The Fire Watching Tree

Chapter One.

This story starts with a sort of swooshing sound like wind blowing through a tree.
So if you want to make a swooshing sound go ahead.
OK. Stop now so I can get on with the story!
This story is about a tree.
It’s about a lot of other things too.
But first things first.
At the top of a big hill at the top of a long mountain range is a big tree.
It is the biggest tree around these parts and it is right at the very top as I said.
And at the very top of the tree is a tree house.
To get to the tree house you have to climb up one hundred and twenty seven steps.
It’s quite important to remember this because it makes a difference as the story unfolds.
These one hundred and twenty seven steps are made of pieces of steel hammered into the side of the tree.

But you won’t have to climb them so don’t worry. At least don’t worry for your own sake. But you can worry for the sake of anyone who does have to climb them.
When you get to the very top of the tree, there is a little trap door. You push the trap door up with your head and go on into the little hut.
Now if I had to climb up this tree and go into the little hut I would be very, very scared because I’m rather frightened of heights.
And to make matters worse the tree is so tall and up so high on the mountaintop that it sways in the breeze.
Back and forth. Back and forth.
And in a wind when the swooshing sound get quite loud it sways back and forth quite a lot.
Yes, my darling ones, you can make a swooshing sound if you wish.
That is enough about the tree because I’m a little uneasy and it’s time to introduce some of the other things I said would be coming.
So I think we should all say ‘Chapter two’ which is a good idea because that is just what it is.

Chapter Two

At the bottom of the tree is a small track and down the track is a small house.
In the house lives a man called Mr William Willoughby and his wife, Mrs Wilma Willoughby and their son Bill.
Are you happy now? Or weren’t you worried?
So let’s forget all the introduction stuff and tell the story.
Every morning, in the summer, Mr William Willoughby picks up his lunch that he had cut the night before and at exactly seven o’clock he walks up the little track to the tall tree.
When he gets to the tree he looks up at the one hundred and twenty seven steps and without a further thought he starts to climb.
And every Saturday when he doesn’t have to go to school in the little town down the valley, Bill wakes up early and goes down to the tall, tall tree with his father.
Now I am sure you think that Bill will climb up all those one hundred and twenty seven steps to the top of the tree with his father.
But, I’m sorry to say, Mr William Willoughby never lets Bill climb to the top.
“No, Bill. It’s too dangerous. Maybe when you are a bit older.”
Now Bill is a particularly well-behaved boy. He never does anything he has been told not to do but he asks all the same. And I am sure you are wondering why he goes with his father every Saturday morning if he isn’t allowed to climb the tall, tall tree to the very top.
What Bill does is this. He visits his friends.
First of all he takes his walkie-talkie and his father takes his walkie-talkie. Mr William Willoughby sets off up the one hundred and twenty seven steps to the top of the tree.
Bill sets off down a little path to where the wombat sleeps in a hole dug into the side of a bank under a tall tree fern.

After a quick “Good morning” to make sure everything is all right Bill presses the button on his walkie-talkie and speaks to Mr William Willoughby who by now is at the top of the tree. Now I suppose I ought to tell you that this story happened before everyone had a mobile phone, but Bill and his father had a walkie talkie which is like a mobile phone but only two people can talk to each other.

“Wombat to tree. Wombat to tree. Come in tree!”
“Tree to wombat. Over”
“Wombat, all Kaye. Wombat, all Kaye. Over and out”
(Now if you are a little confused right now just try saying ‘all Kaye’ out loud a couple of times and you will probably get the idea.)
Bill’s next stop is down deeper in the gully where a family of lyrebirds lives. The nest is a little way up a blackwood tree but down on the ground in a clearing is the stage where the male lyrebird displays.

