The Great Emu War of 1932 in Australia

The emu, Australia’s national bird, can run up to 30 miles per hour, causing problems during the Great Emu War.

While I am passionate about studying various destructive conflicts that have occurred throughout history, I am not as well-versed in the Great Emu War that took place in Australia in late 1932.

Let’s all learn together about this conflict…

Emus are Australia’s National Bird

Before delving into the background of the “conflict,” it is essential to understand the concept of a national bird.

Symbolism has always been connected to nationalism, and we can even see this today with mascots and office pets.

For example, India’s National Bird is the Indian Peafowl, symbolizing India’s beauty and is a protected species. The American Bald Eagle represents patriotism, bravery, and freedom and is also a protected species.

Australia’s National Bird is the emu, known to be a pest and tasty, and not a protected species, as we will soon discover…

A Little Bit of Backstory…

After World War I, the Australian government gave vast areas of land to returning soldiers and British veterans for farming.

When the Great Depression hit in 1929, the government encouraged these farmers to increase their wheat production, promising subsidies that never materialized, leaving the farmers in dire financial straits.

As if things could not get any worse, 20,000 emus had just completed their breeding season on the coast and were migrating inland, discovering the previously barren outback now full of fertile farmland and crops.

The emus broke through the wooden fences, devoured the crops, and left gaps large enough for rabbits to come in and finish off anything they missed.

The farmers, desperate for help, turned to the Ministry of Defense, as most of the veterans were military personnel and trusted this department the most, rather than the Ministry of Agriculture.

Sir George Pearce, the Australian Minister of Defense, was highly respected by the country’s veteran farmers. When soldiers suggested using military machine guns to cull emus, Pearce agreed. The rules of engagement were set, and Australian troops were responsible for all soldiering and weapon handling, while farmers provided accommodation and food. Pearce hoped that the emus would provide good target practice for the Australian machine gunners. The Australian Parliament supported the war as a way to show support for struggling farmers. A propaganda film crew documented the soldiers’ triumph. Major G. P. W. Meredith commanded three highly trained troops of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery armed with a Lewis machine gun and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Despite initial difficulties hitting the fast-moving emus, the soldiers continued their efforts, but the emus mostly escaped unscathed. The conflict escalated when Major Meredith and his men moved towards a dam where more than 1,000 emus had been spotted, using their best stealth skills to approach before opening fire.

During the emu war, Major Meredith and his men tried to attack the birds with machine guns. However, the emus proved to be difficult opponents as they could survive a single bullet wound and run away. The conflict continued with limited success until army observers noted that each pack had its own leader who warned the others of their approach. Major Meredith then ordered one of his machine guns to be fitted to a truck, but the terrain was too rocky to fire a shot. Negative media coverage and the low number of emus killed forced the military to withdraw. However, the farmers were unhappy and the war resumed, resulting in more success for the soldiers. Ultimately, the operation was deemed a success, but up to 16,000 emus were still causing havoc for the farmers.

Despite the government’s bounty system on emus, which had some success, the birds ultimately prevailed in the war. Australian farmers, feeling abandoned by their government and people, found a solution to overcome this dark period in history: they switched from wooden fences to metal chain-link fences. Yes, that’s right – this simple change was what brought an end to the Great Australian Emu War of 1932.


1. What was the Great Australian Emu War of 1932?

The Great Australian Emu War of 1932 was an unsuccessful attempt by the Australian government to control the population of emus, which were damaging crops in Western Australia. The war lasted for about a month, during which time the Australian military was sent to hunt and kill the emus.

2. Why did the Australian government declare war on the emus?

The Australian government declared war on the emus because they were causing significant damage to the crops in Western Australia. The emus were eating the crops, which were important for the livelihood of the farmers in the area.

3. How did the Australian military attempt to control the emu population?

The Australian military attempted to control the emu population by using machine guns. However, the emus proved to be elusive and difficult to hit, and the military was not successful in their attempts. After a few days, the military withdrew from the area.

4. What was the outcome of the Great Australian Emu War?

The outcome of the Great Australian Emu War was that the emus were not successfully controlled. Despite efforts by the Australian military, the emus continued to cause damage to crops in the area. The war was seen as a failure and a waste of resources.

5. Were there any casualties during the Great Australian Emu War?

There were no human casualties during the Great Australian Emu War. However, some emus were killed during the conflict.

6. Did the Australian government ever try to control the emu population again?

The Australian government did not declare war on the emus again, but they did try other methods to control the population. These methods included building fences and offering bounties for dead emus. Neither of these methods were very successful, and emus continue to be a problem in some areas of Australia to this day.

7. Why is the Great Australian Emu War still remembered today?

The Great Australian Emu War is still remembered today because it is seen as a humorous and bizarre event in Australian history. The idea of a military attempting to control a population of birds with machine guns is amusing to many people. Additionally, the war is often used as an example of government incompetence and failure.

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