The Great Emu War of Australia

The Emu War or Great Emu War was a conflict that took place between the Australian military and a vast number of emus. Yes, emus. If you aren't familiar with emus, they are large flightless birds (second in size only to the Ostrich) that roam Australia and often migrate across the continent for breeding seasons and in search of food and water. They can reach about 6 feet tall and have a top speed around 31 mph. They rarely drink water, but when they do they drink like sailors coming ashore after a long stint at sea. This became a problem in West Australia, where water could be scarce.



After World War I lots of Australians and even some British citizens started moving across unclaimed areas of Australia to settle, farm and create homesteads. The Great Depression was setting in across the world so the Australian government insisted that these farmers grow wheat for export and to feed the growing population. The government even promised subsidies if the farmers would grow the wheat. However, wheat prices across the world were dropping significantly and no subsidies ever came. To make matters worse, the farmers had another problem besides falling wheat prices: Those pesky emus.

Tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of emus were traipsing across Australia and devastating the farmland. The farmers had no way to stop the flocks of emus from eating their crops, spoiling their land and damaging their fences and structures. They were also guzzling down the farmers' water supplies and source of life. The farmers appealed to the Australian government for help.

Their cries for help were heard and the news traveled all the way up to the Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce. On November 2, 1932, Australian troops were deployed to West Australia to assist the farmers against the enemy emus. They brought with them two Lewis machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Surely the emus were no match for the latest and greatest warfare technology. The Australian troops began to set up ambushes for the flocks of emus in the countryside. The first attempt left the emus standing off in the distance as the machine guns proved to be too inaccurate and the emus proved to be too far outside the range of the guns. A day later, the soldiers again tried to ambush the emus, finding that their main gun jammed as the emus came within range. On another attempt, the soldiers even mounted a machine gun to a truck in order to keep up with the quick emus. Even that proved futile and very few emus were exterminated. By the fourth day of the war, the Australian soldiers were complaining that the emus split into smaller units and "each pack seems to have its own leader now - a big black-plumed bird which stands fully six feet high and keeps watch while his mates carry out their work of destruction and warns them of our approach."

Lewis Gun like the ones that would have been used against the emus

Lewis Gun like the ones that would have been used against the emus

About 2,500 rounds were fired in the first week of the emu war and very few emus were reported as casualties. The Australian media and even the international media was starting to spread the lackluster reports from the Australian army. 

Australian Ornthologist, Dominic Serventy, began to poke fun of the efforts, saying,

The machine-gunners’ dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.
— Dominic Serventy

Major Meredith, one of the Australian soldiers manning the machine guns, even said, 

If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world... They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.
— Major Meredith

After the spread of the bad press regarding the emus, the soldiers and guns were pulled out of West Australia after only being there for a week! Even though there were no casualties on the Australian side, the Emus had successfully won the first emu war. 

The emus won the battle but lost the war. In the coming years, Australia was able to cull the enemy emus and reduce the number dramatically. Around 57,000 emus were killed in a six-month period after the government started offering bounty payments for dead emus. The government also started building bigger and stronger fences to keep the emus out of farmland. Today emus are protected in Australia and are not currently at risk of extinction, although some small populations of the emus are protected under endagered status. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 put an end to the "emu wars."