Only on special occasions does Bill see the display and this Saturday is one such special occasion.
“Lyrebird to tree. Lyrebird to tree. Come in tree!”
“Tree to lyrebird. Over”
“Lyrebird displaying. Over.”
“That’s great, Bill.”
“You’re supposed to say Over, Dad, not like you said.”
“Sorry son. That’s great, lyrebird. Over.”
“Lyrebird, all Kaye. Lyrebird, all Kaye. Over and out”
After this Bill has to climb up out of the gully through some very heavy, thick bush to an old dead tree on a little ridge.
He has worn a path that only he knows and it is hard work.
But at the top of the ridge he climbs a small tree until he is right next to the old dead tree.
In the old tree is a burnt out hollow and in the hollow is a family of sugar gliders.
Only once has he ever seen the sugar glider fly. It leaped from its tree and stretched out its legs and a piece of skin acted like wings and it flew to another tree.
If you want to see him glide then I have copied a link from The National Geographic. I hope National Geographic won’t mind me putting this here. There are more but you might have to ask Mr Google if you want to see them.

You can see from the picture how very pretty they are. So the hard climb is worth it.
Quietly Bill climbs down his “ladder tree”
“Sugar gliders to tree. Sugar gliders to tree. Come in tree! And say it prop’ly Dad.”
“Tree to sugar gliders. Over”
“Sugar gliders, all Kaye. Sugar gliders, all Kaye. Over and out”
Bill spends all morning checking on his friends. There is a mopoke not far from the sugar gliders

The mopoke sits very still and looks like a piece of the tree and Bill only sees it because he was very still himself and the bird twitched a bit. And at night they make a strange sound.
On a bare rocky ridge is a family of dingoes …..
…..and down on a flat clearing are kangaroos.

Birds of every kind fly in and out among the trees and Bill reports everything to the tree.

A mother Koala and her baby are in the trees near to where the dingoes camp but they ignore each other.
And finally.
“Echidna to tree. Echidna to tree. Come in tree!”
“Tree to Echidna. Over”
“Echidna, all Kaye. Echidna, all Kaye.

Returning to base. Over! “
“All reports recorded. Over and out. And thanks son.”
“See you, Dad. Over and out.”
And Bill hurries back to the little house where Mrs Wilma Willoughby has lunch waiting.
And that is the end of that.

Chapter Three.  

Are you wondering what Mr William Willoughby does all day in the hut at the top of the tall, tall tree with the one hundred and twenty seven steps?
I’m wondering if you have guessed. If you haven’t guessed, have a guess now. What does Mr William Willoughby do all day? I’ll give you a minute or two. And while you are thinking I’ll just think of the wombats and Koalas and birds because I already know what Mr William Willoughby does.
Let’s go back to when Mr William Willoughby looks up at the one hundred and twenty seven steps and without a further thought starts to climb.
He climbs for sixty steps and there is a little platform where he has a rest for a minute or two because it is a very long climb. Then with a bit of a ‘huff’ he sets off again and finally pushes the little trap door with his head and goes into the hut.
He takes his bag off his back. He takes out his lunch and his walkie-talkie and goes to a big smart looking radio and flicks a switch and twiddles a knob and calls in to Fire Control.
“BEM17, to control. Come in Control. Over.”
He waits for a bit and soon the reply comes through.
“Control to BEM17. G’day Bill. What’s the weather like up your way this morning. Over.”
“Bright and sunny, Dave. Lovely weather for fires. Over.”
“I hope not, Bill. Catch you later. Over and out.”
O.K. So now we both know. Mr William Willoughby is a firewatcher and a firewatcher is a very important person. It can be quite a boring job so Mr William Willoughby has many books to read and his laptop computer and sometimes he writes little stories for Bill.
Every hour he calls Control to let them know that he is still awake and watching but much more importantly to let everyone know that there are no fires and that the forest is safe.
Now we know what Mr William Willoughby and Bill do most days during summer. Oh. Did I forget to say that Bill goes down the valley to school every day during the week? It’s not very important for the sake of the story but there is a bit about it later, so tuck it in the back of your mind until you need it.
Towards the end of the day Mr William Willoughby puts his walkie-talkie and the empty lunch box in his backpack and sets off down the tree.
But on this particular day something happens that has never happened before. Two steps before he touches the ground Mr William Willoughby slips and falls and twists his ankle.
He tries to stand but the pain is too great and he sits down with a thump.
Mr William Willoughby is a quiet, stoic man and he undoes the flap of the backpack and takes out the walkie-talkie.
“Dad to Bill. Dad to Bill. Come in Bill. Over”
Bill is very surprised, as this has never happened before, and he takes a few minutes to get his walkie-talkie from his school bag.
“Dad to Bill. Dad to Bill. Come in Bill. Over”
“Bill to Dad. What’s the problem? Over.”
“Put mum on please, Bill. Over.”
So Mrs Wilma Willoughby found out the problem and drove up the little track in the Ute and brought Bill’s dad back to the house and taped up the sore ankle.
Mr William Willoughby picked up the ‘phone and spoke to Dave who was the Fire Control Supervisor.
“I’ve twisted my ankle and I don’t think I’ll get up the tower tomorrow or for a week or so, Dave.”
“Well, I’ll get someone to come out and take over ‘til you’re better. But I don’t think I’ve anyone for tomorrow. We’ll just have to hope there are no fires out your way.”
“O.K. Dave. Sorry mate. Thanks.”
“Let me do it tomorrow, Dad. We can’t let the tower go without someone up there.”
“No, Bill. It’s too dangerous. Absolutely not.”
“But Dad I …….”
“No, Bill. No.”
“But what if there’s a fire, Dad? What about the animals?”
“There won’t be a fire Bill. And the animals will be O.K.”
“No Bill. No. That’s the end it. Now go to bed.”

