R. M. Williams

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R. M. Williams
R.M. Williams with his blue heeler in 1988
Born(1908-05-24)24 May 1908
Belalie North, South Australia
Died4 November 2003(2003-11-04) (aged 95)
OccupationEntrepreneur, bushman

Reginald Murray Williams AO, CMG (24 May 1908 – 4 November 2003) was an Australian bushman and entrepreneur who rose from a swagman to a millionaire. Widely known as just 'R.M.', he was born at Belalie North near Jamestown in the Mid North of South Australia, 200 kilometres north of Adelaide, into a pioneering settler family working and training horses. R.M. had many adventures in Australia's rugged outback as a bushman, and became known for creating an Australian style of bushwear recognised worldwide.

He was married twice, had ten children, and left an enduring contribution to the Australian identity.

Personal life[edit]

Stockman's quarters on R.M.'s property at Dry Creek

From Welsh ancestors, his maternal grandfather Richard Mitchell being from Cornwall, Reginald Murray Williams was born to Joe Williams and his wife.[1]

When he was 10 years old, R.M.'s family moved to Adelaide so that he and his two sisters could attend school there. School did not agree with R.M. and so, at 13, R.M. packed his swag and left for the land he loved. At 18 he started work as a camel driver and spent 3 years trekking through the Australian desert, living with Indigenous Australians and learning to survive the harsh conditions. During the Great Depression, R.M. returned to Adelaide, where he met Thelma Ena Cummings, who would become his first wife [2][3] After they married, they settled in South Australia's Flinders Ranges[4] and had six children.[3]

After the marriage broke up in the 1950s, Williams purchased 55 hectares of land behind Yatala Labour Prison, South Australia. There, R.M. constructed a homestead, planted vineyards and thousands of roses, and ran rodeos on the floodplain of Dry Creek.[5] When the land was compulsorily acquired during the time of former State Premier Sir Thomas Playford, R.M. left South Australia for his Rockybar property in Eidsvold, Queensland, vowing never to return to South Australia.

He remarried in 1955 to Erica,[3] had four more children, living at the North Burnett cattle station in Queensland.[6] In 1985, he co-wrote his autobiography, Beneath whose hand.[3] In 2003 Williams died at his home in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs in Queensland.


Early years[edit]

R.M. learned his leather-working skills from a horseman called Dollar Mick, making bridles, pack saddles and riding boots. In 1932, with his son's illness and the expense of hospital treatment, he was in need of money and began selling his saddles to Sir Sidney Kidman, a wealthy pastoralist. R.M. soon had a small factory running in his father's back shed in Adelaide that rapidly expanded. To address financial problems, he also became involved with the Nobles Nob gold mine, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.[4]


R.M. Williams elastic side riding boots
R.M. Williams lace-up boots

Williams' most successful products are handcrafted riding boots. Williams' boots were unique when they were introduced to the market, as they consisted of a single piece of leather that was stitched at the rear of the boot (the models that featured an elastic side have been particularly popular). As of 2013, the R.M. Williams Company produces handcrafted riding boots, with the use of 70 hand processes and a single piece of leather externally (with the inside lining being made up of several pieces).

About 80% of R. M. Williams products are now made outside of Australia (mostly in China and South East Asia). This includes lace up footwear, leather bags and accessories, T-shirts, caps, seasonal shirts/shorts, polo shirts and some leather wallets.[7]

The company brand is a Texas longhorn cattle head.


Following the founding of the R.M. Williams company in 1932, Williams sold the business in 1988 to the long established South Australian stock and station agents Bennett & Fisher Limited. That business went into receivership in 1993, after banks were concerned about $16 million AUD of debts.[8][9][10]

R.M. Williams Pty Ltd was then placed under the ownership of long-time friend Ken Cowley, who acted in partnership with Australian business mogul Kerry Stokes, and together with his family, presided over R.M. Williams Pty Ltd for two decades. The company employs 600 people globally, 300 of them based in South Australia.[11]

On 26 March 2013, the Cowley family released a statement which announced an intention to sell the company to a new owner for AUD 100 million. The statement described the sale process as an assessment of "external commercial growth and expansion plans", and the list of potential buyers included Oroton Group, Premier Investments and LVMH. As of March 2013, R.M. Williams Pty Ltd consisted of 50 retail stores, 900 stockists and exports to 15 countries.[11] In April 2013, R.M. Williams sold a 49.9% stake to L Capital, the private equity affiliate of LVMH.[12]

