello.

Benson said, ‘It’s me, Benson.’ She still didn’t smile or say anything. Benson sat down beside her and started to dig. It felt weird, being with Zali who wasn’t like Zali any more, but digging he knew. He dug a pretty big hole, then he said, ‘Hey, Zali, you want to sit in this hole?’

Zali didn’t do anything for a while. But then she slowly got up and climbed into the hole. She smiled then. Benson dug a bigger hole for himself, chatting to Zali all the time. Zali didn’t talk back to him, but she kept smiling so Benson knew it was all right.

He sat in his hole, and Zali sat in hers and he talked about what they used to do together, and after a while he asked her if she wanted to go down to the creek and muck around in the water. Zali looked at him and said, ‘Yes.’

So they got out of their holes and starting toddling down towards the creek. Benson looked back at his mother and Zali’s mother, sitting on the bench together, and they were both crying, and he thought going down to the creek and leaving them by themselves was a great idea.

‘Come on, Zali, let’s run,’ he said. And they ran down to the creek together.

Benson and the Baby

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 of Benson’s mother’s friends had a new baby, and everyone went to visit. “Why do we have to go and see the baby?” Benson said. “What’s interesting about babies?”

“The baby is new and we’re going to welcome him. And we’re going to see if his mother needs any help,” Benson’s mother said. “You can play with Alejandro, once we’ve seen the baby.”

Alejandro was Benson’s friend from dance class. He was very good at grand jete, which was jumping into the air with your arms out. Benson was better at tap-dancing.

The baby was very very small, tiny all over, and pink. Benson looked at him and thought that was enough. There wasn’t much that was interesting about babies. Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss and Benson’s mother all gathered around the baby and its mother and cooed like ducks, and took turns holding it and kept asking if it was their turn yet.

Benson’s mother said, “Benson, wouldn’t you like to hold the baby?”

Benson didn’t really want to hold the baby, but Aunt Lillibet made him sit down and Aunt Moss showed him how to hold his arms and his mother put the baby in them. The baby looked up him once and started to cry. Not exactly cry, more like scream.

“Jiggle him,” Aunt Lillibet said. Benson jiggled. The baby screamed on and on.

“Pat him on the back,” Aunt Moss said. “Gently now.” Benson patted the baby on the back. It screamed even more.

“Talk to him,” Benson’s mother said. “Sing to him.”

Benson couldn’t think of a single song a baby might like. He tried humming, but he couldn’t hear himself over the noise the baby was making.

“Um, I don’t think he likes me,” Benson said. He really wanted to give the baby back to someone and go outside where it was quiet, with Alejandro.

The baby’s mother, Amelie, said, “Of course he likes you. Alejandro says the same thing. He’s just hungry. Give him to me.”

Benson handed the baby over and went outside as fast as he could. He and Alejandro played hide and seek, and What’s the Time Mr Wolf, and Alejandro practised his grand jetes while Benson dug a couple of holes and sat in them and filled them in again.

When it was time to go home, Amelie said to Benson, “Thank you for coming to play with Alejandro. His little brother isn’t much fun while he’s still little, but it won’t be long before they’re playing together. Would you like to hold him again before you go?”

Benson didn’t want to, but it didn’t seem polite to say so. He sat down and Amelie put the baby in his arms. The baby looked up at him and smiled. Benson smiled back. “Hello, baby,” he said. The baby smiled and laughed. Benson made noises like a baby duck, and then he made a noise like a big digger. The baby laughed as if Benson was the funniest thing he had ever seen.

Benson Buys a Duck

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

One day Aunt Moss was cleaning out her cupboard and Benson was helping her, when she found some coins in an old shoe at the bottom of the cupboard. She gave them to Benson. “You can have these if you like. I didn’t even know I had them.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “One dollar and fifty cents. What are you going to buy with all that money?”

Benson said, “I think I’ll buy a duck.”

“A duck?” said Aunt Lillibet. “What on earth would you do with a duck?”

“I could tie a rope to it and take it for walks. Or ducks can fly – I could ride on its back and fly everywhere.”

Benson’s mother said, “I think you’d be a bit heavy for a duck to carry.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Benson said. His head was suddenly full of ideas. “I could collect its eggs, and I could eat them, and some of the eggs would turn into ducks and I could sell them to people, or I could keep them and have more eggs. And I could pull their feathers out and make pillows and quilts and sleeping bags. And they could dig up worms and grubs and I could get them and go fishing and then I could eat the fish and you could make fish stew and fish pie, and when it was my turn to wash up, I could get the duck to wash up instead of me…”

“Benson!” his mother said sharply. “I think you need some fresh air. I think you and I should go for a walk, down to the creek.”

Benson went and got his hat, still thinking about ducks and feathers and fish stew. He kept the money tight in his hand, while he and his mother walked down to the creek. It was a beautiful sunny day, and Benson paddled in the water and dug a big hole to make a dam across part of the creek. Two frogs were playing in the water, and a turtle swam past.

After a while Benson lay on the bank and watched the leaves reflecting in the water, making patterns with the ripples the turtle had made. He said to his mother, “If you had millions of dollars, what you would buy?”

“I’d buy this whole creek and all the bush around it,” she said.

Benson sat up. “What would you do with it?”

His mother said, “I wouldn’t do anything with it. I’d let it be exactly the way it is, cool and beautiful, home for the fish and the ducks and the turtles and all the birds. I’d come down now and then and clean it out a bit, and dig out the weeds and take away any rubbish that floated down. And I’d come and sit here from time to time, and I’d watch you paddling.”

Benson thought about it, and it sounded exactly right to him. He imagined the creek living for a long time, cool and green and full of fish and frogs and turtles, all safe and healthy. Just then, two brown ducks came swimming along, and started digging in the mud with their beaks, looking for worms and grubs.

“If I had piles and piles of money,” Benson said, “I think I’d buy a duck just like those brown ducks, and put it here on the creek and it would paddle around and eat worms and stuff, and get little ducklings and hang around with the other ducks. Or maybe I’d buy a great big enormous sky so all the birds could fly around, and lots of trees for them to sit in.”

“Mmm,” said his mother. “Time to go home?”

“I have to do something first,” Benson said.

Later on, when he got home, he was holding something behind his back. He brought it out and gave it to Aunt Moss. It was a little cup with a picture of a green and blue duck on it. “It’s for you, Aunt Moss,” he said. “I thought you might like it.”

“I love it,” said Aunt Moss.

The Perfect Green

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 day Aunt Lillibet said to Benson’s mother, “You know, that front door needs a coat of paint. It’s looking very shabby. It gets the full sun every day and that old green is faded. Besides, the wood is all dried out.”

Benson’s mother agreed. “A new coat of paint would be wonderful. What about painting it red this time?”

Aunt Lillibet was putting on her painting overall. “Too bright,” she said. “Red is all right for post boxes and fire engines, but not for front doors.”

“How about yellow?” Benson said.

“Yellow shows the dirt too much,” Aunt Lillibet said. She put down a drop-cloth to protect the floor.

Aunt Moss said, “Blue is pretty, and it doesn’t show the dirt.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Three other wombat holes in this street have blue doors. We live in the wombat hole with the green door.” She got out her favourite brush, and some painting rags in case of a spill. “Now, what kind of green?”

What kind of green? Benson thought. Is she crazy? Green is green! He decided to make a sandwich while the grown-ups talked about green.

Aunt Lillibet took some yellow paint and mixed in a little blue. “Oh no!” Aunt Moss said. “It’s too olive-y! Yuck!”

Lillibet mixed in a little more blue. “That’s more like lettuce,” Benson’s mother said, “or baby spinach leaves. A bit too bright. We don’t want kangaroos and numbats coming and nibbling at the front door. ”

Lillibet mixed in more blue. “No, that’s too dark and sad,” Benson’s mother said. “Too much like old silverbeet leaves. What about something a bit lighter, like carrot tops, or celery?”

Lillibet mixed in some white, and a touch of yellow. “No, that’s not right,” Aunt Moss said. “That looks like pickles.”

Lillibet added a touch of blue. “Oh no,” Aunt Moss said, “We don’t want a front door the colour of toothpaste. Here, try this.” She splashed some black into the paint.

“Moss, careful what you’re doing!” Lillibet said. “That’s revolting, like the slime at the bottom of the creek.” She carefully added a little more white, and a lot more yellow. “That’s better. I think that’s nearly right.”

“That’s exactly the colour it is now,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson looked over the top of his sandwich. His mother was right. It was the most ordinary, dull green in the world, a kind of dull, ferny, mossy green.

“I’m not finished yet,” Lillibet said. She added a little blue, and just a drop of white and mixed carefully, then just a drop more blue. “There! Now that’s perfect!”

It was the colour of gum leaves, a silvery-blue green. “Perfect!” said Benson’s mother. “That will look beautiful with the sun shining on it, and it will still look nice in the rain.”

“Lovely!” said Aunt Moss. “It reminds me of home. My mother’s favourite hat had leaves on it exactly that colour.”

“Would anyone like a sandwich?” Benson said.

“I’d love one,” said his mother. “What’s on them?”

“Lettuce and baby spinach and carrot tops and celery and pickles.”

“Delicious,” his mother said. They sat down at the table with Aunt Moss and shared the sandwiches. Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet, would you like a sandwich?” But Lillibet didn’t hear her. She was already painting the front door, humming to herself.

Yellow Jelly Beans

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 came into the kitchen, and Aunt Moss was sitting at the table, with a pile of jelly beans. Benson went and sat down beside her.

“What are you doing with all these jelly beans?” Benson asked.

“They’re left over from a birthday party I had for the ducks. They didn’t like them as much as the worm patties I made.”

“That’s funny. I’m sure I’d like jelly beans better than worm patties,” Benson said.

“Did someone say jelly beans?”Aunt Lillibet said, coming out of her room. “Oh, Moss, you’ve got a great pile of jelly beans. Surely you’re not going to eat them all yourself?”

“Oh no,” Aunt Moss said. “There’s plenty for everyone. Would you like one?”

“I like the black ones,” Lillibet said. “Black jelly beans are the best by far.”

“I’ve never liked the black ones,” Aunt Moss said. “The white ones are nice, like lemonade, and the green ones taste like lime, or green apples. Which ones are your favourites, Benson?”

“The red ones,” Benson said. Red jelly beans tasted like strawberries and raspberries and all sorts of sweet things, and besides, you could pretend they were lipstick and smear them all over your lips.

“I’ll make a pile of the red ones for you, Benson, and Lillibet, you can have all the black ones. Nobody likes the black ones.” She picked out all the black ones and put them in a pile near Lillibet, and she got all the red ones and put them in another pile in front of Benson. She made a little heap of green ones, and a heap of white ones. That just left the yellow ones.

Just then Benson’s mother came in from doing the shopping. She put all the bags on the floor in the kitchen and came over to the table. “Jelly beans!” she said. “I haven’t had a jelly bean in ages!”

“Oh, would you like some?” Aunt Moss said. “What colour?”

“Oh, any colour,” said Benson’s mother. “Red ones, or green or white. But not black – they taste like aniseed.”

Aunt Lillibet put her hands over her pile of black ones. Benson didn’t do anything. He’d already eaten all the red ones.

“You and I can have the green ones and the white ones together,” Aunt Moss said. Benson’s mother said down beside Aunt Moss and before long there were no jelly beans left. Except the yellow ones. They sat in a pile in the middle of the table.

Aunt Moss said, “I’ve never been partial to yellow ones. They remind me of bananas mixed with washing-up liquid.”

“I think they taste like old mushrooms,” said Lillibet, “or rhubarb before it’s ripe enough.”

“They make me think of plastic lemons,” Benson’s mother said.

Benson looked at the yellow jelly beans. They were jelly beans, after all. “Maybe they’re pineapple flavoured,” he said hopefully, “or custard-flavoured?”

Custard-flavoured? Everyone looked at the yellow jelly beans. “I’ll try one if you like,” Benson said.

“I don’t mind trying them,” Lillibet said.

Benson’s mother said, “They might be fine.”

Aunt Moss carefully divided the pile of yellow jelly beans. Exactly two for each person.

Benson ate his. “Hmm, plastic pineapple. Not bad.”

Everyone else ate theirs. Aunt Moss said sadly, “Nothing like custard, really.”

Benson’s mother said, “Sort of banana-lime washing-up liquid. Not the best.”

Lillibet said, “Interesting. Mushroomy-rhubarb with a hint of minty lemon. But not as nice as black, of course.”

