Sidney Kidman was born in Adelaide, 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.
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.
By 1903 Kidman owned or was a part owner of some 38,000 square miles (98,420 km2) of country ranging from the Carlton Hill Station in Western Australia to Victoria River Downs Station in the Northern Territory and Macumba Station in South Australia and properties in the channel county of Queensland like Annandale and Bulloo Downs.
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. The estimated size of Kidman's holdings in 1908 was 50,000 square miles (129,499 km2).
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.
In 1916, Sidney Kidman invested in Glenroy Station with the owners at the time, Reginald Spong and Jabez Orchard, forming the Glenroy Pastoral Company. He acquired the Urisino in 1918 along with Elsinora and Thurloo Downs in outback New South Wales from Goldsbrough, Mort and Co. In 1924 Kidman acquired Merty Merty Station in outback South Australia.
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 the 1921 Birthday Honours 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 at 76 Northgate Street, Millswood (now Unley Park) 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 his cortege extended for over 1.5 miles (2.4 km) after leaving his home.
During World War I, Kidman 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 did not return. He was knighted in 1921.
In 1992, Kidman's Tree of Knowledge (a tree at Glengyle Station, Bedourie, Shire of Diamantina, Queensland) was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register. Kidman is believed to have camped under the tree while planning his pastoral empire in Queensland.
In 2010 a new estate of some 300 plus allotments was established on the northern edge of Kapunda named 5 Shillings.
The Adelaide suburb of Kidman Park was named in his honour. The Kidman Way, a rural road in the western region of New South Wales carries his name, part of which was historically used by Kidman and his business enterprise as stock routes.
S. Kidman & Co is still the largest private landholder in Australia, although now on a much smaller scale. The entire landholding was placed up for sale in 2015, eleven cattle stations with a total area of over 100,000 square kilometres (38,610 sq mi) with a herd of 155,000 cattle. The total value of the company is estimated at A$360 million with two Chinese companies, Genius Link Asset Management and Shanghai Pengxin, interested in acquiring the company. The sale was eventually blocked by the Australian treasurer, Scott Morrison who cited the national interest clause in the Foreign Investment Act.
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|url=value (help) (PDF) on 15 July 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
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- Caroline Winter and Brooke Neindorf (10 April 2015). "World's largest cattle station up for sale as country's biggest private landholding goes on the market". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
- Peter Hartcher, James Massola and Jared Lynch (20 November 2015). "Kidman cattle stations: Andrew Robb criticises Scott Morrison's 'political' decision to block sale". Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
- 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