Today, the company is a wholly 100% owned subsidiary of the Singapore-based L Capital RMW (Singapore) Pte Ltd, a private equity firm of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Group.[13]


In 1985 Williams was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), for services to the outback community.[14]

In 1992 he was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for service to business and to the community.[15]

In 2001 he was awarded the Centenary Medal.[16]


RM Williams Way road sign at Orroroo

The bush businessman has left several legacies:

A major road in South Australia's mid north, which runs between Stanley Flat (near Clare) and Hawker, via Jamestown has been named the RM Williams Way in his honour.[18]

R.M. Williams Monument in Jamestown, South Australia

Published works[edit]

  • Williams, R.M. (1998). A song in the desert. Pymble, New South Wales: Angus & Robertson. ISBN 0-207-19832-2.
  • Williams, R.M.; Ruhen, Olaf (1984). Beneath whose hand / the autobiography of R.M. Williams. South Melbourne: Pan Macmillan Australia. ISBN 0-333-38087-8.
  • Williams, R.M. (1972). The bushman's handcrafts. Netley, South Australia: R.M. Williams Pty Ltd. ISBN 0-9599299-0-8.
  • Williams, R.M. (1995). I Once Met a Man. Australia: Angus & Robertson. ISBN 0-207-19024-0.

Another book by RM Williams:

Williams also published the 300+ pages of poetry anthology Saddle for a throne in 1953.[19][20] The poems of Scottish-Australian bush poet Will H. Ogilvie (1869–1963) struck fondness with Williams who shared the affinity of Ogilvie with horses and the Australian Outback.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Williams, Reginald Murray; Ruhen, Olaf (1984). Beneath whose hands. South Melbourne, Australia: Macmillan Australia.
  2. ^ South Australian Marriages, Registrations 1917–1937; compiled by South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Soc. Inc., published in Sep 2002 by SAGHS Inc. and Macbeath Genealogy Services Pty. Ltd. ISBN 0-947158-96-0
  3. ^ a b c d e "A bush master's testament". The Canberra Times. 59 (18, 004). 13 January 1985. p. 8. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ a b "R.M. Williams (1908-2003)". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2003-11-05. Archived from the original on 21 April 2006. Retrieved 2006-06-19.
  5. ^ "DRY CREEK – LINEAR PARK WALKLEY HEIGHTS". Postcards SA. 22 May 2006. Archived from the original on 21 August 2006. Retrieved 19 July 2006.
  6. ^ "From the heart of the bush". The Canberra Times. 64 (19, 792). 16 December 1989. p. 4 (SATURDAY MAGAZINE). Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  7. ^ AsiaPulse News (November 2002). "AUSTRALIA'S RM WILLIAMS TO START MANUFACTURING PRODUCTS IN CHINA". Look Smart, Find articles. Retrieved 2006-06-19.
  8. ^ "R. M. Williams not for sale, yet". The Canberra Times. 67 (21, 254). 24 June 1993. p. 19. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  9. ^ "IN BRIEF R M Williams float option". The Canberra Times. 67 (21, 303). 12 August 1993. p. 17. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  10. ^ "R. M. Williams gets a boost". The Canberra Times. 62 (19, 042). 23 November 1987. p. 17. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ a b Nigel Austin (26 March 2013). "Legendary Australian bush outfitter R.M.Williams up for sale". The Australian. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  12. ^ R.M. Williams to remain Australian after sale
  13. ^ RM Williams Proprietary Limited - Retail
  14. ^ It's an Honour: CMG
  15. ^ It's an Honour: AO
  16. ^ It's an Honour: Centenary Medal
  17. ^ Bicentennial National Trail Archived 19 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ "RM Williams Way (B80)". Road Photos & Information: South Australia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  19. ^ "Bush balladist of the Nineties in print again". The Land (2158). New South Wales, Australia. 20 February 1953. p. 4. Retrieved 4 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  20. ^ "Ballads". The News. 60 (9, 173). Adelaide. 2 January 1953. p. 6. Retrieved 4 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.

Further reading[edit]

  • ABC Audio (2004), I Once Met a Man, R.M. Williams, 4 CD Set, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

External links[edit]