And Bill went to bed rather worried about tomorrow.
He was worried about his Dad.
He was worried about the forest.
But most of all he was worried about the wombats and koalas and kangaroos and dingoes and mopokes and kookaburras and all the other birds and the echidna.
And as he lay there, in his bed, wide-awake a plan started to come into his head.
Can you imagine what he was planning? If you were Bill what would you do?

Chapter Four

The next morning Bill woke up as usual, for he was usually a very well behaved boy. Notice how I said ‘usually’. That might give you a clue.
He had his breakfast – as usual.
He packed his school bag with his books and his lunch – as usual.
He made sure his walkie-talkie was in his bag – as usual.
And… usual, he kissed his mother goodbye.
And he kissed his dad goodbye, which was not usual because his dad was usually up in the watch tree at this time.
And he set of on his bike to ride down the small winding track to the little school in the little village at the bottom of the valley that I have told you of before.
BUT…on this morning Bill did something very, very unusual.
When he had gone down the small winding track a little way he stopped and got of his bike and hid it in some thick bushes.
He crept into the trees and found a small path that he often used to do his rounds when he was checking up on his animals.
The path wound round through the forest until it ended up at the top of the big hill at the top of the big range and at the bottom of the big tree.
Bill looked up at the all the one hundred and twenty seven steps and a cold chill came over him. He shivered.
Bill had never climbed the one hundred and twenty seven steps He heard his father’s words in his head. “No, Bill. It’s too dangerous. Maybe when you are a bit older.”
But it was too late to be worried. Bill knew he had to climb the tree. He had to watch out for all his animals. He has to keep watch over his forest.
He looked up again. He shivered again. And he put his foot on the first step.
Carefully, ever so carefully, he climbed.
And when he had climbed ten steps he stopped and looked down. He was already a long way up. “No, Bill. It’s too dangerous. Maybe when you are a bit older.” He heard the words again.
He looked up. Another ten steps and he stopped again.
“If I climb up seven more steps I’ll have only one hundred to go. This time I’ll do twenty and I won’t stop ‘til then.”
He climbed. He stopped counting. He climbed some more. He didn’t look down anymore. He just climbed one step after the other.

Chapter Five

It took ages.
And ages.
And ages.
And his legs were tired and sore.
His head bumped on something and he looked up. It was a little trap door and he pushed with all his might and climbed into the hut.
It was bigger inside than he had ever imagined.
He walked around and looked at everything.
There was a radio with knobs and dials and switches.
There were some books and papers in plastic folders.
There was a big pair of binoculars.
And a compass. The compass had a little telescope thing on it and Bill looked through it.
Bill looked over the side and jumped back. It was miles down to the ground!
He stepped back to the edge and held very tightly to the rail. He looked out.

