There once was a platypus named Herbert who lived in a river deep in the bush. Like most platypuses, Herbert was happy living underground or exploring the riverbed believing this was the reach of the entire world. If you asked a platypus what the world looks like they would tell you it is equal parts water and land, with the land at the bottom and the water mostly near the top. This explanation had satisfied all the platypuses for centuries; except for Herbert, who was different to the other platypuses: Herbert had doubts.
Herbert would often ask difficult questions, especially during the long nights sitting underground in his little cave counting the worms wiggling by. He often wondered if there was more to the world than just the riverbed and the little underwater caves the platypuses lived in. However, platypuses pride themselves on knowing everything and whenever he spoke to the other platypuses about his doubts they smugly told him that there was nothing beyond the riverbed but more riverbeds.
Herbert asked what lived in those other riverbeds and the answer always the same, “some of them have other colonies of platypuses, but most of them are full of monsters that would eat a platypus if they could! So a platypus must never ever leave their riverbed else they will get eaten by a monster.”
Herbert said, “But if we never leave our river bed, how can we know if there are monsters out there? And how can there just be more and more riverbeds?”
But all of Herbert’s questions were in vain. All the other platypuses eventually just told him the same story, “The world is equal parts land and water, outside the riverbed are other riverbeds, and inside them monsters can be found.”
Herbert was not satisfied with this answer, he was sure there was something else out there and he wanted to find out what it was. The other platypuses warned him against this, telling him again that certain death awaited him out there in the wilderness. But Herbert asked the other platypuses if they had ever seen a monster with their own eyes and none had ever seen such a thing.
Making up his mind one day, Herbert walked out of the river and onto the land.
His legs weren’t used to walking on the land and he started to get tired. He looked around and just saw more land and trees everywhere. So much for the rivers, there seemed to be a lot more land than rivers in the world. He stopped for a rest on a big rock when a goanna named Cyril walked up to him.
“What? You’re a platypus! What are you doing out of your river?” asked the surprised goanna.
“I am looking for the other rivers. I heard they were out here.”
“Yes, there are other rivers, but the world is mostly land you see, there aren’t many rivers at all.”
Herbert was astonished by this information from the goanna and immediately he returned to the river and reported to the other platypuses.
“I explored as far as a big rock, and everywhere I went there were just more land and more trees. I met a goanna and he told me that most of the world is land and there’s very little water.”
The other platypuses laughed at him. “More land than water? Don’t be silly, why would there be more land. There’s no point to having more land. There is a balance of water and land. Everyone knows that.”
But Herbert persisted and convinced many of the platypuses with his confidence that they had been wrong about the world, there was in fact more land than water.
A few days later Herbert went out again, this time he travelled a bit further down hill because his legs were getting used to walking on the land. When he reached the bottom of the hill he saw the ocean stretching out to the horizon as far as his platypus eyes could see. Herbert had never seen so much water before. He walked down onto the beach and found a penguin sitting on the shore looking out to the sea. The penguin was surprised to see him and introduced himself as Fluffy.
“What’s a platypus doing out here by the ocean?” asked Fluffy.
“Wondering how big the ocean is.”
“It’s big, there’s a lot more water than land in the world,” reported the penguin, “The oceans are vast and cover most of the world. But you can’t drink it, it’s poisonous to platypuses.”
Herbert was amazed at listening to the stories Fluffy told about how big the ocean was and all the animals that lived inside of it. When Herbert finally got back to the river bed he told the other platypuses about how most of the world was in fact water.
“But Herbert,” exclaimed a platypus, “Only last week you were telling us that the world was mostly land, now you’re telling us it is mostly water?”
“Yes, but that was because I hadn’t explored enough, when I had only seen the river, I thought the world was equal amounts land and water, then when I looked around outside I realised it was mostly land. But now after discovering the ocean I know the world is mostly water.”
“This is confusing,” said some other platypuses, “How can the world be mostly land one week and be mostly water the next?”
Herbert faced many questions and doubts, but eventually convinced many of the platypuses that the world was indeed mostly water, although some chose to still believe it was mostly land, and others kept their traditional belief that it was equal parts land and water.
The following week Herbert was bored again and decided to go up the hill instead of down it. When he reached the top he found an echidna sitting under a tree. The echidna introduced herself as Klara.
“It’s unusual to meet a platypus so far up the hill,” said Klara, “What brings you up here?”
“I am trying to find out what the world is really like. I used to believe that the world was equal parts land and water, then I found out it is mostly land, but later realised it was mostly water, although most of the water is poisonous.”
Klara laughed, “The world isn’t mostly water; it is mostly land!”
“But I met a penguin and he told me that the oceans cover most of the world.”
“Penguins are silly animals, we echidnas are much wiser. For instance, have you ever wondered what is underneath the ocean? Well let me tell you: land. The world is mostly solid land with some big puddles of water on top of it.”
Herbert realised that the echidna was right; the waters had to be sitting on top of something solid otherwise they would just flow away. Herbert returned to the river and reported back to the others that the world was in fact mostly land and that the water just rested on top of it in big puddles.
The other platypuses were outraged this time, “Herbert, what are you doing? You are sowing much confusion here telling us first one thing then another. How are we to take you seriously if you keep changing your mind?”
Another platypus jumped in, “Yes, you’re clearly making this all up. You’ve never actually been outside the river; you’re just playing a game with us. If you had really been outside the river you wouldn’t change your story every time!”
Herbert tried explaining to them just how big the world outside the riverbed was and how it was too big for him to explore in a single day. However, by now the platypuses had started to argue among themselves: some believed the world was mostly land, others that it was mostly water, and a few clung onto the belief that it was equal parts both. Soon platypus friendships and families were torn apart from all the arguing with each other. Eventually the platypuses concluded that life had been a lot better before Herbert had dare to leave the riverbed. So they turned on Herbert and drove him away out of the river and told him if he ever tried to return they would drown him.
Herbert was alone and sad, but he walked across the land until he found another river and moved in there to make a home. In the new river the local platypuses came up to meet him, they asked him from where had he come from. Herbert told them from the next river across.
The other platypuses were impressed by his journey across the land and asked him what the world looked like. Herbert was about to tell them all about how big the world was, about the goanna, the penguin and the echidna he had met, but then he stopped himself and said, “The world is equal parts water and land, beyond the riverbed is just more and more rivers, but most of them have monsters in them.”
The other platypuses were satisfied with what Herbert had told them, and welcomed him into their community. Herbert was glad to belong again, but still each night as he counted the worms wriggling by in his new home he wondered just how much bigger the world really was and if he would ever know the truth about it one day.