Australia: The Odd Battle Of Man Versus Bird

  • Read on, to learn more about one of nature's most misunderstood birds...

Even though this article’s title sounds like a joke, don’t be too quick to laugh. The Great Emu War was genuine and a severe business for Australians back in 1932. But how did these big, flightless birds become such a big problem that the army got involved? And how did the army lose in front of their feathered “enemies”? In this article, we will be answering these questions, plus the many more that arise from such an odd topic. If this is the first time you have heard about the Great Emu War, you’re in for a treat and a rather peculiar history lesson.

What’s an Emu, you Ask?

Before we start with this strange but true story, you might wonder what exactly an emu is. Oh well, we’re talking about the second-largest bird on the planet, indigenous to Australia and incapable of flight. If you’re still not getting a clear picture, think of them as smaller ostriches, or take a look at the image above, and you’ll have a pretty clear idea. Now that we got this out of the way, it’s time we dive deep into this unique man vs bird conflict. 

How Everything Started

Following World War I, the Australian government granted land in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia to numerous returning servicemen, intending to assist them in establishing a fresh start. Since the region was ideal for farming, many of the ex-soldiers migrated there to make a living.

As a result, many farms were established in the area, and everything pointed toward a lucrative business. However, during the early 1930s, the Great Depression caused a drastic decline in wheat prices, compelling farmers to increase their crop yields to turn a profit.

The expansion meant extending toward areas in which emus migrated for breeding. So, it was only a matter of time until around 20,000 emus figured the rich wheat crops in Campion provided the perfect location to breed and easily find food. 

Naturally, having their wheat crops destroyed didn’t fair well with the farmers in the area. Furthermore, while eating the crops, emus also destroyed the fences, which made a bad situation even worse by allowing rabbits to enter the fields and causing further damage. 

Bring in the Troops

Therefore, a contingent of former soldiers who had established residency in the vicinity was dispatched to meet with Sir George Pearce, the Minister of Defense. The soldiers were armed with machine guns, which gave them a significant advantage over the emus. If Australian bookmakers online were taking bets on the outcome, they would have given strong odds for the soldiers to emerge victorious. However, despite their firepower, the soldiers struggled to deal with the cunning and evasive tactics of the emus.

No Luck the First Time Around

So, the military journeyed to Campion on the 2nd of November, 1932, in search of the emus. However, the birds were outside of the shooting range, so the locals decided to herd them toward an ambush site. Nevertheless, the emus dispersed into smaller groups and swiftly evaded the attack, rendering the initial gunfire useless. A subsequent round of shots proved more successful, and only “some” emus were eliminated. Later that day, the army made contact with another small flock of birds and managed to kill around a dozen overall.

Second Attempt

After regrouping, on the 4th of November, the major readied another ambush close to the local dam. Again, a flock of around 1,000 emus was observed approaching the ambush position, and this time, the military held their fire until the birds were close. Unfortunately, despite the efforts, their weapon malfunctioned after killing only 12 emus, and the remaining feathered creatures fled before more could be taken down.

Low Numbers After 6 Days

In the following days, the campaign continued further south, where the birds were considered relatively tame. However, this approach’s success rate did not greatly improve, and by the 8th of November, the number of emus brought down was believed to range between 200 to 500. To make matters even worse, the military had used over 2,500 rounds of ammunition. 

Cease Fire 

After six days of underwhelming progress in the Great Emu War, the Australian House of Representatives convened a debate regarding the military operation. The situation was further compounded by negative coverage in the local media, which ridiculed the number of emus killed. In response, Sir George Pearce ordered the withdrawal of military personnel and guns. It is safe to say that the emus emerged victorious in the initial phase of the conflict, as they suffered minimal casualties. Despite a second attempt to eliminate the birds, which was reportedly more successful, mounting concerns among conservationists eventually put an end to the Great Emu War.

Final Thoughts 

The Great Emu War may seem like a peculiar conflict, but it highlights a significant issue that Australians faced in 1932. The conflict arose due to the increasing emu population and the destruction of crops in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia. The military’s deployment to deal with the problem was unusual, but it demonstrates the Australian government’s determination to protect their farmers’ interests. 

Unfortunately, the emus proved to be more resilient and evaded the military’s attacks. The Great Emu War ended with the withdrawal of military personnel and guns, leaving the emus as the victors of the initial phase of the conflict. Although it may seem like a humorous tale, the Great Emu War provides insight into Australia’s unique history and the challenges faced by farmers and their government in dealing with their country’s diverse wildlife.