For sale: land holding in Australia the size of Scotland

ONE of the world's largest private landholdings, a series of cattle stations in Australia that is larger in size than Scotland, is to be sold with an estimated price tag of $398 million.

The family-owned estate across three states and the Northern Territory was founded in the 1890s by Sir Sidney Kidman, Australia's so-called "cattle king". Allegedly a distant relation of actress Nicole Kidman, Sir Sidney set out penniless from his home as a 13-year-old in South Australia with a one-eyed horse and built a pastoral empire that now covers 100,000sq km.

The remote estate, owned by the beef baron's descendants, is the largest private non-state and non-monarchical stretch of land in the world. It includes 11 cattle stations across the country and about 155,000 cattle as well as the 23,000sq km Anna Creek Station, the world's largest stand-alone cattle property. Only about 150 people are thought to live in the territory.

The sale has attracted interest from more than 30 bidders across the world, including farming families, investment syndicates, meat companies, foreign investors and global pension funds from China, the United States, Britain, Switzerland and Canada.

Ernst & Young, which is handling the sale, has released an information memorandum. Interested parties need to take numerous flights across the country to inspect the entire estate. The property is owned by S Kidman and Co, an unlisted company that remains 98 per cent family owned. It has shrunk in size since the death in 1935 of Sir Sidney, who built up an estate covering more than 260,000sq km.

The sale reportedly followed tensions among the more than 50 family members and descendants about the future of the company. Many family members, reportedly spread across Australia, Britain and America, wanted to sell to raise funds to invest in individual farming businesses.

The property is Australia's largest private landholding and the eighth biggest in the world. The world's largest is said to be the estate which belongs to the Queen, who nominally owns some 2.67 billion hectares of land across the Commonwealth. The other largest individual landholders include the Pope and the royal heads of state of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Thailand, Oman and Nepal.

The sale of the Kidman estate has proven controversial.

Barnaby Joyce, a federal minister and member of the rural-based National Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, said he would oppose a move to sell the Kidman empire to a foreign-government company.

"This isn't xenophobia, this is exactly what other countries do - no other government can buy land in China or Indonesia, for example," Joyce told the Australian. "It's different when it is a genuine foreign company or individual investing ... but a foreign government has a more long-term purpose, which could over the long run undermine our nation's interests." Prime Minister Tony Abbott sought to play down the comments, saying the Government had always closely monitored investment by foreign state-owned entities.

The sale has revived calls in Australia to promote the land rights of Aboriginals.

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