In 1932, the tranquillity of Western Australia’s Campion region was disrupted, not by conventional warfare, but by an unprecedented conflict—the infamous ‘Emu War’. As a result of the Great Depression, Australian farmers were struggling to cultivate wheat, and the sudden invasion of over 20,000 emus only compounded their hardship by ravaging the crops.
In response, the Australian government, led by the Ministry of Defence, declared an unconventional war against the emus. This unique episode of conflict, often viewed with a tinge of humour and disbelief, was extensively reported by the local and international press, sparking a range of reactions.
This study aims to present a comprehensive analysis of the ‘Great Emu War’, starting from its genesis to its aftermath, and seeks to answer the lingering question: ‘Who won the Emu War?’ It also examines the impact of this war on the emu population and the subsequent reflections on this peculiar segment of Australian history.
The Genesis of the Conflict
The genesis of the conflict, often referred to as the ‘Emu War,’ can be traced back to the post-World War I era when Australia was grappling with the environmental and economic implications of a rapidly escalating emu population. This period marked a significant shift in Emu migration patterns, primarily driven by the quest for water and food sources.
Vast flocks migrated from the interior regions towards the fertile Western Australian farmland, a move that was not received positively by local farmers who lamented over the destruction of crops.
The Aboriginal perspectives, deeply rooted in their respect for the emu as a critical element in their culture and mythology, also contributed to the complexity of the situation. The emu was seen as a totem, a spiritual entity, and its rampant extermination was perceived as a violation of Aboriginal cultural norms.
This convergence of economic necessity and cultural respect set the stage for the ensuing conflict. The escalating tension between the agricultural sector, aboriginal communities, and the burgeoning emu population led to the eventual declaration of the so-called ‘Emu War’.