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, 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 nine children, and left an enduring contribution to the Australian identity.

Personal life

Stockman's quarters on RM's property at Dry Creek

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

At 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, he 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 aborigines and learning to survive the harsh conditions. During the great depression, with the lack of work, Williams returned to Adelaide where he met the equally sixteen-year-old Thelma Ena Cummings.[2][3] They married and returned to the bush, living off the land in the Flinders Ranges.[4] They had six children.[3]

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

He remarried in 1955 to Erica,[3] had three more children, and lived at the beef-breeding Arcadia Valley property in Queensland.[6] In 1985, he co-wrote his autobiography, Beneath whose hand.[3] Williams died in his home on the Darling Downs in Queensland.


Early years

Williams 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). Williams soon had a small factory running in his father's back shed in Adelaide that rapidly expanded. To address financial problems, he became involved with the Nobles Nob gold mine, near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.[4]


R.M.Williams elastic side riding 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.

Some R. M. Williams products are now made outside of Australia (mostly in China and SE Asia), this includes 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 old-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.[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) who, together with his family, presided over R.M. Williams Ltd for two decades. The company employs 600 people globally, 300 of them are based in South Australia, Australia.[11]

On 26 March 2013, the Cowley family released a statement in which the public was made aware of an intention to sell the company to a new owner for AUS$100 million sum. 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 Ltd consists of 50 retail stores and 900 stockists, and also 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]


In 1985 Williams was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), for services to the outback community.[13]

In 1992 he was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for service to business and to the community.[14]

In 2001 he was awarded the Centenary Medal.[15]


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.[17]

R.M. Williams Monument in Jamestown, South Australia

Published works

Other book by RM Williams...

Williams also published the 300+ pages of poetry anthology Saddle for a throne in 1953.[18][19] 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


  1. ^ Williams, Reginald Murray; Ruhen, Olaf (1984). Beneath whose hands. South Melbourne, Australia: Macmillian 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. ^ It's an Honour: CMG
  14. ^ It's an Honour: AO
  15. ^ It's an Honour: Centenary Medal
  16. ^ Bicentennial National Trail Archived 19 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ "RM Williams Way (B80)". Road Photos & Information: South Australia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  18. ^ "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. 
  19. ^ "Ballads". The News. 60 (9,173). Adelaide. 2 January 1953. p. 6. Retrieved 4 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia. 

Further reading

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

External links