In the wake of World War One, Australia rewarded its Veterans with the Soldier Settlement Scheme, this was where soldiers were given small grants of agricultural land to grow crops. The soldiers were given low-interest loans and provided with building supplies for the farmhouse, shed and fences and were able to pay off the loans once they had become fully established and started selling produce.
Some veterans settled in Western Australia on the fringes of the habitat of Emus, which are large flightless birds similar to ostriches which are native to Australia. They have long necks and legs and are known to grow up to 2m (6ft) in height and can run up to 40 mph, covering 9 foot in a single stride. They also weren’t opposed to wandering into the farmers fields and gobbling up their crops, to the point where the Australian government changed the Emus status from “endangered” to “vermin” as they continued to invade the veterans agricultural land in the wake of the first world war.
By the 1930’s, the Emus had amassed to numbers of 20,000 and were descending on the farms in droves. The ex-soldiers had to do something about the problem, but the community mistrusted the Minister of Agriculture, however they turned to a man they were more familiar with, Sir George Pearce, the Minister for War. The minister was happy to help and provided the veterans with 2 very powerful Lewis machine guns and 10,000 bullets with which to cull the Emus. He also provided the military assistance in the form of the expertise of 3 experienced machine gunners to assist them.
However the expected Emu slaughter didn’t go quite as planned. The veterans quickly realised that the Emus were particularly hard to kill, they would hide in the shade of vegetation where the gunners couldn’t get a clear shot. They were particularly fast and cunning and would never bunch up so the gunners had to go after one Emu at a time, they also seemed to quickly work out the range of the machine guns, making sure they were just too far away.
Once the ex-solders realised how quick the birds were they devised another plan, they strapped the machine gun onto the back of a moving vehicle and planned to mow them down while driving along. However this ended in quite spectacular failure as the Emus ran so fast that the gunner couldn’t actually aim and fire his weapon properly and, once again, the quick-witted Emus scattered causing them to chase one down at a time.
There was a particularly good plan where the gunners lured over 100 Emu’s into one place and attempted to ambush them with the machine gun, unfortunately the gun jammed after only a dozen bullets had been fired and the Emus once again ran off victorious.
At the end of the “Emu War” the gunners had used up their 10,000 bullets and unfortunately had managed to kill less than 5% of the Emus (around 986 out of 20,000) and the hired “expert” gunners returned defeated. The Emus eventually wandered off of their own volition in search of other foods once the crops had depleted.