Updated date:

The Great Emu War: The Time Australia Went to War With Birds

Daniel has a bachelor's degree in history from CSUF. While loving all aspects of history, there’s always those special moments in history.

The Road to War

From 1914 to 1918, the world was deeply involved in the most horrific and devastating conflict the globe had ever seen. Over 68 million people were killed during World War I or the Great War, and throughout the following years everyone yearned to simply live peaceful and quiet lives—like the 5,000 veterans of Australia who were rewarded for their military endeavors by receiving farmland to settle down on.

The only issue was that this land was basically in the barren Outback where few crops could actually grow. However, wheat seemed to favor these barren farmlands and was somewhat successful among a few of the veterans-turned-farmers. The government recommended that the farmer's attention be turned to growing wheat based on the failed attempts of many other crops, and began offering subsidies as incentives which they never actually delivered and only further fueled the farmer's anger.

While the Outback looks stunning, its not exactly what comes to mind when you think about farming.

While the Outback looks stunning, its not exactly what comes to mind when you think about farming.

The March of the Emus

With the introduction of new farmlands in Western Australia, 20,000 emus found a new area full of water, cultivated land, and most of all, wheat. While the emu spends most of its time in the desert looking for eucalyptus, they usually migrate towards the coast after mating season in search for water.

In 1932, 20,000 of the flightless birds got lucky finding the new farmland of struggling wheat and decided to make it their autumn vacation spot. With their long necks spread across the desperate wheat fields, they wrecked havoc on the already distressed farmer's crops and caused damage to property such as fences, which allowed even more critters to join in the destruction.

20,000 emus march towards Australian farmlands in search of food, water, and a better life.

20,000 emus march towards Australian farmlands in search of food, water, and a better life.

The Aussies Strike First

In late October, the fed-up farmers met with Minister of Defense Sir George Pearce, who was also a veteran of The Great War. They discussed how the machine gun had proven itself in battle over 14 years ago and called for the military culling of the emu. Plus, he said it would not only help the farmers but also provide good target practice for the soldiers.

Major G.P.W. Meredith was given command of the war and was allocated two soldiers, Sergeant S. McMurray and Gunner J. O'Halloran, as well as two Lewis guns, 10,000 rounds of ammo, and a truck. It was three men against an enemy that was 20,000 strong, and they were ready to collect their feathered bounty if it wasn't for some rain that delayed the onset of combat due to the emu army being scattered.

On November 2, 1932, the rain stopped and the enemy fowl regrouped. A company of about 50 emus were spotted near Campion and Major Meredith was ready for action. His squad prepared their weapons and on command charged the enemy in an attempt to encircle them in an area that was within effective machine gun range. Shots were fired, dust was kicked up, the smell of gunpowder and blood filled the air.

Once the dust settled from the retreating birds, the three men gazed upon their defeated enemies. The first drops of blood were spilled in the Great Emu War as the Australian Army had killed "perhaps a dozen" emus.

Recommended for You

Meredith's two-man squad opens fire on a group of the fierce enemy, thus beginning a bloody and feathery war.

Meredith's two-man squad opens fire on a group of the fierce enemy, thus beginning a bloody and feathery war.

Meredith Continues the Attack

Two days after the first shots rang out, Meredith and his men set up an ambush near a local damn where about 1,000 emus were reported to have been spotted. Soon enough, a flock of the vile birds entered the kill zone and the machine guns roared to life, only to jam a few moments later.

With the element of surprise ruined, the squad once again stacked about 12 feathery bodies. Meredith heard word that the emus to the south were more "tame" and marched his army in search of an easier target. Soon reports that the enemy had been developing their tactics flooded the squad's ears. The emus had been reported to have had a leader among each pack that watched over them as they continued to ravage farmlands.

Infuriated, Meredith put a machine gun and gunner in their truck and began strafing runs on any enemy pack in sight. Unfortunately for the Aussies, the birds could outrun the truck, and the bumpy roads proved to defeat the gunner's aim. Six days after the initial invasion to retake the Australian Outback, Meredith's men fired about 2,500 rounds and reportedly killed anywhere between 50 and 500 emus, depending who they asked. The Australian House of Representatives, discouraged at the lack of results and negative media coverage, ordered Pearce to withdraw his troops.

The Emu Counter-Attack

With Meredith's army of three out of the picture, the emus were once again free to openly destroy the wheat fields. The local farmers pleaded once again for government intervention, this time saying that the hotter weather brought thousands more of the vile birds. Local farmers also took it upon themselves to engage the enemy in a sort of guerilla warfare, bringing mild success upon themselves.

Seeing this, the government agreed to loan weapons to the freedom fighters. But due to inexperience with machine guns, Meredith was once again called in to serve his country against the long-necked invaders. From November 13 to December 10, the culling squad had varying degrees of success, reporting just under 10,000 rounds fired and just under 1,000 enemy emus killed—with Meredith also adding that about 2,500 more emus would die due to their injuries. The Australian Army reported that they took no casualties.

The horrors of war sometimes involved hand-to-hand combat—in this case, the emu was swiftly defeated.

The horrors of war sometimes involved hand-to-hand combat—in this case, the emu was swiftly defeated.

Aftermath of War

With the end of the Great Emu War leaving over 1,000 emus dead and no human casualty, it was chalked up to a loss for the Australian Army. It was criticized as being an effort to make the long-necked, flightless bird extinct, while others praised the machine gun for not only being proven in war and but also being the savior of wheat.

Although farmers would continue to ask for government assistance with the emu insurrection, the government would simply place a bounty on the bird. This approach to deterring the enemy of the wheat proved to be pretty effective, with about 57,000 bounties being collected—not to mention that in the true nature of veterans being veterans, some farmers bred their own emus to cash in on the bounties. Despite the war, Australia eventually more or less figured out how to have successful crops without starting a military campaign against a bird.

References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on February 27, 2021:

Amazing.

Related Articles