RM Williams

This colour photo shows Australian bush identity and businessman, Reginald Murray Williams, better known as RM Williams, sitting with one arm around his blue heeler dog and the other arm resting on a leather saddle. In this relaxed and casual portrait, he wears well-worn work clothes, presumably from the RM Williams range, including an Akubra Longhorn hat. Williams would have been 79 at the time this photograph was taken.

Educational value

  • RM Williams (1908–2003), an Australian icon of the bush, is an example of a true 'rags to riches' story. He grew up in a pioneering family in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. He left school in his early teens and went bush. Learning leathercraft skills from an itinerant saddler called 'Dollar Mick', he set up a factory in a shed behind his father's house in Adelaide to produce a range of leather goods, and his business grew from there.

  • Williams's fortune was made as a result of his clever marketing and business skills. He successfully used mail order to sell his elastic-sided boots and other leather products to bush workers from all over Australia. He diversified into clothing including moleskin trousers, hard-wearing cotton work shirts and the signature RM Williams Akubra hat.

  • Williams is most famous for his trademark leather boots, which continue to be the backbone of the business. The oil-impregnated boots are single stitched and are made using 70 hand processes. The elastic sides make them extremely comfortable and easy to put on and take off, and they are very durable. Customers can choose from a range of different leathers to suit different purposes.

  • Williams is seen here with one of his handmade leather saddles, the product that provided the funds to kick-start the business and helped make him a household name. After learning his trade and making his first boots in 1932, Williams approached the pastoralist Sidney Kidman and obtained an order to supply pack saddles in 1934. This order and the £5 Kidman paid for the first saddle enabled Williams to establish his small factory.

  • Williams never lost his love of the bush, and became a passionate advocate for rural Australia. He was founder of the Australian Rough Riders Association, and helped to form the Equestrian Federation of Australia in 1951, the Stockman's Hall of Fame in Longreach in 1988, the RM Williams Longreach Muster and the Australian Outback Spectacular, a theme park in Queensland. He was awarded many honours including Officer of the Order of Australia in 1992.

  • RM Williams is one of Australia's best known designer brands, and is synonymous with the outback. 'The Bush Outfitter', as the company styles itself, specialises in selling quality leather boots and accessories both in Australia and internationally.