Jack Kaplan '23
There is an old saying not to bring a knife to a gunfight. Yet, the Australian government was clearly unfamiliar with this principle when it decided to use mere guns to fend off the strong and powerful emu. At one point, the government was so fed up with emus destroying different crops, it conducted multiple military operations against these animals. Unfortunately for the Australians, the birds proved to be much fiercer adversaries than expected.
In 1932, Australia was in the midst of the Great Depression. Australians everywhere were struggling to make ends meet, and in exchange for subsidies, the government asked that farmers increase wheat production. Unfortunately, more wheat meant that more emus were attracted to the farmland in Western Australia, and the birds prevented the farmers from harvesting the large amounts of wheat necessary. While emus usually migrate to the coast during their breeding season, the new and tasty food that had been planted was good enough to convince 20,000 emus to stay behind. The birds would eat most, if not all, of the crops and leave large holes in the fences surrounding the plants, allowing further destruction of the farmland by other animals. As a result of these pests masquerading as birds, farmers suffered millions of dollars in damages, and their livelihoods and tough financial situations were only worsened by a bunch of emus.
The farmers knew that something had to be done, but rather than asking for help from the Department of Agriculture, they somehow managed to schedule a meeting with the Minister of Defense, George Pearce. Pearce devised plans for a military operation that he perceived as an opportunity for soldiers to practice their shot accuracy and a way to shoot film and create some nice propaganda (because nothing fires soldiers up more than seeing the massacre of their national bird). Pearce agreed to help the farmers and Major G.P.W. Meredith was placed in charge of the attempt to control the emu population.
The first “battle” occurred on November 2, 1932 when the soldiers were in Campion and spotted flocks of emus. The gunners fired on the emus at multiple different times throughout the day, but were outsmarted by the birds as they fled in different directions and out of range of the machine guns. Two days later, Meredith led an attempt to execute a well-planned ambush on just over 1,000 emus. The soldiers under Meredith’s command fired once they were in close proximity to the birds, but their guns jammed and only 12 emus were actually killed. The soldiers then moved south where the birds were more mild-mannered, but the Australians still were no match for the fast and well-organized emus, and the soldiers were unable to inflict significant casualties on the birds. By November 8, despite 2,500 rounds of ammunition used, only 300 emus had been killed. Due to bad press from the media and anger in Parliament, the military withdrew only six days after the operation began. The emus had pulled off the biggest upset in Australian history and would live to see another day.
Unfortunately for the emus, farmers continued to request military support, as they were unable to defend their crops against these formidable enemies. On November 12, soldiers were once again deployed in order to protect their homeland against these dangerous emus. Meredith was again placed in charge of the operation, and this time the soldiers managed to kill about 1,000 emus. The operation ended on December 10 after nearly 10,000 rounds of ammunition had been used. The operation was deemed a success by some military officials. The Australians had done it, they had killed 1,300 emus, leaving behind only 18,700!
Ultimately, the operation failed to effectively cull the emu population and farmers had to resort to new groundbreaking technology, stronger fences, to protect their harvests. Farmers requested military support again to control the emu population in 1934, 1943, and 1948, but the government had learned from its mistakes and denied the requests. The Great Emu War of 1932 is an important part of history that must not be forgotten for one reason: everytime an Australian tries to insult another country, one can now remind them of how their military lost a war to emus.