‘A place they call Townsville.’
March 1942. Singapore has fallen. Darwin has been bombed. The Imperial Japanese Forces are on the brink of invading Australia. The small tropical city of Townsville in Queensland is transformed into a transport hub for 70,000 Australian and American soldiers destined for combat in the South Pacific.
Thirsty, lonely soldiers flock to The Brown’s Hotel. Even with restricted trading hours, Val Callahan, publican of The Brown’s Hotel, is making a fortune.
But there’s tension in Townsville. Tension between the Australian troops and the American troops, and tension within the ranks of the American troops. The Australians resent the fact that the Americans are better paid and better fed and can offer chocolates and nylons to Australian women. And within the American troops, some of the white GIs don’t like that the black GIs are not segregated.
After the black GIs are banned from the leisure activities in Townsville, and after a short-lived attempt to provide them with their own club outside Townsville, racial violence erupts.
A young United States Congressman, Lyndon Baines Johnson, is sent to Townsville to investigate.
This novel was inspired by a mutiny in Townsville in May 1942, in which a number of soldiers were killed. I picked up this novel because I’d recently visited Townsville and was aware of some of the World War II related history. Ms Nunn blends fact and fiction to recreate Townsville in this period, highlighting the racial tensions (both within Australia and America). The historical figures have important cameo roles, while the fictional figures bring the period to life. I enjoyed the novel but readers should be aware of Ms Nunn’s warning:
‘Khaki Town is about racism and there are some passages that readers may find offensive and even shocking.’