The ‘Emu War’, also known widely as the Great Emu War, was a nuisance wildlife management military operation undertaken in Australia in the later part of 1932 to address public concern over the number of Emus that were said to be running amok in the Campion district of Western Australia. The unsuccessful attempts to curb the population of emus, employed soldiers armed with Lewis guns, a World War 1 era light machine gun, making the local media to adopt the name “Emu War” when referring to the incident.
While a number of emus were killed, the emu population persisted and continued to wreak havoc by crop destruction.
Discharged Australian WW1 veterans were given lands to take up farming by the Australian government within Western Australia. The difficulties farmers were already facing increased by the arrival of as many as 20,000 emus. Emus regularly migrate after their breeding season, heading to the coast from the inland regions. With the lands cleared and additional water supplies being made available for the livestock by the Western Australian farmers, the Emus found that the cultivated lands were a good habitat for them, and began to intrude into farm territory. The veteran farmers began taking up arms against the birds.
Military involvement was due to begin in October 1932. The “war” was conducted under the command of Major G. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery. They moved in formation behind the birds, and the birds answered their organised assault with inspired chaos, scattering themselves in all directions to minimize the casualties. The army tried gunning them down in moving trucks, but found they could not aim properly at their speedy foes.
A second campaign was mounted by Major Meredith on 13 November 1932, killing 40 emus. Two days later, barely any, but about a month later its was reported that 100 emus were being killed every week. The commanding officer found that it took 10 bullets to bring down every one emu, which was a pretty dismal effort. He was recalled the Great Emu War had finally come to an end.
Despite the problems encountered with the culling of the emus, the farmers once again requested military assistance in 1934, 1943, and 1948, only to be turned down by the Australian government. Instead, the bounty system that had been initiated in 1923 was continued, which proved to be effective as 57,034 bounties were claimed over a six-month period in 1934 alone.