A Modern Look at History - The Great Emu War
A look back at the Great Australian Emu War of 1932
"All war represents a failure of diplomacy" - Tony Benn
History has always been a great teacher as it offers the opportunity of hindsight so that future generations can avoid repeating past failures. One such failure includes the Australian governments’ wildlife management policy failures, which led to the Great Emu War of 1932.
For economic purposes, a large number of ex-soldiers decided to take up crop farming within Western Australia. This was due to the worldwide economy dealing with the aftermaths of both World War One and the Great Depression (which happened 3 years earlier). Another incentive for people to start farming was the subsidies the Australian Government promised for the increase of wheat production.
This was done with the hope that Australia would gain a stranglehold in the worldwide wheat markets. However, despite the best efforts of the government, wheat prices continued to fall, and by October 1932, matters were becoming intense, with the farmers threatening to refuse to load the wheat due to the government not delivering on its subsidy promise.
While all this was going on, another issue emerged…
The arrival of 20 000 emus.
Now, for those of you who don’t know, emus are basically smaller ostriches: big, ugly ass birds that can’t fly, and will investigate ANYTHING due to their curious nature.
This came to pass as emus were usually found on the New South Wales north coast but chose to migrate to Western Australia after their breeding season.
In the process, they covered a distance of around 3293.18 km.
Yes, the emus walked approximately 3293.18 KILOMETERS.
Motherfuckers basically walked for 27 days.
What was their target? The farming lands.
So, to recap, the emus were on a collision course with a bunch of pissed off farmers in a time when tensions were running high and wheat was a commodity.
The situation was a proverbial powder keg.
The emus showed their intentions by consuming and spoiling the crops as well as leaving large gaps in fences where rabbits could enter and cause further problems.
The farmers chose to counteract by relaying their concerns about the birds ravaging their crops to the then-Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce, who then chose to arm the farmers with machine guns.
With that bit of rearming, the war was officially on.
Military involvement began in October of 1932. The "war" was conducted under the command of Major G.P.W. Meredith of the unbelievably named Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery (the SHBRAA were basically Army Reserves). Major Meredith commanded a pair of soldiers armed with two Lewis guns (automatic rifles with a firing range of around 800 meters) and 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
However, the operation was delayed due to a period of rainfall that caused the emus to scatter over a wider area. When the rain ceased by the 2nd of November, the troops were deployed with orders to assist the farmers.
The men traveled to Campion (modern day Nungarin), where 50 emus were sighted. When the men tried to shoot the emus, they found that the birds were out of range of the guns. Because of that, the local settlers attempted to herd the emus into an ambush, but the emus seemingly figured out their plan, split into small groups and ran so that they were difficult to target.
The next significant event in the war was on the 4th of November. By this time, Major Meredith had his reputation slightly tarnished due to being outsmarted by emus but was determined to make things right. Meredith established a plan to ambush the emus near a local dam, and it seemed to work as 1,000 emus were spotted heading towards them. This time, the soldiers waited until the birds were in close proximity before opening fire as they didn’t want another comedy of errors.
Unfortunately, the guns jammed after they killed 12 birds, and the remaining emus scattered before more could be killed.
In the days that followed, Major Meredith chose to move further south where the birds were spotted, but had limited success in spite of his efforts. At one point, Meredith’s obsession with defeating the evil birds went so far as to have him mount one of the guns on a truck: a move that proved to be ineffective, as the truck was unable to gain on the birds, and the ride was so rough that the gunner was unable to fire any shots.
By the 8th of November (6 days after the first engagement), 2,500 rounds of ammunition had been fired and the number of birds killed was at most 500.
The Australian military was losing the war.
In spite of those embarrassing statistics, Major Meredith proudly announced that despite the best efforts of the emu command ordering guerrilla warfare tactics, his men had suffered no casualties. Unfortunately, the Australian House of Representatives saw things differently and withdrew the military personnel and guns.
After the withdrawal, Major Meredith compared the emus to the then-mighty Zulu Kingdom and commented on the striking maneuverability of the emus, producing this gem of a quote:
“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 hollow-point bullets could not stop”.
With nobody left to oppose them, the emus ran rampant on Western Australia.
Farmers again asked for support, citing the hot weather and drought that brought emus invading farms in the thousands. James Mitchell, the then-Premier of Western Australia lent his strong support to renewal of the military assistance. Acting on the requests, on the 12th of November, the Minister of Defence approved a resumption of military efforts. He defended the decision in the senate, explaining why the soldiers were necessary to combat the “serious threat” of the large emu population.
Although the military had agreed to loan the guns to the Western Australian government, Major Meredith was brought back in due to the lack of experienced machine gunners in the state.
After taking multiple losses in the war against the emus, on the 13th of November, Meredith and the military launched an all-out assault and managed to find a degree of success over the first 2 days, with approximately 40 emus killed. The third day, 15 November, proved to be far less successful, but by the 2nd of December, the guns were accounting for approximately 100 emus per week.
On the 10th of December, Major Meredith was recalled to update the AHOR, and in his report, he claimed 986 kills with 9,860 rounds, at a rate of exactly 10 rounds per confirmed kill. In addition, Meredith claimed 2,500 wounded birds had died as a result of the injuries that they had sustained.
In the end, Major Meredith may have (barely) won the war, but it was only because the emus weren't fighting back. Had he been facing ostriches, the ostriches would have won and seceded Western Australia from Australia.
Lesson to be learned:
Don’t fuck with emus.