This all started with the First World War and the stock markets in the United States of America. The stock market crash and the Great Depression that quickly followed plunged the entire world into mass economic collapse. Dramatic declines in Australia’s exports, most notably with America and Great Britain, put the Australian economy in dire straits.
After World War 1, the Government of Australia was struggling to find jobs for their veterans upon their return from the war. From 1915, a ‘soldier settlement scheme’ began to take effect, and eventually it saw roughly 5,000 ex-soldiers given plots of land to be used to start up farms for wheat and sheep. By the September of 1920, the government had bought approximately 222,395 acres for the veterans, but they still needed more. Their solution? They began to put the remaining soldiers in the western districts of Australia. These newly-made farmers had a hard time harvesting crops with the area’s unfertile soil.
During the Great Depression, when farming was no longer a largely profitable business, many of the farmers moved out to large cities to find jobs there, since there were no foreign countries buying their crops. The farmers had been promised subsidies, but they were never given. For those who remained, their lives were about to get a whole lot harder. Out in the Australian district of Campion, there was a pest outbreak- an outbreak of emus.
What is an Emu?
Emus are the second largest birds in the world, only after their close relative the ostrich. They belong to a group of flightless birds called ratites, and their scientific name is dromaius novaehollandiae.
Emus are birds native to Australia, and they weigh 66 to 121 pounds (or 30 to 55 kilograms.) They can grow up to 6.2 feet tall and can live 10-20 years in the wild. In addition to this, they are natural runners and swimmers: a grown emu can sprint at speeds up to 30 miles (48 kms) per hour. Under fire, an emu can easily take 3-5 bullets and still make it to safety.
Every year, emus migrate to the Western side of Australia to breed. This means that there were mobs of emus flooding into the west and eating all the veteran’s crops. Since emus had been declared ‘vermin’ in 1922, farmers were permitted to kill them. Even though these farmers were ex-soldiers trained to use rifles, this proved to be difficult. The men could do little to the numbers of these birds; they were built to survive.
Image result for emuDon’t let their fluffiness fool you. An emu could slaughter you and your loved ones, then laugh about it over evening tea. Never, ever trust these cruel creatures. After all, the Australian military did lose a war to them…
The War Begins
In 1932, the fed-up farmers decided to file a complaint to the government. While the more logical decision would have been to take the issue to Frederick Stewart, the Minister of Agriculture, these men were veterans; they decided to turn to George Pearce, the Minister of Defense.
George Pearce went ahead with the plan. In his mind, the government could win back discontented ex-soldiers, and “it would make for some great target practice” for the artillery. The operation was to be led by Major G.P.W. Meredith of the 7th Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery. Meredith was to command soldiers Sergeant S. McMurray and Gunner J. O’Hallora. These two men were armed with two Lewis machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Photographers would be brought along for the war to create propaganda for the unpopular government. The veterans were to let these men camp in their homes while the operation was underway.
The operation began on November 2, 1932 after being postponed due to heavy rainfall. Meredith and his men traveled to Campion, where some 50 emus had been seen. The birds were out of range, so the veterans tried to herd the emus into a smaller area. However, the birds split into small groups and sprinted away. The first series of shots fired didn’t kill any emus due to the men being too far away. A second round of gunfire was only able to kill “a number” of birds. Later that day, they came across a small mob, and “perhaps a dozen” emus were killed.
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