The Great Emu War

11 Oct

Australia! Where the only thing that can’t kill you is (some of) the sheep!

During the early years of the Great Depression, the Australian government promised extra subsidies to wheat farmers if they could increase their crop production. The government would fail to deliver on their promise, however, and as the year of 1932 rolled around tensions were growing increasingly high. A major drought in Western Australia exasperated the problem; even the wildlife was going nuts. Rabbits could be kept off farmland with wire fences, but emus, the flightless ratites of the Australian outback, were not so easily controllable. They were large, dangerous, and could easily tear down the rabbit proof fences to get to crops (which would also let the goddamn rabbits in too!).

The farmers sent a  delegation to meet with the MInister of Defense, Sir George Pearce. Pearce decided a little eradication was in order. The Minister would send a group of soldiers armed with machine guns to disperse the growing number of birds, which he seemed to believe would be great target practice for the troops. A cinematographer was even enlisted to record the event. It was hoped that their feathers could be used to make hats.

Well, it didn’t quite go as planned. The overall flock numbers were staggering, but the birds themselves grouped up in small flocks of a twenty to fifty. The first group the soldiers found were too far away and simply evaded the first round gunfire. A second volley hit, but only killed a few of the birds before they ran away. Eventually the troops switched to ambush tactics, but they were consistently thwarted by jammed guns, flighty birds, and poor weather. After a week only a handful of emu, perhaps as few as 50 were killed. The commander in charge of the mission commented: “If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world…They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop.”

Local newspapers apparently didn't think highly of the "war"

A second attempt was mustered up, with slightly more success. Altogether about a thousand birds were killed, although by this time the whole situation had become a giant public debacle. The birds were still attacking crops, animal lovers were upset about the wide scale extermination, and the government felt, perhaps understandably, silly about the whole thing. In the later years the military would leave the hunting up to the farmers, instituting a bounty system instead. No more wars would be fought against the birds.

Sources:, Warbuff,,  Wiki: Emu War,


Posted by on October 11, 2011 in History


Tags: , , , ,

2 responses to “The Great Emu War

  1. Rhys

    October 11, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    Great post but the Minister of Defence was Sir George Pearce. I don’t think Guy Pearce has been knighted yet.

    • theglyptodon

      October 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm

      Thanks for the catch, I’ll change that.


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