Via Facebook, Lydia requested three items that evoked memories of chocolate and childhood:
Paddle pop sticks + Washing machine race + a colouring-in book
Paddle pop sticks + Washing machine race + a colouring-in book
One Easter Sunday morning, not so long ago, while children all over the world were scouring their houses and gardens for chocolatey goodness, one particularly small bilby lay awake in his bed.
His name was Walter Burley Bilby, and his bed was located in a clump of snug gum trees on the banks of the gentle Molonglo River in Canberra. Walter couldn’t sleep, partly because he was so tired from delivering eggs to children throughout the night, but also because his head was buzzing with excitement.
Just when he thought he might fall back to sleep, his magpie arrived and began squawking in his ear, telling him it was time to get up and start preparing. Walter leaned over and patted Marion the Magpie on the head.
‘Thanks Marion, you’re the best alarm clock a bilby could ask for.’
Marion stopped crowing, and turned her head to the side, allowing her to make better eye contact with Walter.
‘Good luck today!’ she exclaimed.
After cleaning his teeth (an important job, particularly at this time of year), Walter gave Marion the signal and she swooped down and scooped him up. After flying through the air for a few minutes, she deposited him gently onto a stage. A Kookaburra was addressing a large crowd of animals. This was King O’Malley Kookaburra, the President of the FED (the Federation of Egg Deliverers).
Before Walter could tune in to what he was saying, a shudder of pain went through his rib cage. A hare next to him had jabbed him with his elbow.
‘No pushing in, Bilby,’ Hairy McCracken snarled, the biggest and fiercest of all the English hares. For some reason, he had never liked Walter.
‘We are delighted to be holding the Annual Easter Marathon here again in the National Capital of Australia,’ continued King Kookaburra.
‘As you know, even though these games are renowned through the animal Kingdom, our Annual marathon remains a mystery to humans. Today the most athletic and talented hares, rabbits and bilbies have gathered from around the world, to celebrate another successful season of egg deliveries. Indeed, I bet the humans don’t even know that our competitors are known affectionately as Floppies, for their delightfully droopy ears!’
Roars of laughter rippled through the packed hillside around Capital Hill. Even Walter couldn’t hide a smirk, despite his nervous state.
‘In a moment, I will invite our three competitors: Hairy Hare, Petri Rabbit and the local boy, Walter Bilby, to take their places at the starting line.’
Applause echoed from the animal audience; each animal showing their support in their traditional way: the kangaroos leapt in the air; kookaburras laughed, wombats wobbled their bottoms, magpies swooped and the koalas, each gently opened one eye in a slow wink, before going back to sleep.
‘As you know, the marathon requires our competitors to use all their creativity, speed and cunning to complete. Modelled on the strange migration habits of our human friends this time of year, they must make their way from here, to the New South Wales coastal town of Batemans Bay.’
‘But they must reach the Bay by lunchtime, so travelling solely on paw is out of the question.’
‘Once there, they must consume three pieces of fried fish and a serve of small chips for lunch. The competitor to finish their fish first, has their choice of vehicles. Our three competitors then return to Canberra, and the first to arrive is the winner.’
‘Of course, for us Floppies, this time of year is about giving. And while this may sound like a simple competition, but our marathon has a way of ensuring that only the kindest and most generous of competitors can succeed.
‘Without further ado, I invite our competitors to make their way to the starting line.’
The three walked nervously to the line. When they arrived, Hairy turned to Petri and Walter, and pulled out a single digit on his paw. He pointed it towards Petri.
‘Hey Petri, pull my finger.’
Petri looked down at the finger and sighed. Reluctantly, he reached out and pulled his finger. As he did so, Hairy let out a huge burp, and blew a wave of warm, foul-smelling air towards Walter.
‘Better out than in!’ he exclaimed. ‘Look out boys, I’ve had a big breakkie!’
King Kookaburra was now holding two chocolate eggs above his head.
‘On your marks,’ he called. ‘Get set…. go!’
As he uttered these words, he smashed the eggs together above his head, causing chocolate chips to rain down over the nearest animals. As the cracking sound rang out, the thousands of animals present chaired again.
Walter began jogging along the road, trying to think how best he would find his way to the coast. He knew he didn’t have to rush – lunchtime was still five hours away, and it would only take two hours to reach the coast by car. He just had to figure out which car to take.
It quickly became clear that Walter and Hairy were the quickest of the three, although Petri was just behind them. Hairy however seemed to spend more energy, and was soon puffing and wheezing. His eyes darted around the road, searching for a lift.
A few metres up the road, the traffic lights went red, and the three competitors saw their chance. All three sped up, hoping to reach the ute that had stopped. Hairy arrived first, and as he swung up into the cab tray on the back, he turned to confront Walter.
‘This is my ride, Bilby,’ he snarled, pushing Walter back as he tried to leap into the tray. Walter hit the ground with a thud.
