Crafted with love
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The R.M.Williams Craftsman is a beautiful boot – and for the most part, a dress boot. This doesn’t mean they’re not a tough, versatile bit of kit: that one-piece-of-leather construction and goodyear-welted sole is a thing of great function as well as fine form. I’ve got a few pairs in different leathers, one of my favourites made with bone suede. They’re about 16-years-old now and a lot of memories are caught in their creases and stains. The uppers are still in good condition and they’re on their third leather sole. They just keep getting better with age.
Back in ’08 I was wearing them on an OUTBACK magazine job on a cattle station in the East Kimberley of Western Australia. The station – owned by what is now the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation – had an arrangement with the Justice Department that gave low-security prisoners from the Wyndham Work Camp the chance to come onto country and develop skills in cattle handling, yard building, fencing and the like.
These men worked hard and there was a good sense of camaraderie in the crew. They weren’t allowed to be paid, so the station manager always ensured that a beast was made available for fresh meat. On this particular day we were finishing up in the yards after a week of cattle work. There was a fair bit of excitement about the prospect of a good feed. A cow was duly shot by the head stockman and dragged off into the scrub with a chain and Toyota. Then the knives came out. Looking around, it dawned on me that I was the only bloke there without one… Or a rifle, or an axe. It was fine, but still.
'Heya,' I said. 'How ‘bout you fellas show me how to cut myself a steak?' A few grins flashed around and soon enough I was leaning over the carcass, knife in hand, being taken with good humour through the rough art of ground-butchering. It tasted all the better for it and later the blood and mud scrubbed out of my boots without much trouble, though there are still a few spots to bump my mind back, if you know where to look.
About six months later I was on a different job, same boots. This time in the Canadian Rockies on my way over from Vancouver to cover the Calgary Stampede – one of the greatest rodeo shows on earth. I was travelling solo, but as a guest of Travel Alberta and so had hopped off the train in the ski-town of Banff to catch up with my hosts and a small mob of Australian journalists they were chaperoning. Turns out four of them were meant to spend the next morning driving north up the Icefields Parkway towards Jasper to jump in a helicopter, fly out onto a glacier and go for a guided hike. One of the journos was feeling crook and not up to the trip. Over a few beers I was asked if I wanted to take her place. I jumped at the chance.
I didn’t worry too much that the only boots I had were the suede Craftsmans – I figured I could get up early and buy a pair of boots with more grip. Get up early I did. Find an open shop to buy hiking boots? Not so much. In my youth I’d gone to school in the mountains of Victoria and had later worked ski seasons in Thredbo and Montana. I was pretty comfortable on snow and ice, and decided to trust my balance and my luck. The Craftsmans would have to do.
The owner of Icefields Helitours shook his head and grinned when I told him why I was wearing leather-soled boots, but didn’t object, just lent me a walking pole and made double-sure I signed the waiver… It ended up being a magnificent day. The drive, the chopper flight over the Rockies, the glacier, the company and the hiking were all spectacular. My boots picked up a few more scars and stains and it might have gotten a bit skatey a couple of times, but I never actually ended up on my arse.
We rounded out the day soaking in the Banff Upper Hot Springs as the sun went down and so were all barefoot by then anyway. Sometimes you have to let your form dictate the function.