“I suppose you’ve got to take the bad with the good,” Aunt Moss said.

“No wonder the ducks didn’t like them,” said Benson.

Washing Up Again

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

One night after dinner it was Benson’s turn to wash the dishes, but he had something in his room he was in the middle of doing, with sticks and glue and jacaranda seed pods, so he washed the dishes as fast as he could and hurried off to his room. He had just got the glue out when his mother called, “Benson!”

He went back out to the kitchen. “Benson, did you wash these dishes? There’s still milk in the bottom of this glass, and there is custard on this bowl, and on this one, and pieces of carrot on the plates. These dishes are not clean!”

Benson sighed very loudly. “Okay, I’ll do them again.” He felt very frustrated. He wanted to get all the dishes and put them in the bin, carrot and custard and all.

Aunt Moss said, “I’ll come and help, Benson. You wash and I’ll dry.”

Benson filled the sink up with hot water again, and squirted some detergent in, thinking about his sticks and seed pods and thinking that Aunt Moss was only going to make washing up slower.

“Let’s start with the glasses,” Aunt Moss said. Benson took the first glass and washed it carefully, getting all the milk out this time. Aunt Moss said, “I remember when Lillibet and I were little girls, all our glasses were Vegemite glasses.”

“What’s a Vegemite glass?” Benson asked.

“Vegemite used to come in a little glass with a metal lid on top, and when we’d eaten all the Vegemite, you washed the container and you had a new glass. When your mother was a little girl, it was the same with jam. Jam came in glass containers, and once you’d eaten all the jam, you had a nice new glass. I don’t know why they stopped doing that. Of course, when we were girls, there were no plastic cups or glasses. I remember when my mother bought us metal cups for a special treat, all different colours. Lillibet and I both wanted the gold cup, but our little brother Lionel got it. That was okay because he was the youngest, just a baby really.”

“Metal cups? Why didn’t you have plastic cups?” Benson asked. All the glasses were done, and he was up to the cups now.

“There wasn’t any plastic,” Aunt Moss said, “or maybe not just any the right kind. I remember my cup was the pink one, and Lillibet had the green one…oh, be careful with that plate, Benson! I remember once when Lillibet and I were doing the dishes – she always washed, and I dried – and we broke a plate. We were having a big fight-”

“Did you and Aunt Lillibet fight?” Benson couldn’t believe it.

“Oh, yes, we used to fight all the time, terrible fights. We’d fight about who had to tidy the bedroom up, and whose turn it was to bath little Lionel, and sometimes she’d wash the dishes so slowly that I wanted to scream at her, because she knew that I had to stand there and wait until she’d finished.. Oh, she was mean sometimes!”

Benson tried to imagine the two of them, old, old wombats that they were, as girls. Impossible.

“And one time,” Aunt Moss said, “we broke a plate – Lillibet said it was my fault for dropping it, but I thought it was her fault because it was slippery and it slipped out of her hand when she passed it to me, and it dropped on the floor and smashed, and we were standing there arguing about it and our mother came in and she cried! It happened to be the very last plate of a set that her mother had been given when she got married. It was just an old yellow plate with faded purple flowers on it and a chip on one of the edges, and we had no idea.” Aunt Moss stared into space, thinking about it. Benson tried to imagine a plate being older than he was, even older than Aunt Moss was. Impossible.

Aunt Moss smiled. “We had one plate, I remember, that had little rabbits on it, and a picture in the middle, of rabbits having a picnic. It was Lillibet’s plate when she was a baby, and then it was mine, and then it was Lionel’s when he was born. We used to tell him stories about the bunnies to get him to eat up his veges.”

“What sort of stories?” Benson asked.

“Oh, you know, what the bunnies were eating, who was the oldest, what games they were going to play when they finished the picnic. There was one story about a giant – oh, we’ve finished,” she said.

Benson looked at the sink. All the dirty dishes were gone, all clean and shining now. Aunt Moss put down her tea-towel.

“But what about the story?” Benson said.

“I’ll finish it next time,” Aunt Moss smiled, “if I remember.”

Bark

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

One day Nanna came for a visit. She was very old, and very very wrinkly, and she was always having naps. After lunch she sat down in a chair to do some knitting and fell asleep. Benson said very quietly to his mother, “You know how you told me that I grow when I’m asleep? Is Nanna going to get bigger and bigger until she’s giant-sized?”

Benson’s mother said, “I think she’s just growing gentler and wiser.”

Nanna was actually Benson’s mother’s grandmother. “Is Nanna older than you?” Benson asked Aunt Lillibet.

“Oh yes,” Aunt Lillibet said, “much older. Much much older.”

Aunt Moss said, “I remember when I was just a girl and Nanna was quite old even then.” Benson stared at Aunt Moss and tried to imagine that she had been a girl once.

Nanna stirred in her sleep, and said, “Bark!”

Benson and his mother looked at each other and giggled.

Aunt Lillibet said, “She must be dreaming that she’s a dog!”

“A dog!” Aunt Moss said loudly.

Nanna woke up suddenly, and said, “Bark! Bark, bark!”

Aunt Moss and Lillibet looked at each other. “Oh no, she really thinks she’s a dog!”

Nanna got up out of her chair and started walking towards the door. She was still pretty sleepy and she wobbled a bit as she walked. She said, “Bark, bark!” again.

Lillibet and Aunt Moss got in front of her and steered her back to the chair again. They didn’t want her to go outside thinking she was a dog. “She might run off, or try to dig up a bone!” Aunt Moss said.

“This is very bad,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Her mind must be going, not surprising really, she’s so very old.”

Aunt Moss nodded. “So very old. Who’s going to take care of her? She won’t be able to live by herself any more. Do you think she could come here and live with us and we would look after her?”

“I won’t have her in my room,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Scratching the furniture and barking at all hours and who knows what else. What if she starts biting people?”

Nanna got up out of her chair again, saying, “Bark! Bark!”

Benson’s mother led her back to the chair and said, “Nanna, would you like a cup of warm milk, or a drink of water?”

Benson went outside, carefully closing the door after him. In a minute he came in again, with some pieces of bark in his hands. “Here, Nanna,” he said, “is this what you wanted?”

Nanna looked at the bark and looked at Benson. “Oh yes, dear, that’s exactly what I need! Such beautiful colours too! I’ve run out of bark to finish the bark painting I’m making for poor old Lillibet. Thank you, dear!”

Everyone looked at Aunt Lillibet. Benson had never heard anyone call her ‘old’ before.

Lillibet sniffed. “Bark!” she said.

“Oh dear,” said Aunt Moss, “are you sure you’re all right, Lillibet, dear?”

Benson Says No

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

One day Benson was digging in the backyard. He had a new idea for a hole that was bigger at the bottom than it was at the top, and he had been digging for ages, making it nice and round and roomy. Aunt Lillibet was in the kitchen, cooking her favourite curried leek and parsnip soup. When it was ready, she went out and called Benson.

“Benson, lunch is ready. Come in and wash your hands.”

Benson had found a big tree root in the bottom of his hole and he was trying to dig it up out of the way. It was very strong, and he was struggling hard with it. He called up out of the hole, “In a minute.”

Aunt Lillibet thought Benson should come at once when he was called. She said, “Not ‘in a minute’, young man. Come in and wash your hands right now!”

Benson was pulling hard at the root. It slipped out of his hands and sprang back and smacked him on the head. The root and Aunt Lillibet shouting at him made him really mad and he yelled, “No!” suddenly.

Aunt Lillibet was shocked. She said angrily, “I beg your pardon, young man! When I ask you to come and eat your lunch, I expect you to come at once! I’ve never heard anything so rude in my life! I’ve spent hours preparing a nourishing meal for you and I don’t expect to be treated in this manner! Now do as you are told immediately!”

“NO!” The word jumped out of Benson before he could stop it. As soon as he said it, he knew he was in big trouble. He could hear Aunt Lillibet breathe in suddenly as if she were completely shocked. Then she started talking more angrily than he had ever heard her in his life.

She went on and on about rude young wombats and how shocked and horrified she was, and how what he’d said was the worst thing she had ever heard. Benson crouched down low in his new hole and didn’t listen to all of it, but when she said, “We’ll see what your mother says when she gets home,” he heard that.

Lillibet went inside, still fuming, and Benson tucked himself down at the very bottom of his hole, waiting and feeling worse and worse.

After a while he heard his mother come home and go inside. Then she came outside.

She sat down under a tree nearby. Benson could hear her humming, the way that she did when she was knitting, and he could hear little clicks from her knitting needles.

He stayed scrunched up in his hole, thinking. After a while he thought it was pretty uncomfortable scrunched up in the bottom of a hole. He stood up and peeked out. His mother was sitting comfortably under the tree, knitting and humming to herself. He looked at her, and she looked at him. He said, “I did something.” His mother nodded and waited.

He said, “I was rude to Aunt Lillibet.”

His mother put her knitting down. “Aunt Lillibet is very upset. You hurt her feelings.”

Benson said, “Well, she… I was just… there was…” He stopped. His mother was still looking at him. She didn’t seem to be mad with him. “I should say sorry to her.”

His mother nodded. She gathered up her knitting, and came over to the hole and held out her hand to Benson. He climbed up out of the hole, holding on to her hand.

His mother said, “That looks like a pretty interesting hole.”

Benson explained the hole and what his idea was, and the problem with the root in the bottom. His mother listened, and they talked about what he was going to do with the root. When they got to the kitchen, Benson went straight up to Aunt Lillibet and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been rude to you.” He always thought it was better to get the ‘sorry’s over with as soon as possible.

Aunt Lillibet sniffed. “I should think so. I’ve never heard anything so rude in my life. When I was a young wombat, I would never have dreamed of speaking like that to my aunt or my mother.” She talked for a while, and Benson waited until it was over. Then they all sat down and had soup together. It was delicious.

Bored

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 Aunt Lillibet hurt her ankle playing badminton. It wasn’t broken but it was very sore, and she had a big pink elastic bandage on it, and the doctor told her she had to rest it. She wasn’t allowed to walk on it for a whole week.

Not walking around made Aunt Lillibet tired and cranky. Everyone had to do everything for her, because she couldn’t make herself a sandwich, or get up and get a drink of water, or go and dig in the garden. After five days she was very bored.

That was the day that Benson’s mother had an important meeting she had to go to, about finding ways to help sick animals, and Aunt Moss was working with her bushcare team. Benson’s mother asked him if he would please look after Aunt Lillibet.

“How can I look after her?” Benson said.

“Oh, it won’t be hard,” his mother said. “Just keep her company, talk to her when she’s lonely, maybe get things she can’t reach, you know.”

“I don’t need looking after,” Aunt Lillibet said, grumpily.

“I know you don’t,” Benson’s mother said, “but Benson will be here, just in case you need anything.”

As soon as everybody left, Benson got out his new library book. It was a very interesting book about a bushranger who had a big red horse and a cow and a cockatoo. Aunt Lillibet said, “Benson, would you get me a drink of water, please? I’m thirsty.”

Benson put his book down and got her a glass of water. He started reading again, and a minute later Aunt Lillibet said, “Where are my glasses? I can’t read without my glasses. Benson, find them for me, would you, please?”

Benson put his book down and looked for Aunt Lillibet’s glasses. They were under her chair. He sat down and opened his book. Aunt Lillibet said, “I’ve already read this book. It’s boring. Can’t you think of anything else to do?”

Benson put his book down again. He was just up to a part where a policeman was trying to catch the bushranger and the horse was helping him get away. “What would you like to do?” he asked Aunt Lillibet.

“I don’t know. Can’t you think of something?”

Benson tried to think of something. “Would you like to do some painting?” he said.

“All right,” said Aunt Lillibet. Benson went and got the paints and the brushes, and some plastic to cover the table and some paper to paint on. He sat down on one side of the table and Aunt Lillibet sat on the other side. He started to paint a big red horse and a policeman. Aunt Lillibet painted a tree and some flowers and some mushrooms. Then she sighed. “This is boring,” she said. She put her brush down, and it knocked against her glass of water and spilled water everywhere, on the paper and the table and on the floor, even on Benson’s painting. Benson had to get up quickly and wipe it all up, and put all the wet paper in the bin. It looked like there would be no more painting, so he put everything away again.

“What can we do now?” Aunt Lillibet said. Benson tried to think of something else. “We could do some drawing.”

“I can’t think of anything to draw,” Aunt Lillibet said.

“What about some knitting?”

“I hate knitting,” Aunt Lillibet said.

