'Wave for Wellbeing' campaigner Peter Squires has a chat to the Murray Valley Standard

PIONEER: Face of the 'Wave for Wellbeing' campaign Peter Squires. Photo: Nick Grimm
PIONEER: Face of the 'Wave for Wellbeing' campaign Peter Squires. Photo: Nick Grimm

A wave is all it could take to save someone’s life, Peter Squires says as he take his seat at the head of a table in the Old Tailem Town dining hall.

So many times we don’t even engage with each other – you look the other way when you see a stranger. But 99 per cent of strangers are friends you haven’t met yet and, who knows, they may be that friend who can help you when you need it most.

Peter Squires

Despite being the face of the now-famous Wave for Wellbeing campaign, Mr Squires wants the focus shifted away from himself.

“While most of the attention is nice, I do want this whole thing to now be focused on the communities and how we can keep increasing wellbeing around towns,” he said.

After tragically losing their grandson to suicide, Peter and his wife Margaret first experienced community waving during a trip to Norfolk Island.  

"We were told on the plane, even before we landed on Norfolk, that we were expected to wave. I just remember thinking, ‘​what a wonderful idea – why can’t we do this for Tailem Bend?’," he said.

"Essentially waving and saying ‘good day’ gives anyone the excuse to converse without feeling like an extrovert and I feel it definitely brings introverts out of their shell – helping them feel a part of their community.”

Mr Squires became inspired to get a similar trend happening in and around Tailem Bend. He said he wondered if he might still have his grandson, and if others might still have their loved ones, if communities were more unified. 

“So many times we don’t even engage with each other – you look the other way when you see a stranger. But 99 per cent of strangers are friends you haven’t met yet and, who knows, they may be that friend who can help you when you need it most,” Mr Squires said.    

The campaign has taken off.

It’s been featured on Today Tonight, on Sunrise and has been a staple in the Murray Valley Standard’s community section for several months. 

Mr Squires is beyond appreciative that the message has been spread so far in such a short amount of time. 

“It truly has been wonderful to see the positivity from the media, when we’re used to really only hearing the negatives,” he said.

Mr Squires hopes the trend grows into a nationwide initiative that helps to create positive, helpful communities for everyone. 

“A town is like a family, if someone is struggling the least they should be able to do is get some help from their community,” he said.

Early journeys

“I think everyone should leave their mark on this world, and certainly hope that I’ve done that,” Mr Squires said.

Born in Adelaide’s Park Terrace hospital, Mr Squires began his schooling at Rose Park Primary School until grade five when his parents separated and he was brought to Tailem Bend to live with his grandparents. 

“Some of the earliest memories I have are of hitchhiking from Murray Bridge to get home from school earlier than if we caught the train. And if the hitchhiking failed, we would run to take the train that would bring us home,” Mr Squires said. 

After school Mr Squires completed a panel beating apprenticeship at Gilbert Motor Bodies before travelling to live and work for Sydney, Clow and Company Ltd in South Africa. 

“I made a small fortune building cars in South Africa; I walked out with around £11,500 in my pockets.

“After that, I left to go to England where I worked selling cars at the Barclay Square Garage,” he said.

Mr Squires was persuaded to purchase a yacht and sail it from England, down the African west coast and back to Australia.

The trip stopped short, and Mr Squires sold the yacht and travelled back to Australia, making detours through China and Japan along the way.

After years of living and abroad, Mr Squires returned to South Australia where he operated Heynen Motors and, in 1982, began putting together what has become one of the Murraylands’ most popular tourist spots – Old Tailem Town. 

He has one son from his first marriage, named Danny. Danny lived with Mr Squires on his farm in Tailem Bend after the marriage ended. Mr Squires eventually remarried in his very own chapel. 

“I married Margaret here in the Old Tailem Town chapel two years ago after living together for 30 years. I met her out at Coomandook and was able to convince her to come and check out my pioneer village. It’s been a very good time,” he said.

If you were to catch him while he wasn’t working around Old Tailem Town or traversing the planet;

“I’d probably be sitting at home, with a good whiskey, reading a chapter from one of my books.

“It’s a good life.” 

Counselling and support services:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 

Headspace Murray Bridge: (08) 8531 2122