History Wars

That time Aussies fought emus

The Great Emu War sounds silly, but the truth is it was an epic struggle against feathered foes. No, for real. Let's take a look.
Jessica Evans Avatar
great emu war
A man holding an emu killed by Australian soldiers.

The Great Emu War sounds silly, but the truth is it was an epic struggle against feathered foes. No, for real. Let’s set the stage. 

A quiet country town awakens to an unexpected threat in the vast expanse of Australia’s Wheatbelt region. A scene unfolds like a reel from a captivating war film, but this battle is far from conventional. It is the Great Emu War, an extraordinary chapter in military history that defies all expectations. A transformation begins as the sun rises over the sprawling plains and the emus roam freely. The idyllic countryside morphs into an unlikely battlefield, where brave soldiers are pitted against a formidable foe: the emus.

So how’d this all begin?

In the early 1930s, the picturesque Wheatbelt region of Western Australia was plagued by an overpopulation of emus. If you’ve never spent time under, you might not know emus are flightless birds known for their speed, strength, and knack for mischief. Back in the 30s, farmers struggled to protect their crops from these curious creatures. So, they turned to their government and asked for help. Little did they know that this endeavor would escalate into a full-fledged military operation.

Of course, the Aussies are no strangers to wild endeavors – look at the “Australian Rappel” if you need confirmation.

… Or check out the details of the Battle of Brisbane.

The great emu war begins

Armed with machine guns and a determined spirit, the Australian military was deployed to address the emu menace. In November 1932, Major G.P.W. Meredith led a group of soldiers equipped with Lewis guns into the heart of the emu territory. Expecting a swift victory, they were met with an unexpected adversary. The emus must’ve been aware of their impending doom. They quickly scattered across the plains, rendering the soldiers’ weaponry nearly useless against the agile birds.

Tactical challenges

The soldiers soon discovered that emus were not an easy foe to defeat. Their ability to outrun the military vehicles and their elusive nature made it difficult for anyone to get close enough. It was as if they’d been practicing maneuvers. When service members fired on them, the birds split into smaller groups. This tactic posed an obvious challenge, turning the battlefield into a chaotic and bewildering scene.

great emu war damage
Fallow caused by emus, which cleared land and additional water supplies during 1932, before the start of the Emu War. (Pickering Brook Heritage)

Soldiers’ determination

Undeterred by the initial setbacks, the Australian military adjusted its strategy. They divided the forces into smaller units and attempted to ambush the emus at water sources, where the birds would gather in larger numbers. However, the emus proved to be cunning and skilled at evading capture. Despite their best efforts, the soldiers struggled to make a dent in the emu population.

Surrender to the emus

After weeks of unsuccessful attempts, the Australian military ultimately admitted defeat. The emus emerged victorious, and the war came to an end without a clear winner. Having outwitted and outlasted their human adversaries, the emus continued to roam the Wheatbelt region freely. The Great Emu War became a legendary tale, forever etched in Australia’s military history as an extraordinary example of an unconventional conflict.

Legacy and lessons learned

While the Great Emu War may have ended in defeat for the Australian military, it left a lasting impact on the nation’s psyche. It highlighted the importance of careful planning, adaptability, and respect for the natural environment. The failed military campaign against the emus also served as a source of amusement and fascination, transforming into a symbol of Australian resilience and embracing the nation’s unique sense of humor.

The feathers that fought back

The Great Emu War is a testament to history’s unexpected twists and turns, forever etching a feathery legacy in Australia’s military annals. Everyone thought it was going to be a quick turn and burn. Get rid of the birds and then everyone can get on with their lives. Too bad that’s not what happened. In fact, the emus quickly became a formidable enemy – even for the well-trained Aussie service members.

Though victory eluded the Australian military, the Great Emu War remains a captivating story showcasing human resilience and indomitable spirit. It is a testament to the lengths we will go to protect our way of life, even against the unlikeliest of adversaries. From the vast Wheatbelt region to the small country town turned battlefield, the emus demonstrated their speed, agility, and craftiness, challenging the very notions of traditional warfare.

So let us remember the feathers that fought back—the emus’ defiance and the soldiers’ determination. Their clash echoes through the annals of history as one of the most peculiar and engaging encounters ever fought.. Emus might not seem like the most difficult opponent – they don’t even have opposable thumbs! But this strange chapter in Australian military history is a reminder not every conflict is won with conventional means. It’s also a reminder that birds probably shouldn’t be trifled with … at least not the agile emu.