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R.M. WILLIAMS

(1908 - 2003)

R.M. Williams is an Australian bushman, famous for creating a style of bushwear recognised world wide as uniquely Australian. He also had many adventures in Australia's rugged outback and rose from swagman to millionaire.

Reginald Murray Williams, or 'R.M.' as most know him, was born in 1908 at Belalie North near the Flinders Ranges, two hundred kilometres north of Adelaide.

His father, Joseph, was a pioneer settler who worked and trained horses and as a child R.M. remembers the sounds of his father hammering horseshoes in his workshop.

"It was the horse and buggy days ... horses were our life."

It was hard work living in the bush and RM's mother had to cook, wash and iron with no running water or electricity.

But the country life changed when R.M. was ten. His family moved to Adelaide, so he and his two sisters could go to school.

It was a move young Reginald hated. He didn't like school and wanted to go back to the bush. When he was just 15 he packed his swag and left home.

"I just wanted to see the wide world."

Travelling north, his first job was heavy manual work building a stone water tank in the desert. At night as he lay by the campfire, he began to teach himself to read. Books opened the door to a world of adventure and knowledge.

At 18 he worked as a camel driver for a missionary and spent three years trekking over an area covering thousands of kilometres of desert.

No roads, no tracks, no maps, they lived with Aborigines and learned how to survive in the bush.

At one camp a bushman, called Reg Brown, taught R.M. to plait using a single strand of kangaroo leather.

R.M. worked hard practicing his plaiting and bush knots until they were perfect.

It was the time of the depression and apart from selling dingo hides, R.M. couldn't find work so he went back to Adelaide. Soon after, he married Thelma Mitchell and they decided to return to the Flinders Ranges and live off the land.

"We used to grind our own wheat and cook rabbits and kangaroos."

One day a horseman called Dollar Mick stopped at their camp. He was a very clever craftsman and taught R.M. how to do more complicated leatherwork. They made leather bridles, pack saddles and boots.

But the leatherwork became more than a hobby in 1932 when RM's second child Ian, developed an eye disease.

Hospital treatment cost money, so RM went to see Sir Sidney Kidman, a wealthy man who owned dozens of cattle stations. R.M. showed him his leatherwork and Sir Sidney Kidman agreed to buy his saddles.

"Kidman gave me a start making pack saddles and that started me off."

With the money from these first orders, R.M. started buying leather and equipment and set up a small factory in his father's shed back in Adelaide.

The business was growing and so was R.M.'s family with the birth of their sixth child.

As word spread about R.M. Williams bushmen's products, orders flowed in from all over. So R.M. had to borrow money to expand his business to keep up with the orders.

He was soon deep in debt.

But one day at the factory, an old woman dressed in black appeared. She owned a gold mine near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory which she could no longer work alone. She offered to sell it to R.M. for seventy two thousand pounds.

It was a challenge RM couldn't resist and hoping it was a way to pay his debts, he got family and friends together and worked out a deal to buy and work the mine. Eventually they hit gold - so much gold that their mine, 'Nobles Nob' became one of the richest small gold mines in Australia.

"We made many, many millions."

Despite the money, RM was unhappy. He was living in a city mansion filled with antiques, there were parties, polo and celebrities but he was pretending to be someone he was not.

R.M. realised he was happiest living the simple life in the bush.

"I couldn't handle prosperity ... I went back to where I belonged."

RM's marriage collapsed and he returned to the bush to start all over again.

After some searching, he settled on a property called 'Rockbar' in Queensland. It was rundown and the cattle were wild but RM took up the challenge and worked hard to make a new home.

In 1955 he re-married and had three more children - a total of nine.

Today R.M. and his family own many properties. His bushwear business is thriving and his range of distinctive clothing has become an Australian trademark thoughout the world.

His love of the bush also led him to publish five books of Australian poetry and help establish the 'Stockmen's Hall of Fame'.

R.M. Williams lived a life legends are made of and will be remembered for contributing to our unique Australian identity.

Wednesday, 5 November 2003

(Legendary Australian bushman R.M. Williams died aged 95 in his weatherboard home on the Darling Downes in Queensland.)


 

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