He could see to the end of the world!
Way, way over to the south he could see the ocean.
He started to look around and there were paddocks and cows and sheep. Tiny little animals in tiny little paddocks.
And roads and cars. Tiny little cars.
Further around he could see the little village at the bottom of the valley.
Bill picked up the binoculars and put the strap around his neck. He looked at the village again.
He could see the school. There were his friends. They were in the yard playing. It must be recess time now. It had taken such a long time to climb the tree.
Bill stared to worry. This time he worried that the teacher would ring to ask why Bill was not at school. But they didn’t do that until lunch time. Maybe he would be all right. Maybe they wouldn’t ring at all. Sometimes they didn’t ring. Not if they were busy.
He looked out at the forest again.
This time he looked to the north. The forest went for ages. Mountain ranges spread out before him. Way off to the north he could see another fire tower on top of the mountain three ranges away. He could just see it.
He looked down closer to the bottom of the tree.
In the little clearing he saw his kangaroos. He tried to look for the wombat but trees and bushes hid it from him.
As the time went by he stopped feeling scared and walked around quite freely.
He looked at the radio. It was quite complicated but one switch said ON/OFF. He didn’t dare touch it. It might break.
He looked back at the school. No one was outside so recess must be over. But just then he saw his friends run outside and start playing. I was lunchtime.
“Please don’t let them ring,” he pleaded in his head.
He took out his own lunch and sat down and started to eat. One mouthful was all. He was too nervous to eat.
He looked back out to the ocean. Then round to the farms.
He looked around to the forest and the mountain ranges. A real fire watcher would be looking hard at all the little valleys and ridges. He took up the binoculars again.
The tree moved!
“What was that?”
On a piece of wood sticking out from the side of the hut was a thing like an aeroplane. Its propeller started to turn. Slowly at first and then it stopped. It started again. Faster this time. It was the wind.
Do you remember the swooshing sound that we started with? Well, here it is. And for Bill it was the scariest sound he had ever heard. And the tree started swaying. It wasn’t like being on a scary swing. It was much too bad for that. The swaying was scarier than the wind.
Bill was frightened and sat down on the floor and started to cry. Maybe the tree will fall down. He was shaking with fright.
But the tree didn’t fall down and the wind stopped. Bill stopped crying and looked out over his forest.
How silly can you be. His father had told him of days when the wind was strong. The tree was over one hundred years old and was very strong. It might sway about in the wind but it wouldn’t fall over. Bill thought of nights when he lay in bed and listened to gales and storms. And the tree had never fallen over. But it was scary.
The little propeller started again and the tree started to move in the wind again. This time Bill wasn’t nearly as frightened as before. A little bit frightened but not too much.
He looked through the binoculars and saw something move. On the side of the ranges over to the west a truck moved. There was a track and the truck had logs on it. They were cutting trees down and taking them down to the ocean. There was a puff of smoke from the truck’s exhaust pipe, but it died away as it went downhill. There it was again as the truck revved up to go around a corner.
“Silly me,” he thought. But he was surprised at how easily he could see the smoke without the binoculars. And he was very pleased that it wasn’t a fire.
He looked back at the school. No one played outside and he knew lunch was over. The sun shone brightly in spite of the wind.

