Review Blog

Feb 07 2018

King of the outback: The story of Sidney Kidman by Kristin Weidenbach

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Ill. By Timothy Ide. MidnightSun Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9781925227246
(Age: 7+) Sir Sidney Kidman was one of the most successful pastoralists in Australian history. Kristin Weidenbach has told his story from the night he left home as a thirteen-year-old runaway, to the celebration of his 75th birthday with a rodeo on the former Jubilee Oval next to the University of Adelaide.
The text is a straightforward narrative which introduces readers to German Charlie who employed the teenage Kidman and taught him stock management. It also explains Kidman's realisation that if he bought a chain of stations rather than just one, he could move his stock over large distances during times of drought. Eventually, as Weidenbach tells her readers, Kidman's cattle stations together covered more land than England. A life rich in varied experiences is a challenging subject for a picture book. However, the omission of both Billy, the Indigenous man who taught the budding pastoralist bushcraft, and Sackville, who bought his brother's cattle for his butchering business, may underplay the extent to which Kidman learned from and was assisted by others. A page of detailed information at the end of the book will help adults to answer questions or prompt older children to find out more. The author uses short but effective sentences which convey the sensations of hard, physical labour, riding in the outback and sleeping under the stars. Her narrative is complemented by Timothy Ide's skilful illustrations. Some of the pictures evoke the vastness and colours of the terrain, while others capture the chaos at the rodeo when the cattle panicked because they were alarmed by the crowds.
King of the outback will introduce young readers to a man who owned an empire in the outback, and to a way of life which is outside the experiences of people who have not lived in the bush. It will also help to explain the role of pastoralism in the making of modern Australia.
Elizabeth Bor

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