Sidney Kidman was born near Adelaide (probably at Athelstone, South Australia) third son of George Kidman (died December 1857), farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Mary, née Nunn. Kidman was educated at private schools in Norwood and left his home near Adelaide at age 13 with only 5 shillings and a one-eyed horse that he had bought with his savings. He joined a drover, and learned quickly. He worked as a roustabout and bullock-driver at Poolamacca and Mount Gipps Station. and later as a drover, stockman and livestock trader. He made money trading whatever was needed, and supplying services (transport, goods, a butcher shop) to new mining towns springing up in outback New South Wales and South Australia (including Cobar, Kapunda, Burra and eventually Broken Hill). Eventually he and his brothers ended up working on the same station, then bought their own. The partnership with his brother Sackville lasted until his brother's death in 1899.
Kidman saved money and bought a bullock team, opened a butcher's shop and store at the Cobar copper rush and made good profits. When he was 21 he inherited £400 from his grandfather's estate and traded with it successfully in horses and cattle. Kidman was in his middle twenties when he acquired a one-fourteenth share in the Broken Hill Proprietary mine for 10 bullocks worth about £4 each. He sold his share for £150 less £50 commission and was satisfied with the profit. He had mail contracts on a fairly large scale and in 1886 bought Owen Springs station. Gradually he extended his holdings until they reached out into Queensland and New South Wales.
The great drought in 1901 was a disaster to him, but the Bank of New South Wales had faith in him and supported him. Within a year he had made £40,000 and began buying on a large scale again.
Diamantina Lakes Station was acquired by Kidman in 1908, he paid A£25,000 for the station and all its stock. Later in 1908 he bought the approximately 700 square kilometres (270 sq mi) Mount Poole Station in outback New South Wales. Another large channel country property, Durham Downs Station, was bought in 1909. Kidman bought the property along with Tilbaroo, Morney Plains and Durrie Stations in Queensland, Burrawinna on the border and Macumba Station in South Australia as part of his plan of acquiring prime grazing lands along areas that the watercourses followed. He borrowed A£50,000 to pay the A£100,000 asking price. Kidman and the company Bovril Australian Estates purchased Carlton Hill Station in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 1909 along with another two stations, one being Northcote and the other in Northern Territory called Victoria River Downs for a total of £200,000. Boorara Station was acquired in 1913. Kidman acquired Yancannia Station in far western New South Wales in 1916, followed by Corona Station also in the far west of New South Wales in 1917.
He eventually owned or had a large interest in an enormous area of land variously stated to have covered from 85,000 square miles (220,000 km2) to 107,000 square miles (280,000 km2) covering some 68 separate station stocked with about 176,000 head of cattle and 215,000 head of sheep. Before World War I he was a millionaire, and was knighted in 1921 for his support of the war effort.
Benefitting from their experience and observation, Kidman had built a vast network of connected stations stretching from both the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Fitzroy River in Western Australia down into South Australia near the Flinders Ranges and also across New South Wales. He could grow and fatten the cattle on the remote stations in the north, and bring them down the lines of stations to markets in the south, providing good feed and water on the way to sell them in top condition. Starting from nothing, he built up a huge pastoral business, with over a hundred cattle stations with total area of more than 3% of Australia - allowing him to move his cattle from north to south along the great inland river systems and drought proofing his empire. He was also an entrepreneur with interests in many other rural industries such as transport.
Kidman died at his home Eringa in Millswood aged 78 on 2 September 1935 following a brief illness. He was survived by his son, Walter, and three daughters. His body was interred at the Mitcham cemetery the following day in the presence of hundreds of mourners. Some 250 messages of condolence were received and 200 wreaths left and he cortege extended for over 1.5 miles (2.4 km) after leaving his home.
S Kidman and Co is still the largest private landholder in Australia, although now on a much smaller scale.
In World War I he donated wool, meat, horses, ambulances and even fighter aeroplanes to the government. He also guaranteed the jobs of employees who went to fight in the war, and assisted the widows of those who didn't come back. He was knighted in 1921.
In 2010 a new estate of some 300 plus allotments was established on the northern edge of Kapunda named 5 Shillings.
- Russel Ward, 'Kidman, Sir Sidney (1857 - 1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, MUP, 1983, pp 583-585. Retrieved 23 August 2009
- "Unincorporated Area of NSW Heritage Study". River Junction Research. 2006. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Mount Gipps Station, Cradle of Broken Hill.". The Land (Sydney, New South Wales: National Library of Australia). 15 September 1933. p. 3. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
- "SA Memory - Kidman, Sidney 1857-1935". Government of South Australia. 10 April 2007. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- Evan McHugh (2011). Birdsville: My Year in the Back of Beyond. ReadHowYouWant.com. ISBN 9781459621374.
- "Station purchased". Warwick Examiner and Times (Queensland: National Library of Australia). 7 December 1908. p. 5. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "Australia's cattle king.". Western Herald (Bourke, New South Wales: National Library of Australia). 9 September 1908. p. 4. Retrieved 16 September 2013.
- "Items". The Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales: National Library of Australia). 26 May 1909. p. 7. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "Kidman descendents celebrate station centenaries". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 20 September 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2013.
- "Australian Cattle stations". South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia). 31 March 1909. p. 5. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- "Boorara Station - History of Boorara". 2008. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
- "Unincorporated Area of New South Wales study - Pastoralism". 2006. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
- "Hero or despoiler? Kidman reappraised.". The Canberra Times (Australian Capital Territory: National Library of Australia). 5 March 1988. p. 10. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
- "Fowlers Gap arid zone research station". University of New South Wales. 15 February 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
- ""Cattle King" dead.". The Northern Miner (Charters Towers, Queensland: National Library of Australia). 3 September 1935. p. 2. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- "Late Sir Sidney Kidman". The West Australian (Perth, Western Australia: National Library of Australia). 4 September 1935. p. 14. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- "Large Crowd Attend Funeral Of Sir Sidney Kidman.". Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, New South Wales: National Library of Australia). 10 September 1935. p. 2. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- "The Cattle King". Albany Advertiser (Albany, Western Australia: National Library of Australia). 20 April 1936. p. 3. Retrieved 1 September 2013.
- Kidman info at South Australian history
- S. Kidman and Co website
- Serle, Percival (1949). "Kidman, Sidney". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
- Ion Idriess (2001). THE CATTLE KING - The Story of Sir Sidney Kidman. HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd. ISBN 0-207-19782-2.
- Jill Bowen (1993). Kidman: The Forgotten King. Cornstalk Publishing. ISBN 0-207-18464-X.
- Biography of Sydney Kidman associated with ABC TV program Dynasties
- Cattle Kings of Old Australia quadrant.org.au