The Koala family lived so happily; never thinking of harm, or that anything could happen to disturb their little home, as all they asked for were plenty of fresh gum-leaves and the warm sun. They had no idea such things as guns were in the world or that a human being had a heart so cruel that he would take a pleasure in seeing a poor little body riddled with bullets hanging helplessly from the tree-top. And they had no idea this same being would walk away, after shooting a bear, content to see him dead, no matter if he fell to the ground or not. That same being might just as well take his gun and shoot baby kookaburras, so helpless were they all and so trusting.
Poor Mr Koala one day was curled up asleep in his favourite corner, when the terrible thing happened. Bang! He opened his eyes in wonder. What was that? Did the limb of the tree snap where that young cub of his was skylarking? He moved very slowly to take a look and, bang! again. This time he felt a stinging pain in his leg. What could it be? And peering over the bough of the tree he saw a man on the ground with something long and black in his arms. He gazed down in wonderment. Whatever was that, and how his little leg hurt. Another bang and his ear began to hurt. Suddenly a great fear seized him, he slowly turned and tried to hide round the tree, peering at the ground as he did so. Bang! again, and now his poor little body was stinging all over. He grunted loudly and slowly climbed up the tree, calling Mrs Koala and Blinky as he went. He managed to reach the topmost branch and now turned to see where his family were. Tears were pouring down his poor little face. He brushed them away with his front paws and cried just like a baby. Fortunately Mrs Koala and Blinky Bill were hiding in the leaves, quite motionless, and the shadows of the tree made them appear as part of it. The man with the gun stood and waited a long time, then walked away, whistling as he went—the only sound to be heard in the bush except the cries of a little bear far up in the tree.
They sat patiently waiting for him to wake.
All that day and night the little family lay huddled together, not daring to move, or to think of the sweet gum-leaves that hung from the tree inviting them to supper. As the sun rose the birds woke with a great chattering, the earth stirred with the feet of small animals running backwards and forwards; but up in the gum-tree a mother bear and her baby sat staring in surprise at another bear who did not move. They grunted and cried, and even felt him with their soft paws, but he still did not move. All that day and the next night they sat patiently waiting for him to wake, then at last Mrs Bear seemed to understand that her husband was dead. She climbed down the tree, with Blinky following close behind, and went to another tree where they had a good meal of young leaves and tender shoots.
"Why are we eating so much?" Blinky inquired.
"We are going away, dear," Mrs Bear replied. "We must find a tree farther in the bush where those men with guns can't come, and as we may be a long time in finding a suitable home, these leaves will keep us from feeling hungry."
Together the mother and her cub slowly climbed down the tree, and great was their surprise to find Angelina Wallaby waiting for them.
"Where are you going, Mrs Bear?" she asked.
"Far into the bush with Blinky, away from the man with his gun," Mrs Bear replied.
"What will I do?" asked Angelina. "I shall miss Blinky terribly." And her big eyes filled with tears.
"Orge with us," grunted Blinky.
"Oh, that will be splendid," said Angelina. "I know a gum-tree far away with a baby in it just like Blinky. Blinky can crawl up on to my back when his legs are tired, and I'll carry him along—you too, Mrs Bear, if you feel the journey too long."
Thanking her the three started away. Mrs Bear turned and gave one sorrowful look at the tree that had been their home for so long. It had been a kind tree, sheltering them through all weathers and feeding them every day of the year, but not strong enough to protect them from tragedy.
After travelling for a mile or more the bears began to feel very tired, as they were not used to walking along the ground. Very rarely they leave the branches of the trees; occasionally one will climb down to feed on some vegetation in the grass; but they feel very strange having to use their four legs to walk with. It is so different to sitting on a limb of a tree, hind paws firmly grasping the branch while the two front paws are busily pulling down tender leaves to their mouths. So it was no wonder when Mrs Koala and Blinky began to limp.
"Let us rest here under this bush," said Angelina, hopping up to a thick scrubby tree. "We can have a sleep, and when the moon is up we will go on."
"I think you are wonderful," said Mrs Koala, and all three lay at the foot of the bush, the two little Koalas glad to rest sore little toes and tired little legs.
In the cool shade they slept until the sun went down, then waking up, and feeling very hungry, Mrs Koala and Blinky climbed a sapling. Blinky rushed ahead as they neared the top and stuffed his mouth as full as full.