Benson thought of something. “I’m making a sign for the cake stall at the library next week. We could work on that together.”

He got out the scissors and glue, the coloured paper and pens, and the glitter. Aunt Lillibet wanted to do the cutting out, but her fingers got tired, and then she wanted to do the colouring, but the red pen ran out, so then she wanted to do the gluing. She got glue all over her fingers, and the glitter stuck to them and all the tiny bits of paper she had cut out. Benson had to get something for her to wash her hands, then she dripped water all over the sign and the red colour spread everywhere so instead of saying “Cake Stall”, it said, “Cazzzmmmlll”. Benson put the sign in the bin and put the glue and glitter and pens and scissors away and swept up all the tiny bits of paper and sprinkles of glitter off the floor.

He was feeling quite tired. “Now what are we going to do?” Aunt Lillibet said.

“We could just read,” Benson said. He really wanted to find out what happened to the bushranger and the policeman.

“I’m too tired to read,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You could read to me.”

Benson thought that was a good idea. He got his book out.

“But get me a drink of water first,” she said. “My water got spilled and my glass is empty.”

Benson got her a drink of water, and made her cushion comfortable. He sat down and started to read out loud.

“This is a stupid book,” Lillibet said. “What’s all this about cows and cockatoos?”

“It’s better if you read it from the beginning,” Benson said. He went back to the beginning and started to read. He didn’t mind too much because he liked the beginning too. It was more interesting reading out loud because he did different voices for the bushranger and the policeman, and he made noises for the horse and the cockatoo and the cow. Aunt Lillibet closed her eyes so she could listen better. After a while she went completely off to sleep. Benson stopped reading. She was definitely asleep. He decided to keep on reading aloud, because it was fun being all the different characters.

He was still reading out loud to himself when his mother came home. She sat down and listened, and they laughed at the funny bits very quietly so they didn’t wake up Aunt Lillibet. Then Aunt Lillibet woke up suddenly, and said, “Oh, I’m glad you’re home. I’ve had such a boring morning. We didn’t do a thing.”

Benson sighed. He felt quite tired. “I’m going to my room to read,” he said.

“Oh, is it that book about the cow?” Lillibet said. “Why don’t you stay and read it to me? But you’ll have to go back to the beginning. I think I might have dozed off and missed some of it.”

Oranges

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 Benson went with his mother to help her with the shopping. They bought a big bag of oranges. “It must be the season for oranges,” Benson’s mother said. “These were very cheap, and I know you like oranges.”

Benson really did like oranges.

When they got home, they had so many oranges they filled up the fruit bowl and then they filled up the big mixing bowl too. Benson’s mother cut one up into pieces like boats and Benson ate them fast, peeling the skin back from the corners. It was delicious.

Just then there was a knock at the door. It was Mr Fenn, from down the road, with a big box of oranges. “I thought you might like these,” he said. “My orange tree is full of fruit just now, and I know Benson likes oranges.”

Benson’s mother thanked him, and Benson helped her carry the box inside. It was full to overflowing with big shiny oranges.

“What are we going to do with so many oranges?” she said.

“I can make some orange juice,” Benson suggested. He got the orange squeezer and got to work. He cut the oranges in half and pressed them onto the squeezer and twisted back and forth, then he tipped the juice into a big jug. He squeezed a great big pile of oranges, until the jug was full, and the compost bucket was full of empty orange shells. Even so, the box was still more than half full of oranges.

“Orange marmalade!” his mother said. “We can make orange marmalade. Aunt Moss likes marmalade.”

“Okay,” Benson said. They chopped and cut oranges, and piled them into the biggest pan with water and lots of sugar. Benson’s mother stirred, and then they waited and watched the pan boil and bubble. They found some empty jars and washed them well, and when the marmalade was thick and sticky, Benson’s mother poured it very carefully into the jars. There were six jars of marmalade, more than Aunt Moss could eat in a year, and the box was nearly empty.

Just then there was a knock at the door. Aunt Lillibet called, “Can someone open the door for me, and help me with these? I’ve been at my floral embroidery group, and Gertie’s tree is covered in fruit, so she brought bags of it for everyone, and she gave me two, because she knows how much Benson likes…” she stepped into the kitchen and stopped, “…oranges.”

She had two big bags of oranges. Benson emptied them into the nearly-empty box, and it was filled again to overflowing.

“What are we going to do with all these?” Lillibet said. “I know an excellent recipe for an orange cake that uses… one orange,” she said.

Benson’s mother said, “The mixing bowl’s full of oranges anyway.”

Just then there was another knock on the door, and Aunt Moss’s voice called out, “Could someone help me? I’ve got the loveliest surprise!”

Outside the door was Aunt Moss, with a whole wheelbarrow full of oranges. “I’ve been at Bernice’s place, and her tree is just covered with the most beautiful fruit, and she let me pick as many as I wanted, because she knows how much Benson likes oranges.”

Benson’s mother sighed. “Everyone knows how much Benson likes oranges. Come inside and see.”

Aunt Moss came inside and looked at the piles of oranges. “Oh well, we can make orange juice – “ Benson’s mother showed her the big jug of orange juice, “ – and marmalade! I love orange marmalade!” Benson’s mother showed her the shining jars of marmalade. “Lillibet has a recipe for a wonderful orange cake…” Benson’s mother pointed to the mixing bowl, full of oranges.

“Oh,” Aunt Moss said. “It’s as if it’s been raining oranges, and we’re in the middle of an orange flood.”

Benson stepped forward. “I love oranges. May I have another one, please?”

His mother smiled. “Of course.” She peeled an orange for him, cutting the peel in a long orange snake around and around. He ate the orange, and then everyone had a big glass of orange juice and Benson squeezed another big jug full. Aunt Moss took jars of marmalade to Mr Fenn and to Lilllibet’s friend Gertie and to her friend Bernice, and they made another big batch for themselves. By then the mixing bowl was empty, and Aunt Lillibet could make her famous orange cake. It was absolutely delicious.

A Mouse in the Kitchen

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 Benson was in bed, reading a bedtime story to his mother, when they heard a squeak from the kitchen. Aunt Moss called out, “A mouse! There’s a mouse in the kitchen!”

Benson’s mother said straight away, “Come in here, Moss, quick!”

Aunt Moss came running in and sat on Benson’s bed. She pulled her feet up off the floor and sat with them on the bed. Benson’s mother got up and shut the door. She sat down again, and said to Aunt Moss, “I don’t mind mice, really.”

Aunt Moss said, “I don’t mind them either, I think they’re sweet, with their little pink noses and their little tails. I just don’t really like the way they run so quickly.”

Benson’s mother agreed with her. “You always think that they’re going to run over your feet, and then they just might run up your leg…” She shivered, and Aunt Moss shivered too.

Benson thought that might be fun, but he didn’t say anything.

“Exactly,” said Aunt Moss. “They’re all right outside, that’s fine, but inside the house, I don’t feel comfortable.”

“Neither do I,” Benson’s mother said. Benson thought it would be great to have a pet mouse that would run up his arm and sit on his head, but he didn’t say anything.

Aunt Moss said, “I had a friend who was just going to bed once, and she saw a mouse run over her pillow! Ugh!”

“Ugh!” Benson’s mother agreed. They both shivered. Benson imagined a pet mouse that would sit on his pillow and he could give it crumbs and pieces of apple to hold in its tiny paws and nibble on.

Then they heard the front door opening, and Benson’s mother and Aunt Moss both said together, “Lillibet!” Benson’s mother went to the bedroom door and opened it and called out, “Lillibet, there’s a mouse in the kitchen!”

They heard a Aunt Lillibet make a little squeak, and then she walked very quickly over to Benson’s room and Benson’s mother let her in and shut the door again.

“I don’t mind mice,” Aunt Lillibet said, “it’s just the way they run around. I always think they might…”

“Run over your feet,” Benson’s mother said. Lillibet nodded.

“Or up your legs,” Aunt Moss said. They all shivered. Benson didn’t say anything. He had seen the mouse run into his room when his mother opened the door. It was tiny and brownie-grey, with a long tail. It had run along his bookshelves and was hiding next to his gumboots.

Aunt Lillibet sat on the bed with Aunt Moss, both of them with their legs tucked up. They all sat still, thinking about mice and legs, and possibly mice in their hair. Benson watched the mouse scratching its ears. It started to venture out, across the floor.

Lillibet said, “Moss had a friend once who was just going to bed, and she saw a mouse run over her pillow!”

Benson’s mother nodded, and Aunt Moss shivered. “Just imagine if one got into your bed!” Aunt Moss said.

“Don’t!” Benson’s mother said.

Benson watched the mouse creep over the floor, towards the chair where his mother was sitting. He imagined what might happen next.

His mother said, “We can’t sit here all day.”

“No,” the others said. But nobody moved.

Benson said, “I could go out to the kitchen and look around, if you like?”

Everyone agreed that would be a good idea.

Benson got up, and went towards the door. The mouse ran back to his corner by the gumboots. “I might need my gumboots,” Benson said.

“Gumboots!” everyone said. “What a good idea!”

Benson bent over to get his gumboots and very carefully picked up the mouse. He dropped it inside one of the boots, and went out to the kitchen. Very quietly, he tipped the mouse on the ground outside the front door, and it scampered away as fast as it could. He went back into the kitchen, and called out, “No mice in here!”

“Are you sure?” Aunt Moss called.

“Yep, no mice anywhere.”

His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss came out cautiously and looked around the kitchen. Aunt Moss said, “Maybe I imagined it after all. There certainly aren’t any mice here now.”

“No,” the others agreed. But they all wore their gumboots inside for the rest of the evening and all the next day.

Butter

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

One afternoon Benson’s mother was out at a meeting, and Aunt Moss was at her bee-keepers’ afternoon tea, and Benson was at home by himself with just Aunt Lillibet. Aunt Lillibet went to have a lie-down with her new library book, which actually meant she was having a nap. Benson started to feel hungry, so he thought he would have some bread and butter.

The bread part was easy, but the butter was very cold, and it was hard to scrape it off the block. Benson dug the knife in and pulled hard, and a big chunk of butter flew up in the air and nearly landed on the floor.

It didn’t land on the floor because a turtle called Lloyd was just walking past, and the chunk of butter fell on his head. Benson looked down, and he saw a turtle with a piece of butter on his head. The turtle poked his tongue out and licked the butter, then he shook his head. The butter fell on the floor this time, and Lloyd walked all over it. His turtle feet slid a little bit, and he rolled over and got the butter all over his shell.

Benson picked the turtle up and turned him up the right way, and the turtle toddled off, leaving shiny buttery footprints all along the kitchen floor. Benson picked him up again and tried to wipe the butter off Lloyd’s feet. He got butter all over his hands, and some on his nose where Lloyd tried to give him a turtle kiss.

Benson put the turtle down again and went and got some paper towel to wipe Lloyd’s feet with. When he turned around again, Lloyd was almost at the door. Benson ran and shut the door quick. “Oh no, you don’t!” he said. He tried to catch the turtle, but he slid in the butter on the floor and went wham! on his back upside down. Lloyd thought he looked like a furry brown hill and he started to walk up Benson’s tummy.

It was kind of tickly having a buttery turtle walking over his tummy, but Benson lifted Lloyd off carefully and carried him over to the bathroom. The trouble was, when he tried to open the bathroom door, his buttery hands just slid around the doorknob.

By now there was butter on his hands and his tummy where Lloyd had walked, and on his feet and his back and his nose. It was a strange greasy feeling. Lloyd was covered in butter too. “Don’t worry,” Benson said to him, “it’s only butter. It’ll wash off.”

Just then there was a knock on the door. Benson tried to open the door, but his hands just slid around and made the doorknob slippery. “Wait,” he called. “I have to wash my hands.”

Aunt Moss called from outside the door. “Benson, would you open the door for me, please? My hands are full of honey.”

“My hands are full of turtle,” Benson said. “Just a minute.” Holding Lloyd tightly, he went to wash his hands and slipped on the chunk of butter on the floor. Every time he tried to get up, he slipped some more, like swimming on the floor with no water. After a little while, he stopped. “Help,” he said quietly. He lay still, looking at the nice clean un-buttery ceiling.

Aunt Lillibet came out. “What is going on, Benson?”

“Don’t come into the kitchen!” Benson yelled.

Too late. Aunt Lillibet slipped on a patch of butter and fell down on her bottom. She looked at the butter everywhere, on the floor, on Benson, on Lloyd. “Moss,” she called. “Put the honey down and open the door. Be very careful how you come in.”

