Keith Spacey built his life and business on a reputation of being grumpy. The ‘old Grumpy Grocer’ they called him, and he only took exemption to the ‘old’ bit.
“You know they drove me out of my general store,” the 68-year-old moaned. “I mean, here I am being grumpy with everyone, and all the customers were nice and friendly. Have a great day, they’d say, and I’d say, yeah, whatever. The niceties got to me.”
Was it all an act? Keith just smiles; a sight rarely seen from him in these parts – one of many pleasant surprises about Middleton.
Keith let his grumpy guard down and said he had seen a lot of the world, but there was nowhere else where he would rather live. But then, Middleton is different to Birmingham, England, where he was raised and hitch-hiked from in 1971 through Pakistan, India, Israel and settling for a short time in Western Australia with $15 to his name and a dollar short to pay a full week’s board.
“There are a lot of good things about this town, but the thing I love most is that we have the Black & Gold shoppers to the Silver Slippers from Burnside in the city, yet they are all good people who get on famously together,” Keith said. “I mean that as a compliment to both.
“I can go to functions here and see lawn mowing blokes still wearing their Warwick Capper shorts and talking with Mrs Bucket (from TV show Keeping Up Appearances) and they share a laugh. Everyone gets on with each other; there are no plastic people here.
“There are characters, too right there are, and you find a lot of them at The Point, which is the meeting place for the surfers. There are the young surfers who come from town, and there are surfers who are oldies that live here. You hear them talk with mutual respect; it seems to be a surfie thing.”
In the heart of the Middleton main road is the caravan park, which has more than 80-sites, and former owner Keith Dommenz, who still lives in the town, said there were the regulars surfing here twice a day.
“A lot of them started by staying in the caravan park, buying an on-site van here, coming down weekends, eventually buying a block of land, and then living down here permanently,” Keith Dommenz said. “It all goes in stages.
“The surfing thing has changed too. Outsiders think of them as louts with long dreadlocks, but they are genuine people, and besides, most of the surfers are 50 or 60-plus years old. The beauty is that they are now bringing their kids or grandkids back here to surf. It’s amazing how many young girls surf now; years ago it was just a bloke thing.”
Keith Dommenz is one of these been-on-every-committee blokes, particularly now as president of the enthusiastic Middleton Town & Foreshore Improvement Association, which meets monthly. You are invited to join.
The committee successfully fought tenaciously to get underground power lines last year. The focus now is to get mains sewerage for the town, but the fear is that, with the mains will come significant subdivision of land and a huge impact on the township.
There was also the successful town cries several years ago to prevent the destruction of the Mill House, built in 1850, at the front of the flour mill, which is the last of 16 remaining on our southern coast line. Another sign of local passion.
When the mill ceased grinding in 1915 coinciding with the change from horse-drawn trains to steam engines in 1915, Middleton was basically left to what it is today – a holiday destination or somewhere you need to pass through. The 70ft chimney stack on the mill was knocked down in 1943, and the old school closed in 1969, but basically not a lot has changed significantly over the years; the character largely is intact.
“People make this place, not the buildings,” Grumpy said. “We’re still a little country town and everyone likes it like that.
“Middleton is special in different ways. We have the steam train running through, and there is no better place to watch the whales this time of the year than at Basham Beach.
“We have the original old school in the main street which is now an art and craft shop. Go in there and meet some lovely old ladies selling all sorts of things for charity.
“The volunteers in this town are just amazing. It’s this town thing about caring for each other; they made it hard for me to be grumpy which wasn’t good for business (he laughs).
“We’ve also got a great bakery, and there’s something here that tells you everything about Middleton. We have a pizza thing next door to the bakery for the locals once a month called Pizza in the Garage put on by Mick Leane. It’s a get together; we mix, listen to music, eat a lot of sensational pizza and have a lot of laughs.
“It’s opposite the caravan park, which Keith Dommenz built up as one of the best when he was there.”
The main street is certainly different. It’s called the Main Road from Mindacowie, a popular bed and breakfast place, to the turn-off to Strathalbyn, then it becomes Goolwa Road, and go from the other end of Mindacowie and it’s Port Elliot Road. Where else do you have one road going the length of the town with three names that confuses everybody?
Grumpy said Middleton was different to most towns because it’s not one that you would stop and walk down the main street; they stop at the general store, bakery, surf shop or the Middleton Tavern and move on.
“A lot of people come through Middleton, and I used to meet so many when I had the store,” Grumpy said. “One day that Crows player Rory Sloane called in, and there was a local concreter there too with his two little kids.
“The bloke said the kids would love Rory Sloane’s autograph, and big-noting I said, I’ll take them to him and get it; don’t worry about that.
“I said Rory, sorry to bother you, but can you give these two good little kids your autograph? Very politely, he said, yeah no worries, and the kids were thrilled. Rory was terrific.
“I was feeling really good about myself for a change. I said to Rory, I saw you last week; you’ve got this, I mean real heart. Rory said, thank you. That’s okay, I said, and I guess it was my ego, but I said with so much pride: I’m the Grumpy Grocer. He said, yeah, I know; you’ve shifted me on a few times for parking too long out the front.
“It was at that moment that I thought, yeah, I am a grumpy old bloke, but I’ll tell you what: I am also one of the luckiest too because I live in Middleton. I love this place. The people here are even nice to the grumpy ones like me.”