What was Emu War

The Great Emu war occurred in the year 1932, to address public concern over the number of emus said to be in a district of Western Australia. When no other method could curb the growing population of emus. The government employed soldiers armed with Lewis guns. This lead to the media and they named it Emu War to address this incident. A huge amount of birds were killed but the emu population persisted and continued to cause crop destruction.

the great emu war of western Australia

Emus started to create trouble

After World War 1, The veterans who served in the war were allotted land by the Australian government to take up farming within Western Australia. When the Great depression of 1929 occurred, these farmers were encouraged to increase wheat crops. The government promised to provide assistance and subsidies to the wheat-growing farmers but the government failed to deliver. Despite of the recommended and promised subsidies to farmers, wheat prices continued to fall, and by October 1932 matters were becoming intense and more severe. The farmers still continued to harvest the crop while simultaneously threatening to refuse to deliver the wheat.

The emu’s invasion

The problems which the farmers were going through increased when as many as 20,000 emus arrived in the Champion district of Western Australia. Emus are migratory birds and they regularly migrate after the breeding season. Heading to the coast from the inland regions. The cleared land and additional water supplies were available for the livestock by the Western Australian farmers. These facilities being provided the emus found that the cultivated lands were good habitat and they began a foray into the farm land and in the territory of the farmers. The emus consumed and spoiled the crops and moreover leaving large gaps in fences from where rabbits could enter and cause further problems.

Showed concern to the government

Farmers relayed their concerns about emus ravaging their crops, and a deputation of ex-soldiers was sent to meet the Minister of Defense, Sir George Pearce. Having served in World War 1, the soldiers were well aware of the effectiveness of machine guns, and they requested their deployment. The minister agreed with the conditions attached to it. The conditions were that the guns were to be used by military personnel only, Troop transport was to be financed by Wester Australian government, and the farmer would provide food, accommodation, and payment for the ammunition. while it has also been argued that some in the government may have viewed the operation as a way of being seen to be helping the Western Australian farmers.

the great emu war western Australia
illustrations of emus were created

The first attempt

On November 2nd, the men traveled to the Champion district of Western Australia. Earlier there were 50 emus sighted. As the birds were out of range for the guns, the local settlers attempted to herd the emus into an ambush, but the birds split into small groups and ran so that they were difficult to target. While the first fusillade from the machine guns was ineffective due to range, the second round of gunfire was able to kill a number of birds. Later on the same day, a small flock was encountered and perhaps a dozen of birds were killed.

On November 4th, Major Meredith had established an ambush near a local dam and more than 1,000 emus were spotted heading towards their position. The only difference this time was that the gunners waited until the birds were in close proximity before opening fire. The gun jammed and only twelve birds were killed and the remainder scattered before any more could be shot. No more birds were sighted that day.

Following of the First attempt

The following days, in Western Australia. Major Meredith chose to move further south, where the birds were “reported to be fairly tame”. but there was only limited success in spite of his efforts. Later on during the campaign, army observers noted that “each pack has its own leader”. Usually, a black-plumed bird stands six feet high and warns the group about any approach coming their way.

At one point during this time, Major Meredith even went so far as to mount one of the guns on a truck. While the move proved to be ineffective. The ride was uneasy and rough due to which the gun could not be properly aimed at the target. By 8 November 2,500 rounds of ammunition had been fired. The number of birds killed is uncertain. The reason behind the uncertain numbers is because one account says 50 birds whereas other accounts range from 200 to 500. The latter figure is provided by the settlers.

The Second attempt

After the withdrawal of the military in Western Australia, the attacks on the crops continued. Emus were ruining the farmers’ crops and it felt like the first attempt made no difference. Farmers again asked for support, citing the hot weather and drought that brought emus invading farms in the thousands. At the same time, a report from the base commander was issued. The report suggested that around 300 emus had been killed in the initial operation.

Due to the report of the base commander and the actions taken by farmers Minister of Defense approved a resumption of military efforts. After the resumption, it was presented in front of the senate that soldiers are necessary to fight this war. The soldiers were required because the population of emus was large and they were hard to kill. Major Meredith, was once again put in charge due to the lack of experienced machine gunners in the state.

The following of the Second attempt

They started again on 13 November 1932. The military found a degree of success over the first two days. They killed approximately 40 emus. The third day on 15 November proved to be far less successful. But by 2nd December the soldiers were killing approximately 100 emus per week. Major Meredith on the report of 10th December claimed that 986 Kills with 9,860 rounds. The rate of exactly 10 rounds per confirmed kill. Meredith further claimed that 2,500 wounded birds had died as a result of the injuries that they had sustained.

Result of the War

The farmers of the region once again requested military assistance in 1934,1943, and 1948. Unfortunately this time the government turned them down. By December 1932, The word of the Emu war reached the United Kingdom. Some conservationists there protested the cull as “extermination of the rare emu”

Throughout 1930 and onwards, exclusion barrier fencing became a safe way to protect the means of keeping emus out of agricultural areas.

In recent years, references to the Emu War have been a popular meme on the internet. It widely shared on social media sites.

the great emu war of western Australia
Memes like this have been created in the recent years and are continued to this day


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