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Today Marks 87 Years Since Australians Were Defeated In The Great Emu War

Today Marks 87 Years Since Australians Were Defeated In The Great Emu War

It was a devastating loss

Stewart Perrie

Stewart Perrie

Today is a pretty important day in Australia's history because it marks the moment that The Great Emu War was officially declared a defeat.

If you're unfamiliar with this battle then please allow us to enlighten you on one of Australia's most bizarre conflicts.

The year was 1932 and emus were casually 'running amok' in the Campion district of Western Australia. They had the perfect breeding ground for their numbers to flourish as they went inland after mating and they lapped up the open farm fields.

Naturally, you can't have loads of flightless birds running around anywhere and so soldiers were tasked with getting rid of them.

Some of the damage caused by emus.
Pickering Brook Heritage

Because they were given guns to eradicate loads of emus, many people dubbed this battle The Great Emu War.

The war 'began' in October and was under the command of Major G. P. W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, however it was delayed by massive rainfall, causing the birds to scatter. A month later, when the rain stopped, the war got underway.

The plan was essentially to use 10,000 rounds of ammunition to just mercilessly spray at groups of emus.

This plan failed. Some soldiers claimed the emus were developing an understanding of warfare techniques. One army observer despondently noted that 'each pack seems to have its own leader now - a big black-plumed bird which stands fully six feet high and keeps watch while his mates carry out their work of destruction and warns them of our approach'.

While troops were able to kill a few birds here and there, they weren't able to pick off enough to be satisfied.

A few days into the battle, they tallied the numbers: 2,500 bullets had been used and only 50 emus had been killed.

Ornithologist Dominic Serventy summarised the offensive, saying: "The machine-gunners' dreams of point blank fire into serried masses of Emus were soon dissipated.


"The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month."

The troops and guns were pulled back on November 8 after local media labelled the battle a defeat.

Major Meredith added: "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."

Farmers and locals complained that their crops were again being destroyed after the troops were pulled back. As a result, a second offensive was launched on November 12 with Major Meredith at the helm once again.

After nearly a month, soldiers had killed around 100 emus per week and the final tally was close to 1,000. An additional 2,500 emus were believed to have died after being injured by gunfire. But the mission was again aborted on December 10 after they realised that it was going to be nearly impossible to kill them all.

The outcome to this day remains a failure.

Featured Image Credit: The Land Newspaper/Australian Government

Topics: News, Australia