The Great Emu War: how the Emus triumphed over the Australian army

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By Isodore Brommare

THROUGHOUT ITS HISTORY, the Australian military has faced many challenges. It has battled great foes in both World Wars and emerged triumphant on a number of occasions. However, during a fateful month in 1932 it would face one of its most formidable opponents – the emu.

Dromaius Novaehollandiae, more commonly referred to as the emu, is the second largest bird in the world. Resembling an ostrich in size and shape, the emu is a herd animal that can run at speeds of up to 50 km/h, which is roughly the same speed as a 1960s jet-ski. It inhabits most of rural Australia and tends to consume many of the crops commonly grown by Australian farmers. These eating habits would eventually set the stage for the conflict that would come to be known as “The Great Emu War”.

The war was first initiated by the emus, as they ravaged Australian farmers’ crops. Already suffering economic hardships as a result of the Great Depression, Australian farmers loudly voiced their complaints towards the government in the face of the emu onslaught. Sensing the potential for a public relations victory among the economically encumbered and frustrated farmers, the Australian government quickly set a plan in motion to eliminate the emu threat. At face value, it would be easy to assume the potential outcome of any military engagements between emus and humans. Although flightless, the emu still is a physically imposing and capable specimen. It does, however, lack the technology and organisational ability of humans, giving it an apparent disadvantage in the context of an armed conflict. This assumption was also originally held by the Australian army, as they prepared for the impending clashes.

The Australian army soon assembled a task force consisting of a commanding officer and two gunners equipped with Lewis machine guns and 10 000 bullets. The first engagement was on the 2nd of November, 1932. It was a victory for the Australians as “a few dozen” emus were killed. However, their initial success soon turned into frustration, as the gunners only managed to kill but a few emus in each flock they encountered before the emus successfully scattered and retreated. The embarrassment experienced by the soldiers was soon made public, as local media started covering their dismal results. As information about the emu victories started reaching the government, the soldiers were ordered to withdraw on the 8th of November. A final attempt to destroy the emu population was attempted on the 12th of November, but was once again largely unsuccessful, concluding in an official withdrawal of Australian troops.

After their de facto victory, the emus did not seek any more engagements with the Australians. To this day, the situation remains tense, with sporadic incidents of violence in the context of human hunting activity and occasional emu attacks on civilians. The prospects for a second Emu War are however unlikely, even though Australians and emus are still entangled in a number of land disputes. In conclusion, one should never underestimate one’s opponent and, when faced with an opponent as capable and determined as the emus, diplomacy may be the most rational option.

By: Isidore Brommare

Photography: Piotr Witowski

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