AUSTRALIANS taking up arms to fight a war against nuisance emus. It’s about as quintessentially Aussie as you can get.
However, is it true that Australia waged war against the emus in 1932 and lost?
The Great Emu War of Western Australia, as the incident came to be called, was one of the most bizarre and futile military operations in Australian history.
Following World War I, state governments launched a number of land settlement schemes for their newly-discharged veterans.
Soldiers returning from war were given a swath of land and the opportunity to start a farming life – a life which was made all the more difficult by the arrival of approximately 20,000 wild emus.
Emus, a species of large, flightless bird native to Australia, regularly migrated from the coast to inland regions following their breeding season. These birds were considered pests by farmers as they were highly destructive, ravaging both crops and farmland.
In 1929, the onset of the Great Depression caused the prices of produce to collapse. When promised subsidies never came to fruition, the farmers gave the government an ultimatum: get rid of the emus, or they would abandon their lands.
Faced with immense pressure, the Australian army relented in late 1932.
Men armed with machine guns were sent to take care of the birds once and for all, but despite their best efforts, the flightless giants proved to be too much to handle.
Major G.P. Meredith, who commanded the operation, said the birds "faced (the) machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks."
Ornithologist Dominic Serventy summarised the failed offensive as such:
"The machine-gunners' dreams of point-blank fire into serried 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."
After the failed cull, a bounty system was implemented which proved to be more effective at controlling the emu population. According to Wikipedia, 57,034 bounties were claimed over a six-month period in 1934.
Ninety years later, the emu remains the biggest winner of the war.
They continue to thrive in the Australian Outback and despite populations exceeding half a million birds, they have even had their status as a protected species reinstated.
A movie retelling of the emus’ triumph over Australian soldiers in armed combat is also slated to hit the big screen in late 2022.