R. M. Williams

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.

R. M. Williams
R.M. Williams with his blue heeler in 1988
Reginald Murray Williams

(1908-05-24)24 May 1908
Belalie North, South Australia, Australia
Died4 November 2003(2003-11-04) (aged 95)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
OccupationEntrepreneur, bushman

Personal life

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.


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]

Williams established a national magazine, Hoofs and Horns, in 1944, aimed at cattlemen and horsemen.[7]

Williams' most successful products were 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).

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.[11]


In 1985 Williams was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), for services to the outback community.[12]

In 1992 he was named an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), for service to business and to the community.[13]

In 2001 he was awarded the Centenary Medal.[14]


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.[16]

Published works

  • 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. (1943). 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:

  • Animal Stories ...... Outback Publishing ISBN 0-9579709-1-9

Williams also published the 300+ pages of poetry anthology Saddle for a throne in 1953.[17][18] 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: 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 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. "R.M. Williams (1908-2003)". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 5 November 2003. Archived from the original on 21 April 2006. Retrieved 19 June 2006.
  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. 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.
  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. Nigel Austin (26 March 2013). "Legendary Australian bush outfitter R.M.Williams up for sale". The Australian. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  12. It's an Honour: CMG
  13. It's an Honour: AO
  14. It's an Honour: Centenary Medal
  15. Bicentennial National Trail Archived 19 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  16. "RM Williams Way (B80)". Road Photos & Information: South Australia. Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011.
  17. "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.
  18. "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
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