Chapter Six

The wind stopped.
Bill started to act like a real fire watcher should act. He looked out over the forest and the ranges to the west and the north. When he reached the edge of the forest he went back to the west and started again.
It was exactly at two thirty eight that afternoon that Bill Willoughby spotted the smoke. He didn’t know it was exactly two thirty eight. That was only worked out later. I suspect that you might want to know how it was worked out. Patience!
I will tell you but all in good time. At the moment I think we have an emergency on our hands.
A real emergency.
Bill saw the smoke and didn’t know what to do. Bill’s father would know what to do. But Bill’s father was down in the little house a little way down the small track that leads from the tall tree that Bill was sitting on.
And Bill knew that now it didn’t matter if the teacher had rung earlier or not. Now Bill was in trouble. Bill needed help.
He took out the walkie-talkie set.
He switched it on and pressed the button on the side.
“Bill to Dad. Bill to Dad. Come in Dad. Urgent. Over.”
There was no reply.
“Bill to Dad. Bill to Dad. Come in Dad. Urgent. Over.”
Down in the little house Mr William Willoughby heard Bill’s call. He could tell from the sound of Bill’s voice that it was urgent. But Mr William Willoughby’s walkie-talkie set was in his bag hanging on a hook just inside the front door. And Mr William Willoughby was in bed with a badly sprained ankle.
“Bill to Dad. Bill to Dad. Please Dad. Come in. Urgent. Over.”
It took a few minutes for Mr William Willoughby to slide out of bed and crawl to the front door.
He was in a lot of pain but he stood on one leg and ripped open his bag.
“Dad to Bill. What’s wrong, Bill? Over”
“Dad, there’s a fire. I can see it. It’s just over the hill. Over.”
“Where are you? Over.’
“I’m up in the fire tree. Over.”
“I’m up in the fire tree. Over.”
“Dad, I’m sorry. Get cross with me later. What do I do now? I can see smoke just over the hill. Over.”
Now at this point Mr William Willoughby decided that being cross was not a good idea. He was an experienced fire watcher and he knew exactly what to do.
“Dad to Bill. Come in Bill. Over.”
“I’m here Dad. Over.”
“Good. Go to the compass and turn it so that you can see the smoke through the little telescope. Over.”
Bill went over to the compass. He hadn’t noticed the little telescope on the side of the compass but turned it until he could see the smoke.
“I’ve done that. What next? Over.”
“Look down at the bottom of the picture of the smoke in the telescope and you should see some numbers. Over.”
“Yes. Over.”
“What are the numbers? Over.”
“Three hundred and forty two. Over.”
“Now go over to the Radio. Turn the ON/OFF switch to ON. Over.”
“Done it. Over.”
“Press the call button just like you do on your walkie-talkie and say this. ‘BEM17, to Control. Come in Control. Over.’ When he answers say this. ‘BEM17 to Control. Smoke at 342. Smoke at 342. Over”
Bill pressed the call button.
“BEM17 to Control. Smoke at 342. Smoke at 342.Over”
“Control to BEM17. Repeat message. Over.”
“Mr Control, this is Bill Willoughby and my dad is sick and I’m up in the tree and I can see smoke and there’s a fire and what do I do now? Over.”
“Slow down little Bill. What was the number you saw in the compass? Over.”
“Three hundred and forty two. It’s just over the hill in the next valley up on the side of the ridge. Over.”
“Thanks little Bill. Now get down out of the tree and we’ll look after things from here. You have done a very good job. Well done. Over and out.”

“Dad to Bill. Come in Bill. Over.”
“I’m here Dad. Over.”
“Did you do it, son? Over.”
‘Yes Dad. He said I have to come down now. Over.”
“That’s a good idea Bill. Come down. Over and out.”
Bill went to the trap door and opened it. He looked down and froze stiff. He couldn’t move. It was so far down and he was more frightened that he had been all day. He could not move.
“I can’t Dad. I can’t climb down. It’s too far. Over.”
“Then close the trap door and wait. I’ll think of something. Out.”
Mr William Willoughby put down the walkie-talkie and picked up the phone. He rang down to the school and spoke to the school teacher. About ten minutes later the teacher’s car came up the little track to the little house. The teacher ran into the house and spoke to Bill’s dad.
It seemed to Bill that it was a very long time but very soon in real time Bill’s teacher was climbing the one hundred and twenty seven steps to the very top of the tree and Bill was safe.
Now, I wont tell you what Bill’s dad did or said about Bill disobeying him and climbing up to to top like he did.
I will tell you that everyone was very proud of Bill. His mother did cry a bit.
But that is the story of how Bill saved the forest from fire and especially how he saved his animals.