Aunt Moss wasn’t careful enough. She opened the door and walked in brightly. Benson said, “Look out for the…” Aunt Moss’s feet went into all directions. She dropped the container she was carrying and honey spread out all over the floor.

Just then at that very minute, Benson’s mother came home. She stopped in the doorway and looked at everyone on the floor, upside down and sideways. Lloyd was nibbling at the butter on his feet and Benson was sucking honey off his fingers.

“Oh,” she said. “Benson, have you been cooking? You just need some flour and you could make those honey biscuits you like so much. Only maybe you should use a bowl next time.”

The Quokka and the Book

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 Benson went to the playground to play, and there was a quokka there, wearing a funny hat.

Benson went to the big swing. The quokka came over and said, “No wombats on the big swing. Wombats can only use the baby swings.”

Benson said, “I always go on the big swing. Who says wombats can’t go on the big swing?”

“It’s the rule,” said the quokka. “It’s in the book.” He took a book out from behind his back.

Benson looked at the book, and looked at the quokka, and got off the swing. He went over to the slippery slide.

The quokka came over to the slippery slide. “Wombats are not allowed on the slippery slide, “ said the quokka. “Wombats are too heavy and they might get stuck. It’s the rule.”

Benson didn’t feel like arguing. He decided to go and dig in the sandpit. The quokka said, “No wombats in the sandpit before eleven am. Only quokkas can use the sandpit before 11am.”

“That’s not fair,” Benson said.

“It’s the rule,” the quokka said. “It’s in the book.”

“What about the balance beam?” Benson said.

“No wombats,” the quokka said.

“What about the flying fox?”

“Definitely no wombats at all, at any time,” said the quokka.

Benson grabbed the book. He opened it up. All the pages inside were blank. There was no writing at all. He shut the book and looked at the quokka.

“All right,” Benson said, “no quokkas are allowed in the playground,” he said. “It’s the new rule.”

“That’s not right,” the quokka said.

“It’s in the book,” Benson said.

“No it isn’t,” said the quokka.

“It is if I say it is,” said Benson. “I’ve got the book.”

“I’ve got a hat,” said the quokka.

Benson looked at his hat. “That’s not a hat, it’s just an old bird’s nest.”

The quokka took the hat off. “Do you want to go play in the sandpit?” he said.

“Okay,” said Benson. They both went to the sandpit and started to dig.

“Can I have my book back?” asked the quokka.

“No,” Benson said. “Quokkas aren’t allowed to have books in the playground. It’s the rule. You can have it back when it’s time to go home.”

They played in the sandpit and on the flying fox and the slippery slide and the big swings until it was time to go home. Benson gave the quokka back his book. “Do you know what you could do with that book?” Benson said. “You could write a story in it.”

“Maybe I will,” said the quokka.

Feathers

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

Aunt Moss had an old pillow that she loved. It was full of feathers, and she said it was the most comfortable pillow in the world. But it got so old and worn out that it split right down the middle, and the feathers started to come out.

“These feathers get just everywhere,” she said. She was right. They floated in the air, and they drifted under the bed and slid all over the floor and got caught in Benson’s hair. “Would you take it outside for me, please, Benson? I think we can put the feathers on the compost heap.”

Benson gathered up the old pillow and carried it outside as carefully as he could, but even so he left a trail of tiny white feathers all the way through the house and across the yard to the compost heap. He put the pillow down and picked up some handfuls of feathers and threw them up into the air. They spread out like a cloud and rained down on him like soft warm snow. He threw some more up in the air, and felt them drift down all over him. There were feathers all over the ground and all over him, and the pillow was still half full of feathers.

Then he heard a very small voice, saying, “Are you a chicken?” He looked around. Underneath the lavender bush was a baby possum, staring at him with big brown eyes.

Benson said, “Do I look like a chicken?”

The baby possum nodded. “My mother said I should be careful of chickens because they might peck me.”

Benson got two enormous handfuls of feathers and threw them into the air and let them fall all over him. He spread his arms out. “I’m not a chicken,” he said. “I’m a great big eagle, and I’m going to pick you up in my big claws and eat you!”

The baby possum wrapped his tail around himself and closed his eyes tight and started to cry. “Waah, waah, waaaahhhh!”

Benson stopped flapping his arms. “Don’t cry!” he said. “I’m not an eagle, I’m a wombat.”

The baby possum kept crying. “Wombats don’t have feathers,” he cried.

Benson thought to himself that babies weren’t very smart. “I don’t have feathers,” he said. “These are just some old feathers from a pillow I was playing with. See?” He brushed some of the feathers off. The possum still looked worried, but he stopped crying.

Benson picked up some feathers and sprinkled them on the possum. “Now you’re a chicken. We’re both chickens.” He threw some of the feathers in the air and they landed on him and on the possum. “Let’s do some pecking,” he said. “Peck, peck. Peck, peck.”

The baby possum smiled. “Peck, peck, peck, ” he said.

Benson said, “I’m not a chicken any more, I’m a duck. Quack, quack.” He waddled around in a circle, quacking.

The baby possum laughed. Benson said, “You’re not a chicken either. You’re a kookaburra.” He tossed handfuls of feathers in the air and the baby possum rolled in the pile of feathers on the ground. Then they threw feathers at each other, and they played ducks and chickens all morning.

Pudding

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

Once a year, Aunt Lillibet made a pudding that was so delicious and wonderful that everyone talked about it for days afterwards. She would spend a whole morning mixing and cooking, and she would call everyone in the house to come and give it a stir before she cooked it. Ever since Benson was big enough to reach the bowl he had had a turn stirring, even though the mixture was so thick and heavy he could hardly move the spoon.

One year Aunt Lillibet made a particularly delicious pudding, and everyone loved it so much there was none left over, not even a crumb. Benson looked at the empty plate and thought about pudding, and thought that maybe it was his favourite thing in the world. He asked Aunt Lillibet, “How do you make it so good, Aunt Lillibet? What do you put in it?”

“Oh, eggs and flour and sugar, and fruit,” she said.

“Is that all?” Benson asked. It sounded very easy.

“Oh, spices, of course, and maybe a little orange juice if the mixture is too dry,” she said.

“You make it sound easy,” Benson’s mother said, “but no-one makes a pudding like you do, Lillibet.”

The next morning Benson was lying in bed, still thinking about pudding, and he had an idea. He could get up and make a pudding before anyone else woke up, and it would be a lovely surprise for everyone.

He went into the kitchen and got out the bowl that Aunt Lillibet always used, and a big spoon. He put in some flour and eggs, and some sugar, and fruit and mixed them together. It was thick and gluggy, and didn’t look right, somehow. He thought hard about what Aunt Lillibet said. Spices! he remembered, and orange juice. He chose his favourite spices and tipped them in, and then added some orange juice. Straight away he thought he must have used too much orange juice, because the mixture was runny and kind of grey. And it didn’t smell like Aunt Lillibet’s pudding. Maybe it needed some more spices, he thought, but that didn’t seem to help.

Just then his mother came into the kitchen, yawning and stretching. She asked Benson what he was doing. “I’m making a pudding, as a surprise,” he said.

“Oh,” said his mother. She looked in the fruit bowl. “There are no oranges left,” she said.

“I needed them to make orange juice for the pudding,” Benson said.

Benson’s mother came and looked at the pudding mixture in the bowl. “What else did you put in it?” she said.

“Flour and sugar and eggs,” he said, “and fruit, and spices.”

Benson’s mother looked into the bowl for a long while. “How much flour and sugar,” she said, “and how many eggs?”

“Some,” said Benson. “I think two eggs, or maybe three.”

“Benson,” said his mother, “it’s not just what you put in a pudding, it’s how much of everything. You have to measure carefully, exactly the right amount of everything.”

Benson said, “Is that why it looks funny?”

His mother nodded. “Probably,” she said.

Benson shoulders drooped, and he felt very disappointed. It wasn’t going to be a pudding, it was going to be a terrible mistake. Nobody ever said anything about measuring.

Aunt Moss came into the kitchen to make her breakfast just then. “What are you making?” she asked Benson.

“A terrible mess,” Benson said sadly. “I wanted to make a pudding for a surprise.”

Aunt Moss put her finger into the mixture and tasted it. “Mmm, it tastes…unusual. Which spices did you put in?”

“Cardamom, and ginger, and a bit of chili, but not too much. I didn’t want it to be too hot.”

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

When Aunt Lillibet came out, the first thing she said was, “Well, Benson, what have you been up to? Don’t you know that the recipe for my pudding is a secret handed down from my mother and my grandmother, and her grandmother? You can’t just go and make a pudding, if you don’t know what you’re doing. You’ll just end up with a terrible mess that’s only fit for the compost.”

Benson looked so sad that Aunt Lillibet felt a little bit sorry. “Let’s have a look, and see what you’ve done.”

She looked into the bowl and was shocked. “What on earth did you put in it?” she asked. “Bananas? Oranges?”

“You said fruit,” Benson said.

“I meant sultanas and currants,” Lillibet said. “And what are these?”

“Raspberries,” Benson said. “I thought they would taste good.”

Lillibet snorted. She dipped her finger into the mixture and tasted it, then tasted it again. “Chilis? You put chilis in the pudding?”

“Only a tiny bit,” Benson said. He was just about ready to cry.

Lillibet humphed. “Well let’s see what we can do. It needs a lot more flour, to start with.” Benson moved away from the bowl, but Lillibet stopped him. “It’s your pudding, young man, come on, get to work.”

With Aunt Lillibet watching, Benson added more flour until she said stop. He added another egg, and then some more flour. Aunt Lillibet told him to add some cinnamon, and nutmeg, but not too much. They both stirred, and tasted, and added a tiny bit more cinnamon and just a bit more flour.

“All right, I think that’s the best we can do,” Lillibet said. “I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but let’s cook it and see.”

While it was cooking, they all had breakfast, and then Benson had to wash up all the cooking things, and clean up the kitchen, which had somehow gotten very messy, with flour and sugar and eggshells and banana skins everywhere. It was so messy that he even had to wash the floor. After a long time Benson’s pudding was cooked, but they had to wait for it to cool before they could try it.

“It looks… unusual,” Aunt Moss said.

“My grandmother always said that the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Lillibet said. “It doesn’t matter how it looks, it’s how it tastes.”

She cut very small pieces, and everyone tried it.

Benson’s mother said, “It’s quite nice, really, once you get over the unexpected bits.”

Aunt Moss asked for a second piece. “I like it, Benson. I think the turtles would love it.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “Well for a first try it’s not too bad, young man. But leave out the chili next time.”

Benson thought it would be a good idea to leave out the tomatoes too, but he didn’t say anything.

Needles

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 had to have an injection, with a needle, to make sure he didn’t get a disease that could make him very sick. His mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss all went with him to see the doctor who was going to give him the injection with the needle.

Aunt Moss said, “Now, Benson, dear, you shouldn’t be the least bit worried. It will all be over in a minute and it will hardly hurt at all.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “A big boy like you wouldn’t make a fuss about a tiny little prick with a needle, would you?”

Benson’s mother said, “I’m sure they rub something on it so it doesn’t hurt at all.”

“We can put ice on it when we get home,” Lillibet said.

“He can have some of that nice pink medicine,” Aunt Moss said.

“I’m sure he won’t need any medicine,” Benson’s mother said. “It will be fine. It will be over before he knows it.”

“I brought some cherries to give him afterwards as a special treat for being a brave boy,” Aunt Moss said.

The doctor called them in next.

Benson’s mother said, “If you feel a bit funny at all, just sit down for a few minutes and it will be fine.”

Aunt Moss said, “Should I get him a drink of water?”

Lillibet said, “Stop fussing! You’re just making him more worried.”

Benson wasn’t worried at all. He’d had needles before and they didn’t hurt a bit. The last time he had one, when he fell over and cut himself badly, he didn’t even feel it. He smiled at the doctor.

“Well, young man, are you ready?” the doctor asked.

Benson nodded. The doctor gave him the injection. Benson felt a tiny sting, and then something cold and then it was over. The doctor said, “That’s over. Well done, young man.”

Benson’s mother felt a bit funny. “I think I’d like to sit down,” she said.

“Should I get you a drink of water?” said Aunt Moss.

Benson said, “Aunt Moss, give her some cherries. That might make her feel better.”

The doctor said, “Is everything all right?”

Benson said, “She’ll be fine in a minute. She just doesn’t like needles.”

As soon as they got home, Aunt Moss brought Benson’s mother a glass of water, and Aunt Lillibet made her a cup of tea and they all sat down and ate the cherries together.

