Gabriele Dessin



Moral foreword for readers.

          Recognising the comical side to things is surely one of the main symptoms of intelligence. This clearly might be a necessary condition, but it is certainly not enough. Indeed, when it comes to war, there is little to be cheerful about, and it seems that the mere thought of finding war amusing is immoral and uncivilised. However, sometimes comedy appears on its own, without the need for searching for it or contriving it. This is why, readers will find a very serious and morally educational account of a war fought in the 1930s hereafter. Nevertheless, the writer would like to reassure readers that if the following text seems hilarious, it was not the writers intention for it to appear so, and readers should not blame themselves; it is just one of life’s instances, which is why it is customary to say: ‘laugh it over’.


A report on a great war.

          After the end of the Second World War, a large number of ex-British and Australian soldiers turned to agriculture and began farming in Western Australia. During this time, the presence of extensive crops and abundant water prompted the Emu nation – large, native birds, unfit for flight – to migrate to these same areas. When primary goods are limited in quantity and needed by two different populations that have no means or desire to understand each other, which unavoidably plants seeds of conflict; unfortunately, this norm of relationships between living beings proved to be correct on this occasion as well.


Nowadays, the war between Australians and Emus seems to have come to a definitive end, and the construction of a great defensive wall seems to have allowed, for the time being, a certain peaceful coexistence.


In October 1932, military arrangements had been finalised on behalf of the Australian Government and the conflict began in the Campion district on the 2nd of November 1932 – The Argus newspaper, the following day, informed its astonished readers. 

The Australian Army deployed two machine gunners armed with two Lewis automatic rifles under the command of G. P. W. Meredith, Major of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery. Unfortunately, the name and rank of the Emu army’s chief commander is unknown, and this is a serious historical fault because its military strategies were not only shrewd and successful, but also noteworthy.     
Major Meredith decided to make the most of the element of surprise by attacking the Emu headquarters with a blitzkrieg tactic. However, this attempt to force the enemy into a single compact front failed, and the Emu commander gave the order to break up the ranks so as to make its soldiers difficult targets for the opposing troops. The tactic was quite successful, and after an ineffective first fire due to excessive distance, the second only managed to bring down a dozen Emu infantry units. The Australian army, therefore, needed to change tactics before any probable counterattack on behalf of their enemy.

     On the 4th of November, however, Meredith again decided to use the ambush technique against the Emu army, which had temporarily quartered near a dam. Even though this time it had considered to take more caution in terms of range, the guns jammed after shooting down only another twelve light infantry units. The Emu commander, at the first signs of a resumption of hostilities, again ordered the troops to disperse. This strategy proved to be successful, mainly due to Commander Emu’s overview and detailed knowledge of the geographical conditions of the battlefield. In fact, he had foreseen that his light infantry would inevitably have an advantage in a scattered retreat over his enemies’ artillery. The records report that, for the rest of the day, the Emu militia kept a low profile, and misled the enemy by hiding in the greenery. We can find a terse and sombre account of these events in an article dated 5 November 1932 in The Argus newspaper, which uses – as it always does – derogatory terms to refer to the enemy and bears the significant title of ‘Elusive Emu’: ‘The Lewis gunners, engaged in clearing the Campion district of Emu vermin, are having little success. Only a few birds were killed yesterday. There are so many that they will soon be out of range. The gunners were not more successful today and new strategies will have to be adopted.”

     Over the next couple of days, Major Meredith pursued the enemy troops with his own forces, but to no avail. Despite the stratagem of mounting a machine gun on a motorised vehicle, its poor manoeuvrability resulted in further success for the Emu light infantry. The Emu commander, on the other hand, could at any time order a counterattack with guerrilla actions and this made the situation more tense than ever. According to records and some estimates, by the 8th of November 1932, the Australian army had fired 2,500 shells onto the battlefield but had shot down little more than fifty enemies – Australian government sources report a number of 500 kills. This, however, is hardly plausible without being able to compare them with the military records of the Emu nation, which are unfortunately nowhere to be found. Still on the 8th of November, the Australian military command, having failed in its duty, declared ‘cease-fire’ and ordered the demobilisation of the field forces. 

