The two great Australian Emu wars

This emu is fenced in a sanctuary and is not involved in any military activity. Photo: Lena Padukova

Not many people know that Australia has had two civil wars between humans and emus.

Not many people know that the emus won both.

After the Great Depression, the citizens of Australia were becoming increasingly concerned with their farming efforts being sabotaged by emus, flightless large birds indigenous to Australia. The birds were eating the crops and destroying what they could not eat. Fences did not work against the emus who tore them down, thus opening up for other herbivores.

The veterans of World War I, who were plentiful in Australia back then, were more experienced in warfare than in farming. They approached the Minister of Defence and requested to be deployed against the emu population which was estimated to 20,000 individuals. Sir George Pearce, the Minister of Defence, agreed readily, and rolled out the military involvement. The soldiers were armed with Lewis guns for a high effectiveness. The means for ammunition, as well as food and accommodation, were to be provided by the farming citizens.

The war was started on November 2nd, 1932, under the command of Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery. The first battle was to take place in Campion, where 50 of enemy units were sighted. The forces approached but the enemy was out of range for shooting. Local guerrilla tried to lure the enemy forces into ambush, but the treacherous emu forces split up into smaller units and increased mobility so they became difficult to target. The battle ended with minor casualties for the emus.

Two days later, about a 1000 units of enemy forces were ambushed with a combination of great skill, patience and tactics, however technical arms failure caused a ceasefire after only a dozen emunies down.

After the first two fiascos, the military forces moved into another area where the enemu forces were reported to be more tame - but with very limited success. Intel reports now confirmed that all enemu formations had a designated commander, which was larger in size and was carrying out more diligent and effective watches than the rest of the group. Australian military forces were struggling to gain into the enemu lines, sometimes reaching great innovation levels, such as machine guns mounted on trucks, but failing to decimate the emuny numbers. The emuny lines split up into small formations and would not let gunners or trucks come close, rendering the AUS tactics useless. It turned out that the only way to kill them seemed to be to shoot them from the front into an open beak, or from the back of the head when the beak was closed. 

The media coverage was negative, and finally the first Emu war was stopped and the Australian forces withdrawn.

The enemu attacks did continue, and the citizens were once again asking for help. Now, the Premier of Western Australia gave strong support to a military deployment. The second Emu war continued for less than a month, with the reported kill rate of one emu per 10 rounds. The military forces were once again recalled as the government capitulated before the challenge for the second time.

The farmers begged for more military intervention in years to come (1934, 1943, and 1948), but got turned down by the government. The Australians were defeated for good.

The emus remained a pest, but a development of agricultural fencing gave a hope to save the crops, and a bounty system allowed citizens to take to arms at will, the bounty helping to finance ammo.

Here are a few quotes from the survivors. The Australian military force commander witnesses: “They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks”.

Today, emu is not an endangered species. The Australian coat of arms contains a kangaroo and an emu. Both are indigenous to Australia, unafraid and sometimes a bit violent, but they also share another trait: neither of them can walk backwards. Australia is a country proud to only move forth.

(Except when it comes to military conflict with emus, of course.)

I owe a big Thank You to the local Aussies, for the amazing hospitality and the countless stories on Australian history and culture. I'll be back!

PS: Here is what happens when you try to feed an emu. The nasty treacherous bird remembers the war and attacks humans right away. DS