AUSTRALIA'S biggest private landholder, the big S. Kidman and Company, is riding a wave of seasonal success after two years of big rain events across much of the inland's pastoral belt.
Following widespread floods and good grass-growing rain in areas like Queensland's western Channel Country, the Cooper Creek and other Lake Eyre catchments in South Australia, Kidman's 18 properties - spanning 110,000 square kilometres - now carry more cattle than they have at any time since the big wet years of the 1950s.
The company, with a herd now up to 206,000 head, is also celebrating major milestones on several of its remote properties bought by founding father, cattle king, Sir Sidney Kidman.
Last month the "jewel in the crown" of the Kidman portfolio, Durham Downs Station, in South West Queensland hosted a weekend of centenary celebrations for five Kidman pastoral leaseholdings.
The "Durham Downs" centenary actually clocked over in 2010, but the party had to be postponed, twice, because the flooding Cooper Creek made it impossible for company staff, shareholders, neighbours and suppliers to gather at the property until now.
The 8900-square kilometre station on the productive Cooper floodplain was bought by Kidman in 1909 for 100,000 pounds, with half of the sum borrowed from the Bank of NSW and repaid from his robust earnings within 12 months.
The debt would have equated to about $20 million in today's terms.
Cattle prices 100 years ago were also exceptional when translated into current values, with a bullock sold for seven pounds in 1909 equivalent to the same animal fetching $3200 today, according to Kidman and Company managing director, Greg Campbell.
Kidman's profitable herds, good management skills and savvy eye for handy cattle country triggered a property shopping spree in 1912, as he picked up a further three holdings - Morney Plains and Durrie stations on the Diamantina River in far western Queensland (for 55,000 pounds), plus Macumba Station in SA on the floodplain adjoining Lake Eyre's north western shore.
The recent centenary festivities, which included a weekend of horse sports and a marquee dinner attended by about 260 on the banks of the Cooper, also celebrated back to back good seasons being enjoyed by company employees, and a big upturn in the Kidman business' profitability after a long run of drought years.
S. Kidman and Company, owned by about 50 shareholders (primarily family descendants of Sir Sidney), releases its 2010-11 profit results later this month.
The business recorded a subdued $2.6m result the previous financial year, primarily because of poor seasons on its SA properties in 2009.
That, in turn, had followed a below average branding on the Northern Territory Barkly Tableland in 2008, plus successive dry years early in the decade which contributed to it selling the 30,000-hectare NSW grain, sheep and cattle property, Kiagathur Station, at Condobolin to sheepmeat identity, Roger Fletcher.
"We don't have much that buffers our business from drought if it drags on, but when the season picks up the results really shine through," Mr Campbell said.
He said 2010's much improved season had lifted cow conception rates to around 90pc for the herd this year, profit figures were "healthy" and the company's overall position for the year ahead looked "particularly good".
S. Kidman and Company, which celebrated its own centenary 12 years ago, has a feedlot and backgrounding property at Sedan in SA and 17 pastoral leases in three States and the NT.
Last year it sold the 12,119 square kilometre (1.2m hectare) Quinyambie Station, north west of Broken Hill in SA for more than $8m to neighbouring Mutooroo Pastoral Company after holding that lease 94 years.
Mr Campbell said while the company operated a conservative management strategy and most of its portfolio had a long history in Kidman hands, properties were sometimes bought and sold for strategic regional and market reasons.
"In the corporate farming environment everything is always in play. Our focus at times undergoes some adjustment as part of our investment strategy," he said.
"A move back into dryland farming or sheep is not beyond the realms of possibility, depending on what markets and opportunities arise."
Kidman's sale of "Kiagathur" had been partly prompted by the company's limited involvement in grain, irrigation allocation cuts and a move away from sheep.
In the early 1990s the company had a 150,000-strong flock in addition to its cattle herd.