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IN 1932, AUSTRALIAN ARMY DECLARED A WAR ON EMUS AND LOST IT!

by hridika ahire

IN 1932, AUSTRALIAN ARMY DECLARED A WAR ON EMUS AND LOST IT!

April 9, 2021

We have learned about many wars in history. But did you know that the weirdest war that happened in 1932? Surprisingly it wasn't between humans. It was the Great Emu War that took place between Australian Army and about 20,000 Emus!

Humans have been engineered to think that they are better than the rest of the living organisms. This thought process has made us believe that the only defeat that we will ever face will be though our fellow humans’ hands or at our own hands. But what we don’t realize is that some animals are far more intelligent than any human.

Take, for example, the homing pigeons. Many humans can’t keep in mind the directions to certain places, but these pigeons have the capacity to travel more than 1,100 miles away and can still return home without any difficulty. Even elephants are exceptionally smart. Researchers from the University of St. Andrews suggest that elephants can track up to 30 members of their family if they ever go missing by creating a mental map of where they were and sniffing them out. But can humans track a missing person on their own? Most certainly not. It is also said that elephants can tell whether a person is friendly or not from their scent and the colour of their clothes. Imagine humans being able to do that. 

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In 1932, Australian army declared a war on emus.

We all have a killer instinct in us. Just like animals, we humans also try to ascertain our superiority by either suppressing others or by simply eliminating the threat. This is what led to a state of war between humans and emus in 1932.

It all started a large number of ex-soldiers were returning to Australia after serving in World War I. The government had no idea what to do with these brave veterans after they came back home. At the time, Australia, much like today, was brimming with wildlife. 

After WWI, Australia Faced An Employment Crisis

In the year 1915, a ‘soldier settlement scheme’ was put in place to help the veterans gain a livelihood after coming back home. Around 5,030 ex-soldiers gave up their plot of land to be converted into agricultural farms. In the next five years, the government managed to buy 90,000 hectares of land for the veterans to use, but it wasn’t enough.

Some of the soldiers were sent to Perth in Western Australia as the land that was previously purchased wasn’t enough. You would think that having such a vast area of land would enable them to cultivate easily, and you aren’t wrong. Of course, with today’s techniques and expertise of some people, it would be easy, but these were soldiers. They had no idea how to do any agricultural work in good land, let alone a land which is hardly useable. On top of the extensive heat in Australia and the barren land, the veterans were pressurized due to the Great Depression in 1929, when the prize of wheat dropped significantly.

When A Horde Of 20,000 Emus Descended Upon Their Lands

As if the veterans hadn’t faced enough challenges already, around 20,000 emus migrated to the agricultural lands from the inland region, which they used for mating. When the emus saw that there were food crops being cultivated and that the area had a steady water supply, they decided to make it their home, especially the Chandler and Walgoolan region. The emus would regularly eat the crops and leave gaps in the fences that would enable other animals to enter the farmland and destroy it. Therefore, as a means to keep the emus out, the soldiers shot 3000 emus in 1928.

Emus had been pretty notorious in the previous years as well for the same reasons. They were eating away the crop, storming on them etc. that is why in the year 1922, emus were classified as ‘Vermin’ officially. That’s how disastrous they were. Even with 3000 of them being shot dead in 1928, they still continued to destroy the farmlands, and as a result, the veterans went to the Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce. 

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The Australian people and emus haven't always had the best of equations, and there was a time when they were sworn enemies.

Military Decided To Step In

Pearce gave the veterans a go ahead for using machine guns and also deployed some soldiers to the site. He said that birds would be good for target practice. Imagine someone saying things like that and not having PETA slap you with a notice. The war was scheduled to begin in October 1932 was commanded by Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery and Sergeant S. McMurray and Gunner J. O’Halloran arming the two Lewis guns (Machine Guns), and they were given 10,000 rounds of ammunition.

The deployment was delayed due to rains. On 2nd November 1932, the men were able to travel to Campion to kill the emus that were sighted there. But the emus were out of range, and as a result, the farmers tried to ambush them. But the birds split up, and the first round of the machine gun was wasted, and the emus won the first round without any casualties. The second round of bullets was fired when the emus were in range, and this time, the gunmen didn’t miss. A dozen or more of these emus were killed that day.

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First blood had been drawn in Australia’s ‘Emu Wars’.

The Unsuccessful ambush

The next attack was on 4th November when the emus came to a local dam for some water. What they didn’t know was that the soldiers were already at the dam and had planned this ambush. Fortunately for the Emus, the machine gun jammed, and only 12 emus were killed, and the rest escaped.  By 8th November, around 2,500 rounds of ammunition were used up with very little dent to the emu population.

The Australian House of Representatives discussed this operation due to the bad press that it was attracting. As a result, Pearce withdrew the military personnel and the guns. But just because the military went away didn’t mean that the emus had stopped. They continued the assault on the farmlands. Therefore, on 12th November, based on a report in favour of lending the farmers a helping hand by James Mitchell, the Premier of Western Australia lent the farmers his support.

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Around 20000 emus descended upon the human land.

Who Really Won The War?

On 13th November 1932, the military was successful in killing 40 emus. By 2nd December 1932, the soldiers had become a pro and managed to kill 100 emus per week. Meredith reported that around 986 emus were killed as of 10th December 1932.

The military could not waste ammunitions anymore on killing these birds. This event was also gaining a lot of bad publicity, which was not good for Australia. After an entire month of shooting, the mission was finally deemed a failure. Only 986 of the roughly 20,000 emus were killed, and 9,860 bullets had been used up. With an exact 10:1 ratio, it was estimated to be the worst bullet-to-kill ratio in military history. Thus, in the battle between humans and a large group of birds, the emusconquered what is now known as ‘The Great Emu War’.

The emus had dispersed because they had no food to eat, not because they couldn’t stand up to the military and their fancy guns.

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