The Single Australian Farm That’s Bigger Than 49 Countries

The Single Australian Farm That’s Bigger Than 49 Countries

Anna Creek station is massive: whether you describe it as a privately-held piece of property
or a ranch, it’s the biggest one of those.
It’s as tall as the Netherlands, as wide as Wales, and basically every article about
it adeptly mentions that it’s bigger in total size than Israel—a perfect choice
for comparison given that Israel’s size is very constant and in no way the subject
of controversy.
It also happens to be bigger than El Salvador, Belize, Djibouti, and literally dozens of
other countries, but hey: all engagement is good engagement.
While its size is surprising, Anna Creek’s location isn’t.
Australia, it turns out, is absolutely littered with giant cattle stations: Clifton Hills
Station is 6,650 square miles, right around the size of Eswatini, Alexandria Station is
6,220 square miles, also around the size of Eswatini, and The Station, which is a restaurant
in Wahroonga, is 0.00011 square miles but apparently has “no surprises (good or bad).”
So, why is Australia overrun with a bunch of bovine micronations?
Well, a lot of it is explained by taking a look at this map.
Now the first thing you’ll notice when you look at this map is that a lot of it is very
red, and if you’re thinking that seems probably bad, great news: you’re about one sentence
ahead of me.
A huge portion of Australia falls under the charmingly blunt distinction, “hot desert.”
European settlers took one look at this desert, gave up, and declared it on this map as “useless”—overlooking
the fact that indigenous people had managed to live off those lands for centuries—but
they also took one look at some other bits of slightly less hot, slightly less dry desert
and awarded it the distinction of “sparse grazing lands.”
But even with its “not useless” designation, Anna Creek Station isn’t exactly welcoming:
it has sparse vegetation, only gets about 8 inches or 20 centimeters of rain a year,
and can reach up to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, or 55 degrees celsius—a temperature scientifically
known as “Very Very Hot.”
And that’s why the station’s so big: because the vegetation is so sparse, it just takes
a massive area to give the cattle—in a good year, about 17,000—enough to graze on.
For comparison, King Ranch, the largest ranch in the US, is less than 1/7 the size of Anna
Creek, yet supports about twice the number of cattle on its wetter, cooler, more vegetated
landscape.
So, how does a farm the size of 147 Liechtensteins manage to operate?
Well, the key, of course, is staff, and to operate a potentially-Israel-sized piece of
land, they employ a massive…
11 people: one manager, eight station hands, a plant operator, and a cook.
Yep, 11, many of whom are young and functionally apprentices called, and this is true, jackaroos
and jillaroos.
This enormous area is run by the same number of people as a somewhat-busy McDonalds largely
thanks to technology: it operates its faraway water pumps remotely with UHF radio waves,
and cattle are often located using low-flying plane runs, and then rounded up by stationhands
on motorbikes instead of horses, because motorbikes typically don’t experience heatstroke.
The staff primarily operates out of this single homestead, powered by a diesel generator and
satellite internet connection.
If you need to go to town, the nearest is here, Coober Pedy, although to be honest,
calling it a town is generous.
It’s got a population of just 1,762 people and basically everyone lives in these crazy
underground caves like they’re in a mid-2000s YA dystopia.
There’s actually an even smaller town in the center of the property, here, called William
Creek.
It’s got a little hotel, a pub, some campgrounds, and even what they claim is a nine-hole golf
course, but what is more accurately nine holes dug kind of far away from each other in the
middle of the desert—but these facilities actually see decent business from tourists
taking the treacherous trip to Lake Eyre.
The hotel regularly sees most of its 53 rooms booked—and is the core of the economy in
the town with an official population of just 10.
Both William Creek and the nearby station homestead are served mail by the Coober Pedy
Oodnadatta One Day Mail Run, a delightfully quaint bus that goes from Coober Pedy to William
Creek to Oodnadatta on unpaved, four by four roads twice a week as an official Australia
Post contractor, but also offering spots for tourists, who can experience the thrill of
going over whatever gibber plains are.
The issue of the largest privately-owned piece of land raises the question: who privately
owns it?
Well before the comments start going insane, I should point out that technically, Anna
Creek Station is not privately owned, but privately held, under something called a pastoral
lease, where the land is technically owned by the Australian government and there are
certain ways pastoralists are required to use it.
Now that I haven’t said anything in the video that will upset people, I can move on
to telling you that for most of its history, Anna Creek was owned by Sir Sidney Kidman,
who at the time of his death, owned nearly 4% of Australia’s mainland, and before you
ask, yes, he is related to Antonia Kidman.
Recently, S. Kidman and Co. was in the process of being sold to a joint venture between Hancock
Prospecting and Shanghai Cred, but the government refused to let this part-foreign partnership
buy Anna Creek for national security reasons, given that Anna Creek lies within the Woomera
Prohibited Area, home to the largest land weapons testing range in the world.
Instead, the largest tract of land in the world is now held by Williams Cattle Company,
who also own 5 neighboring properties, giving them a total land ownership larger than Switzerland,
and the official title of “#1 Owner of Giant Australian Cattle Stations Except for S. Kidman
And Co.
Which Still Has Slightly More.”
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