History in a Bottle

History in a Bottle – The Great Emu War

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This can of Emu Bitter includes the phrase “Beer for Western Australia” across the top. Which is a little bit funny because it’s actually brewed in South Australia. Ha!

The Emu range are among the throwbacks of the Australian beer scene. They’re the beers that are only available in one state. I like that – despite the massive consolidation in the mainstream brewing field, they’re still making state-based beers. Nice one, guys.

As mainstream beers go, this one’s alright. I had it almost a year ago for this post (which helped me win that writer of the year award thingo BTW). My abiding memory is that it lived up to the description of “Bitter”. There was way more bitterness here than I can recall tasting in a mainstream beer. I reckon it was one of the best of the state-based beers I bought and tried for last year’s blog post.

Emus also played a part in what has to be the most amusing event in Australian history – the Great Emu War.

What do you when face with a 20,000-strong emu attack? Well, you give the army some machine guns and send them in with orders to shoot to kill.

That’s just what happened in 1932, when Federal Defence Minister Sir George Pearce delivered a most unusual order to Major GPW Meredith, commander of the Royal Australian Artillery’s Seventh Heavy Vehicle Battery.

The minister told him to pick two of his best gunmen, arm them with Lewis machine guns and 10,000 rounds of ammo and head to Western Australia and blow those pesky emus to smithereens.

For it was there, in the farmlands of Campion and Walgoolan, that was about to be overwhelmed by 20,000 emus. Once upon a time, the pests could be scared off with a gunshot – but that was when there was only a handful of them. Twenty-thousand of the buggers called for some more drastic measures.

And so on the night of November 2, the Great Emu War began when the soldiers lined up their guns at a large number of emus at a watering hole.

They thought it would be so easy. They were so wrong. Fools – anyone who has been to a petting zoo knows you don’t underestimate an emu. They’re cunning and devious bastards.

At daybreak came the order to fire. As soon as they head the shots, the emus bolted, with only nine being killed.

Okay, time for Plan B. They mounted the guns on top of a truck, which didn’t work too well either. The emus easily outran the truck, which struggled on the difficult terrain.

What really shocked these soldiers, who had seen what a machine gun could do to a human body in World War I, was that emus seemed impervious to their bullets. In one instance, an emu was shot no less than six times before running out of range, and survived.

After a month of pointless potshots, the soldiers admitted defeat with just 986 emus bumped off. Though Major Meredith claimed as many as 2500 birds had been wounded and probably died later.

He did leave the war full of respect for his feathered adversary, saying “If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world. They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.”

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