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Reginald Murray Williams (Australian Millionaire)

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Reginald Murray Williams (Australian Millionaire)

Post by fishdude on Sat Feb 16, 2008 10:51 pm

Reginald Murray Williams (1908-2003)
Australian Businessman

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Reginald Murray Williams AO, CMG, (May 24, 1908-November 4, 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, 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 famous for creating a uniquely Australian style of bushwear recognized world wide. He was married twice, had eleven children (nine surviving), and left an enduring contribution to the Australian identity.

The creation of a crude pair of boots in a bush camp during the Depression led to the brand R.M. Williams becoming legend, but for the bloke who made them, boots were only ever a small chapter in his remarkable life.

Bushman, camel boy, grazier, goldminer, stonemason, cattleman, swagman, horseman, drover, international traveller, polo player, tea plantation proprietor, poet, publisher, philosopher, historian, husband, father and folk legend - Reginald Murray Williams never liked being thought of as merely a quality cobbler.

"It was only ever an experience in making a dollar," Williams once said of the boots that have become both an Australian bush icon and an international fashion item, worn by everyone from stationhands to George Bush.

"The company was only ever a small part of my life. I've done a lot of things that have given me greater pleasure."

Williams's remarkable life came to an end on Tuesday, when he died at his farm near Toowoomba aged 95, and from Parliament House to outback pubs, his passing was mourned as the end of an era.

Williams came from a family that "worshipped strength" and his familiar figure was the result of a lifetime of tough encounters that can never be repeated. There was his gap-toothed smile ("a Chinaman knocked me teeth out during a piss-up at the Halls Creek pub") and a broken nose ("happened when a horse went over a cliff").

Riding rodeo wasn't kind to the rest of his body either.

While he didn't like to talk about it much, mixed with the pleasure there was also a lot of pain in his life that wasn't just physical.

The story goes that Williams once paid a writer a substantial amount of money to hand over a manuscript about his life so it could not be turned into a book, but in 1984 the bushman published his autobiography, Beneath Whose Hand - a rollicking read and a fable for those who are born to the bush but abandon it.

Williams entered the world at Belalie North, a tiny settlement 200 kilometres north of Adelaide in the shadow of the Flinders Ranges.

His first memories were of "cold, frostbite, crying for hot water to bring aching fingers back to life and the pain before relief. Ours was a small house, a pioneer's cottage with room for extras only on the veranda. As a second child I came into that category and slept on the exposed east side, where the blankets were never enough to keep out the below-freezing cold."

The family later moved to Adelaide but Williams loved the bush and took off in his teens with a swag that contained little more than a blanket and the Bible he used to teach himself to read.

His early jobs included limeburning and building with stone in the Mallee of western Victoria.

Later came work looking after the camels of the eccentric missionary Bill Wade, who had a contract to find out how many Aborigines there still were in the wilds of the central deserts.

In his old age, Williams still marvelled at the tribal people he met in the unmapped deserts: "The mastery of those Aboriginals over their environment has been the inspiration of my life. I would like to be the master of my environment as they are of theirs. I think I have gone a long way towards that, but not nearly far enough. I have a tremendous respect for them."

But while he believed Aborigines had a right to be treated as "equal citizens" and praised their work as stockmen, he had no time for Mabo and land rights for people who had given up their tribal ways.

Williams married his first wife, Thelma, in 1929 but the onset of the Depression soon saw him on the road again, working his way through NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory. They eventually decided they would be best off setting up camp in the bush and literally living off the land.

"My girl was an outback type who could cope. She was content to sleep on the ground, cook on the open fire, nurse her children in the shade of a bough shelter, eat rabbits, carry water and wash her clothes in a four-gallon tin."

After building a hut beside a waterhole in the remote Gammon Ranges, Williams started "digging wells and doing a bit of starving. I became the world's best rabbit cook - stewed, grilled, baked, burnt, I could do it all."

Then into his camp one day in 1932 came a character by the name of Dollar Mick.

Mick knew a thing or two about about making pack saddles and before too long the two of them were making leather goods needed by surrounding stations.

Mick also decided one day that he needed some new boots.

Like every pair made since, that first pair was built to last.

"We shaped them from one piece of leather, blocked while the hide was wet, into the shape of a foot," Williams said. "We lined them with fat and wax and the nails were hand-driven."

When he and his children became afflicted with the eye condition sandy blight, however, he moved his family back to Adelaide for medical treatment and he set up shop in a shed at the back of his father's house.

That property, at 5 Percy Street, is now an Adelaide landmark and home of the R.M. Williams Outback Heritage Museum.

He convinced the cattle king Sir Sidney Kidman to buy his packsaddles and also took out a small ad in a rural newspaper offering to make boots on a strict "cash with order" basis. Thanks to his reputation for quality, the business started to thrive. From across the outback, people would send in their cash with an outline of their feet often carved into the cardboard of an old soapflakes box.