Counting

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

One day it was Benson’s mother’s birthday, and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss decided she should have a party, and they invited lots of friends and relations. They spent all morning cooking mushroom pies and parsnip crisps and spinach turnovers and sweet potato chips and rosemary potatoes and roasted vegetable tarts and bean and tomato stew, until Benson was worn out with smelling wonderful things and not being allowed to eat any of them.

All the guests were coming at lunchtime, and everyone decided it was Benson’s job to set the table. His mother said she had to go and get dressed and make herself beautiful, and Lillibet and Moss were flopped on chairs in the kitchen, too tired to move.

Benson started to get out the plates and knives and forks, and then he stopped. “How many people are coming?” he asked.

“Ten,” said Aunt Moss.

“Twenty,” said Aunt Lillibet at the same time.

Benson looked at the table. There was room for eight if nobody minded squashing, and there were three extra chairs they could pull up to the table, but he needed to know how many knives and forks and spoons to get ready. “How many exactly?” he said.

Lillibet sat up. “Well, there’s us, that’s four.”

“And Millicent and Mrs Crook and the two young Crooks,” Aunt Moss said.

“Genevieve and Josie and the twins, and Gulliver and your cousins,” Lillibet said, counting on her fingers.

“No, dear, we already counted the twins,” Aunt Moss said. “That’s Millicent and Mrs Crook – we always call her that but her name is Tip. At least we always called her Tip.”

“So that’s eleven,” said Benson, “not counting the cousins.”

“There are six cousins altogether,” Lillibet said. She closed her eyes to concentrate. “Gulliver had two, not counting your mother, and Josie has her Andrew and Millicent has her Andrew – you can always tell them apart because Millicent’s Andrew is round and tubby, and Josie’s Andrew is short and fuzzy, like Gulliver.”

“No, Lillibet, you’re getting mixed up again. Gulliver has an Andrew but Josie only has girls, Millie and Mickie, and the littlest, I forget her name. Mickie is the grumpy one, so make sure she gets plenty of sweet potato chips or she might get into a miff.”

“Seventeen?” Benson guessed. He picked up some more plates and counted out seventeen forks.

“You forgot that Mrs Crook can’t come, and only one of the young Crooks is coming – Oliver, I think, or is that Josie’s littlest?” Lillibet said.

“Adelaide’s brother is Oliver, but we decided not to invite them, remember, because of the fuss they made last time about there being no turtle soup. We just couldn’t have turtle soup, because of the turtles, of course, but Adelaide has a funny tummy, so we thought it would be best just not to invite them.”

“If Adelaide isn’t coming, then Gulliver won’t come because he always gets lost unless he has Adelaide to tell him exactly where to go, and then he’s so late he’s too embarrassed to come in. It’s very silly, but there you are. So take Gulliver off the list, and if he’s not coming then his two cousins won’t come either, so that makes twelve, or thirteen.”

Benson went and got a piece of paper and started to write down who was coming. He put down Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss, and then he got stuck. “Tell me again who is actually coming?” he asked.

“I wish you’d listen properly,” Aunt Lillibet said. “Write this down: Millicent, Adelaide, Andrew, Gulliver…”

“No, not Gulliver, remember, Lillibet, and not Andrew either,” Aunt Moss said.

“Not that Andrew, I meant the other Andrew,” Lillibet said.

“But didn’t the other Andrew move to the Norway or somewhere?” Aunt Moss asked. “Or am I thinking of Tip and the girls? Did Tip say she was coming?”

“I don’t know,” Lillibet said. “I can’t remember who said they were coming and who didn’t. I’m too tired to think.”

Benson put his pencil away and folded up the piece of paper. He got the biggest picnic blanket and took it outside and spread it out under their favourite picnic tree, and then he got a great big pile of plates and put them at one end of the blanket, and then he got a basket and filled it full of knives and forks and spoons, and put it beside the plates.

His mother came out, in her best dress. “That’s a wonderful idea, Benson,” she said. “Everyone loves picnics, and the weather’s perfect.”

The guests started arriving just then, and Lillibet and Aunt Moss got up, not the least bit tired any more. They carried all the food outside, and everyone sat on the blanket and there was plenty of room for everyone. Gulliver came after all, and Millicent brought two extra cousins that no-one had met and Benson had a great time. Everyone ate and ate, and even after they finished the fruit salad and the banana-leaf tart and they all went home, Benson still had no idea how many people had come.

The Fence

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

One day Benson was out by himself, just doing stuff, when he came up to a fence. It wasn’t a tall fence but it was too high to climb over, and it was made of out wire so he couldn’t climb through it. He decided to go under it. He set to work and dug a hole under the fence. He went through the hole and came out on the other side of the fence.

There was a nice open paddock, and some cute little rabbits nibbling and jumping little jumps like baby rabbits do when they’re practising. Two of the little rabbits came up to him and looked at him, as if they had never seen a wombat before, which they hadn’t. Then they ran past him and scampered through the hole Benson had made.

Benson started to wonder why there was a fence. Usually a fence is there for a reason. Maybe the reason was to keep the rabbits in. Benson had made a hole under the fence and the rabbits were getting out. He thought about it a bit but not for long because the rabbits were little and they were fast.

He clambered back under the fence and scooped up the first rabbit and put it back into the paddock. It ran straight back through the hole. He reached out fast and scooped it up again. The second rabbit was already way out of sight. Lots of the other rabbits in the paddock were coming over to find out what was happening. Benson imagined them all getting out through the hole he had made. He imagined trying to scoop them up one at a time while rabbits ran everywhere. The problem was, rabbits are fast, and wombats are slow.

He carried the little rabbit back through the hole under the fence and sat down in the hole, big and wide, so no rabbits could get past him. The rabbits gathered around and looked at him as if they had never seen a wombat before, which they hadn’t, except for the first rabbit, who climbed up into Benson’s lap.

Benson thought about the second rabbit, running away on the wrong side of the fence. How was he going to get it back? Rabbits are fast, and wombats are slow, especially when they have to sit in a hole under a fence to stop the other rabbits getting out. He could only think of one thing. He said as nicely as he could, “It’s story-time, everyone. Sit very still now, and listen. Once upon a time there were three foxes, who were very hungry. They lived in a box under a table, and at night they went out to hunt for moonbeams.”

Benson had never told a story to a group of small rabbits, but it seemed to be very easy. The rabbits sat up and listened with their eyes open wide, and Benson made up the story as he went along. “One day a giant caterpillar came and said, ‘Where is my pudding bowl? I’ll eat you up if you don’t give it to me.’ The first fox gave him a nip and said, ‘What have you done with my tail, you big mean caterpillar? Did you take my tail?’ The caterpillar started to cry.”

Benson kept on telling the story, although it wasn’t really a story, just some ideas that came into his head and he said them out loud to see what they sounded like. Every now and then he peeped over his shoulder to see if his plan was working, and it was. The runaway rabbit had hopped slowly back and was sitting on the other side of the fence, listening like all of his brothers and sisters. Benson kept telling the story and at the same time he was thinking about how to get a very small rabbit back through a hole which was being blocked by a big, solid wombat without letting all the other rabbits out.

He kept telling the story. “The second fox said, ‘I’m hungry. What’s for dinner? I want eggs and eggplants, and tomatoes and tomato sauce and tomato pies and tomato toes.’ But the third fox said, ‘Stop thinking about eating. There’s a big storm on the way. A big, scary storm, with lots of thunder and lightning, and hailstones like rocks that will hit you on the head and make you cry.’”

The rabbits looked very worried when Benson got to this part of the story. That gave Benson an idea. He said, “So the foxes all ran away into a hole in the ground. Then a big storm started. The thunder was really loud -” Benson made loud growling noises, “really, really loud and scary!” He growled as loud as he could, and made flashing noises and waved his hands like lightning flashes.

The rabbits put their hands over their ears and ran away into their rabbit holes. As soon as they were gone, Benson got up out of the hole under the fence. The runaway rabbit ran past him, straight back to his own rabbit hole. Benson quickly filled in the hole all the way up to the bottom of the fence, and patted it down really hard. No more escaping rabbits!

He was very pleased with himself. All the rabbits were inside the fence, and there was no hole under the fence any more. Then he noticed something. He was on the inside of the fence, the rabbit side, and the way home was on the other side of the fence.

He thought about it. He wasn’t going to dig a hole under the fence again. He decided to keep going and see if there was another way out.

He walked along the fence a long way, and after a while he came to a gate. He opened the gate and went through quickly, and shut it tight, in case there were any rabbits around.

Then he walked all the way home, thinking about tomato pies and tomato toes and wondering what they were.

Augustus

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

One morning Benson was just going into the kitchen to get a drink of water when he saw Aunt Moss sitting at the table by herself. She looked sad and upset, so he went over and asked her, “Aunt Moss, are you okay?”

She shook her head, and said, “Augustus is very sick.” Augustus was the oldest of all the turtles. He was lying in a box on the floor beside her, with a small pile of lettuce, and he wasn’t moving at all.

“Did you take him to the vet?” Benson asked.

Aunt Moss nodded. “The vet said he’s very old and tired, and the best thing I can do is try to make him comfortable.”

Benson said, “Do you mean he’s not going to get better? He’s going to die?” Benson was shocked. None of the turtles had died before. He couldn’t remember any of Aunt Moss’s friends dying. He thought about it for a minute. Aunt Moss must be feeling very sad.

He asked her, “Is Augustus frightened? Is it going to hurt?”

Aunt Moss said, “I don’t think he’s frightened. He’s mostly asleep now. Sometimes he stirs a little bit but then he just goes back to sleep again. He doesn’t even want to eat. I think he’s just very tired.”

“Maybe he’ll feel better after he’s had a rest.”

“No, I don’t think so. He’s so old, I think he’s just worn out. He’s older than me and Lillibet put together. It’s just time for him to go, that’s all.”

Benson put his hand on Aunt Moss’s hand. She looked so sad. Augustus was one of her oldest friends.

Aunt Moss patted his hand. “Thankyou, Benson. He’s not in any pain, that’s the main thing. I’ll just sit with him, so he knows he’s not alone.”

Benson sat with them for a while, and then he went and got his drawing pencils and some paper. He sat beside Aunt Moss, and started to draw a picture of Augustus. He put in the greeny-brown shell, and the wrinkled old legs, and the black shiny eyes, and he drew a cool green river for Augustus to swim in, and lots of shady grass.

Then he remembered the time that Augustus and his friends were swimming in the bathtub, and he drew a picture of that, and then he drew another one of Augustus and his friends having a picnic with Aunt Moss, and the time when the earthquake happened and Benson and his mother rescued them. He went on drawing, remembering the stories that Aunt Moss had told them about the turtles and their home near the river, and when the baby turtles hatched, and how they were learning to swim and how one of them tried to swim to Africa and Augustus brought him back when he got lost.

Aunt Moss looked at Benson’s drawings, and started to cry, thinking about how Augustus would never do any of these things again, and how much everyone would miss him. But the more she looked at the drawings and remembered, the more she started to think about his life. She stopped crying and talked to Benson about Augustus and the adventures he had had, and his friends and his family, the places he had travelled to, and all the things they had done together.

After a while Benson packed up his drawing things and went outside to play. Aunt Moss stayed with Augustus, until gradually he stopped moving and then she knew he had died. She wrapped him up carefully in some cool green leaves, and she and Benson, and Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet, took him down to the river and let the water carry him away. Aunt Moss cried, and Benson’s mother hugged her, and Aunt Lillibet blew her nose for a bit, then they all went back home and had milk and cake and told stories about turtles for the rest of the afternoon.

Benson Bakes Some Bread

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

One day his mother and Aunt Lillibet and Moss had to go to a family wedding, and Benson wasn’t invited. Benson was looking forward to a long day at home by himself, reading, playing around, maybe doing some digging, riding his bike, but his mother said, “Benson, there’s no way you’re staying by yourself. I’ve asked Cousin Lance to babysit you.”

“Babysit?” Benson said. “I don’t need a babysitter!”

But his mother said he was going to his cousin Lance’s and that was final.

Cousin Lance lived in a wombat hole that was very different from Benson’s. The first thing Benson noticed was that the walls were completely white, and the floor was completely black. There were glass tables, and the chairs looked like they were made of squashed down black balloons. Benson sat on one chair and cousin Lance sat on another one.

“Well,” cousin Lance said, “what would you like to do?”

“Oh, I guess I’ll just read a book,” Benson said. “Where are your books?” he said, looking around.

