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Khaki Town

Khaki Town, Judy Nunn’s exciting new novel, is inspired by a true wartime story that has remained a well-kept secret for over seventy years.

It seems to have happened overnight, Val thought . How extraordinary. We’ve become a khaki town.

It’s March 1942. Singapore has fallen. Darwin has been bombed. Australia is on the brink of being invaded by the Imperial Japanese Forces. And Val Callahan, publican of The Brown’s Hotel in Townsville, could not be happier as she contemplates the fortune she’s making from lonely, thirsty soldiers.

Overnight the small Queensland city is transformed into the transport hub for 70,000 American and Australian soldiers destined for combat in the South Pacific. Barbed wire and gun emplacements cover the beaches. Historic buildings are commandeered. And the dance halls are in full swing with jazz, jitterbug and jive.

The Australian troops begrudge the confident, well-fed ‘Yanks’ who have taken over their town and their women. There’s growing conflict, too, within the American ranks, because black GIs are enjoying the absence of segregation. And the white GIs don't like it.

As racial violence explodes through the ranks of the military, a young United States Congressman, Lyndon Baines Johnson, is sent to Townsville by his president to investigate. ‘Keep a goddamned lid on it, Lyndon,’ he is told, ‘lest it explode in our faces…’
RRP $32.99
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PRODUCT DETAILS

  • Title: Khaki Town
  • Author: Judy Nunn
  • Publisher: Random House Australia
  • ISBN: 9780143795179
  • Format: PaperBack
  • Category: General Fiction
  • Publication Date: 30/09/2019
  • Pages: 528

RATINGS & REVIEW

14/09/2019 5:02:48 AM - Marianne
A very enjoyable read.
4.5★s Khaki Town is the fifteenth novel by Australian actress and author, Judy Nunn. By the time Val Callaghan bought The Brown’s Bar in Townsville, she’d already lived a colourful life. When the north Queensland town was inundated with US troops, it got even more colourful, even if khaki seemed to be the dominant colour. The Brown’s Bar was popular with the black US servicemen of the 96th battalion stationed in Townsville for the construction of airbases and runways, because they were just as welcome there as the whites. The pretty young barmaids, Betty and Jill happily served, played music for, and danced with all of their customers. While the Australian soldiers begrudged the better-paid Americans their finer rations, uniforms and spending power, the real tension came from the Southern US servicemen, who absolutely hated seeing the negroes being treated equally: no segregation here. But under the counter Val had a shotgun she wasn’t afraid to produce for anyone who got out of hand. When interracial brawling resulted in the barring from Townsville of the black battalion as scapegoats, and banishment fourteen miles out at Kelso Field, the pressure cooker began to heat up. Captain Samuel Robinson could see that hard labour without any decent R&R, no way to let off steam with drinking, dancing and women, was going to lead to an explosive situation, and tried to dampen the resentment with an entertainment venue, but then a bullying incident lit the fuse. Nunn is a brilliant story teller and she really brings the Townsville of 1942 to life. She fills her tale (based on actual events) with a cast of interesting characters to admire, to love, to hate: feisty barmaids, a very independent laundress, an entrepreneurial black-marketeer, a fiery young journalist frustrated by censorship, an obnoxious cotton plantation heir, xenophobic locals and an arrogant but fair US congressman. Backstories for the main characters are woven in early on, with the minor characters get vignettes, so that by the time the action gets going the reader knows who and what are important and why. Romance is in the mix, but mainly, this is a story about things that were covered up, things that neither the US Armed Forces nor the Australian Government could allow to become common knowledge. It was an era of blatant racism and rampant xenophobia, and Nunn uses her fictional characters to describe the poor treatment meted out to black servicemen, the cover-up of black deaths by means accidental and intentional, and the short-sighted attitudes of US High Command that ultimately caused the unrest and what followed. But Nunn doesn’t gloss over Australia’s poor record with its indigenous population, describing the horrors of Palm Island as well as multiple mentions of the White Australia Policy and reference to the extermination of Tasmania’s aboriginal population. Possibly most shocking was the intended action against the native population should the Japanese succeed in breaching our borders. For all that, this tale also has plenty of humour (some of it quite dark) and a very satisfactory resolution for many of the characters, although some strings go untied. Add in a bit of song and dance: what more could a reader ask for? A very enjoyable read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Better Reading Preview and Penguin Random House Australia.
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