Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


RM Williams boot tugThe address on the boot tug

A suburban Adelaide street has become etched in Australian outback history

Story: Don Tilmouth
Photos: Leon Mead

Soon after Reg Williams began making bush saddlery and boots in the early 1930s at Nepabunna in the remote Gammon Ranges of northern South Australia, his young family's health forced him to return to Adelaide.

In an iron woolshed at the rear of his father's retirement home at 5 Percy Street, Prospect, the young man who later in life became known the world over as 'RM' set up a one-man manufacturing business.

Working among stacked wood, he began making a small range of products he had developed in the Gammon Ranges.

RM in the early days at 5 Percy StreetWith little change, these early products, and the many which followed, are still made and sold by the company R.M. Williams founded.

RM's first helper was a partly disabled man, Charley Ferguson, who, anxious to do anything, asked RM to teach him how to make a pair of boots.

Although struggling to survive in his enterprise, RM agreed. They used offcuts of kip leather used in bush saddlery.

A bold step was tried - a two-lined advertisement costing sixpence was placed in The Chronicle, a rural weekly newspaper.

"Elastic side boots made to order. Twenty shillings. Cash with order. 5 Percy Street, Propspect," it announced.

Great delight greeted the first order. Here was capital to buy materials to make boots, and evidence that the sales method could succeed. Charley worked on into t he 1940s as boss in the boot room until ill health forced him to retire.

Assistant manager Jason Ogden outside the shop and showroom as it is today.With sales from paid advertising, and even more valuable unpaid advertising generated by a far-reaching bush telegraph of customers, RM was always "the boss", or Mr Williams to his staff, while the many, mainly bush customers who called at 5 Percy Street referred to him as Reg.

Full story: Issue 4, April-May, 1999

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