Steve Moore heads the R.M.Williams boot workshop in Adelaide.
There has been a quiet changing of the guard in the boot production area of R.M.Williams.
STORY by Terri Cowley
There has been a quiet changing of the guard in the boot production area of R.M.Williams, but not one that anyone outside the Adelaide workshop would notice. The uncompromising, high standards held by Steve Moore, the head of the Salisbury workshop, are the same as those of his predecessor.
Master craftsman Michael Williams finished up with the business about a year ago, after more than 40 years making boots. He handed the mantle over to Steve, who has an impressive 27 years with the business. “It’s a team effort,” Steve says. “I’m part of the supply chain. It’s a good feeling to be part of such a successful company in our third year of growth in a row.”
Now it’s Steve and assistant footwear manager Matthew Howson who have the privilege of signing their names on the bottom of the Signature Craftsman boots.
Steve, 47, was a 20 year old living at home with his parents in Adelaide’s Modbury Heights when he got the job at R.M.Williams. He is the youngest of four boys and the other three had already flown the coop. He had already started an apprenticeship in footwear manufacturing at TAFE, after being encouraged to do so by his previous employer Rodney Fox, the owner of a surf shop and footwear business (better known as the man who survived a great white shark attack and then became their great advocate). Under Rodney, Steve was a clicker and cutter making wetsuits and then a shoe repairer.
Steve was a ‘river boy’ who spent holidays waterskiing on the Murray River, while Rodney had been a spear fisherman, but the older man took him under his wing. “He was a great boss,” Steve says. “He gave me a lot of opportunities. He was like that with everyone.” When asked if Rodney talked about the shark attack that made him famous, Steve says, “Well you only have to look at the picture … there’s not much more to say”. (Photographs of the massive shark bite over Rodney’s torso and left arm were seen around the world.)
Steve was halfway through his trade when he arrived at R.M.Williams in 1992, so he says he had “a decent background to walk in and start working on the machines”. He began as a sole stitcher on the main line, perfecting that craft for a decade. “I worked in the sole department with Jimmy Star – a big tall bloke,” Steve says. “He’d been there for 44 years already when I first started. He was pretty well known and liked. He was a great operator; great stitcher and he was actually the one, when I first started in the department, who showed me the ropes.”
Steve describes his decade of working in that department as a constant process of honing your skills. “If you took a shine to a job, you took that job and you made that job your own, and that machine could only be operated by you,” he says. “Once you had it perfected, you did not let anyone who wasn’t worthy of doing that job come in and do that job.”
Steve remembers being so practised that he could get almost get into a hypnotic-like ‘zone’ while stitching. At this time he worked with another R.M.Williams legend, Alan Frith. “He was a rough diamond,” Steve says. “He got away with a lot of practical jokes.” Between them Jimmy and Alan had about 80 years of experience, including working at historic Percy Street before the workshop was moved to Salisbury.
Eventually, Steve trained up others to do the job and he moved on – to the finishing department, the making line and the repair room, a few years at a time.
He was then taken off the line work to work on many of the company’s niche shoes such as thongs, sandals and boat shoes, all handmade.
He was also quality assurance officer and afternoon shift supervisor of boot production before his current role. “Now I have a team of people and it’s about controlling the room and making sure there’s plenty of work for everyone,” Steve says. “I’m in close liaison with team leaders and I’m responsible for the finer detail in the quality.”
The ties to R.M.Williams run deep. Steve met his wife Belinda at R.M.Williams, where she worked for 20 years in the craft area making saddles, whips and belts. They’ve been married for 22 years and have two children Corey, 22, and Ellese, 17.
Steve has seen a lot of changes, chief among them a massive increase in production. “We’re making a hell of a lot more boots today than we were 20 years ago, with a greater emphasis on quality,” Steve says. “The quota is 1200 a day over two shifts. It’s a great feeling to be part of a team that is growing this iconic Australian brand bigger and stronger.”
Steve is excited by company moves to break in to the Chinese market and expects this will lead to greatly increased boot production. “It’s damn good news in the current climate, where everyone around you [business-wise] is folding,” he says. “It will mean more employment for the northern suburbs here in Salisbury.” Steve loves the ruggedness of the brand, especially the workwear, which he wears while out and about on his property at Two Wells. At work he’s normally wearing a pair of black yearling Craftsmans on his feet but for weekends it’s Stockyard boots for paddock work and steel-capped Kellys for chopping trees and the like. He loves to watch customers delight in the boots that he and team members have crafted. “When they unbox it and they pull their boots out and they’re perfect, they get such satisfaction that they now own a pair of R.M.Williams boots,” Steve says. “A pair of boots should last a very long time if cared for properly.” Steve says in manufacturing, you cannot stand still. “Being proactive and less reactive is the only way to get through challenges,” he says.
He’s grateful for his successful and ongoing career at R.M.Williams. “RM is a great, friendly employer,” he says. “You can go a long way here. There is potential for greatness. Others saw potential in me that hadn’t been explored. It’s a great privilege. It’s a good feeling to be respected in this position. The guys respect me because of the years I’ve done.”