This Week in History: The Great Emu War Ends, Emus Win

In this week in history, Australia admitted defeat in its war with thousands of large, flightless birds.

Imagine an army, 20,000 strong, that can run at 30 mph – significantly faster than Usain Bolt – take up to five bullets before being felled and tear down metal fencing with just their legs. Major Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery came up against such a force in November 1932, claiming that they faced his machine guns “with the invulnerability of tanks”.

Rather a good thing then that these ‘soldiers’ were a bunch of birds that lacked the basic intelligence and ambition to take over the country.

Or did they? Credit: JuggaloICP (image was cropped)

Meredith had been joined in the war by two actual soldiers, each armed with a light machine gun and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. But right from the get-go, the emus refused to lie down and accept their fate. 50 of them were sighted at Campion, but when the men tried to herd them into an ambush they split up and fled.

Two days later, a flock of 1,000 was successfully ambushed near a dam, but this time the guns jammed after only taking down a dozen or so targets. In the following days, Meredith tried mounting one of the guns on top of a truck, but with the rough terrain and the vehicle incapable of catching up to the emus, it proved to be a dismal failure.

The emus seemed to survive on guerrilla tactics, splitting up into small groups and always guarded by a leader who kept watch. By November 8th, 2,500 bullets had been used, and emu casualties stood at between 50 and 500. The media had had a field day covering the war and the politicians had had enough, withdrawing Meredith and his men.

War with the birds would resume soon after, but this was a huge moral victory for the emus. Just one they were utterly unaware of.


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