Home' Stuart Highway Guidebook : Stuart Highway Contents 48 The Stuart Highway
Sir Sidney Kidman was the
biggest private land owner in the
world. As a 13 year old boy, he’d
left home with 5 shillings in his
pocket. By the time he died, he
owned or had a financial interest
in more than 90 stations spread
over more than 160,000 square
miles, an immense slice of
Australia. He also had other
interests in shipbuilding and
Sid’s father had died when he was a toddler, leaving his
mother with six sons to care for and scant income. She
remarried, but the stepfather drank and the marriage was not
a happy one. At age 12 Sid worked at the stock saleyards.
Drovers told him of bush life where his elder brothers worked.
He purchased a horse and left home early one morning,
heading northeast to find his brothers. He arrived some time
later to a cool welcome and told to return home. Sid refused.
He stayed at German Charlie’s grog shanty. Before long he
was working as a shepherd for 8/- a week. Nights were
freezing cold. He had a small blanket and slept in a dugout
along with Billie, an Aboriginal. They became firm friends.
Later he worked on the station where his brothers were
employed. Then he worked for Charlie shepherding stock to
grassy river plains. They were good lessons for the future.
Copper was discovered in the Cobar area and Sid started
a butcher shop and transport business with his brother
Sackville. Shrewd and good natured, Sack was a giant 6’8”.
In 1883 silver, lead and zinc were discovered at the
Barrier Range, now known as Broken Hill. Sid bought shares
in the syndicate. He sold them for £100. The mine became
successful and that transaction didn’t bear thinking about.
Sid married his sweetheart Bel at Kapunda. Sid was to say
throughout his life, his marriage was his best decision. They
had three daughters and then a fourth, who died in infancy.
Then came the long awaited son. Sadly he too died at 16
months old. A second son was born in 1900.
The Kidman business expanded into coach enterprises.
Sid bought and sold horses - he had a good eye for quality.
When gold was discovered in Western Australia at
Coolgardie, they sold the eastern coach line and bought
Cobb and Co in WA which became very successful.
Their stations formed a
“chain of supply” providing
good feed and water,
linked so stock could be
transported from one to
another. Monsoon rains in
the north would bring
down the Diamantina and
Georgina rivers and rain in
the northeast brought
down the Cooper. The
swollen rivers, their
tributaries and billabongs
formed natural irrigation
and the Channel Country
became a sea of green grass
without a drop of rain falling. But there were droughts too.
Owen Springs Station, near Alice Springs was purchased
in1896. Thomas Elder had bred horses there and their sale
proved profitable. Other stations were bought. The discovery
of the Great Artesian Basin, covering 600,000 sq miles, had
enormous impact. Bores sunk along roads and stock routes
opened previous waterless country.
In March 1899, Sack died unexpectedly of peritonitis
and the business was divided. Sid continued on and bought
more stations, sometimes the drought worked in his favour
with firesale prices. Sometimes it worked against him with
stock losses and there was much controversy.
Kidman’s annual horse sales in Kapunda were huge and
peaked at 3,000 horses sold in one sale. Sid was liked for his
sale-ring antics and down to earth bush manner.
Sid was noted for his philanthropy. During the First
World War he donated horses, beef, ambulances and both he
and Bel donated planes. Sid was knighted in 1921.
When Sid turned 75, a birthday party to top all birthday
parties was organised for him with a rodeo held at Jubilee
Oval. Kidman stockmen and drovers competed. One sixth of
Adelaide’s population (50,000) came causing traffic jams,
delays with trams and newspaper headlines. It remains the
largest birthday party held for a private citizen in Australia.
Sir Sidney Kidman hosted a dinner at Adelaide’s Oriental
Hotel for his loyal band of managers and stockmen and
speeches reflected his popularity.
Just 3 years later he was gone and crowds lined the
streets, this time to pay their last respects to The Cattle King.
Sir Sidney Kidman
The Cattle King
pp 25_72 8/8/05 8:15 AM Page 48
Marree is traditionally the stopping off place for
travellers to Lake Eyre Kati Thanda or venturing up
the Oodnadatta or Birdsville Tracks. The township can
accommodate many more visitors than there are locals.
Marree projects a rich Aboriginal, Afghan and European
heritage. In the 1800s Marree was a bustling railhead with
camel trains carrying supplies further inland along the
Birdsville and Oodnadatta Tracks to stations and townships.
Progress saw mailman Tom Kruse and trains take over the
role. The truck and trains now stand in silent sentinel in the
town centre since the Old Ghan line was rerouted.
Tom Kruse’s Mailtruck
The section of town where the Afghan cameleers lived
with their families was known as “Ghantown”. At dusk the
chants of their prayers would drift across town. There is a
reconstructed mosque there in memory of the Afghans. Some
of their descendants still live in Marree.
Arabunna Cultural Centre has displays on Aboriginal
culture and welcomes visitors.
Marree Telecentre displays tourist information and has
public internet access.
Oasis Caravan Park,
Motel & Cafe
• Deluxe air cond ensuite motel rooms
• air cond ensuite cabins • linen provided • electric blankets
• 30 Powered caravan sites and lawned camping • Laundry
• BBQ area • Lake Eyre Flights
Licensed Cafe – hot meals, great coffee, pies & cakes
Fuel, Tyres & tyre repairs, groceries & camping supplies
Marree Phone (08) 8675 8352 or (08) 8675 8360
Farina, now historic settler ruins was built in the
late 1800s with high hopes of being central to a
major wheat production area. Once the town had a
substantial population with 2 hotels, 5 blacksmiths
and an underground bakery. Farina was the railhead
for a time as the railway snaked north. But little wheat
grew and the town eventually was abandoned.
Now a dedicated group gets together to preserve
some of the ruins. If you are lucky, you might call in
when the bakery’s hot bread aroma is wafting over the
town. All hands are welcome!
More to Explore www.exploringaustralia.com.au
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