A True History

The Great Emu War (No You Did Not Read That Wrong)

So if you haven’t figured it out by now, I have a slight obsession with super random topics in History. So here’s a super random topic I fell down a rabbit hole researching lately.

The Emu War.

Yes, you read that right.

It was a war against Emus – yes the bird. Not people. Seriously, look at the Wikipedia page for the Emu war and it says that emus are the participants. It’s hilarious.

Anyway, this all takes place in Australia. After World War I, ex-soldiers were given land by the government to become farmers. In late 1929 when the Great Depression was just setting in the Australian farmers were encouraged to up their wheat production with promises of government subsidies and assistance for doing so. Unfortunately, those promises didn’t amount to much and with a sharp increase in wheat, the prices began to fall. So, of course, things were already dire.

Enter the emus.

Most of that land given away to those ex-soldiers were marginalized and uncultivated farmland in Western Australia. As it turns out, emus migrate to that area of Western Australia during breeding season and the emus really liked that their migration location now had tilled fields, crops, and new water systems that gave them plenty of clean water to drink from.

Perfect for the 20,000 emus that migrated there! Not so perfect for the farmers.

They ate the crops, left large tears in the fence that brought in more pests, and were the cause of many crops spoiling. It made dire situations for these farmers even more frustrating.

But guess what? All of these farmers were ex-military so they met with Sir George Pearce the Minister of Defense to request machine guns since they were all trained to use them and understood how effective they could be. Yes, they requested machine guns and more soldiers to come to that land to fight emus. And you know what? That request was granted. This request was likely granted in order to stave off a secession movement that was brewing because the farmers were so frustrated about the promise and failure of wheat subsidies that had been going on for a few years at that point.

Plus, Sir George Pearce said that the emus would make good target practice. So there’s that.

This war was slated to begin in October of 1932, but was delayed till early November because it was raining so hard that the emus all began to scatter over a wide area and they couldn’t get a good grasp on them through all the rain.

The first attempt took place on November 2nd in an area where 50 emus were spotted. They attempted to herd them into one area, but as it turns out emus are a little different from sheep. No matter how hard they tried, the emus all split into smaller groups and scattered. The soldiers were too far away from most of those small groups so the machine guns were ineffective.

Two days later they spotted 1,000 emus and made sure they were closer this time. They were able to kill 12 birds before the guns jammed up and the emus all scattered. They didn’t see a single bird for the rest of the day.

Within a week, they had gone through 2,500 rounds of ammunition and the grand total number of emus they took down? Well… it’s a little murky. One account states that it’s 50 birds, but the settlers claim that number is much higher.

I have a suspicion it’s probably closer to 50.

On the bright side. None of the soldiers sustained any casualties.

There was a second attempt made at the end of November into early December after the settlers repeatedly bothered the government about it because they were still reeling from the damage the emus were causing them. This time they had a little bit more luck and were able to take out a few more emus. The official account says 986 kills with over 2,500 birds later dying from their injuries.

This was the last time an attempt was made to cull the emus even though farmers asked for assistance 3 more times between 1934 and 1948. Instead a bounty system was instituted and that proved to be far more effective.

But we should count ourselves lucky we still get to hear about an emu war.