The Emu War of 1932

The Emu War of 1932

if we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these…. it would face any army in the world. They could face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus…

That was the assessment of Major Meredith of the Australian Army after his men were routed by a highly unusual enemy.

In 1932 his men were called into action. Disturbed by an ‘army’ that was troubling the farms and outposts of Western Australia the armed forces were called into action.

Armed with machine guns, rifles and small arms the soldiers took up highly advantageous positions deep in the Western Australian outback. A trap was set. The enemy would be slaughtered. Only this enemy wasn’t your conventional enemy. It wasn’t a rebellion; it wasn’t an aboriginal army; it wasn’t an invasion force, well not as we’d know one.

No, the enemy was an extremely large group of wild Emu’s. The Emu population had exploded and was wreaking havoc in farms across Western Australia. having pinpointed the movement of this hoarde of birds, Major Meredith moved his men into position in Murchiston District.

Full equipped with state of the art weaponry it must have been assumed that this large scale cull would be a bloodbath. Indeed, the biggest concern would have been what to do with the remains of hundreds of dead Emu’s.

On November 2nd 1932 a group of about 50 Emu’s was seen. The soldiers opened fire but the majority of the birds scattered and escaped. Reports suggest that the total number of culled birds was 12.

Having realised that long range shots were not effective a plan was hatched to ambush a larger group, of some 1000 Emu’s, near a water hole. Meredith ordered his men to fire at virtually point blank range. 1000 unarmed birds; a series of machine guns at point blank range: what could go wrong? Well the machine guns jammed and the death toll barely got into double figures.

After six days of engaging the Emu’s in er ‘battle’ the situation was discussed in the Australian Parliament. A tactical withdrawal was ordered and within a month or beginning the operation, all of the troops had withdrawn. Such was the level of embarrassment that Major Meredith actually stated in his official report that his men had suffered no casualties – bar fatigue and a large dose of red face.

Ornithologist, Dominic Serventy, commented on the war against the Emu:

The machine-gunners’ dreams of point blank fire into masses of Emus were soon dissipated. The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month

And so the war between mankind with his mechanised weapons versus unarmed Emu’s was over. The Emu’s had retained the territory that they wrought havoc in and suffered very few losses: reports range from as few as fifty up to a maximum of 400 birds being killed – and hundreds, if not thousands of rounds were fired into the flock of birds at point blank range.

Emu War, 1932

A follow up attempt was made, in which Major Meredith claims the results were significantly better. Even in the follow up attempt Meredith acknowledged that the kill rate was low: he estimated it took on average ten bullets per kill, and the death rate is estimated by him and may well be exaggerated. Once again the army was ‘seen off’ by the Emu and attempts to solve the farmers problems through military action were again halted amid further embarrassment.

Farmers continued to lobby for assistance in dealing with the Emu, a bird they considered to be a pest and nuisance. Military intervention was requested on three further occasions, but rejected. Instead a ‘bird bounty’ was put in place. This proved far more successful.

Not only was the failure of the army to cull the birds an embarrassing failure, it also attracted a lot of criticism. Conservation groups noted that the Emu is actually quite rare and that alternatives ought to have been sought.

Contemporary Reporting of the Emu War

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