Stories from my Sketchbook . . .
I like emus. I just thought I’d put that out there right up front. Remember what I’ve said in the past about critters with attitude? Well, cue the emu. They are cool dudes. And although I thought I knew quite a bit about them in general, while searching for a quote to go with my sketch this week (quotes about emus are extremely hard to come by I might add) I was surprised to learn a whole lot more about these wonderful quirky creatures . . .
Things I already knew:
Emus are big. The emu is the second largest bird in the world (the largest being the ostrich). Emus can stand from 150 to 190 cm (59 to 75 in) in height and weigh between 18-60 kgs (40-132 lbs).
Emus are flightless. They have very small, almost useless wings.
Emus are fast. They have very long, very strong legs. When at a full run their stride can be almost 9 feet long and they can sprint up to around 48 km (30mph).
Emus are long-lived. Emus can live 10-20 years in the wild and up to 35 years in captivity.
Emus are curious. Anyone who has ever been to a wildlife sanctuary will know they have a tendency to sneak up behind you and look over your shoulder to see what you are doing (and to see if you are eating something you might be encouraged to share . . . )
Emus make weird noises. Emus have a pouch in their throat which, when inflated, allows them to make deep booming or drumming sounds which can be heard up to 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) away. (Apparently they can also issue a rather blood-curdling hiss . . . )
Things I didn’t know:
Emus have 2 sets of eyelids—one set for blinking and the other to keep out dust.
Emus can jump. Apparently their strong legs also allow the birds to jump up to 2.1 metres (7 feet) straight up. (How freaky is that!)
They are good swimmers and like to play in water (and mud). (I have to say that until now it never occurred to me to even think of an emu having a fun day at the beach.)
Emus have no teeth so they swallow small stones and pebbles into the gizzard which help to grind up and digest their food. (Tasty!)
Australia once declared war on emus. (Say what?)
I’ll say that again. Australia once went to war with the emus. Seriously. It became known as ‘The Great Emu War of 1932’ . . .
Stay with me. At the end of the First World War returning Australian soldiers and a number of British veterans, were given land by the Australian government to take up farming in Western Australia. With the onset of the great depression the government encouraged these farmers to increase their wheat crops, promising assistance in the form of subsidies. However, wheat prices continued to fall, the government failed to deliver on the promised subsidies, and things became increasingly tense as the farmers prepared to harvest, while also threatening to refuse to deliver the wheat.
The farmers’ woes were exacerbated by the arrival of up to 20,000 emus who descended on the area as part of their breeding season and (yahoo!) found the abundance of food and water now available to them beyond their wildest dreams. They proceeded to rampage enthusiastically around the district damaging crops and fences, eating everything they could get their birdy beaks around and causing general mayhem.
The besieged farmers relayed their concerns to the government (quite forcefully I imagine) and the government obligingly sent the army in to sort the problem out. It was soon discovered that taking single pot shots at the offending emus was having little effect (apparently the emus realised quite early on that if they stayed just far enough away the guns weren’t accurate enough to hit them) and so, on further pressing, the Australian Minister of Defense then gave the soldiers access to . . . wait for it . . . machine guns . . . (I swear I am not making this up . . . )
Long story short—several military assaults were then launched upon the errant emus, with less than spectacular results. The maurauding critters proved far trickier than anyone anticipated (seems they tend to scatter and flee in all directions when threatened, instead of patiently standing in a crowd waiting to be mown down) and after a very short space of time (and some seriously scathing reports in the media) the government decided it was all a bit too embarrassing and withdrew their troops.
So there you go. The emus had won the war. This might go a long way towards explaining why many of us today have never even heard about this bizarre little slice of Aussie history . . . and why all emus still seem to possess that same smug mess-with-me-if-you-dare stare . . .