“I don’t actually have any books,” Lance said. “They just clutter the place up. I usually download anything I want and then delete it.”

“Oh. Well, maybe I’ll just go out into the garden and do some digging,” Benson said.

“Sorry, the landscaper is in the middle of something in the garden, and he says absolutely no digging.”

“No digging?!” Benson said, shocked.

“Absolutely,” Lance said.

Benson thought about a garden and no digging. It was hard to imagine. “Maybe we can play a game,” he said. “Do you have any games?”

Lance shook his head. “Not really. I don’t play games much.”

Benson looked at the floor. Lance looked at the ceiling. No games, no books, no reading. What else was there? He thought of something. “Maybe I’ll go for a walk to the playground,” he said hopefully. Exactly then it started to rain. Really rain.

They both sat there, thinking of the long afternoon stretching out in front of them with nothing to do. Benson said, “What do you usually do?”

“Me? What do I usually do?”

“Yes. If I wasn’t here, what would you be doing?”

“Oh,” said Lance, “that’s easy. I’d cook.”

“Cook?” Benson said, brightening.

“Yes, I’ve got a new recipe for parsnip and rye bread…”

“Bread?” said Benson. “What are we waiting for?”

They went into the kitchen and set to work. Lance had bowls of every size, and mixers and blenders and cupboards full of flour and seeds and grains and mysterious ingredients that smelled amazing. They mixed and stirred and added yeast and kneaded, and made lumpy chunks of dough and kneaded them smooth and set them into bowls to rise, and then they tried a new recipe for chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and sweet potatoes. After a while the bread needed punching down, and they kneaded it again until it was silky smooth and shaped it into cute little buns and round, soft loaves and covered them up again and left them to rise while the chocolate cake was baking, and then Benson said he wondered what would happen if you cooked some spinach and added it to the water before you mixed it into the dough, and they tried that and Lance thought of adding a few peppercorns and some grated cheese. The dough turned out to be bright green, with little black spots where the peppercorns peeped out, and that made Benson think of raisin bread, so they got some more flour and Lance said some chunks of unsweetened chocolate would make all the difference. By the time the raisin bread dough was sitting and rising, the chocolate cake was done and it was time to put the bread into the oven.

Benson had an idea that they should eat the cake while it was fresh out of the oven, but Lance said that if they waited till it was cold they could try making icing out of sour cream and chopped cherries that he had heard about, and Benson thought it was definitely worth waiting for. Then it was time for the bread to come out of the oven and the spinach loaf to go in, and the raisin bread to be kneaded. The bread smelled like the best bread Benson had ever tasted, and they ate it while it was still hot, and he was right, it was the best bread he had ever tasted.

They iced the cake, and when the spinach loaf came out of the oven it wasn’t bright green any more, but it was pretty green anyway. Lance popped the raisin bread into the oven, just as Benson’s mother and Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss came to pick Benson up. The whole house smelled of bread and chocolate and warm, delicious things, and everyone sat down and ate cake with amazing icing, and green bread which Benson’s mother liked so much she asked for the recipe for so they could have it at home, and then the raisin bread was done and it smelled so good that they couldn’t wait for it to cool down before they tried it, and Lance was absolutely right about the chunks of chocolate.

Eventually they had to go home. There was a giant pile of washing-up, but Lance and Benson’s mother did that together and chatted about the price of mangoes and their favourite kinds of apples, while Benson sat on one of the black plastic chairs and thought about being so full he couldn’t even move his legs.

When they were saying goodbye, Benson asked his mother if he could come and be babysat again, and Benson’s mother said, “Of course you can, if cousin Lance doesn’t mind. Maybe he could come and babysit at our place next time. I’ve got a recipe for cheesecake with coconut cream I want to try out.” Cousin Lance said he’d love to, and all the way home Benson dreamed about cheesecake, and chocolate cake, and bright green bread.

Rain

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 Tuesday it was a very rainy day, and in the evening it started to pour. It rained and rained all night, and it was still raining when Benson woke up in the morning. He went into the kitchen and looked out of the back door. There was no backyard, just a shining grey lake.

He called his mother. “The backyard is gone. It’s just all water everywhere.”

Benson’s mother came to the doorway and looked. She said, “Sandbags,” and went off straight away, and called Aunt Lillibet and Aunt Moss. They all came into the kitchen together and started getting things out of cupboards. Benson’s mother got some bags of rice and laid them across the doorway. Lillibet brought the bags of lentils, and beans, and chickpeas, and laid them down too, and made a little wall.

Benson looked at what they were doing and thought. If it kept raining, the water outside would get higher, until it got as high as the doorway, and then it would come in like a jug filling up a cup. He thought about the wombat hole being filled up with water, there being water instead of air, and trying to swim and trying to breathe, and he suddenly felt very worried.

Lillibet and Moss and his mother kept putting bags in the doorway, and the little wall gradually got higher. Water started to trickle in under the bags. “That’s all the bags we have in the kitchen,” Benson’s mother said.

“What about folded blankets, and towels?” Lillibet said.

“We can try,” Benson’s mother said. They folded all the towels into sausages and piled them onto the wall. The water started to push against the first row of bags, and the wall started to give way. Aunt Moss started to cry.

Benson went over and sat down firmly on the wall. His mother said, “Good boy! That’s the idea.” She sat down beside him, two solid wombat bodies pressing firmly down on the little wall. Lillibet said, “Move over you two, there’s room for one more.” There was room, just, and the three of them snuggled tight up against each other, blocking the doorway and holding the wall of bags steady. The rain kept coming down, and the water outside kept rising, but the little wall held.

Aunt Moss said, “Let me help too,” but Benson’s mother said no.

Benson could feel the water creeping up his bottom. It was very cold. His mother put her arm around him and snuggled him close. “Moss, could you make us a hot cup of tea, please? We’re going to be here for quite a while.”

They drank tea, and Aunt Moss made sandwiches and they had a picnic on the wall, and told stories and played games. The rain stopped, and the water stopped creeping up Benson’s back and started creeping down instead. Aunt Moss made hot soup, and brought them blankets to wrap around their shoulders, and after a while Benson drifted off to sleep, with his mother’s arm around him and Aunt Lillibet telling a long story about her first dance. When he woke up, the water was just about down to the bottom of the wall.

His mother said, “I think we can get up now. The wall should hold by itself, and the water’s nearly gone.” She helped Aunt Lillibet up. Lillibet was very stiff and could hardly walk. Aunt Moss filled the bath up with hot water, and she and Benson’s mother helped Lillibet into it and she felt better before long.

Benson found his legs wouldn’t move to start with, but Aunt Moss had baked some cookies and he and his mother ate them while they were still warm, and drank hot milk and soon he was feeling all warm and toasty again.

The water went down slowly, and by the end of the day there were big stretches of mud and slime instead of a shiny lake. They took the wall down, and Benson’s mother set about washing the towels and the blankets and cleaning up.

Aunt Moss sighed, and said she wished she could have helped too.

“Oh no,” Benson said. “You helped just as much as anyone, Aunt Moss. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Benson and the Pumpkin

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’s mother was in the kitchen one morning, and Aunt Lillibet came in with a pumpkin that she had grown in her garden. It was a great big pumpkin, with shiny bluey-greeny skin, and it was really really heavy.

Benson’s mother said, “Lillibet! What an amazing pumpkin! It’s enormous!”

They both lifted it up onto the bench. Aunt Lillibet said, “I was thinking of pumpkin soup, what do you think?”

Benson’s mother got her biggest knife and started to cut the pumpkin up, but the knife wouldn’t go into the skin. She stabbed and poked, but the skin was way too hard. The knife just bounced off.

“Here, let me,” Aunt Lillibet said. She got the knife in both hands and jabbed it as hard as she could. The knife sprang off and bounced across the room.

“I don’t think that’s safe, Lillibet,” Benson’s mother said. She took the knife and put it away. They both looked at the pumpkin. “I know, we’ll roast it whole, and we can have roast pumpkin for lunch and I’ll make the rest into soup for dinner.”

“Good idea,” Lillibet said. They opened the oven door and lifted the pumpkin up together to put it inside, but it was too big to fit into the oven. They put it back on the bench, and looked at it.

“I know,” Lillibet said. She went outside, and came back with an axe. “Stand back,” she said, and lifted up the axe.

“No, Lillibet! I don’t think that’s a good idea!”

Aunt Moss came in, and gave a little scream. “Lillibet, what are you doing?”

“Oh, don’t fuss,” Lillibet said. She lifted the axe up halfway and gave the pumpkin a tap. The axe cut into the pumpkin and stopped. Lillibet tried to pull the axe out of the pumpkin but it was stuck. She pulled harder and harder but it was really stuck.

“Oh, be careful!” Aunt Moss said. Benson’s mother took hold of the axe handle with Aunt Lillibet and they pulled together. The axe came out and they both fell over.

Benson came and saw them lying on the floor with an axe and a pumpkin. “What are you doing?” he said. “Can I do it too?”

“Benson, I think you’d better take this pumpkin out to the compost heap. I don’t think it would make good eating, anyway, do you, Lillibet?”

“No,” Lillibet agreed. “It’s too tough. Probably too old. Take it out to the compost, Benson.”

Benson picked up the pumpkin and staggered to the door. He got it through the doorway but it slipped out of his hands and fell on the steps. It broke into pieces, and seeds and bits of pumpkin went everywhere.

Lillibet said, “Well that’s done it.”

“Perfect,” said Benson’s mother. She and Benson collected the pieces. “Roast pumpkin for lunch, and pumpkin soup for dinner.”

And they were both delicious.

The Bike Pump

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

One morning after breakfast, Benson wanted to go for a ride on his bike, but when he went out to get on it, he could see that one of the tyres was flat. He went into the kitchen and asked his mother if she knew where the bike pump was.

“Oh, I saw Aunt Lillibet with it yesterday, poking holes in her new garden to plant young lettuces in,” his mother said. “She might know where it is.”

Benson went and asked Aunt Lillibet if she had his bike pump. “Oh no, Moss needed it to get her hat out of a tree, so I gave it to her.”

Benson went to find Aunt Moss. She was sitting in the sun, reading about book about weaving patterns. “Aunt Moss, do you know where my bike pump is?” he asked.

“Your bike pump? Is it long and silver, with a handle that goes in and out?”

“Yes,” said Benson, “that’s the one.”

“I needed it yesterday. My hat blew off and got caught in the wattle tree and I couldn’t reach it. Your bike pump was exactly what I needed to get it down. Now let me see, what did I do with it?” She scratched her chin and tried to remember.

Benson waited.

She said, “I think I may have put it in the laundry when I put my hat away. Or possibly in the bathroom. I needed something long to shoo a big beetle off the top of the cupboard. It was frightening the turtles. Or maybe I used Lillibet’s hairbrush. Have you looked in the laundry?”she asked.

“No,” Benson said. He went and looked in the laundry, and in the bathroom. It wasn’t in the laundry or in the bathroom, but he did find a long red scarf with a long silky fringe. He showed it to his mother. “Oh,”she said, “that’s Moss’s friend Biddy’s scarf. She must have left it here after they went to their dancing class yesterday. Do you think you could ride your bike over and give it back to her?”

Benson explained that his tyre was flat and he couldn’t find his bike pump.

“Oh,” said his mother, “I think I remember finding it in the bath and putting it away somewhere. Or was that the rake? We must have a look for it.”

She called Lillibet and Moss and they all looked for the bike pump. They looked everywhere. Moss found an apple core that she thought the turtles might like, and a ball of turquoise yarn she had lost a week ago. “Wonderful, now I can finish the other leg-warmer I was making for Biddy.”

Lillibet found two safety pins, a marble and two pencils, one grey and one white, which had fallen out of Benson’s pencil-case but which he hadn’t missed because he never used grey or white. She gave the pencils to Benson and the marble to Moss for her marble run, and put the safety pins safely in her pin cushion.

Benson didn’t find anything. His mother said, “I’m sure it’ll turn up. Why don’t you walk over to Aunt Moss’s friend Biddy’s house and take the scarf back anyway?”

Aunt Moss said, “Just wait for ten minutes and I’ll finish that leg-warmer and you can take them over too.” She got out her knitting with an almost-finished leg-warmer on the needles, and set to work with the turquoise wool she had just found. In ten minutes it was finished.

“There,” said Aunt Moss. “Now where did I put the first leg-warmer?” She looked in her knitting bag and under the bed. Benson’s mother looked in the laundry and down the sides of the lounge, but they couldn’t find it.

