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The Great Emu War: A Remembrance

War. It is a fearsome word, conjuring images of hatred and violence as groups of soldiers charge into battle against each other for home and country. And, terribly as they often go, wars almost invariably end the same way—with one group of people reigning victorious over the other.

1930s Australia didn’t get the memo.

The year was 1932, the Great Depression was well underway. In an effort to stave off destitution Australian farmers had begun to increase wheat production, clearing land to make room for crops.

The emus had no idea what a Great Depression was. In an effort to follow their regular migration route, some 20 000 emus moved inland from the coast. Upon arrival, they were greeted by acres upon acres of cleared land. How perfect, they thought. 

To the dismay of the struggling farmers, the emus began to ravage their crops, destroy their fences, and be all-around unpleasant. In a desperate bid for survival, the farmers requested the Australian government come to their assistance with machine guns. Thus, the Great Emu War began.

Conducted by Major G.P.W. Meredith, of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, the first offense of the war took place on the 2nd of November. The emus were able to keep their cool, employing an ingenious retreat tactic in order to keep their numbers intact. They incurred minimal casualties in the process. Two days later, the emus had regrouped and advanced with an army nearly 1000 strong. Through some stroke of misfortune (or espionage?) the Australian machine gun jammed a short time into the engagement – the emus took minimal losses once again. 

According to one army observer, “each pack seem[ed] to have its own leader… a big black-plumed bird which stands fully six feet high and keeps watch while his mates carry out their work of destruction.” 

Faced with this daunting foe, the Australian forces retreated, with Major Meredith commenting that, “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.”

And so, a month after it began, the Great Emu War had come to a close, and the birds reigned victorious. How emusing.