"Don't gobble," said Mrs Bear, cuffing his ear.
"They're so juicy," said young Blinky, as he peered over the branch and threw a few leaves down to Angelina.
"They are nice," said Angelina, as she munched them ever so gently, "I have never tasted these leaves before; but we must not stop here any longer. This is strange country, and we have a long way to go."
"I don't want to go," wailed Blinky, "I'm tired."
"Both of you hop on my back and we'll be there in no time. I can leap along in the moonlight like a kangaroo."
It was great fun.
After some arguing over the matter, Mrs Bear and Blinky climbed on her back, and away they went. It was great fun. Flop, flop, flop, through the grass, ducking their heads to miss the branches and twigs of low-growing trees, and then racing along through open country.
Many a rabbit looked up in surprise from his supper-table to see the strange sight, and possums screeched in the branches as they looked down at some new kind of wallaby, as they thought. At last, breathless and tired Angelina stopped at the foot of a tall, straight gum-tree. Silver white it stood in the moonlight with branches spread far up in the sky.
"Here is your new home," said Angelina.
"How beautiful," murmured Mrs Bear, as she and Blinky crawled down from their friend's back.
Tears were pouring down his poor little face.
"It is safe, and you will be very happy here, and Blinky will have a playmate." Angelina flopped on the grass, her long legs sprawled out, and she panted loudly.
"Where are you going to live?" Mrs Bear inquired. "We want you near us, please."
"I'm going to live just round the corner," said Angelina. "I have a friend who is waiting for me."
"Is she a relation?" asked Mrs Bear kindly. "No!" replied Angelina. "She is a he!" And, blushing, she looked very slowly down at her paws; then suddenly turned and hopped away.
"Dear, dear," grunted Mrs Bear, "the world is full of surprises."
"Now, you young scamp, come here and climb this tree with me," and Blinky scrambled on to his mother's back.
"I think it's quite time you used your own legs," said Mrs Bear. But she made no attempt to shake him off.
Slowly she crawled up. A new tree was no joke, and this one was ever so high and straight. With many grunts she eventually reached a fork in the branches and stopped to take in her surroundings.
Everything seemed very quiet, but her eyes glistened as she looked at the young gum-tips. A young cub to feed was a matter of no light concern, and he was so particular. Only the youngest leaves he ate.
Blinky was the first to discover other tenants in the tree. "Look, mother," he whispered. "There's a little bear, just like me."
Sure enough, peeping at them from between leaves above their heads, two funny eyes and a small black nose could be seen.
"Now, no quarrelling!" said Mrs Bear sternly. "I've had enough for one day, and I want peace."
Another climb and they came to a branch where sat Master Bear.
"Hulloa," called Blinky.
"Hullo," replied the other.
"Where's your mother?" Mrs Bear asked. "Tell her I would like to speak with her."
He crawled up the tree slowly. Then many grunts were heard to come from that direction until Mother Bear looked down and called in high-pitched grunts:
"Orge up, and bring your son to tea."
She brought her young son Snubby with her.
It did not take Mrs Koala and Blinky long to find the way, and there all night the little bears ate and gossiped. Mrs Koala told her story, and it was agreed that she and Blinky should have the branch two limbs higher up for their new home. Very carefully she told Blinky he must behave as a good little cub should: "Don't rush about; lift your feet when you walk; don't slide down the boughs; and don't drop your food over the side of the tree as Mrs Bear below us might object."
"I'll be a good cub," said Blinky very seriously, and straightaway started to nibble some young leaves.
During the evening Mrs Koala's friend came up to see how she and Blinky liked their new home. She brought her young son, Snubby, with her, and a dear little chap he was. About the same age as Blinky, and in fact so like him that it was hard to tell the two apart.
"Now you two young eucalyptus pots, run off and have a game," said Snubby's mother. "I want to talk to Mrs Koala."
Blinky and Snubby needed no second bidding, and were up the branches playing and climbing in the most dangerous corners in no time.
"You have not told me your name," said Mrs Koala to her friend.
"My name is Mrs Grunty."
"Oh, what a nice name. I'm sure you must be proud of it," said Mrs Koala.
"Well, no—not exactly," said Mrs Grunty. "I got the name while I was in Queensland."
"Good gracious! Where is that?" asked Mrs Koala.
