elieve it or not - the world's largest cattle station is owned by the descendants of Sidney Kidman. It is the Anna Creek station in South Australia, covering some 30,000 square kilometers or roughly the same size as Belgium.
It does seem hard to believe but in the late 1800's and early 1900's, Sidney Kidman amassed over 100 stations said to have covered over 107,000 square miles in area. Not bad going for a lad who left his home in Adelaide aged 13 with worldly possessions of a threadbare blanket, 5 shillings and a one-eyes horse named Cyclops.
Not too far down the road to who knows where he was swindled of his horse by some drovers, who sold Cyclops in exchange for beer - an act that made young Kidman vow never to drink alcohol, a vow that he kept all his life.
The drovers, however, took him to where his brother George was working in New South Wales where Sidney began working, eventually becoming a shepherd for a 'claypan squatter' (ie. a nomadic herder who owned no property or home, simply moving his beasts from pasture to water as either himself or the conditions pleased). The life was very hard and with an aboriginal called Billy as company they existed on flour, black sugar, tea and the occasional roast goat.
Being a good listener and having an enquiring mind he soon learned all that Billy knew of bush life. His observations of the herd taught him an animal's behaviour pattern and what it would eat - invaluable knowledge to have when it came to opening up seemingly inhospitable areas of this sunburnt country, Australia. And open them up he did.
Kidman, like other, with packhorse, dray and bullock wagon drove their cattle over the toughest of terrain looking for pasture, water and at the end of the trail, hopefully an eventual sale in the expanding metropolises of the south east. Indeed, these men who risked all their capital in the hope of higher prices to come and against the vagaries of the climate of a harsh land are to be congratulated for making Australia an agricultural success from the wasteland it was and what it may have stayed.
When the 'claypan squatter' moved on the young Sidney was then without work and so he set off on foot for the Mount Gipps station near Broken Hill. Finding work as a rouseabout he soon began buying horses cheaply, conditioning them and then selling for a profit.
Aged 19 he bought a team of bullocks and began carting food supplies. Hearing of a large copper strike at Cobar he sold his bullocks at a profit and headed for the mines. Whilst everyone was digging the copper he built a rough shed and set up a butcher shop, bought some cattle, slaughtered them and sold the fresh meat. The astute Kidman also noticed that there was a shortage of transport so he bought wagons and two teams and began carting metal.
Leaving Cobar with 1,000 Pounds he returned to South Australia and met a Scots lass who was later to become his wife and mother of his three daughters and one son.
He had begun trading again in horses very successfully when the silver boom hit the Barrier range. He invested his money in bullocks and the Broken Hill mine, now known as the Broken Hill Propriety Ltd. (BHP).
Surprisingly he sold his 1/14th share in the mine for 100 Pounds whereas if he had waited he would have made a fortune when the mine prospered. Indeed, such a shareholding today would be worth several hundred million dollars.
Later he moved into the mail coach business, delivering the mail and terrified passengers from the speeding coaches.
Eventually he bought a half share in Owen Springs, a station in territory just opened by pioneers, near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. It was now that he hatched his long term plan. Kidman visualised a string of stations ranging from the Northern Territory to New South Wales and branching off to South Australia. The idea was to fatten the cattle in the north and feed and water them at the various stations on the way south thus having the beasts in prime condition when they reached the southern markets.
The drought in 1901 took its toll on his finances but with the support of the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) he was still able to turn a profit.
He became a millionaire before the Great War and was knighted in 1921. However the droughts of 1927, 1930 and 1935 eroded the value of his estate on his death.
The years of sleeping in the cold and wet had caught up with him, crippling him with rheumatics and when he finally succumbed to his ailments in 1935, many people mourned - not just his family but all who had dealt with him over the years , the drovers, squatters and pastoralists - all respecting him for his honesty and fair trading.
From a boy of 13 with a half blind horse he had become the 'Cattle King', a man rich in the knowledge he had done it with his own hard work and from being fortunate in having the knack to be in the right place at the right time.
His success story is part of the Australian success story. Without Kidman and his likes Australia's vital primary industries would not be in as high standing as where they are today.