The famous ornithologist Dominic Servently, who seemed to enjoy the role of military analyst, described the state of the conflict as follows:

I sogni dei mitraglieri di sparare raffiche su fitte masse di emù furono presto dissolti. Il comando emù ha evidentemente ordinato l’uso di tecniche di guerriglia, e il suo ampio e disorganizzato esercito si è immediatamente diviso in un innumerevole numero di piccole unità rendendo l’uso dell’equipaggiamento militare inefficace. Un esercito umiliato viene costretto quindi a ritirarsi dal campo di battaglia dopo quasi un mese.

     Once the field was cleared, tensions between the Australian and Emu populations began to escalate rapidly and a second conflict seemed inevitable.
Australian Prime Minister James Mitchell was clearly in favour of the interventionist line, and his sentiments were supported by Sir John Pearce, Minister for Defence. On the 12th of November 1932 Pearce ordered the reactivation of military hostilities and the following day Major Meredith took to the field with his troops; The Canberra Times headlined that day ‘Emu War Again’.

     After initial success on the first two days of the assault, with an estimated 40 kills in the Emu army, the strategic superiority of the Emu commander and his troops again tipped the balance of the conflict in their favour. After 17 days of open warfare, the Australian military command sent a report on the success of their operations: with 9,860 rounds fired, they claimed 986 enemy units had been killed. They also claimed that around 2500 Emus perished as a result of wounds sustained on the battlefield, but this seems unlikely and was probably released to reassure the public in the face of obvious lack of success. On the 2nd of November 1932, the Australian Government declared a ‘ceasefire’ for the last time.

     Unfortunately, tensions remained high and the Emu command resumed its operations of food predation on enemy civilian crops. The situation continued for a long time in the following years, with both sides sustaining occasional rebukes, but without deploying a regular army again. Both sides opted decisively for permanent guerrilla warfare.  

To avoid a third conflict, the Australian government decided on a diplomatic resolution, which was reported in The Sunday Herald, in an article entitled ‘A New Strategy In A War On The Emu’ of 5 July 1953:

Il Gabinetto di Stato dell’Australia Occidentale ha approvato la settimana scorsa la spesa di 52.000 sterline come contributo speciale per le misure di difesa, e questo ha rappresentato l’assunzione di un altro grande impegno in una guerra incessante contro un nemico vecchio quanto l’Australia Occidentale stessa.


Ora il governo dello Stato ha elaborato dei piani per un nuovo impegno difensivo contro il parassita. La sua strategia si basa sulla decisione di costruire una recinzione a prova di Emù dal costo di 52.000 sterline.

Tale recinzione sarà di circa 135 km di lunghezza, e sarà unificata alle recinzioni governative a prova di coniglio che si estendono già su gran parte dello Stato.

In this very article there is – and rightly so – an honest acknowledgement of the actual course of the armed conflict of which we have read here, an –  albeit brief – reconstruction: “Questo [l’intervento militare del maggiore Meredith, ndr.], il più ambizioso progetto nella storia della guerra dell’Australia Occidentale contro gli Emù, è stato anche quello che ha fallito più miseramente, e nel quale l’uccello ha riportato la sua più completa vittoria; inoltre, l’incongruenza di tutta la faccenda ha avuto anche l’effetto, per una volta, di risvegliare la simpatia del pubblico per gli Emù”.


    Nowadays, the war between Australians and Emus seems to have come to a definitive end, and the construction of a great defensive wall seems to have allowed, for the time being, a certain peaceful coexistence. 

Therefore, as we have seen, even the memory of a tragic and bloody conflict like this can bring, in the soul of those who know how to think intelligently, a fruitful moral message: if coexistence is impossible, as in a love affair that bears withered flowers on its own tomb, the wisest choice is to create a fair distance; “Let us remain far apart today to embrace each other more warmly tomorrow”.

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