"Have you never heard of it? Is it possible?" said Mrs Grunty. And she looked more surprised than ever. "Well, I must tell you my experiences. I was taken from my mother when I was about six months old, by a man who was trapping bears. I don't know how I escaped from being killed like all my relations; but I heard the man say to his friend as he caught me and popped me in a sack: 'This little fellow's a pretty one and I've been promised a ten-bob note for a baby'. The sack was very dark inside and I felt very frightened as I was slung over a horse's side and carried for many miles in this manner. I knew when we left the bush track, because the smell of the gum-trees faded away; and all I could smell for many miles after seemed to be horse. Sometimes he snorted and I could have jumped out of the sack with fright if there had been a hole to jump through. After many hours we stopped, and I was taken out of the sack and handed to a lady and a little girl who were waiting outside a big house by the roadside."
"Isn't he a darling!" said the little girl as she patted me. "None of them seemed to think I might be a little girl. They all called me 'he'. I was squeezed and hugged and petted; and needless to tell you Mrs Koala, I scrambled up her arm and on to her shoulder. It was the nearest thing to a gum-tree I could see; but, alas, no gum-leaves grew there—only funny stuff all round me called hair. The little girl's mother and father said I looked 'so surprised'. Well now, Mrs Koala, wouldn't any bear be surprised to find herself up a gum-tree that talked?"
Mrs Koala was too amazed to reply. She just grunted.
"The next thing that happened," continued Mrs Grunty, "was to place me on a thing they called a cushion. It certainly was soft and cosy—but where was my snug tree-corner I wondered, and I also felt very hungry."
"Oh, I forgot to ask the trapper for leaves for the pet," said the lady.
"Give him some cake" said the man.
"They offered me some dreadful looking stuff, and of course I could not eat it, and I began to cry for my gum-tips. Then the little girl said perhaps I would like bread and milk, and she ran away to get it. I was so hungry that I ate a little and then fell asleep, as the jogging about on the horse had made my body ache and I felt very tired. They placed me in a box with a bear just like me, only he didn't breathe and his eyes didn't blink, and he had no smell of eucalyptus; but he was soft and cuddly like my mother. I woke in the morning, and what do you think they brought me for breakfast? Bananas!"
He was soft and cuddly—like my mother.
"How shocking!" gasped Mrs Koala. "And still no leaves?"
"No leaves," sighed Mrs Grunty. "And as the day went by they became concerned about me. They offered me cheese, lollies, and even pudding to add to my sorrowful plight. I heard the little girl's father talking about something he read in a paper in which it said: 'During the year 1920 to 1921, two hundred and five thousand six hundred and seventy-nine koalas were killed and their skins sold to the fur market, under the name of wombat'."
Hearing this Mrs Koala gave a jump with fright and nearly fell off her perch.
"Oh! how dreadful! It is only a short time ago that my husband was shot. And we are supposed to be protected and allowed to live. What will I do if Blinky is killed?"
"You need not worry," said Mrs Grunty, patting her paw in a comforting way. "We are safe here. No man ever comes into this part of the bush. But I must tell you the rest of my story. These people were really trying to be kind to me. They did not wish to lose me, but it was the worst kind of kindness. As you know, I would die very quickly if I had no gum-leaves to feed on. After two more days of tempting me with everything they could think of, they became alarmed and decided I must go back to the bush."
"We would never forgive ourselves, if the dear wee thing died," the mother and father said. "But the little girl began to cry. She brought me her best dolly and put it in my arms to try and comfort me, but I felt too sick and hungry to take any notice of it."
"That night when she was asleep, her father put me in the sack again and once more I was on a horse's back, but he rode with me this time and rode all through the night. Just as day was breaking I smelled the bush and, oh, the gum-trees! Already I felt better, for I knew I was home again. Very soon the horse stopped and once more I was taken from the sack. I blinked my eyes, scarcely able to believe that I was in my own world again."
"The little girl's father put me down on the ground at the foot of a tall gum."
"'There you are, little fellow!' he said. 'I hope you are happy now. And I'll do my best to see no more of you are trapped. So long!' And staying just long enough to see me on my way up the tree, he turned on his horse and rode through the bush."
"And how did you find your way home?" asked Mrs Koala.
"It took me a long time, as I was very weak," said Mrs Grunty, "and I had to find our own white gum-tree, as you know. But I travelled gradually, at night-time, and went on travelling until I found this very tree, which I liked so much that I stayed here. And besides," she gave a little giggle, "Mr Grunty happened to be in the branches."