Never Forget: Australia’s Great Emu War

Here’s the scene: It’s 1932 in Western Australia, and soldiers are armed with machine guns.

The enemy is big yet nimble, ugly yet magnificent. The enemy is the emu.

Thousands of them, in fact. It is November (that’s late spring, early summer down under), and Australian forces have been tasked with clearing the land of as many of the goofy-looking birds as possible, by way of the bullet.

This was the Great Emu War. Already facing financial trouble due to the Great Depression, Western Aussie farmers encountered even more angst when faced with a migration of 20,000 emus in 1932, who elected to ruin the damn crops. Outraged farmers let their troubles be known, and a group of World War I veterans took it upon themselves to lobby for a military effort to put the emus to rest, for good. The Australian government shrugged (I assume) and sent three army personnel and a couple of machine guns out west.


The Great Emu War began the first week of November. While the soldiers had some success on the first day, the birds adjusted and began outsmarting them. The press caught hold and in a bout of embarrassment, Parliament halted the war.


The government swallowed its pride about a week later and sent the troops back in. Though The Canberra Times reported that 300 emus were killed in the “first duel” of the renewed effort and about 1,000 birds were thought to be dead by the time things wrapped up in December, it took the soldiers 10,000 rounds to get there. As such, the second leg of the war was also considered a failure. The emu marched — err, awkwardly stalked — on.

Farmers would lobby for more soldiers for years, but in light of the failed war, a humiliated government repeatedly denied them. A bounty program would ultimately prove more successful in controlling emu populations.

photo credit: Antony Grossy, Creative Commons/flickr