The Great Emu War
Australians love their country, but there was a time when Australians were not that patriotic: an earlier generation even tried to shoot and kill half the coat of arms. Twenty-four years after King Edward VII granted a coat of arms to the Commonwealth of Australia, Australians declared war on the emu.
The attempt to kill thousands of emus in the 1930s failed when the army used brutal tactics to fight their enemy. The birds lost the battle, but won the war.
In November 1932 Australia was struggling through the Great Depression, and the emu population dramatically increased in a short time. Australians were poorer, and the number of emus were higher.
To make matters worse, there was a drought -very little rain during spring. The thirsty birds rushed into farmlands to get a drink from the wheat paddocks where there was plenty of water. 20,000 birds stomped all over farmer’s wheat crops, and knocked down fences -which were designed to keep out rabbits.
A Major G.W. Meredith, Sergeant S. McMurray and Gunner J. O’Halloran were equipped with an American-made light machine gun and ordered into battle. The first fight took place on November 2 at Campion in Western Australia, nearly 300 east of Perth, where the Lewis gun jammed and stopped working after killing about 20 birds.
The army unit then moved south and may have killed another 300 birds before a cease fire order came from Melbourne.
Major Meredith reported “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.”
At the request of emu-troubled farmers, the army went again on November 13 and in the next three weeks Major Meredith claimed 986 birds had been shot dead with 9860 bullets -exactly 10 rounds per confirmed kill. He reported another 2500 wounded emus died.
Back East in Sydney, the killings received widespread publicity and a wave of sympathy came out for the birds. Newspapers and theatres joked, and made fun of the events by calling it the “Great Emu War”. People living in urban areas in Sydney felt love for the emu, and were disgusted by the news of the “Great Emu War”.
In England, animal conservationists protested the killings, they called it an “extermination of the rare emu”.
On November 18 the Minister for Defence, Sir George Pearce was by the government if a more humane and kind method of killing the birds could be found rather than machine-gunning. But Sir George said people who had only seen emus at a zoo could not image the damage they can bring to a wheat crop. He believed that machine guns were more effective than rifles, and that the birds did not suffer for too long.
But government disagreed with him and the army did not take the field again. Western Australian farmers requested military assistance in 1934, the government refused.
The local Perth government was forced to introduce and pay for a bounty system. Under this system people who shot and killed emus would receive money for each one killed -that saw more than 57,000 emus die in 1934. They continued to pay a bounty until wild emus came under protection of the Australian government in 1999 and their numbers are believed to be higher than before European settlement.