Usually, wars happens between two nations or maybe two or more cities or states fighting over beliefs, ideals, religions, territories, or even spices. However, in Australia during 1932, their army fought with machine guns against an unusual battalion of enemies— The Emu. Yep, the majestic, large, flightless birds of Australia.

Plant-Munching Birds

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) in south-eastern Australia. (Benjamint444GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons)

Ostriches are pretty famous and are number one on the list when it comes to flightless birds. Their long, powerful legs can run up to 43.5 MPH. But we’re not here for them but for their cousins native to Australia, the emus. Emu birds are the second largest birds that can’t fly. They have soft brown feathers, with long necks and legs that can make them stand up to 6.2 feet in height. Their legs could motor them along at speeds approaching 31 MPH. They are usually found in Tasmania and King Island, and their diet consists of insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and beetles. They also love plants and guzzle copious amounts of water, which started the conflict.

The Beginning of War

After World War I, the Australian government gave the veterans lands in Western Australia so that they could farm. When the Great Depression started in 1929, the government suggested that the veterans-turned-farmers plant wheat crops, which they did. This suggestion came with a promise that they would provide subsidies for these farmers, which they failed to deliver. The price of wheat continued to fall, and the farmers were threatening not to deliver their crops once they harvested them, leaving Australia wheatless in the face of the economic crash.

Plate 20 of The Emu, an ornithological journal, illustrating Whitlock, F. Lawson (1913). (Whitlock, F. Lawson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

One fine morning, the farmers were up early and ready to harvest their crops, but to their horror, their wheat crops were all gone and consumed by some 20,000 emus that migrated overnight after their breeding season. They decided to consume the crops around Chandler and Walgoolan specifically. Not only that, but their arrival also caused large gaps on the crop fences, so naturally, the rabbits joined the party. It was as if huge hairy locusts had descended on them.

Instead of calling pest control of the wildlife services, they met with the Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce, to address the concern. These World War I veterans knew that only machine guns would be effective against thousands of 6ft birds that could run as fast as a horse. They demanded that the government give them troops armed with machine guns to be employed against these feathered thieves destroying their livelihood, to which Pearce agreed with conditions:

  • Only military personnel will use the guns
  • Western Australia should finance the troop transport
  • The farmers would provide food, accommodation, and payment for the ammunition

Pearce also thought this would be a great opportunity to campaign against a budding secessionist movement seeking independence from Great Brittain filming the government saving Western Australian farmers. So they brought along a film crew with them.


In October 1932, the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery led by Major G. P. W. Meredith marched into the field to face their avian foe, willing to risk their lives to help the poor farmers. At least that’s what the TV narration would’ve said as they covered the footage of these soldiers marching against the birds who were clueless that a war against them had just started. However, the operation was delayed anyway due to heavy rains. They resumed a month later on November 2 when the rain stopped.

Australian civilians acted as scouts for the army during the Emu War. (Pickering Brook Heritage/Wikimedia Commons)

They first went to Campion with their Lewis guns and thousands of rounds of ammo. There, they sighted 50 emus, but they were too far and out of range of the guns. The locals tried to herd them towards the gunners, but they ran in small groups. Their first burst of machine-gun fire didn’t kill anything, while their second one only killed a couple. These things could run and run fast. Hopefully, the cinematographer had not filmed that. The soldiers swore it wasn’t over yet and that they would take their revenge.