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Four wheel driving grannies don’t leave their tyres full of air when they hit the beach. Nor do they get bogged on tempting sidetracks. They pull out snatch ropes to extricate uncles up to their axles. They carry wooden boards they put under jacks otherwise only supported by sand that sinks. They stop for wildflowers, but not dead snakes. You can have a lot more fun getting yourself out of trouble without them!

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But it’s hard to leave the grannies home when the family goes to Long Beach for a Christmas get-together. There’s no chance they’ll be crowded out. Long Beach, in south eastern South Australia, begins at Kingston and runs for ninety miles. For the first seven miles or so, anyone can drive any vehicle that is registered, on firm sand, between two tide lines.

On the beach, last licks of low waves lapped at tiny dotterels skittering the sands in flocks. Black headed terns took off from sea water circling their ankles. A pelican lumbered through the air, shadowed by a cormorant. Shells began to stud the sand. A small fish lay stranded.

“More road kill,” said Granny O. A small voice piped up from the back seat. “I took a picture of the snake on the road out the back of home this morning.”  “Don’t worry about him, he was dead, he won’t bite you,” said Granny G. “Besides, your great grandfather used to have pet one like that. He used to put a bowl of milk for it beside the fireplace every morning.”  “Yes, said Granny O, “and whenever you visited, you kept your feet up on a chair too!”

Low domes appeared, rocks grandiosely labelled The Granites. “If you jumped off them, I suppose you might sprain an ankle,” said Granny G. “You’d have to be unlucky,” answered Granny O.

Driving on, the beach narrowed. “Dead sand” spots did their best to embrace passing axles. This was where the grannies went into four wheel drive when no-one else did. They’d heard the stories about the fishing competition. The king tide came in. The organisers had to hire a crane to extricate the fathers, grandfathers, their cars and caravans.

Ripple marks corrugated the beach. The tyre tracks deepened, close now to seaweed stranded by a high tide. As the miles had passed, the sand wall separating the tide line and the dunes had grown higher. It was too high and steep to cross. The tide was coming in.

A side track broke through the sand wall from a sheltered hollow. Up went the first uncle, and down – to the axles. Inside the hollow, four quad bike riders looked up from their camp. It took them a few minutes to stop laughing enough to stand up. Everyone knows to let their tyres down before they tackle the dunes. By the time they stood up, the youngest baby had persuaded his mother to evacuate him. In his pram.

The four wheel driving grannies stopped. They kindly dropped with the bogged uncle a snatch rope, a U bolt for a grandfather to attach, and an air compressor for very slowly filling tyres using a cigarette lighter. Then they carefully reversed. “I think he’d rather drive back on three wheels than ask for any more help,” another uncle said.

Parked well clear of the high tide line, and at least two miles from any bogged relations, the grannies woke from nanna naps. The sun through the windscreen shone straight into their eyes. Grannie O pulled out a mobile phone, and briefly spoke on it.

She sighed. “They couldn’t get enough air back into one of the tyres,” she said. “They tried to change it without putting anything between the sand and the jack. Now they’re trying to dig the jack out.” “Didn’t they see that bit of firewood someone dropped there?” said Granny G.

The sea reflected the sun, and water swirled warm around granny knees. They picked up a few shells, fired the cylinders of the four wheel drive, and began to head slowly back towards the town.

“There’s a fine line between fishing and standing on the beach looking like an idiot,” said Granny O, looking at three rods stuck in the sand, and a stomach hanging over baggy shorts beneath a singlet.  “Do you think he’s after mulloway?”

“Probably fishing for compliments,” answered Granny G. “ I don’t suppose you saw where I put my teeth?”

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