Reginald Murray Williams developed an early love for the bush and at the tender age of 15, packed a swag and went out to experience life in the outback, taking on work in varying fields including as a lime-burner, camel driver and manual labourer.
It was whilst he was travelling around that he learnt leatherworking skills from a passing horseman in the Flinders Ranges and soon decided to try his hand at producing leather goods. R M's first success came from selling saddles to the owner of a group of cattle stations and two years later, in 1934, set up shop in his father's shed at 5 Percy Street, Prospect. The rest, as they say, is history!
R M Williams soon became famous for for its range of hats, clothing and boots all inspired by the outback and the bushmen who worked on the land. Today with the technology of e-commerce available, the demand for global sales of footwear and leather craft continues to grow internationally.
A visit to the Museum really gives a clear depiction of the R M Williams journey, both of the man and the company he started. Key milestones in the company's growth are set out on interpretive panels and are easy to follow and understand, and within display windows are many examples of some of the historic goods that have been produced over the years, including a replica of the Saddler's bench with both saddles and the varying tools used to make them on display.
An impressive machine called a Boot Sole Screwing Machine is also showcased, which was in use from the 1940's, ensuring that soles on the iconic R M Williams boots would last the wear life of the product.
It was in the 1970's when the production workshop moved out of Prospect and up to Salisbury where it still operates today.
As the customer base built over the years, there began to be much in the way of repeat business and remote stockmen were able to simply send a note which read "send me a pair of boots like the last pair" and the mail order department were able to access accurate customer records and fill the order. The old card filing system is still referred to today for long term customers and the range of customers has included over the years Prime Ministers, entertainers nd professional people, as well as outback bushmen and women.
You certainly feel you are experiencing your own personalised viewing of R M Williams story as there are very rarely large numbers of visitors in the museum at any one time.
A store still operates at the Prospect historical site and is only one of 50 stores in Australia, as well as a store in London. The e-commerce part of the business is still expanding and shoppers can access products online globally.
In this day and age, you would expect everything to be automated as far as production of R M William's merchandise, however the classic boot styles incorporate more than 80 hand-held processes each performed by trained craftsmen and women and the plaited belts are all hand-made, made with more than 1000 plaits.
New developments are surfacing where you will be able to design your own handcrafted elastic-sided boots complete with a personalised message of your choice on the sole.
Although the R M William's brand and name still grace the company, Reg Williams actually sold the store in 1988 to his long time friend, Ken Cowley, who continued to expand and develop the company.
In efforts to further plan for global expansion, in 2010 a share of the business was sold to L Capital Asia (sponsored by French company Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) and in 2014 IFM investors, a global fund manager also acquired stakeholdings.
Finally in 2015 the well known actor and entertainer, Hugh Jackman also seriously invested in the company and the vision of R M Williams still continues strongly today.
It is quite heartening to be able to visit the site where it all began for R M Williams and witness for yourself the amazing story of the development of the quality iconic brands which are now world-renowned.