The Great Emu War

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Australian farms were under attack. They requested help from the government, and the government obliged. In 1932, nearly 10,000 rounds of machine gun fire was used against the enemy. While Australia suffered no casualties (and killed thousands), in the end the military pulled back in failure. What was this unstoppable force? Emus.


After breeding season, emus migrate to the moist West coast. The arrival of new farmland, created by WWI veterans, meant moist, fertile lands that emus would be very interested in! Farmers were already struggling with the onset of the Great Depression, emus discovering their lands meant disaster. The birds ate crops and left behind broken fences (allowing rabbits to do further damage).

Men waiting for emus. Photo credit: Lee Evans via PBHG
Men waiting for emus.
Photo credit: Lee Evans via PBHG

The soldiers-turned-farmers requested the use of machine guns in a war. It was agreed under conditions that the military would use the weapons while farmers provide food and lodging. On the first day, it was quickly realized these birds would be difficult to kill. Once approached, they would scatter quickly. Even when hit with bullets, emus would endure! By the end of the day, only a dozen or more had been killed. Less than a week later, with as few as 50 killed, the military pulled back. The first battle was lost.

Major Meredith, a gunner in the war, commented that he would love to command an army of Emus.

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. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.

The Sun Herald – July 5th, 1953

Initially uneasy about further attempts, the military returned on November 13th. By the end, 9,860 rounds were fired with a total of 986 emus killed (that’s 10 bullets for each emu). It wasn’t enough, however, and thousands more invaded the farmland during a drought. Western Australia instituted a bounty system which became much more successful, but hated by many activists, killing over 57k in only 6 moths of 1934. The bounty was removed later for that very reason.

Music: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 by Edvard Grieg, performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra

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