How we lost the "Emu
Following the long hot summer of 1932, wild emus in the Murchison district of Western
Australia went on the rampage in search of food and water - much to the chagrin of local
farmers who feared for their crops. In a bid to stop the advancing emus along the
rabbit-proof fence farmers enlisted the help of the army. Armed with Lewis machine guns
and 10,000 rounds, a party, led by Major Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery, was
sent to the Campion district where it was estimated 20,000 emus were causing damage.
However, due to the abundance of food the emus were gathered in small groups, most of
which were outnumbered by the 50 settlers who had turned out to meet Major Meredith and
his men. A group of 40 emus was sighted and beaters were sent to herd them into firing
range. At a distance of 1,000 metres the first burst of fire landed short, with the second
killing about a dozen birds as they raced for the cover of trees.
In an attempt to improve its tally the army party resorted to ambush tactics. Later
the same afternoon the guns were set up at a dam. Close to sundown, as 100 birds
approached to within 100 metres, again the gunners opened fire. The birds scattered and
dispersed, so much so that further shooting was pointless.
The following day a similar strategy was employed in a paddock where emus had caused
widespread damage. This time a flock of more than 1,000 headed for water and the waiting
Again the birds ran off, their escape aided by the jamming of one of the machine guns.
Onlookers were surprised by the emus' ability to sustain injury and keep running. Major
Meredith was quoted as saying: "If we had a military division with the
bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world. They could
face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus...."
Less than a week after the "Emu War" had begun the Defence Minister of the
day, George Pearce, ordered a withdrawal. The action prompted debate in the House of
Representatives, which included the following comments:
Mr Thorby (NSW): "Who is responsible for the farce of hunting emus with
machine guns mounted on lorries? Is the Defence Department meeting the cost?
Minister Lyons: "I have been told the Defence Department will not be paying the
Mr James (NSW): "Is a medal to be struck for this war?"
(Reproduced from GEO Magazine)