The Great Emu War

Dylan Oliver

There really wasn’t anything special about this particular Wednesday, not unless you asked Cass. As far as Ostrid was concerned, it was dry and hot just like any other Wednesday. But there was Cass, watching nothing, which was pretty much all she ever did. No one really understood Cass; she was just a deeply suspicious Emu. Cass the Wary they called her. If something was awry, she’d be the first to raise the alarm.  


Sergeant Miller was bored. As far as he was concerned, this was a waste of his time. But the farmers who’d asked for help were the same men who fought by him during the Great War and so it really was the least he could do. All the same, the operation seemed straightforward, so he’d be home soon enough. 


Cass called her first warning at dawn, but Ostrid shut her up. 

‘The sun always rises earlier this time of year, you clown,’ Ostrid said. 

Cass had issue with the water at the billabong too, but it tasted the same to Ostrid. The heat, the flies, the way the wind blew. Ostrid wondered if there was anything at all that Cass didn’t find suspicious. 

So, it was of no consequence when Cass took issue with the unusual gathering of Humans watching them close. Ostrid could hardly even see them, what with the identical outfits that blended into the background. 


What did the farmers really think was going to happen? They set up shop on land that hadn’t been touched since the first ships landed on Australian soil and now they wanted actual military intervention over what was essentially an infestation. Miller thought it was a remarkable waste of resources, but it wasn’t his job to have opinions on things like this. He was the muscle: it was his job to hold the heavy gun and pull the trigger. Which wasn’t easy to do even when they were just standing there, looking at him point-blank. Miller felt bad for a moment, wondering if these birds had ever had to deal with being hunted before, but the moment passed, and he squeezed the trigger. 


‘Here she goes again,’ Emmanuel said. ‘Causing a ruckus over nothing. Cass, they’re tiny, feeble little things. What harm can they do?’ 

But it was still important to Cass that she keep watch. Ostrid tried to ignore her, but even she couldn’t deny that something was starting to feel different about today. The Human in front of Cass was holding a weird sort of farming tool that looked almost like the rifles they used to shoot rabbits, but not quite the same. Cass was standing in front of the man trying to puzzle it out when he twitched. There was a shattering noise, louder than anything Ostrid had ever heard before, and Cass dropped to the ground. 


The first kill had been easy enough, but Sergeant Miller could not have predicted what would happen next. There was pandemonium among the birds, as they broke out sprinting in every direction but the sky. Miller held the trigger down, shaking as the rounds rocketed from the gun. 


Ostrid couldn’t believe her eyes. She’d never been much a fan of Cass, but she hadn’t been expecting to watch her die. Cass the Wary had been right to be wary. Well, there was a first time for everything. No time to mourn though. Everyone else was running: so should she. It seemed the only logical choice, though she couldn’t fathom where everyone was going. She just ran—as far away as she could—from the man with the machine that was killing her flock. 


Shit was going to hit the fan on this one. A thousand rounds and only ten dead birds. Miller thought for a moment that maybe he should have been more cautious, but seriously, how in God’s good name was that even possible? They were grouped all together and somehow, they—what? Outran his bullets? 


Ostrid finally stopped when the bullets did. The silence was louder than it’d ever been before. Not even the crickets dared begin their song. She tried to see who’d survived. It was hard to get a good look at anyone with the fear and chaos still a very popular state of mind. She wondered how many’d joined Cass.  

With the sun beginning to set in the west, Ostrid knew they had to settle down somewhere. The good food—the stuff the Humans planted—was hours back the way she came. She’d go back tomorrow, probably, with the hope that food—and not death—was there waiting for her. 


‘Alright, this clearly isn’t working. We need a new game plan,’ said The Major. No shit, Miller thought to himself. It’d been a week, and if he embellished the numbers, he might be able to convince someone they’d killed forty birds. There was no way anyone could have predicted this kind of resistance from Emus. If you could even call it resistance. Evasion, maybe? They were overgrown chickens, for God’s sake. But the fuckers were smart, he’d have to give them that much. He understood why the farmers had called in the cavalry on this one. 


It’d been Emmanuel who’d come up with the idea to go about in smaller packs. 

‘Make sure one of you is on watch at all times,’ he’d said in the grunts and thumps that made up the Emu language. 

It was a simple enough plan with a simple enough execution, but Ostrid felt uneasy about the whole thing. Was this life now? Spend your days running and feed when you can? Keep going and try not to die? 

Life had been good before. Plenty of food, plenty of water. Now Cass was dead and others were dead and Ostrid didn’t think running was fair. Emmanuel had been the one to say the Humans were feeble. He was right, Ostrid thought. They were tiny little things. And there were only a few of them. She could send them a message; a violent, bloody, well-deserved message. 


‘We’re getting some heat in the press. They’re calling it “The Great Emu War”,’ The Major said, emphasising “Emu” with a frustrated irony, ‘and apparently, we’re losing.’ He threw the grey pages down onto the desk. The very same farmers who’d asked for their help were now condemning their action, calling it reckless slaughter. 

‘This isn’t war,’ Miller said. ‘They haven’t fought back yet. This is—I don’t know what this is. But we are gettin’ our teeth kicked in.’ 

The Major gave him a look that said he wasn’t helping and a sigh that said he was right. ‘We’ve got our orders. Get more birds or get out.’ 


She knew it was dangerous and she knew no one else would come, but Ostrid was stubborn and there was nothing anyone could do to stop her. The Humans had finally been making some headway, setting up traps and the like for the smaller packs to fall into. It was fuel on the fire for Ostrid. She’d spent some days forming a plan. The machines always fell silent near the sunset: that was her window. They’d light themselves a fire, taking turns swigging from something metal. Their guard would be down, and then it was a simple matter of doing to them what they did to Cass. 


The fucker came from nowhere. Silent. One of the boys had been telling a story about his girl back home, ‘bout how she’d be keen and waiting when he went home tomorrow, if you knew what he meant. Out of nowhere, Miller felt something massive crash into his back. He struggled to get to his feet, but whatever had knocked him down was on top of him and heavy. He could feel talons pierce his skin, blood soak his shirt. He couldn’t fucking believe he’d survived a war at fourteen years old and now he was getting done in by an overgrown pigeon. Then there was the crack of a pistol, the slump of the bird, and the weight lifted up off his back. 

‘You good, Miller?’ asked The Major, holstering the pistol. 

‘Yeah, I’m fine, I’ll be right. Might need a doc though.’ 

‘Of course, Sergeant,’ The Major said, a sly grin growing on his face. ‘There’s a vet just a couple clicks from here, we can see if they’ll get you in tomorrow.’ 


After thirty-eight sunsets, Emmanuel could rest easy. He’d seen the Humans ship out. Not all of them, mind, just the ones that looked all invisible-like. The familiar ones—the ones that planted the food—they were still around, still planting food he hoped. Shame about Ostrid though; if she’d just waited another day, she would’ve seen he was right. But he couldn’t really cry about it, mainly because he was an Emu and crying is something Humans do. 


Thirty-eight days. One month, one week, one day. One winner. And it wasn’t fucking us. 

Dylan Oliver is a Meanjin-based (Brisbane) writer currently working towards his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. He likes to explore a variety of themes and genres, with a focus on highlighting queer characters in a way that feels honest to the people who inspire him. Dylan aspires to be a novelist and is currently working on what he hopes will become his debut novel. 


Art by Tremayne Stocks @tremaynestocks_art