R. M. Williams
Reginald Murray Williams
24 May 1908
Belalie North, South Australia, Australia
|Died||4 November 2003 (aged 95)|
Reginald Murray "R.M." Williams AO CMG (24 May 1908 – 4 November 2003) was an Australian bushman and entrepreneur who rose from a swagman to a millionaire. He was born at Belalie North near Jamestown in the Mid North of South Australia, 200 kilometres (120 mi) north of Adelaide CBD, into a pioneering settler family working and training horses. Williams had many adventures in Australia's rugged outback as a bushman, and became known for creating an Australian style of bushwear clothing and footwear recognised worldwide and the company that bore his name.
When he was 10 years old, Williams' family moved to Adelaide so that he and his two sisters could attend school there. School did not agree with him and so, at 13, Williams packed his swag and left for the land he loved. At 18 he started work as a camel driver and spent three years trekking through the Australian desert, living with Aboriginal Australians and learning to survive the harsh conditions. During the Great Depression in Australia, R.M. returned to Adelaide, where he met Thelma Ena Cummings, who would become his first wife. After they married, they settled in South Australia's Flinders Ranges and had six children.
After the marriage broke up in the 1950s, Williams purchased 55 hectares (140 acres) 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. 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.
Williams learned his leather-working skills from an Aboriginal stockman called "Dollar Mick" Smith, making bridles, pack saddles and riding boots near Nepabunna in the northern Flinders Ranges. He set up a workshop and employed local Adnyamathanha people from the Nepabunna Mission, who played an important part in building up his business between 1932 and 1934. Williams had since 1927 been employed as a missionary by the United Aborigines Mission (UAM), an interdenominational Christian group which had set up the mission in 1931. 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.
In April 1934, Williams moved back to Adelaide and started a small factory running in his father's back shed in Prospect, that rapidly expanded. To address financial problems, he also became involved with the Nobles Nob gold mine, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
Williams' most successful products were hand-crafted 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).
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 A$16 million of debts.
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.
Williams established a national magazine, Hoofs and Horns, in 1944, aimed at cattlemen and horsemen.
- A song in the desert. Pymble, New South Wales: Angus & Robertson. 1998. ISBN 0-207-19832-2.
- Beneath whose hand / the autobiography of R.M. Williams. South Melbourne: Pan Macmillan Australia. 1984. ISBN 0-333-38087-8.
- The bushman's handcrafts. Netley, South Australia: R.M. Williams Pty Ltd. 1943. ISBN 0-9599299-0-8.
- I Once Met a Man. Angus & Robertson. 1995. ISBN 0-207-19024-0.
Williams also published the 300+ pages of poetry anthology Saddle for a throne in 1953. The poems of Scottish-Australian bush poet Will H. Ogilvie (1869–1963) struck a chord with Williams, who shared the affinity of Ogilvie with horses and the Australian outback.
The bush businessman has left several legacies:
- The Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame. Originating as an idea by artist Hugh Sawrey, RM Williams was an original board member of this institution that was opened in Longreach, Queensland, by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, on 29 April 1988.
- Founded the Australian Roughriders Association.
- Helped to form the Equestrian Federation of Australia (1951).
- Led a committee which initiated and planned the Bicentennial National Trail.
- R.M. Williams Outback, aka Outback, a bi-monthly magazine of Australia
- Williams, Reginald Murray; Ruhen, Olaf (1984). Beneath whose hands. South Melbourne, Australia: Macmillan Australia.
- 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
- "A bush master's testament". The Canberra Times. Vol. 59, no. 18, 004. 13 January 1985. p. 8. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "R.M. Williams (1908–2003)". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 5 November 2003. Archived from the original on 21 April 2006. Retrieved 19 June 2006.
- "DRY CREEK – LINEAR PARK WALKLEY HEIGHTS". Postcards SA. 22 May 2006. Archived from the original on 21 August 2006. Retrieved 19 July 2006.
- "From the heart of the bush". The Canberra Times. Vol. 64, no. 19, 792. 16 December 1989. p. 4 (SATURDAY MAGAZINE). Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Back to the Beginning". R.M.Williams. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
- Marsh, Walter (1 May 2021). "Sole of a nation". The Monthly. Retrieved 17 May 2021.
- "R. M. Williams not for sale, yet". The Canberra Times. Vol. 67, no. 21, 254. 24 June 1993. p. 19. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "IN BRIEF R M Williams float option". The Canberra Times. Vol. 67, no. 21, 303. 12 August 1993. p. 17. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "R. M. Williams gets a boost". The Canberra Times. Vol. 62, no. 19, 042. 23 November 1987. p. 17. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- Nigel Austin (26 March 2013). "Legendary Australian bush outfitter R.M.Williams up for sale". The Australian. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- "Andrew Forrest buys iconic bootmaker RM Williams". www.abc.net.au. 18 October 2020. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
- It's an Honour: CMG
- It's an Honour: AO
- It's an Honour: Centenary Medal
- Carruthers, Fiona (30 March 2016). "R.M. Williams sets out to sell its Australian story to the world". Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
- "Bush balladist of the Nineties in print again". The Land. No. 2158. New South Wales, Australia. 20 February 1953. p. 4. Retrieved 4 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- "Ballads". The News. Vol. 60, no. 9, 173. Adelaide. 2 January 1953. p. 6. Retrieved 4 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
- Bicentennial National Trail Archived 19 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- "RM Williams Way (B80)". Road Photos & Information: South Australia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
- ABC Audio (2004), I Once Met a Man, R.M. Williams, 4 CD Set, Australian Broadcasting Corporation