In 1932, many nations around the globe were attempting to battle the effects of the Great Depression. However, Australia had another pressing issue- emus. Emus are a flightless bird related to the ostrich and they are endemic to Australia. The issue was that Australian farmers were attempting to battle the Depression by increasing their wheat yield. As they faced off against the government over promised subsidies, 20,000 emu arrived in the newly cultivated farmland after their annual post-breeding season migration. The emus took a liking to this new habitat and began ruining crops and destroying fences, which allowed rabbits to enter and cause further problems. In desperation, the farmers turned to the government and in turn, the government hired a group of former soldiers to deal with the problem. The man in charge of the military response was Major G.P.W Meredith and he devised a plan to cull the emu population using two Lewis Guns.

The operation began on November 2nd with local settlers attempting to herd emus into range of the machine guns. The problem was that the emus didn’t play along and instead split into a number of smaller groups. Later that day, a smaller flock was discovered and “perhaps a dozen” were killed. All in all, day one didn’t go well for the Australians. Two days later, Meredith had set up an ambush at a local dam with his intel suggesting that around 1000 emus were heading their way. However, one of the machine guns jammed after killing around a dozen birds and the rest of the flock scattered.

An artist's impression of Major Meredith
An artist’s impression of Major Meredith

Things then began to resemble something out of a bad comedy. Meredith moved his forces south because he had heard that the birds were tamer. Even so, they failed to make any gains in the culling and Meredith’s idea to mount the guns on the back of a truck failed as the trucks could not gain on the birds and the terrain was too rough to allow effective use of the guns. After six days, the troops had spent a quarter of their assigned ammunition and had killed between 50 and 500 birds. The Minister for Defence, Sir George Pearce, withdrew Meredith’s forces at this point as he had hardly made a dent in the emu population.

Australian Armed Forces: 0 Emus: 1

Fresh off the heels of their victory, the emus continued their attacks on the crops and on November 12, a military operation resumed, once again under the commander of Meredith. This attempt at an emu cull lasted until December 10 and saw moderate success in the first few days and after a period of failure; the troops were averaging 100 emus a week by December 2. In his post-operation report, Meredith claimed 986 kills and 9860 round spent, with an average of 10 rounds per emu.

Farmers would request military assistance in 1934, 1943 and 1948 but their requests were denied. Instead, a bounty system that had been drafted in 1923 was pushed forwards and had moderate success in controlling the population. However, it is safe to say that in the emu war of 1932, the emus were the real victors.

I believe that Australia can be thankful that the emus did not rise up and take over the country. Granted, Australia would great an inhuman Prime Minister in the form of Tony Abbott but every knows he was in fact the Lizard King.


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