Just as he stood up again, he saw the light turn green. He tried once more to scramble into the cab, but as he did so, another animal bundled into him from behind, pushing them both high into the air. Walter realised too late that Petri too had been aiming to leap on to the ute, and had instead run into Walter.
As he cartwheeled through the air, Walter closed his eyes and braced himself for the inevitable crash into the ground. But instead, he felt his body landing on something soft and squishy. A moment later, Petri landed next to him. Walter hesitantly opened his eyes and discovered they had landed on top of a car, which fortuitously, had a mattress strapped to its roof racks.
The car took them to the foot of the Clyde Mountain, beyond which sat Batemans Bay. They had long since lost track of Hairy’s ute. However, just when it seemed the car would take them all the way, it turned into a petrol station and the two floppies jumped down before they were seen.
They glanced at each other nervously then hopped once more down the road. It wasn’t long before they came across Hairy once again.
He had hopped up to a parked car, next to which sat a human child, who appeared to be in some distress.
‘Eaten too much chocolate, I bet,’ said Petri.
‘And a car trip was probably the last thing he needed. He’ll feel better if he burps.’
Petri continued approaching, apparently to get a better look, but Walter stopped to listen.
Hairy held out something in his hand, gesturing for the child to take it. It took Walter a moment to realise it was a chocolate paddle pop stick.
That’s the last thing he needs, thought Walter.
The child was staring at the ground, and didn’t seem interested in the ice cream at all.
But Hairy had other tricks up his sleeve. He started whispering to the child, and Walter had to strain to hear him.
‘You know mate, you humans have a saying that is true. Better out than in. Pull my finger and I’ll show you what I mean.’
The child, still hunched over and looking green, glanced suspiciously at the hare. If he was surprised to be speaking to an animal, he wasn’t showing it. Hairy pointed his finger towards the child, and Walter’s heart sank.
‘Pull my finger,’ he whispered.
The child, still looking unsure and very much sick, tentatively reached over and pulled Hairy’s finger.
An enormous orchestra of sounds suddenly emitted from Hairy’s body. In perfect unison, if not harmony, a roaring burp came from his mouth, whilst simultaneously a massive fart came from his buttocks that echoed around.
If the trick was supposed to help the child, it didn’t work. In short, the burp and fart backfired. A large male human emerged from the car.
Meanwhile, the small human child looked even sicker.
‘Shoo – get away from here you disgusting animal!’ the large male human yelled at Hairy. ‘And you too!’ he shouted at Petri.
Taken by surprised, and looking very much scared, the two floppies hopped into the bush. The human adult looked back at the child.
‘Okay mate, I’m just going to get your colouring-in book from the car, in case that cheers you up.’ The male disappeared from view.
Walter realised this was his chance. The cacophony of Hairy’s emissions still ringing in his ears, he approached the human child.
‘What’s your name, mate?’ he whispered gently.
The human child looked up at him, shock on his face.
‘Did you say something, bunny?’ he asked him at last. ‘First that big one, and now you. I really must have eaten too much chocolate.’
‘I did say something,’ Walter whispered back. ‘And I’m a bilby. What’s your name?’
‘Bobby,’ the child said, staring once again at the ground.
‘Hi Bobby, I’m Walter. Does your tummy hurt?’
‘Too much chocolate perhaps?’
Bobby grimaced at the sound of the word.
‘Can I try and help?’ Walter asked. ‘I might be partly to blame.
Bobby looked up and made eye contact with him.
Walter smiled in reply and began gently rubbing Bobby’s tummy
‘How does that feel?’
‘Better, I think…’
Walter rubbed a bit quicker and noticed Bobby begin to squirm
‘You know, that hare was right. Better out than in, Bobby.’
‘You sure?’ Bobby asked.
Walter nodded enthusiastically. He felt Bobby squirm even more, and then his stomach lurched.
A large burp came from his mouth and Bobby, suddenly happier, smiled at Walter.
Walter smiled back, but didn’t realise that the adult human had returned.
‘Jeez Bobby, you’re making a lot of animal friends today, but this one looks a little smaller and cuter.’
Bobby stood up, looking much better.
‘Can we take him with us Dad please?’
‘It’s not a good idea to take native animals from the bush, Bobby. Say goodbye and we’ll go.’
With that, the human male got back in the car.
Walter winked at Bobby, and nuzzled up to his leg, before disappearing into his pants. Bobby giggled, as much because of the tickling sensation as the idea of a bilby depositing itself in his pant leg.
Half an hour later, Bobby’s car turned into Batemans Bay, and as it slowed down to turn, Walter leapt from the car, waving goodbye to Bobby as he did so.
‘Stay clear of chocolate for a while,’ he called.
Walter rushed into the fish and chip shop and found he was right behind Hairy, who had somehow got there in front of him. He sat down at his allocated table, took a deep breath, and slowly started to eat the meal.
It was delicious, and as he put the first chip in his mouth, he realised how hungry he was.
Hairy was already half way through his food. He stuffed large wads of fish and chips into his mouth, not so much chewing, as inhaling, before rapidly following with another paw-full. In no time at all, he had finished and with a quick scowl at Walter on his way through, was out of the fish shop and back outside.
