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R. M. Williams AO CMG

1908 – 2003

RM (Reginald Murray) Williams AO CBE (1908-2003), saddlery, boot and clothing manufacturer, miner and author, moved to Adelaide from his birthplace near the Flinders Rangers when he was 10. At 15 he left his family to build a stone water tank in the desert before becoming a camelboy for the missionary William Wade. Travelling with Wade he learned bushcraft including leather plaiting from drovers and Aboriginal people living traditionally. Later, while building wells in South Australia's Gammon Ranges, he learned saddlemaking from George Smith, known as Dollar Mick, a self taught itinerant saddler. 'RM' set up his first factory at the back of the family home in Prospect, SA in 1932, making boots and pack saddles for cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman. The Prospect premises were to serve him until the early 1950s, when he opened a separate showroom for his wares. As his business struggled with debt, he bought a gold mine near Tennant Creek, Nobles Nob, which became one of the richest small mines in Australia. In the early 1950s, finding prosperity stressful, he relocated to Rockbar, a cattle station. Over the following decades, as he acquired more and more property, his company diversified into bush equipment, trousers and shirts. In 1972 RM Williams established a new bootmaking factory at Salisbury, SA, to which the clothing, leather and administrative arms of the company gradually moved. Combined national and international sales of RM Williams products now top $50 million a year; skilfully marketed, items from the clothing range have come to comprise a kind of unofficial Australian men's national dress. Its original premises in Prospect are now the RM Williams Outback Heritage Museum. Williams was a founder of the Australian Roughriders Association and helped form Longreach's Stockman's Hall of Fame in 1988. Editor of Hoofs and Horns in the 1950s, his books include Practical Skin Tanning and Fur Dressing (194-), Bushman's Handcrafts (1943), the autobiography Beneath Whose Hand (1984), and I Once Met a Man: True stories from one of Australia's greatest folk heroes (1989).

Updated 2018