“Never mind,” said Aunt Moss, “I’m sure it will turn up. Just take the scarf for now, please, Benson.”

Benson set off with the scarf. As he was walking past his bike, he noticed that the pump was in its place on the bike, exactly where it belonged. He couldn’t think why he hadn’t looked there before. It had some dirt on the end and some wattle blossom caught in the handle and a bit of soap on the side. He pumped his tyre up, and rode over to Biddy’s house.

Biddy said, “Benson! How nice to see you! I was just coming over to your house to bring this back to Moss. It must have fallen out of her knitting bag when she was here on Monday.”

She held up a long turquoise leg-warmer. “But while you’re here, Benson, would you mind helping me look for my glasses?”

Stars

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 Benson was asleep and he woke up because he had to go to the toilet.

He went to the toilet and on his way back to bed he noticed that the front door was open. He went to have a look, and he saw Aunt Moss, lying on her back in the middle of the grass, staring up at the sky.

He went out and asked her what she was doing.

“Just watching the stars,” she said.

Benson looked up. “They’re not doing anything. What are you watching them for?”

“Sometimes when I’m out walking at night, I can tell where I am by looking at the stars. I look at the shapes and the patterns the stars make,” she said.

Benson lay down beside her and stared at the stars. It was just masses of white sparkly spots and spaces between them.

“I don’t see any patterns,” Benson said.

“I learned the shapes and the patterns and the different stars from my grandmother. I look at them and remember the stories,” Aunt Moss said.

“What stories?” Benson asked.

“See those three little stars in a row, like little turtles? Well there’s a story my grandmother told me about three turtles going on a long journey…” And she told him the story.

“What about those four like a flag flying?” Benson asked.

“Well, my grandmother used to tell me a story about a young wombat with a flag…” And she told him the story. Benson listened, and he gazed up at the stars. After a little while, Aunt Moss stopped talking and went to sleep. Benson kept looking at the stars, and he could see all sorts of patterns. He started thinking of his own stories.

Then a very strange thing happened. One of the stars fell right across the sky and disappeared.

Benson woke up Aunt Moss. “Did you see that?” he said. “One of the stars fell out of the sky!”

“Oh, I missed it!” said Aunt Moss. “I’ve never seen a falling star. Never mind, maybe another night. I think it’s time for bed.”

They went inside and Benson went to bed. It was warm and snuggly and he fell asleep straight away. But the next night, and every night for a long time, he went out to look at the stars again before he went to bed.

Lilly Pillies

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 morning when Benson’s mother was washing up the breakfast dishes, she said, “The lilly pilly trees on top of the big hill will be covered in fruit by now.”

Benson started thinking about lilly pillies. He loved their purple popping fruit, and he loved lilly pilly jam and he especially loved lilly pilly jelly.

“I think I’ll go up the big hill,” he said.

“You can try, but it’s a very big hill. More like a mountain,” Lillibet said.

Benson went anyway. The big hill was so steep that people had made steps in the sides to make it easier to climb up. The trouble was, they were very big people-sized steps. Benson was not a big wombat. If it had been just a hill, he could have scrambled up, holding on with his strong claws, but the steps were so big, he couldn’t even pull himself up.

He stared at the steps and he felt disappointed. No lilly pillies. No lilly pilly jelly. He sat down and he folded his arms and he stared at the steps and he thought.

He got up and went home and got a bucket.

“Is there any rope?” he asked his mother.

“There’s Aunt Moss’s dressing-gown cord. You could ask if you could borrow it.”

Aunt Moss said yes, of course. He tied the cord to the handle of the bucket. He dragged the bucket behind him all the way back to the hill.

He put the bucket at the bottom of the first step and climbed on top. Then he could pull himself up to the first step. He climbed onto the step and then he pulled the bucket up after him with the cord.

Getting up all the steps was easy. At the top, the lilly pilly trees were covered in fruit. Benson ate heaps and heaps. Then he lay down in the sun with his head on his bucket and thought about things until he didn’t feel so full.

Then he got up and filled up the bucket with heaps and heaps of fruit. It was heavy carrying it back to the steps, but not that heavy.

At the top step, he used the cord to lower the bucket down to the next step. Then he jumped down after it. Getting down the steps was easy. He carried the bucket home.

“Perfect!” his mother said.

Aunt Lillibet said, “Where did you get all those lilly pillies?”

“At the top of the big hill,” Benson said.

Benson’s mother said, “We’re going to make lilly pilly jelly, Lillibet. Do you want to help?”

She did, and they did, and it was the best lilly pilly jelly ever.

The Wedding

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

Benson’s mother was going to a wedding.

“Why are you wearing that hat?” Benson said.

“It’s very becoming, and besides, hats are coming back in,” she said. “Everyone’s wearing them.” She looked in the mirror at herself. “I think it looks nice.”

Aunt Lillibet came in.

“What on earth are you wearing?” she said.

“Maisie lent me her hat for the wedding,” Benson’s mother said. “I think it looks fine.”

“If you think puce looks good on a wombat,” Lillibet said.

“What do you think, Benson?” his mother asked.

“Should I say what I think, or should I say what I think I should say?” Benson said.

His mother looked in the mirror again. “Your favourite socks are this colour,” she said.

“I don’t wear my socks on my head,” Benson said.

Aunt Moss came in. “Oh, how lovely! I love your hat,” she said.

Benson’s mother sighed and took the hat off.

“I don’t think it’s quite right,” she said.

“Can I wear it if you’re not going to?” Aunt Moss said.

She took off her old black hat and put the other hat on. It looked perfectly hideous.

“I think your old hat looks better,” Benson’s mother said. Her old hat used to be a teapot cosy.

“What will you wear?” Aunt Moss said.

“Oh I don’t need a hat,” Benson’s mother said. “I’ll be all right the way I am.”

Benson said to his mother, “I think you look perfectly beautiful the way you are.”

Benson’s mother smiled, and she looked perfectly beautiful.

Lost

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 morning Benson was having his favourite breakfast, pancakes with mushrooms and blueberries. Aunt Moss came out of her room looking very sleepy. She was still in pyjamas and her eyes were hardly open at all.

She sat down at the table next to Benson, and she picked up the teapot and poured the tea into her cereal bowl. Then she got the porridge, and she filled up her tea cup with it. She put some yoghurt on top of the porridge, then she picked up the cup and tried to drink the porridge.

Benson’s mother came in and said, “Moss, dear, I think you’re a bit mixed up. You need a spoon to eat your porridge.”

Moss put the cup down, looking surprised. There was porridge and yoghurt all over her face. “Oh,” she said. “I don’t think I’m quite awake yet.” She looked at the cup, and she looked at the bowl full of tea. “Oh, dear, that’s not right, is it?”

Benson’s mother said, “You might need to wash your face. You’ve got some yoghurt on it.”

Aunt Moss laughed and said, “That was silly of me, wasn’t it?” She went off to the bathroom to wash her face.

Benson laughed so much he nearly choked on his pancake.

His mother said, “That will do, young man! I’m really disappointed with you!”

“Me?” said Benson. “I didn’t do anything!”

“That’s exactly what I mean!” said his mother angrily. “Poor Moss was embarrassed, and all you could do is laugh at her!”

“But it was funny,” Benson said, getting angry.

“It was not funny!” his mother said. “Go to your room right now!”

“You’re being completely and totally UNFAIR!” Benson shouted. “I didn’t do anything!”

He picked up the rest of his pancake and stomped out of the room. He stomped out of the front door and kept going down the path, out the gate, along the road and into the bush, stamping and fuming. He talked to himself as he went along, and waved his pancake in the air. “Why should I have to go to my room when all I did was laugh at something that was really funny? She had yoghurt on her nose, and porridge in her eyebrows! Everyone is always shouting at me for nothing at all! Why don’t they all go into their rooms and stay there? Everything is unfair, just because I’m the youngest!”

He kept on going until he ran into some bush that was too thick to walk through, then he sat down on a dead log and ate the rest of his pancake, thinking about how unfair his mother was, and what he could have said to her.

In a little while he calmed down a bit and looked around. He didn’t recognise any of the trees or the rocks. There was no path going anywhere, just thick bush wherever he looked. He got up off the dead log and tried to go back the way he had come from, but he couldn’t find any tracks. He started to feel worried, and then he started to feel really worried. He was lost.

He tried pushing through the trees and bushes one way, but there were big rocks in the way, so he tried going another way, but there were spiky plants he didn’t remember seeing before. He went back to the dead log and sat down and thought.

He didn’t know where he was, and he didn’t know the way home. His mother always said, If you ever get lost, stay where you are and I will come and get you. He thought about that.

If he tried to find the way and it was the wrong direction, he would be even more lost. If he walked around lost he would get tired and hungry. He might even get hurt. Staying where he was and waiting seemed like a good idea, so he stayed.

After a while of sitting and waiting, he was getting more tired and more worried. He worried that there were things in the bush that might come and bite him. He worried that his mother was so mad with him she wouldn’t come and look for him. He worried that he would not have any lunch, or any afternoon tea. What if his mother couldn’t find him, and he didn’t have any dinner either? What if everyone was looking somewhere else and he was here and they didn’t find him, and they gave up and went home?

He started to think he should try and find the way home by himself, but then he looked at the trees and the big rocks and the thick bush and the prickly plants, and he thought about his mother, and he said to himself, “Benson, you have to stay here and wait. It might not be easy, but you just have to wait. She will definitely come.”

He waited and waited, and after a very long time, he heard a noise and there was his mother. Benson felt very very happy. He jumped up off the log and hugged her, and she hugged him for a long time.

“I kind of got lost,” he said.

“I thought you might have,” his mother said.

“I stayed where I was and I waited,” he said.

“You did exactly the right thing,” his mother said. “It would have taken me ages to find you if you had wandered away, and you might have hurt yourself. You know there are big cliffs near here.”

“Are there?” Benson hugged her again. “How did you find me?” he said.

She smiled. “A young wombat in an angry mood leaves a pretty good trail in the bush,” she said.

Carrots

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

One morning his mother went out to the vegetable garden and picked some carrots. She took them inside to wash them. Benson came into the kitchen and saw her chopping the green parts off.

“They’re just baby carrots,” he said. “Why did you pick them?”

“Sometimes the bed needs thinning out,” his mother said. “If there are too many carrots trying to grow in one small space, they get on top of each other and there isn’t enough room for them to grow properly.”

“You know,” Benson said, “if you had great big giant rabbits, they would want giant carrots, like a carrot as big as an umbrella. Big giant rabbits like lions, but softer, and when they hop, they would make big dents in the ground and all the little animals would fall into them all the time.”

His mother smiled. “They would eat every single thing in the vege garden in one go, and we’d have nothing left to eat.”

Benson thought some more. Then he went to Aunt Moss’s room and asked her if he could borrow her orange blanket. He took it outside, and found some long green palm leaves that had fallen off the palm trees. He rolled himself in the orange blanket, tight like a long sausage, and he held the palm leaves so they were sticking out near the top of his head. Then he lay very still and waited.

After a while, and nothing happening, Aunt Lillibet came along. “What are you doing?” she said.

“I’m being a giant carrot, to see if some giant rabbits might come along,” Benson said.

“That would have to be some rabbit, if it was big enough to eat a carrot your size,” Lillibet said. “A very big rabbit.”

“As big as a sheep,” Benson said.

“With really long ears,” Lillibet said.

“As long as an elephant’s,” Benson said.

“And really big teeth,” Lillibet said.

“Teeth?” Benson said.

“To eat the carrot with,” Lillibet said. “To chomp into it and bite bits off and crunch them up. You can’t eat a great big carrot with little tiny teeth.”

Benson thought about teeth, and he put the palm leaves down and unwrapped himself from the blanket. “I think I’ll go inside now,” he said.

“Oh, don’t go yet,” Lillibet said. “I think I can hear some giant rabbits coming!”

Benson scampered inside very quickly. He told his mother that Aunt Lillibet said she could hear giant rabbits coming, with giant teeth. His mother was making carrot soup. “Oh, I think Lillibet was just having a bit of fun with you,” she said. “We both know there are no giant rabbits. But there are some very little ones. Some tiny new baby rabbits were born just this week, down by the creek.”

“Really? Are they really tiny?”

“Small enough to fit into your hand and feel like just a tiny ball of fluff. Do you want to go and see them?” she said.

“Mmm, that would be good. Should we take some baby carrots for them?” Benson said.

