Australia’s Great Emu War of 1932

There have been many events throughout the history of mankind that seem absurd or comical in hindsight. Of these, Australia’s Great Emu War of 1932 must be placed near the top of that list.

The Emu War was not a nickname. It really was a type of war in which armed soldiers were sent out to kill these large, flightless birds. The most surprising aspect of this whole military operation is that the emus managed to defeat the Australian army. So, why was the army out fighting emus, and how did these birds win the war?

yester.ly
yester.ly

It all began after World War I, when the Australian government gave out plots of land to returning veterans. The idea was that these ex-soldiers would support themselves by farming the land, raising sheep and growing wheat. Unfortunately, some of this land, especially the plots located in Western Australia, was not very fertile and was difficult to farm. When the Great Depression hit in 1929, crop prices fell, and these farmers struggled even harder to eke out a living.

As the Depression ground on and these new farmers fought against their marginal land, emus began migrating into the area. The birds had always migrated during their breeding season, but the newly cleared land and water from irrigation systems made these farms very attractive to the birds. By 1932, about 20,000 emus began invading the cropland, destroying the growing wheat. Farmers tried to kill the birds themselves, but there were so many that their efforts had no impact.

The desperate farmers begged the military to help them get rid of the birds. The Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery was sent to the Campion district in November of 1932. They found a group of about 50 emus and prepared to gun them down, but the birds foiled their attempts by separating and running around all over the place. The army did manage to kill a few of the birds, but not near as many as they had hoped.

A few days later, another assault was planned on a group of 1000 emus that had been spotted nearby. This time, the army’s machine gun jammed, and the birds scattered yet again. Only 12 emus were killed in this maneuver, and the rest got away.

The army did not give up, though. They continued trying to ambush them, and they even tried shooting them from moving military vehicles. The soldiers had trouble aiming at the birds while moving, so this effort did little to aid the farmers in their fight against the emus. By the end of this first campaign, 2500 rounds of ammunition had been used, but only 200 emus had been killed.

Within a few weeks, the army tried again. This time they were more successful, in that they managed to begin killing roughly 100 emus per week. However, it was taking an average of ten bullets to kill each emu, making the campaign prohibitively expensive relative to results. The army was recalled, and the government began giving bullets to the farmers instead. Unlike the army, the ex-soldier/farmers managed to kill nearly 60,000 of the birds in six months.

Today, Australia has around 700,000 emus. It is now considered one of the country’s animal symbols and has protected animal status. Now, environmentalists are working to save wild populations of the bird in some areas where they are threatened, which is a major about-face from their stance some 80+ years ago.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • Ireland’s Most Haunted Castle

    Don’t let its name fool you. Leap Castle, in Ireland’s County Offaly, is not named for people leaping off it. (In fact, Leap is actually pronounced “Lepp” in this instance.) It is however, reputed to be the most haunted castle in all of Ireland, and it may be the most haunted one in the world....

    Read More
  • Jacques Saint-Germain: New Orleans Vampire

    New Orleans is well-known for its eccentric inhabitants. If you’re into ghost stories, voodoo, or pretty much anything paranormal, you can find something of interest in this Louisiana city. It should come as no surprise, then, that The Big Easy had its very own vampire scare in the 20th century. One night in 1903, the...

    Read More
  • The Uninhabited Garbage Island in the South Pacific

    In 2015, a group of researchers traveled to Henderson Island, a small atoll in the South Pacific. This uninhabited island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had been remarkable because its pristine beauty had been largely unaffected by humans. What the scientists found when they visited Henderson has proved that humanity’s capacity for destroying...

    Read More
  • When the Wealthy Hired Their Own Personal Garden Gnomes

    Most people are familiar with garden gnomes, the ornamental wooden or plastic creatures found in many gardens and dressed like Snow White’s seven dwarves. But did you know that in the 18th century you could hire a real person to act as your very own garden decoration? The practice was actually quite popular among the...

    Read More
  • How Inbreeding Caused the End of a Royal Family

    The Spanish branch of the Habsburg family once ruled vast swathes of land in Europe. At one point, they controlled not only Spain, but areas in modern-day Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and even the Americas, among other areas. But this powerful family came to a crashing end in 1700. It wasn’t war or murder that destroyed...

    Read More
  • One of the Art World’s Most Successful Hoaxes

    Paul Jordan-Smith was an editor and a literary critic for a major newspaper before he rose to great fame as an artist. In 1913, he developed a distaste for modern art after visiting an exhibition of modern artwork in Chicago. This was the first source of his inspiration to become an artist. The second and...

    Read More
  • New Jersey’s Most Famous Elephant

    America has plenty of interesting roadside attractions. World’s largest ball of twine? We have that. A replica of Stonehenge made out of old cars? We have that, too. We also have the world’s largest elephant building, which is located in Margate, New Jersey, beside the beach in Josephine Harron Park. This elephant building isn’t just...

    Read More
  • How Mother’s Day Ruined its Founder

    Mother’s Day for many people is a lighthearted celebration. It’s a day to take your mother to brunch, get her a card, or send her some flowers. But for the creator of the American version of the holiday, it was a serious business, and her support for it eventually ruined her life. Anna Jarvis, the...

    Read More