Walter saw through the window that there were three modes of transport available. A red sports car, a larger family sedan and a small electric scooter.
Hairy turned and smiled at him as he indicated that he was choosing the sports car.
Walter looked down at his meal, certain now that any hope of victory was gone. Still, he had given it his best, and there was no shame in coming second. He just wished he’d lost to someone a little nicer than Hairy Hare. The most important thing was he didn’t give up now.
He finished his delicious fish and chips, gave quiet thanks for such a meal for free, and went outside. Hairy concealed himself under one of the Ferrari’s seats, just as the human driver emerged from the fish shop.
‘Good luck winning the race in that washing machine,’ Hairy snarled, pointing to the family sedan. The human slammed the car door and took off at such speed that Walter found his fur pushed back by the resulting wind.
A moment later, a human family exited the fish and chip shop and hopped into the car. Walter snuck into the boot when they opened it to deposit some shopping. Just before the boot was slammed shut, he saw Petri arrive at the store.
‘The fish is delicious,’ he called, as he hopped past. Petri smiled weakly, still obviously nervous about the race, and perhaps the fish.
Walter sat quietly in the boot on the journey back, trying to convince himself that there was some honour in coming second and being a good bilby along the way. Before he knew it, they were turning into King Edward Terrace in Canberra.
When the car slowed down enough, Walter hopped out and began climbing Capital Hill, the location of the finishing line. He was surprised to see Hairy was only just in front of him.
Hairy was moving very slowly, and for a minute Walter’s heart leapt in excitement at the thought that he might catch him. But Hairy turned just in time to see him and quickly accelerated, crossing the finish line around thirty seconds in front of Walter. Most of the crowd were jammed in around the line, and huge hoots of applause and streamers were thrown into the air as the competitors arrived.
As he crossed the line, Walter was crushed by a surge of bilbies, all eager to pat him on the back and congratulate him. He found his chest was still tender from Hairy’s earlier elbow, and was grateful when King Kookaburra pushed his way through to provide Walter an exit route through the crowd.
‘Wow, coming second is pretty good!’ exclaimed Walter.
The King smiled grimly.
‘I wouldn’t speak too soon,’ he said, and motioned towards Hairy.
Hairy was bent over, his head bowed low, and a green expression on his face. He looked similar to the way Robbie the human had looked before Walter had soothed him, although many times worse.
‘Remember,’ the King continued. ‘This event is about generosity of spirit. There is no greater breach of the marathon rules than to overeat; to take too much, too quickly.’
Walter remembered how quickly Hairy had eaten his fish. No wonder he had pulled into Canberra so slowly.
The King grabbed a microphone and spoke to the crowd.
‘Gentle animal folk, we are just pausing the official announcement of the winner, as the event has not yet concluded. Hairy has finished first, and will be declared the winner of the event, unless he commits the most serious of FED breaches: to be sick. We in the judging panel call this a FED expulsion, or FEDEX.’
Hairy looked up at the King with a look of utter contempt. He took a deep breath, and tried to stand up straight. He held his hand up, trying to signal victory by holding his fist in the air. Anticipating his triumph, a great swarm of hares moved forward to congratulate him.
But, as is the way with many hares, they moved too quickly. As the crowd moved in, the air around Hairy became hotter and heavier, and any sense of space he had before was lost.
‘Noooo,’ he tried to say, motioning to give him some space. But in doing so, he slightly relaxed his paw, allowing one finger to protrude. A nearby hare, familiar with Hairy’s trick, thought he was celebrating in his own unique way, and obliged by pulling his finger.
Hairy’s stomach finally found the chance it had been looking for. Years of ‘pulling the finger’ meant his body had an involuntary reaction to the merest tug. This was the final signal to his stomach that it should release its contents.
A tremendous amount of partially digested fish and the crispy remains of the South Coast’s finest chips emerged in a stream of vomit from Hairy’s mouth. He had turned to address his supporters in his last attempt to push them away, and so as he moved his head, the stream enveloped a wide group of the nearest hares to him. It felt like the spew lasted for a good minute, and when the awful river finally ended, thirty hares, plus Hairy himself, were covered in warm and sticky vomit.
A ripple of disgusted sounds went up from the rest of the crowd. Some of them quietly vomited too. But some of the bilbies also began to cheer, as they realised the consequences.
Petri arrived on his scooter, and looked at the strange scene before him.
‘What’s going on?’ he asked.
The judges briefly conferred, before the King spoke.
‘Gentle animal folk, we can now declare the winner of the great Easter Floppy Marathon. Competitor Hairy Hare is disqualified. So I declare this year’s winner is Walter Bilby!’ he tried to say, although you could barely hear him over the roar of the crowd.
King Kookaburra held Walter’s paw in the air, as he cackled a great fit of laughter in support.
And that is how a little generous bilby, from the banks of the Molonglo River, was crowned the Easter Floppy Champion of Canberra.