On November 2nd 1932, Australia declared war… On Emus! Just after the first world war, a lot of ex-soldiers and British veterans took up farming within Western Australia. Western Australia was the land given to the soldiers as a reward for their services in the great war.
These farmers were encouraged to increase their wheat crops because of the great depression of 1929, but wheat prices continued to fall. By October 1932 matters were becoming intense, with the farmers preparing to harvest the season’s crop while simultaneously threatening to refuse to load the wheat.
The difficulties increased when around 20,000 Emus migrated to the area. Emus regularly migrate after their breeding season, heading to the coast from the inland regions.
But the Emus found that the area they had migrated to made a pretty good habitat. The Emus would wonder into the farm territory because of this, mainly around Chandler and Walgoolan.
The problem for the farmers was that the Emus would ruin their crops and often leave holes in the fences where rabbits could get in and cause more problems.
Following these problems, the farmers decided to act. A group of them (mainly the ex-soldiers) knew the effect of machine guns and so, they travelled to speak to the Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce.
Pearce agreed to have soldiers deployed, but on the conditions that the guns were to be used by military personnel, troop transport was to be financed by the Western Australian government, and the farmers would provide food, accommodation, and payment for the ammunition. He also thought the Emus would make good target practice. With that, The Royal Australian Artillery was deployed to Western Australia.
The war would have started in the October of 1932 but, due to rainfall, it was delayed. The rain ceased by November and The War began under the command of Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery,
The soldiers were armed with Lewis guns and around 10,000 rounds of ammunition. The objective was to help the farmers and for the soldiers to collect 100 Emu skins, so their feathers could be used to make hats for horsemen.
But when the soldiers arrived in Western Australia they were a little lost. The locals herded the Emus into an ambush, and the plan was that, as soon as the Emus fell into the trap, the soldiers would unleash the full power of their guns, kill the Emus and be done with it. But Emus are not big fans of being herded, so they all dispersed and went separate ways.
One soldier took it upon himself to open fire anyway, only the find out he may have underestimated the movement of Emus, and dodged every shot he fired.
On November 4th, they launched what we like to call “Operation Emu Execution”. The soldiers had set up near a dam where they knew 1000 Emus would come by. They would wait until the Emus were close enough and then open fire. The plan worked. Kind of. Someone forgot to clean the gun and it jammed after downing only 12 Emus.
By this point, Meredith set up in the south, where it was believed the birds were more tamer. However, this did not help as even a tame Emu was hard to get. It got to a point where the soldiers resulted in mounting a gun onto a truck and chase the herds while shooting at them, mowing them down. But this is a 1930s truck and if you know your trucks, you’d know a 1930s truck is really slow and really bumpy off-road.
After six days, Major Meredith decided enough was enough, so they packed up and went home. He was happy to report that no men had been lost in the fight.
But the military returned in future and this time had a bit more success. However, it wasn’t enough and they decided that, after expanding far too much ammunition, it was as effective as trying to smash a brick wall with a glass hammer. So, they left, again.
The farmers still had the problem and so they would ring the government, again and again, only to be rejected again and again. Eventually, the government realised that the veterans knew what they were doing and let them go crazy.
The farmers used a bounty system, where Emus were most wanted. They were able to eliminate 57,000 of them over a six month period. But, by the time the news reached a bunch of rich busybodies, they decided what was happening was an extermination of the rare emu and so the Great Emu War came to an end with the Australians as the losers and the Emus as the victors.