R.M. Williams Boots. These boots were made for walking – everywhere!
I know several people who wear these boots constantly. They say they are so comfortable they never take them off. They say they suit all occasions – working, socializing, hiking, formal occasions, you name it. Their enthusiasm for R.M.Williams elastic-sided riding boots is so great that I wonder if they wear them to bed?
They are the creation of one of Australia’s most legendary bushmen. R.M. Williams. He tells his story in his autobiography, ‘Beneath Whose Hand’, Macmillan, first published in 1986 and reprinted 26 times and counting.
R.M. Williams learnt to work leather from a bushman in the beautiful but arid Flinders Ranges in South Australia. He camped with Dollar Mick (he seemed to have no other name), and Dollar Mick taught him to work leather. At the time Mick was almost barefoot so the two of them worked to make a boot from a single piece of leather to fit his unusually shaped foot.
Years later, at the beginning of the depression, poverty forced R.M. to return to his family home in Adelaide. In a corner of his father’s shed he turned his hand to making pack-bags for horses and camels. A severally physically disabled man, Charlie Ferguson, watched him work. He asked RM would he teach him to make a pair of boots. Despite his multiple handicaps Charlie could use his hands and under RM’s guidance made a pair of riding boots. RM then took a two-line advertisement in the Adelaide Chronicle which read ‘Elastic sided boots made to order. Twenty shillings. Cash with the order’. Within a few days, a letter with the money enclosed arrived and R.M. Williams iconic boots were underway.
By 1986 12 million pairs had been sold. Who knows how many have been sold to date? I googled them and to my amazement found that as well as new boots ($600+) there is a roaring trade in second hand R.M. Williams boots which sell at between $100 to $300 dollars a pair.
R M Williams left home to go bush at 14. He did poorly at school but as a self-educator he is a giant. His book is not just about the outback, bullocks and gold; it is peppered throughout with philosophy, poetry, politics and religion.
When he left home his mother gave him a Bible which he has read all his life along with other tomes from various religions and philosophies. In his early years, he worked as a camel handler, guide and bushman for journeys of exploration for Mission societies and government. In country where few if any had gone before his job was to locate Aborigine groups and tribes. These journeys brought him into contact with many professional Christians, missionaries, ministers and priests and the like. With most of these he didn’t feel comfortable. Their religion somehow created an invisible shield (my term) which prevented open and frank communication. And even though he thought constantly about religion he also felt uneasy in church buildings.
I know about this invisible shield. On social occasions when people learn I am a minister the shield comes down. This is particularly so with men. This is what I think happens. They see me as a professional ‘good’ man. My acquaintances know themselves to be ordinary men. In the presence of someone who is paid to be good they are inhibited from speaking freely and so am I. Some clergy affect me in this same way. I remember having a meal with a Korean minister who was even more of a professional Christian than I was. Every turn of conversation led to his quoting scripture verses. I felt it was artificial and rather than trade scripture verses, I just fell silent.
But, I am an ordinary man. By training and profession, I have been exposed to lots of religion and religious ways of thinking, but I am still an ordinary man. When in male company I have often wished I could say, “I am a bus driver” or some other non-religious profession so the invisible shield would not be there.
The shield is also around our churches – our buildings. R. M. Williams writes about his discomfort at entering a church. It was as though he was going into a foreign land in which he was not welcome. I believe many people think like this. “This building is for ‘good’ people – not ordinary people”. As much as I love to look at the shape and forms of churches, whether this be in miniature or in paintings or in real life, I acknowledge that the buildings put many off. That is why I am happy about our church and centre. Once our threshold is crossed you enter a large lounge. Comfortable chairs and magazines invite you to relax. A children’s corner beckons children to play. Coffee is brewing; fish are swimming in the large tank; nursing mothers are feeding their babies and the languages of the world can be heard.
R.M. read the bible all his life. The words and works of Jesus fascinated him. He felt the dogmas of the church did not clarify Jesus or his message. He believed he was a child of God. He did not believe that God could be confined to any building or any creed or group. For him God was everywhere. One of his favourite verses was, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.’
In his book, he wonders what it would be like to meet with Jesus. “If the man Jesus were to step inside my door or come knocking, would I know him? A man of the road, with straw, perhaps from some lonely haystack still clinging to His uncut hair, garments creased and road stained. Would I welcome him? I might…. He was a man of the road, poor and hunted by the police. I am torn by the tragedy of it all. How do I follow him? How would I know God if I saw him? I shall look for him among the uncouth, the sorrowful, the have-nots. Maybe he will be there. And will he know me?”
What have I written? Is this a book review? I hope it’s more than that. Like most Aussies I am thrilled by stories of the bush, its people and its creatures. The hard times, the droughts and the floods remind me of my Dad. But I hope as well as being a piece of self-indulgence there might be a thought or two of value for the reader.
And now I am thinking about buying a pair of those second-hand boots. I see some advertised that are my size.