I’m sure way back in school you all learnt about Australia’s important military battles: Gallipoli, Kokoda, Tobruk. But did you ever hear tell of the Great Emu War of 1932?
The one time in our glorious past when we declared war on a bird, the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)
Nearly 1.5 metres tall, weighing 60Kg, with a top speed of 50Km/h. During the Great Depression 20,000 of these birds were running amok in Western Australia’s pastoral land, eating grain, destroying fences and generally being rude to farmers.
But were we going to take that lying down? No we were not. A group of farmers sent a petition to the Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce, requesting him to break out the army and deploy machine guns against the pests. And Pearce thought, yes, that seems like a reasonable and measured approach to the problem.
Major G. P. W. Meredith was given command of the operation, who, armed with two Lewis Machine Guns, made his way to Western Australia to show those Emu what was what.
Things however did not go to plan. They attempted to ambush the first group of Emu they sighted, but the birds were too crafty. They all scattered, running off in different directions. Their second attempt also failed when their guns jammed.
By the fourth day of the operation Meredith reported that the birds were now organised, he noticed that each group had a lead Emu, six feet tall that would keep watch and warn their comrades if danger approached.
Meredith tried mounting the guns on a jeep, but even so they were unable to keep pace with the Emu and the ride was so rough the gunners were unable to aim. The troops were forced to retreat in shame, having only managing to officially kill ‘a number’ of birds. Meredith later reported:
“If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world.”
The soldiers were to return to the field later that year, this time enjoying more success, managing to take down about 1,000 birds. However, when it came out that it had taken some 10,000 rounds to knock out such a small number, and with huge flocks still reaping havoc in the farmlands, the Opposition in Parliament declared the Emu the victors and suggested medals be handed out to the birds.
And you know what, I agree. Birds forever! Go forth my majestic army, go forth and conquer.
The Emu plague was eventually solved when the farmers starting using better fences…
The Great Emu War of 1932, that one time the Australian Army lost to a flock of birds.