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Anna Creek: A Cattle Station Bigger Than Israel

In Australia, cattle stations—which is the equivalent of an American ranch—tend to be unimaginably large, so large that some of them are bigger than some European and African countries.

Take Anna Creek Station, a well known cattle station in South Australia, near Simpson Desert between Coober Pedy and Lake Eyre. This station covers nearly 24,000 square kilometers. By comparison, Israel is barely 21,000 square kilometers, and the biggest ranch in America is just over 3,300 square kilometers. In fact, there might be close to a hundred cattle stations in Australia that are bigger than the biggest American ranch.

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Australia's cattle stations are huge in size because of the continent’s climate. Most stations are located in the north and the central regions of the Australian Outback, where the climate is so dry and the vegetation so sparse that a large amount of country is needed to support enough cattle to make a living. Even a cattle station as large as Anna Creek Station normally runs about 17,000 animals during a good season.

The Anna Creek Station was bought by Sir Sidney Kidman, Australia’s so-called “cattle king”, who owned large areas of land across Australia during his lifetime. Kidman was thirteen when he ran away from his Adelaide home in 1870 with only 5 shillings in pocket and a one-eyed horse that he had bought with his savings. His teen years, Kidman worked as a drover, stockman and livestock trader, and made money supplying services to new mining towns springing up in outback. Eventually he had saved enough to buy his own station.

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Sir Sidney Kidman

Kidman began gobbling up one estate after another until he was the biggest landholder in the world by World War I. At one point, the size of Kidman’s properties exceeded the size of the entire United Kingdom. His family still owns more than 10 million hectares, or about three-quarters the size of England. With a herd of 185,000 cattle, S. Kidman & Co is one of Australia's largest beef producers.

There are at least nineteen cattle stations in Australia whose size exceeds 10,000 hectares. Four of them exceeds 15,000 hectares. These cattle stations are so large and the grazing area so spread out that it takes weeks to round up all cattle during the mustering season. Back in the old days, cowboys used to ride out in horses gathering up cattle. Today light aircraft is used for spotting animals which are rounded up by stockmen on trail bikes.

Because of the remoteness and size of Australian cattle stations, life is very isolated. The next human settlement is often a day's drive away. So these stations function like small towns with schoolroom for the kids of the owners and workers, a small general store to supply essentials and possibly an entertainment or bar area. Electricity is typically provided by generators or solar cells. Internet and television is provided by satellite.

Anna Creek Station is currently owned by Williams Cattle Company, after it acquired the property from S. Kidman & Co in 2016.

Bonus fact: The name “Kidman” and “Australia” may remind you of actress Nicole Kidman. The connection is more than a coincidence—Nicole Kidman is actually a descendant of Sir Sidney Kidman.

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Anna Creek Station homestead. Photo credit: Planettrekker/Flickr

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