“I think they’re too small even for carrots. They’ll just be having mother’s milk for a while. But we could take some carrots for their mum,” she said.

“Okay,” Benson said. He was thoughtful for just a minute, then he asked, “Their mum is just normal-sized, isn’t she? Not extra-big, or super-large, or giant-sized?”

“No, she’s just normal-rabbit-sized,” his mother said.

“That’s good,” said Benson.

Benson and the Dragons

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

One day after breakfast Benson said, “I’m going to look for a dragon today.”

His aunt Lillibet said, “You can’t do that. There’s no such thing as dragons. They’re only in story-books.”

Benson said, “I can still go and look.”

Benson’s mother said, “Some people call some types of lizards dragons, like water dragons and heath dragons, and mallee dragons, and even bearded dragons.”

“Do they fly, and breathe fire?” Benson asked.

“No,” his mother said. “They’re basically lizards. But they’re interesting in their own lizard-y way.”

“I was thinking of looking for the fire-breathing type.”

Aunt Moss said, “That’s so exciting! I would love to see a dragon, with its piles of treasure, and a handsome knight rescuing a beautiful princess in distress!”

Aunt Lillibet snorted. “Dragons don’t exist, Moss! It’s all fairy stories!”

Aunt Moss paid no attention to her. She said to Benson, “You must take lots of pictures. I’ll get my camera for you.” She went into her room to get her camera. Benson’s mother went into the kitchen.

Aunt Lillibet said, “If you did go hunting dragons, it would be incredibly dangerous.”

Benson said, “I’m not going to hunt them, I’m just going to look for them.”

Lillibet paid no attention to him. “You’ll need armour, and a spear, and a sword, and a helmet.” She went and got her thickest padded dressing gown and wrapped him up in it. It was way too long, and dragged on the ground behind him. She got a saucepan and plonked it on his head. The edges poked into Benson’s ears and the handle stuck out in front.

Aunt Moss came out with her camera and hung it around his neck. “Make sure you take lots of photos. And here, you’ll need this.” She gave him an old book. It had thick covers, and it was very heavy. “When you see a dragon, you have to know how to talk to it properly, or it won’t understand you. You have to say, ‘Sirrah’, and ‘Avaunt ye’, and ‘On guard’, and ‘Have at ye’, and ‘Yield, thou recreant lizard’.”

Lillibet went and got her gumboots. “Here, you’ll need to wear these to protect you from its fiery breath. Moss’s crowbar can be a spear.” She put Aunt Moss’s crowbar into his hand. It was so heavy, Benson toppled over straight away. “Moss, do you have a sword?” she said.

“No,” Aunt Moss said, “but if he sings to it sweetly, it will go to sleep and he won’t need to fight it. I’ll get my guitar for him. And a shopping bag to carry the treasure in.”

She went to her room, and came back with a guitar and a big shopping bag, and a fly-swatter. “I found this to use instead of a sword,” she said. She put the shopping bag and the fly-swatter in his other hand, and put the strap of the guitar across his shoulders.

Benson’s mother came out of the kitchen. “I’ve made some sandwiches, and I’ve got our hats. Are you ready?” she asked.

Benson took off the dressing-gown and the saucepan and the gumboots, and gave the book and the guitar and the camera and the shopping bag and the fly-swatter back to Aunt Moss. “Ready,” he said.

He took his mother’s hand and they went off together.

Mushrooms

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

One afternoon Benson was outside doing stuff, and when he came in, Aunt Lillibet was in the kitchen, sitting at the table, making something with modelling clay.

Benson rushed over and sat down and said, “What are you making? Can I make some too?”

Aunt Lillibet was concentrating very hard. She was concentrating so hard she didn’t take her eyes off what she was doing. “Mushrooms,” she said.

“You’re making mushrooms?” Benson said. He looked at what she had made so far, a row of mushrooms, red with white spots, with white curvy stems, absolutely perfect. “Oh, they’re so beautiful!” Benson said. “Can I make one, please, please, Aunt Lillibet?”

“Oh, all right, but don’t bump the table,” She passed some scraps of modelling clay over to Benson on the other side of the table.

Benson rolled the dough out carefully, and cut out a circle for the top of the mushroom and rolled a little log for the stem, and made a lovely mushroom. He looked at his mushroom and then he looked at Aunt Lillibet’s mushrooms. Hers were absolutely perfect, every spot exactly the same size, the tops smooth and nicely curved. There were even tiny little ribs under the lid of the mushroom, all straight and even. Benson felt discouraged. His mushroom was just a mushroomy blob compared to hers. He squashed his mushroom down and started again.

Aunt Moss came into the kitchen. “Oh, what are you making? Mushrooms? They’re very nice, Lillibet. Can I make some too?”

“NO!” said Aunt Lillibet. “You’ll make a mess and you’ll take all the best colours. Besides, there’s not enough room at the table.”

Aunt Moss sat down at the table next to Benson. “There’s room over this side. You’re only using red and white anyway; you’re not using any of these colours.” Aunt Moss took the green and the blue and the black and the orange and the purple clay. She started to make a mushroom.

Benson stopped and watched her. She made a bright green mushroom with a purpley-orange stem. Then she made a pink mushroom with little horns on top.

Benson smiled and started his mushroom all over again. He put a little door in its top, with a little worm sticking out. Aunt Moss laughed, and made a blue mushroom with antlers and four legs, all different colours.

Lillibet said, “You’re doing it all wrong, Moss. That’s not how mushrooms look.”

“It’s how my mushrooms look,” Aunt Moss said. “Mushrooms can be any way you want them to be.”

“No, they can’t. They’re not mushrooms then,” Lillibet said. “You’re just being silly.”

“The trouble with you is, Lillibet, you have no imagination,” Aunt Moss said.

“The trouble with you is, you can’t get anything right!” Lillibet shouted. “You’re messing everything up. Why don’t you go away?” She banged the table.

Benson’s mother came in, to find out what the shouting and banging was about. She could see that Aunt Lillibet was very upset, and Moss was being difficult.

“I think it’s time for a cup of tea,” she said. “Aunt Moss, would you get the cups out for me? And cut some cake for everyone?”

Aunt Moss got up and went to get the cups. Benson’s mother sat down beside Aunt Lillibet. “Lillibet, these are beautiful. They’re perfect.”

Aunt Lillibet said, “I found some by the creek and I couldn’t pick them because they’re so poisonous, so I wanted to make some.”

“You wanted to make them so you would remember what they look like, so you don’t pick them by mistake?” Benson’s mother asked.

“No, because even though they’re poisonous, they’re beautiful. I can’t touch the real ones, but these ones I can,” Lillibet said.

Benson’s mother put one arm around Aunt Lillibet and gave her a little squeeze. “They look exactly like real ones.”

Benson gave a sigh, and squashed his mushroom down again.

His mother said, “What did you do that for, Benson? That was a very good mushroom.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Benson said. “It was silly. It didn’t really look anything like a mushroom. It looked like a bucket upside down.”

“That’s because you didn’t shape the top right,” Aunt Lillibet said. “You should roll it out flat first, and then curve up the edges, just a little bit, like this.” She helped him shape the top of the mushroom and balance it on the stem. It looked much more like a mushroom. Benson still wasn’t pleased.

“But it’s orange and blue,” Benson said, “and they’re not the right colours for mushrooms.”

“It’s not the colours that’s important, it’s the mushroom-i-ness,” Aunt Lillibet.

Aunt Moss came over, and looked at Benson’s mushroom, and Lillibet’s mushrooms, and her own mushrooms. “You know, you’re right, Lillibet. Your mushrooms are really really mushroomy. Mine are just a bit of fun, not really mushroomy at all. I think I’ll watch you make the next one, and see if I can learn how to do it better.”

“Good,” said Aunt Lillibet.

“But first let’s have tea and cake,” Benson’s mother said quickly.

When all the cake was gone, Moss sat down with Lillibet to learn how to make her mushrooms mushroomier.

Benson said quietly to his mother, “You know, Aunt Lillibet’s mushrooms are really good, but Aunt Moss’s make me feel happy, you know?”

Benson’s mother nodded. “I know what you mean.”

Benson said, “But Aunt Lillibet’s make me feel… different. Like there’s a new space inside my head I didn’t know was there.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” his mother said.

Leaf Pie

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

One morning Benson went out in the back yard to do some digging, and he saw Aunt Moss walking around, looking at the ground, so he said, “Have you lost something, Aunt Moss? Do you want me help you look for it?”

Aunt Moss said, “No I haven’t lost anything. I’m looking for some leaves.”

Benson said, “Don’t you think you should look in the trees then?”

“I’m looking for the right kind of leaves,” she said. “My friend Rebekah asked me if I’d like to come to morning tea, and I said I’d bring a leaf pie.”

“Don’t you mean a leek pie? Or an apple pie? Everyone likes apple pie, apple pie and custard, apple pie and cream, apple pie and ice-cream. Or blackberry and apple pie, or apple and raspberry…”

“No, Benson, I’m going to make a leaf pie, and you can help me, if you’d like to. I need the right sort of leaves. Soft, green juicy leaves, not tough hard leaves, or old brown ones.”

Benson picked some nice green juicy leaves, some off a wattle tree and some off a gum tree. Aunt Moss put them on a plate in a round pile. “Perfect. Now I’m going to make my famous grevillea icing.”

She picked grevillea flowers, red and pink and some yellow ones, and sprinkled them all over the leaves. Benson thought she must be going bananas. “Aunt Moss, why would you make icing out of little flowers? Icing is meant to be made of sugar and stuff and spread out over the cake and then you lick the bowl.”

“Haven’t you ever tasted grevillea nectar?” Aunt Moss asked. “It’s very sweet. Here, try some.” She took one of the little red flowers. “Open your mouth,” she said. Benson opened his mouth. She squeezed a tiny drop of nectar out of the flower. Benson closed his mouth and tasted it carefully. It wasn’t as bad as he thought. Actually, it was quite sweet.

Aunt Moss said, “Why don’t you come to morning tea with me? Rebekah’s grandson Ralph will be there. You might enjoy playing with him.”

Benson went to Rebekah’s house with Moss. He carried the leaf pie with grevillea icing. Aunt Moss brought two old mushy bananas that she had been keeping in the freezer and brought them. Benson was thinking that Aunt Moss’s friend Rebekah was going to be surprised, but when they got there, Rebekah was very excited to see them.

“Bananas! They’ll be perfect!” she said. “And a lovely leaf pie. Thank you, Benson. Just put them down on the picnic blanket.”

Benson put them down on the picnic blanket. He wondered where all the food was. There were lots of flowers, daisies and bottlebrush, but no cake, no sandwiches, and only a leaf pie that really didn’t look delicious at all. There was a plate of fruit, but the strawberries were squashy and old, and the apples had rotten brown spots on them.

Aunt Moss said, “This is Ralph, Rebekah’s grandson. Maybe you boys would like to collect some milkweed?”

They said hello to each other. Ralph was little and roly-poly and a bit shy. Benson was seriously thinking he should have stayed home. They found some bits of milkweed, nasty smelly stuff, and brought it back.

Rebekah said, “Be very careful of the sap, boys, it can burn your eyes. Go and wash your hands very thoroughly, and hurry up, they’ll be here any minute now.”

Benson and Ralph washed their hands. Benson wondered who was coming, more crazy people with mouldy cake and weedy pies?

He and Ralph went outside again, and found the picnic blanket was covered with butterflies, hundreds and thousands of butterflies, blue and yellow and white and red.

“Here they are!” Aunt Moss said. There were butterflies everywhere, in the garden, on Aunt Moss’s shoulders, on Rebekah’s hands and on her head. A large blue and black butterfly landed on Benson’s nose.

“Oh, it’s a monarch!” Ralph said.

Benson stared at the butterfly with his eyes crossed. It was beautiful. He held out his hands and more butterflies landed on them, green and white and black and pink. The picnic blanket was covered in them, drinking up the nectar in the grevillea icing, sipping delicately at the bananas and nibbling at the fruit. Ralph knew all their names and keep telling Benson what they were and where they were from and what they liked to eat.

Ralph knew all about butterflies and caterpillars and moths. Benson didn’t know anything and didn’t really listen all the time. He wandered around through clouds of butterflies, being careful not to step on any, looking at the colours and the patterns on their wings.

“When I get home I’m going to paint them,” he said to himself. He imagined his walls covered with paintings of butterflies, like the picnic blanket was. He went over to Aunt Moss and said, “Thank you, Aunt Moss. This is the best morning tea I’ve ever been to.”