Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


Hunting for survivalIn Kidman’s Footsteps

Along the Oodnadatta Track in the heart of South Australia, the legacy of Sir Sidney Kidman lives on in the day-to-day struggles and rewards of those who choose a life on its vast outback stations.

Story George Inglis
Photos John Kruger

Rocketing along a sealed road in the upper north-west of South Australia, buffered from the heat by the air conditioner, it’s almost impossible to gauge how the pioneers and first entrepreneurs of this region coped with their journeys. The Stuart Highway – the state’s transport lifeline from Port Augusta in the Mid North to Marla even further north – has been carved out by the brave deeds of these pioneers, much to the benefit of modern-day residents, tourists and traders.

Hunting for survivalThe foremost among these pioneers to most minds is Sidney Kidman. The Stuart Highway, and more so the Oodnadatta Track from Marla to Marree in the heart of the state, are indelibly marked by Kidman’s legacy. Stations along the track hold historic testament to his enormous cattle drives, and many sprang from his famed droving strategies, or have at least been home to his herds or his business for a time. Times and technology have changed, new roads have made station life more amenable, and tourism means that the outside world is no longer so far removed. But for station hands, managers, support staff and their families, the lifestyle remains rustic and dangerous. Station life is at the mercy of things out of human control, as it always has been.
Kidman was famed for his ability to make the best of a bad situation, and to prepare for them before they happened. As great a stockman as he was, his nous, wealth and experience couldn’t protect him from huge losses when nature refused to release the most precious of commodities – water. This is a constant and unchangeable reality of outback station life.

Pastoralists along the Oodnadatta Track have suffered an exceptionally dry spell in recent years, and most have coped by reducing herd numbers and gritting their teeth. But the decision to hang in through the tough times has rewarded the patient and brave, as recent months have seen some of the best rainfalls in years. Feed has sprung from the ground, and the countryside seems to have breathed a sigh of relief. Again, the gamble has paid off.

It’s acknowledged in these parts that working on a station is speculative. In this sense, modern station owners and managers continue to follow in Kidman’s shadow. As well as one of Australia’s greatest ever stockmen, he was also one of the nation’s most successful speculators. But Kidman would never have considered himself to be a gambler. Rather, he hedged his bets by buying up land wherever and whenever he could along his droving routes to improve his odds of finding water and feed. This strategy paved the way for the modern-day S. Kidman & Co and gave birth to the idea of the massive station that, through its sheer size, could shore up the odds of finding water and feed. The famed Anna Creek Station, currently the biggest cattle station in the world, is a modern example of this strategy in action and a centrepiece of the ongoing Kidman empire.Story end

Full story OUTBACK Issue 36 Aug/Sept 2004

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