At the heart of the eastern Wheatbelt town of Merredin, Western Australia, rises a cenotaph remembering men killed in the First and Second World Wars. No mention is made of local casualties in the Emu War - possibly because they were all emus.
But sleepy Merredin was once at the centre of the strangest campaign in Australian military history, when a nation declared war on its national bird.
For the uninitiated, the Emu War is the only war in history that is better known to young people than their parents. An animated YouTube video, "Emu War - OverSimplified", has racked up more than 23 million views and sparked memes throughout the internet.
The events of the war will become even more familiar after the October 22 premiere of the movie The Emu War, the first of two films to be made about the events that shook the area around Merredin in November 1932.
I figured that the sites of the Emu War would quickly become tourist attractions, and determined to get there first. I was hampered by the fact that I (like an emu) cannot drive a car, so my partner had to reluctantly agree to chauffeur me. Nothing remains of Campion, where 20,000 emus once gathered along the eastern side of the Number 1 Rabbit Proof Fence, so Merredin became our centre of operations.
The drive from Perth to Merredin follows the Golden Pipeline Trail, a niche tourist attraction that might excite travellers with an interest in water-supply infrastructure. The pipeline isn't golden - it just leads to the goldfields - it's rusty steel, and it looks the same as any other pipeline, only longer. It transports potable water from Perth to Kalgoorlie, and is as unmemorable as it is laudable.
The pipeline made an unpromising start to our road trip, which I tried to enliven by telling my partner the story of the Emu War.
In October 1932, a drought brought a huge mob of migrating emus to the Wheatbelt, where they set about eating and wrecking the crops around Campion and Walgoolan, just east of Merredin. Local farmers asked the government for help to eradicate the pest, and the Army sent three of its best - or best available - men.
Major Gwynydd Purves Wynne-Aubrey Meredith of the 7th Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery took two machine gunners to the Wheatbelt to rout the feathered foe. The birds outnumbered the soldiers by 6666:1, but the troops had the advantages of modern weaponry and the opposable thumb.
The problem with turning machine guns on emus is that emus refuse to charge an artillery - probably because they have no tactical objectives.
I figured that the sites of the Emu War would quickly become tourist attractions, and determined to get there first.
Instead, they split off into groups and run away.
Major Meredith quickly developed the greatest of respect for the enemy. He told the press, "If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds, it would face any army in the world. They could face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus, whom even dum dum bullets would not stop."
The major was not alone in attributing military skills to birds. "The emus have proved that they are not so stupid as they are usually considered to be," reported the Kalgoorlie Miner. "Each mob has its leader, always an enormous black plumed bird, standing fully six feet high, who keeps watch while his fellows busy themselves with the wheat. At the first suspicious sign he gives the signal and dozens of heads stretch out of the crop. A few birds will take fright, starting a headlong stampede for the scrub, the leader always remaining until his followers have reached safety."
After a failed attempt to chase down the emus with a machine gun mounted on the back of a truck (the truck crashed), it was widely agreed that the only way to inflict significant casualties on the enemy was to catch them where they came in for water. Major Meredith staged an ambush alongside the dam at Campion Siding and reported, "The gunners are at last getting the upper hand over the enemy, many of which have been killed or are carrying lead. The rest, apparently considering discretion the better part of valour, are gradually sneaking off."
He appeared to have lost his mind.
The Army finally withdrew from the Wheatbelt on December 12, having suffered no casualties, reported Meredith, except "a broken extractor and return spring".
Ninety-one years later, my partner and I check in to the Merredin Motel and I ask at the Central Wheatbelt Visitor Centre if there is anything anywhere that commemorates the Emu War. The young bloke working at the centre has no idea what I'm talking about, but assures me that there is not.
Undaunted, we head out to Campion townsite (the town of Campion is no longer gazetted, since almost nothing of it remains), following a saddle-brown road through a level landscape that gradually yellows with bristling wheat. Blue-tongued lizards watch the hire car pass. Pink galas, green parrots and magpies fly close to the ground, as if the sky starts lower out here.
The Number 1 Rabbit Proof Fence has collapsed in several places, and is really just a very long fine-mesh fence with rusty fence poles and oxidised barbed-wire trim. My partner becomes impatient, repeatedly questioning the point of the journey.
Then, suddenly, as if by a miracle, we are sent a sign.
Not a sign from heaven, but an actual sign.
Mounted on poles, framed in steel, and embedded by the roadside on Rabbit Proof Fence Road, the sign bears the legend "Emu War 1932" with an image of an emu on either side.
After jubilantly photographing every aspect of the sign (okay, so there aren't many) we turn around and drive back towards Merredin, when my partner spots in the distance... two emus standing sentinel in a field of wheat!
It's as if they are paying tribute to their fallen comrades, on the very ground where they fell.
I return to town, elated.
With sated eyes, I can better appreciate the gaudy beauty of the Public Silo Trail ("WA's largest outdoor art gallery"), particularly street artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers' massive whimsical mural on the largest grain storage bins in the southern hemisphere, just outside Merredin.
Unlikely as it sounds, it seems impossible to get a bad meal in Merredin. My first lunch, at the Wild Poppy Cafe, is super-tangy kaffir-lime chicken balls with nam jim dressing. Dinner at the big and friendly Commercial Hotel is equally satisfying. The lamb vindaloo tastes more like an Indian curry than the nonsense served in many city restaurants, and the red-emperor special is great too. My next lunch, at Dimensions Cafe, included one of the finest steak sandwiches I've encountered in half a lifetime spent encountering disappointing steak sandwiches.
Merredin has other attractions - a surprisingly large military museum and a lovingly restored railway museum - but I need to visit Merredin Regional Library and find out where the sign came from.
The baffled librarian suggests I ring Nungarin Shire Council, where the works manager assured the administrator that he did not erect the sign. The administrator recommends I call the Nungarin military museum, as it sounds like the kind of thing that the "gurus" there might do. A volunteer at the museum advises me to contact Mukinbudin Shire Council. Hilda at Mukinbudin Shire Council says, "Our CEO went for a drive through there yesterday, and he assumed Nungarin had put up the sign."
(Interestingly, nobody seems to think it the least bit unusual that a citizen might independently erect memorial signage by the side of a public road.)
The redoubtable Hilda promises to investigate, and calls me back a few minutes later with the phone number of a man named Ralph English.
I phone Ralph and tell him I am trying to discover who put up the sign.
"I did," he said. "About 10 days ago."
"For people that're interested, like yourself, when they drive through there," said Ralph.
Ralph's family once owned the land where Ralph had planted the sign, and Ralph's father Jim English was apparently among the settlers who had followed and aided the gun party in 1932.
Jim spoke about the Emu War but nobody much else did - until now.
"It's a bit mystifying really," says Ralph. "It seems to have been made more public in the last 18 months and everyone seems to be getting on the bandwagon. Some of the things I've seen on YouTube are just a big mockery of the Army: they're not doing it justice."
Thanks to Ralph, Emu War pilgrims at last have a place to pay their respects.
Ralph English is my Australian of the Year.
Getting there: Merredin is 260km (about three hours) west of Perth via National Highway 94. From Merredin, Campion is about an hour's drive on mostly unsealed roads; best to download any maps before you start as there is little phone reception.
Staying there: Double rooms at the Merredin Motel & Gumtree Restaurant cost from $160 a night.
Explore more: australiasgoldenoutback.com