Reginald Murray Williams
REGINALD MURRAY (RM) WILLIAMS AO, CMG
By 1932, the onset of the Great Depression found RM camped out in the Gammon Ranges of South Australia with his young family, barely making a living digging wells. During this time he met an itinerant saddler named Dollar Mick.
A self-taught genius in leatherworking, Dollar Mick passed on his skills to the 24-year-old RM who made and sold his first pair of riding boots for 20 shillings to a man from Hilltaba Station whose name he couldn’t remember.
Having worked on some of the great pastoral runs of the interior, no one knew better than RM what men who were born in the saddle wanted when it came to footwear. With boot sales to the first unknown buyer and cattle king, Sir Sidney Kidman, under his belt, RM set up the beginnings of his first factory in 1932 in an iron woolshed behind his father’s house at 5 Percy Street, Prospect (now the R.M.Williams Outback Heritage Museum).
With no capital and little help, he built up a team of dedicated craftsmen and took out advertisements in the rural press that asked customers for cash with their orders. Over the following decades, RM developed his business, diversifying into bush saddlery, equipment and the company’s trademark moleskins, jeans and bush shirts.
Other landmarks of RM’s life include being a founding member of the Australian Roughriders Association, and helping to form the Equestrian Federation of Australia in 1951 and the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Longreach in 1988. He was also editor of Hoofs and Horns magazine in the early 1950’s.
Because of RM’s support in forming the Equestrian Federation of Australia, the Australian Olympic Equestrian Team has competed in R.M.Williams boots since the Melbourne Olympics of 1956.
RM was the founder of Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail - a 5,330 km route through Australian bush, wilderness and mountain areas. It is suitable for horse riders, walkers and mountain bike riders.
RM and his wife Erica together with Tom Quilty were the inspiration for the Tom Quilty Endurance Ride in 1966, which is held annually and is now an international event. Nominated as a National Living Treasure by Prime Minister John Howard MP, Reginald Murray Williams was also chosen as Patron of 2002 Year of the Outback.
Reginald Murray Williams AO, CMG passed away on 4 November 2003 aged 95; a Queensland State funeral followed as the nation mourned the death of an Australian legend.
Photo: © David Seeto 1984