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Sidney Kidman

(1857—1935)


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(1857–1935), the ‘Cattle King,’ owned, controlled, or had a significant interest in about 90 outback pastoral stations, covering 130000 square miles, upon his death in 1935. Kidman was born near Adelaide and received a basic education at Norwood, SA. He ran away at 13 to Kapunda and Burra, then moved to western NSW, where he found rouseabout work and bought a bullock team to cart supplies to isolated towns. He profited from cattle-buying and droving, and opened a store at Cobar, NSW, which thrived in the mid-1870s copper boom. A £400 inheritance possibly helped him to purchase Thule and Cobbrum stations near Charleville, Qld, in 1887. Kidman progressively acquired other properties to develop a ‘chain of supply’ that linked stations across Australia from the tropical north to Adelaide. His strategy facilitated movement of stock away from drought-affected areas, towards better-watered land and markets offering superior prices. Kidman's thriftiness was sometimes interpreted as meanness, but while he sacked employees for trivial waste, he was generous enough to donate properties and money to charitable causes. He was knighted in 1921, the day after he gave his Kapunda residence to the SA government for a high school. In 1924–27 the federal government successfully prosecuted Kidman for unpaid land tax. Kidman: The Forgotten King (1987) describes him as ‘the greatest pastoral landholder in modern history’, and reassesses romanticised biography, The Cattle King (1936). A television film, The Cattle King, was produced in 1984.

From The Oxford Companion to Australian History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Australasian and Pacific History.


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