From perming to combing the coast

It was 4am and Peter Schirmer confronted someone breaking into a building in Goolwa. He pinned him to the floor, but he couldn’t see his other hand so he didn’t know whether the perpetrator had a gun, knife or a syringe.
“Just another crackhead,” Peter explains. “No drama; the police came quickly.” It was like talking to a hard-nosed, tough movie character like Charles Bronson from The Dirty Dozen fame on a typical night’s work. But for Peter Schirmer, 54, owner-operator of Great Southern Security, the night never ends.
He admits for 17 years much of his existence has been in darkness, starting work at six, going home at nine that night, and then waking up and responding to the alarm calls. He often works more than 70 hours week. And yes, there have been times when he has been threatened by a gun – and he has been stabbed by a knife and a syringe. It’s why his Goolwa site has surveillance and electronic gates.
Yet, for all this movie-like drama there is a soft side to our Peter Schirmer. Heck, this guy was a ladies hairdresser for 20 years, and all hours of the night he’s been known to give good-at-heart teenagers a lift home because they were responsible enough not to drink-drive.
And while others seek negativity and he feels the crime wave often in darkness, Peter explores everything great about his beat across the south coast and is constantly inspired by the countless success stories.
“Every town along the coast is like any other place – it has its share of druggies, taggers and no-gooders,” Peter says. “To avoid being a break-in statistic you have to believe in the old saying that an ounce of prevention a is a pound of cure.
“Unfortunately, we have bred a whole society of people who don’t take responsibility for their own actions. I was drunk or I was on drugs they say, but that’s not an excuse. They made those decisions. Everyone wants to blame everyone else or something else for their actions, but the reality is the buck stops with the individual who is committing the offence.”
Peter admits that having gone from snips, streaks and blue rinses in his highly successful salons to confronting the dregs of society who are experiencing more than a bad hair day is in many ways an extraordinary change of life.
Born and bred here, his dad said he could only leave school if he had an apprenticeship, so Peter applied for one in a hairdressing salon.
At 18, he worked part-time at night in city pubs which led to being a bouncer. Before long he became involved in bodyguard work and was minding stars like Ray Charles, Suzi Quatro, Boom Crash Opera, John Farnham and Tommy Emmanuel.
“To me, all this was a hobby,” Peter said. “I also got into other security like flying with gold bullion from remote placers in Western Australia to the Perth mint, and I worked in gold mines as a smelter and poured gold.
“I found myself in Darwin for six years doing similar work, and when my grandfather was ill I came home to Goolwa in 2000 and started this security business. It is not easy, but I love it.
“Darkness is an element, a place where you experience a different world. When you are out patrolling, locking doors, checking businesses, doing alarm response of medical assistance – whatever it may be – you are seeing young people moving around; the homeless, some trying to get home after a having a few beers.
“Being quick to alarm responses is important so there is no point getting an Adelaide security company looking after premises or a residence along the coast. Say one of our guards goes to a break; he then becomes the first responder.
“If you get a single alarm activation is an immediate reset. Two censors going the same time the chances of a bug landing on them exactly the same time is almost impossible.
“We notify police. It goes from a Code 26 to a Code 2 robbery in progress, and once we have ascertained there has been a legitimate break-in, if the guard gets there first in essence he puts a tent over that site. Nobody in, nobody out. We wait for police to attend; the guard will contact me.
“It may be three o’clock; we have what time it all happened and we go to the job with all the security files to allow police to gain access. When the police have contained the crime scene, if there is CCTV we will do the downloads within 15-30 minutes of the incident occurring and police will start doing smaller circles from a wide area in the community looking for the cars involved.”
Great Southern Security is different to most providers because it does everything in house – the technicians, security locks, alarm installations, cameras, patrolling… it is a long list. The police have their job and Peter and his GSS team help free up their time by playing their important role too, but Peter believes the community also needs to be more vigilant about home security.
“We used to be able to leave the keys in the ignition; the back door always unlocked,” he said.
“It was a society focused on watching youth and you couldn’t scratch your a… without someone telling your mum. Everyone knew everyone; now no one wants to get involved.
“That degree of self-policing is lost. The crime rate is running 23 per cent higher here than when we started. We need to stop advertising what items we have by having them in clear view because there are people out there who see them too and they’ll take them.
“If you have an asset you have to realise that you need to protect it. People say, oh nothing happened last night so why do I need security? There are those who say they have insurance, but the companies only pay 65 per cent of loss. That’s it.
“You may have spent 30 years acquiring an asset, and in five minutes it can be stolen, burnt or broken. I cannot stop someone from breaking in, but I can minimise the time a perpetrator has on site. That’s the difference choosing local providers.
“About 45 per cent of the base of my customers don’t live here and it’s gratifying for them to know they have electronic eyes watching. Others have been broken into three or four times before they get security – they buy replacement stuff and a month later it’s gone again.”
Peter admits the security work has hardened him to a degree, but says he will always retain a positive outlook on life and be a highly motivated individual. “Even at the depths of despair at the gates of hell I will still see the glass half full,” he insists.
“I try not to let negativity cloud me, and that could be easy in my environment. I am not a fool, and I suffer fools even less. I get absolutely inspired by integrating in life… there is always something I can learn from a crackhead, and always something from a student. Every individual I encounter reaches me with something more. I see every situation as an opportunity, good or bad.”
However, Peter admits the enormous growth of his business – he now employs 10 permanent staff and as many 60 guards in any one week representing an annual wage bill in excess of $400K – has taken a personal toll.
“I have failed miserably at being a partner to someone; I work too much,” Peter said. “You try your best, but at the end of the day it’s not enough. It is nobody’s fault but my own.
“This isn’t the business where you can turn off your phone; what if someone presses the emergency button and is dying? Yeah, this can be a hard game, but I like to think I survive because I love this community; I love where I live.
“I’ve lived around Australia and in the United States, and this is still the greatest place I’ve ever known. It’s my home too, and it’s just in me to do everything I can to make people feel safer.”
Our Peter is like Bronson? Nah, Bronson was never tough enough to perm during the day and comb the coast at night.