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Western Australia Is Forming a 135-mile
Trapped, poisoned and even machine-gunned, its beak worth 4/- and each egg sixpence—the emu is a tough adversary for Western Australia's farmers.
New Strategy In A War
On The Emu
By A SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
WHEN THE Western Australian State Cabinet last week approved the expenditure of £52,000 as a special defence measure this represented the opening of yet another major engage- ment in an unceasing war against an enemy as old as Western Australia itself.
THIS war, ironically enough, is one being continually waged against a creature regarded at home and abroad as a national symbol of Australia.
The enemy is the tough,
prolific, gangling marauder of the sand plains whose species, ever since the beginning of agriculture in the State, has invaded, in a frenzy of hunger, some of the finest fields at the time of ripening of the harvest to shear off crops with vora- cious beaks and to trample with great webbed feet 100 plants into the earth for each
In such a way Australia's largest bird, the great 100 lb
non-flying native emu, has become for farmers a pest that has cost millions of pounds in lost production in recent years.
Now the State Government
has drawn up plans for a new defensive engagement against the pest. Its strategy is based on a decision to build a £52,000 emu-proof fence.
The fence will be about 135 miles long, and will be joined to the Government maintained rabbit-proof fences which stretch across a great part of the State.
In Western Australia the emus, like the rabbit hordes, advance from the sandy, semi- arid vastnesses of the north and east, and it is back to
This map shows how emus from the dry interior have been pushing into the developed areas of
those zones that the experts now hope to pen them.
They merely hope, for they know from experience that the emu is a tough and unpredict- able adversary.
The Western Australian Government and farmers for generations past have em- ployed a variety of methods
to control the menace, includ- ing poisoning, trapping, and shooting on a grand scale.
These have met at best with mixed success, and even at times have resulted in such
farcical and humiliating de- feats that there are many offi- cials and experts to-day in the State who cannot bear to be reminded of the outcome of some of their more ambitious efforts at emu destruction.
Among the failures was a military expedition carried out by a Royal Australian Artillery detachment employ- ing a range of military tech- nique, including mobile war- fare strategy and guerilla
This, the most ambitious project in the history of West- ern Australia's emu war, was the one which failed most
miserably, and which brought for the bird its most complete victory; and the incongruity of the whole thing even had the effect, for once, of arous- ing public sympathy for the
The Lewis-gun Expedition
THE operation, which be-
gan on November 1, 1932, was unique in the world history of pest warfare.
That day a small armed party of the 7th Heavy Bat- tery, R.A.A., under Major C. W. P. Meredith, set out for the rich agricultural area in the vicinity of Campion, about 200 miles from Perth.
The expedition was equip- ped with Lewis-guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition.
The need for some quick defence measure was urgent, because some farmers had been permanently driven from their properties and others were threatening to leave if prompt action was not taken by the Government.
Early in this engagement
it became surprisingly obvious that open warfare against the birds was useless because of the speed of their retreat and manoeuvre; and it even be- came apparent that the tough- ness of their feathered hides made them immune to glanc- ing volleys of machine-gun
On the second day the ex- pedition leader decided upon a more careful strategy. The party arose at daybreak to prepare an ambush near to a dam towards which a flock of more than 1,000 birds had been reported to be moving.
When, just after daylight, a wave of bobbing heads ap- peared in the distance, the de- tachment and armed farmer companions were hushed in anticipation of a major vic- tory. At 100 yards they fired simultaneously from several directions at an almost perfect target of lumbering be-
They were astounded to find, after several bursts of fire, that fewer than a dozen emus had fallen. Before re- loading could be achieved the birds were not only out of gunsight but well on their way to being out of sight alto- gether.
This engagement was typi- cal of those which took place in ensuing days. During those days apparently the emus be- gan to improve their own un- derstanding of the science of warfare, for a confused Army observer on the fourth day sadly admitted that "each pack seems to have its leader now a big black-plumed bird which stands fully six feet high and keeps watch while his mates carry out their work of destruction ard warns them of our approach."
With scarcely a victory of any consequence to its credit the Army finally ingloriously
withdrew to the accompani- ment of a tirade of abuse from all sides. At the time the whole incident provided a topic of amusement through-
out the State.
Major Meredith remarked on the outstanding ability of the emus to keep moving even when badly wounded.
He sighed: "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. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop."
Another member of the party bitterly remarked: "There's only one way to kill
an emu—shoot him through the back of the head when his mouth is closed, or through the front of his mouth when his mouth is open. That's how hard it is."
The Plan For The Barrier
NOTHING since that de-
feat has led to such high hopes as the present plan for the construction of a special emu-proof fence in the rich agricultural area near to where the 1932 fiasco took place.
An Agricultural Depart- ment reconnaissance party will leave for the area in a few days as a preliminary to the start of work on the big fence.
The fence will join the No. 1 and No. 2 rabbit-proof fences, making a barrier which will be the first close protection to the agricultural area surrounding the Kulja Bonnie Rock railway line. It will begin at a point on No. 1 fence about 77 miles north of the East-West railway.
The fence will be 4ft 10in high and about 130 miles long. It will be constructed of heavy ring-locked wire in- corporated with rows of
barbed wire about four inches
apart at the top and bottom.
It may have the effect of
defeating hordes of emus, which carry out seasonal in- vasions from pastoral areas further north. It is designed to funnel them in an area
surrounded by No. 1 fence on one side and No. 2 fence on the other. In this area north of the agricultural settlements they can do little harm.
This measure is expected to be the most effective yet. It
will be complementary to a "beak" bonus system, which
was introduced in 1944 and in which the reward was increased to 4/ a beak in 1948. There also is a bonus of 6d each on the gathering of emu eggs. There have been up to 30,000 beak claims in one year.
But even if some degree of victory over the emu is obtained soon for the long suffering farmers and the continually harassed Govern- ment it will be by no means a complete or final victory. For the tough, busy beak and the large heavy tread of the emu carry with them all the hardiness of the cruel, sparse environment of the emu's origin—the Australian sand- plains.
And the emu, so gangling and comical yet now so much feared by farmers, has been part of the country for unknown eons past.
It was a mere two and a half centuries ago that Willem de Vlamingh, after anchoring the Geelvinck near the mouth of the Swan River on Decem- ber 29, 1696, observed further inland "the giant footprint of a large animal—most frighten- ing to observe."
That animal proved to be the emu.