As moleskin trousers, oilskin coats and the like were added to the R.M. Williams range, the headquarters kept the vital measurement of tens of thousands of loyal customers across the country who purchased through the post.

Because of his years in the bush, Williams instinctively knew what bush people wanted from his myriad products.

He believed business was a simple thing: "If you make something good, people will make a track to your door. We made simple things that people wanted and kept them simple."

Even when his company had become a big manufacturing concern, Williams prided himself on being able to make every item in his famous postal catalogue. "I bet John Elliott can't make a glass of beer," he once said.

Williams was humble, but as one British fashion writer remarked: "No other has turned a thousand campfire dreams into a multimillion-dollar range of clothing and accessories as tough as the land of his birth. Reg Williams ... was the archetypal outback hero, an original Crocodile Dundee long before Hollywood glimpsed the dollar signs in Paul Hogan's eyes."

Williams said: "I didn't do a Bondy. We didn't produce anything new, just things that were in the Australian tradition - but better and stronger. Beyond the ideas I can't take any credit for the growth of the business. The kids were responsible. I was too busy with cattle and gold."

Indeed, it was gold that brought Williams his greatest wealth and greatest misery.

One day, not long after World War II, a woman walked into his office. Her husband was dead, her son had died in New Guinea and she wanted Williams to buy her Tennant Creek goldmine from her.

He did, and the Noble's Nob mine proved profitably beyond anyone's wildest dreams.

"I used to stagger down the street to the bank with these bags of gold, a shotgun each side, and thinking I was pretty important," Williams said.

He subsequently blew a lot of his fortune trying to set up a tea plantation in the highlands of New Guinea, but the millions he made from the mine saw him start living a life far removed from where it all began and led to what he described in his autobiography as a "mind collapse".

He bought the grandest house in Adelaide, kept servants, played polo and lived the life of an aristocrat.

He later pondered: "What is it that they say about the winter of our discontent Those were my years of misbehaving. I just had too much money. I was in Paris, London and New York all the time. I had the best of everything, but I was so unhappy."

He eventually went travelling among the poor of India and China looking for solutions to his misery.

Asked who he most admired, he once rattled off the surprising trio of Sir Sidney Kidman, Ben Chifley and Mao Tse-tung.

"[Mao] was a giant who changed the history of the world," he said. "I was in China during the old regime, when it was full of moneylenders and slavery. He changed all that."

While an arch conservative when it came to issues such as the Queen and the Australian flag, Williams was also a great advocate of a fair go and sharing wealth.

In the 1950s he married for the second time - eventually having nine children - and moved back to the bush, this time in Queensland, where he had several cattle properties.

When he was interviewed by the Herald in 1992 after being awarded the Order of Australia (a CMG having already arrived from the Queen in 1984), he was shovelling horse manure into a wheelbarrow on his Toowoomba property.

"If I didn't do this I'd sit back and die," he said. "I was a prisoner in my own castle. Now I've just got the sunshine and that suits me fine."

Another landmark in Williams's life was helping to form the Equestrian Federation of Australia in 1951. Ever since the Melbourne Olympics of 1956 the Australian equestrian team has worn R.M. Williams boots.

The first R.M. Williams store in Sydney opened its doors in Castlereagh Street in 1981 but in 1988 Williams lost control of his company in a corporate raid and he was disgusted with the mark- ups and poor-quality products of the new owners. After they went into receivership in 1994 the company was rescued - to Williams's delight - by Kerry Stokes, now owner of the Seven Network, and Ken Cowley, who then headed the Australian operations of Rupert Murdoch's media empire.

Cowley, whose family now owns the company outright, met Williams at a horse event at Penrith in 1972 and they struck up a friendship that has led to many campfire communions over the years.

In later life, Williams's real passion was for honouring and preserving everything he loved about the bush. His passion for words extended well beyond Hoofs and Horns, the magazine he established in the 1940s that was a bush bible for decades.

He also published numerous books of poetry and once went all the way to Scotland to track down Will Ogilvie for permission to publish his romantic poetry about life back o' Bourke.

He was the driving force behind the opening in 1988 of the Bicentennial National Trail - the longest wilderness track in the world, stretching 5000 kilometres from Cooktown to Melbourne - and the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame in Longreach, western Queensland.

As he told The Bulletin when the Hall of Fame opened: "It seemed important to us that an old drover who walked his cattle a thousand miles or more should be remembered for that achievement."

How will Williams be remembered Millions more pairs of boots will undoubtedly carry his name, but the old man told a magazine a few years ago that he had already chosen a stone from his Rockybar property to be his grave marker and picked out an epitaph from the poem Abou Ben Adhem by the English poet Leigh Hunt.

The poem is about a man who wakes one night to find an angel in his room writing down the names of those who love God in a book of gold. The line Williams liked was: "I pray thee, then, write me as one who loves his fellow men."
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work."
-- Thomas Edison
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Re: Reginald Murray Williams (Australian Millionaire)

Post by spage on Fri May 09, 2008 10:01 am

Thanx very much. Very Interesting!! :D
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