Khaki Town, Judy Nunn’s exciting new novel, opens with a 1964 meeting between Senator Robert Kennedy and the American President, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ has called Bobby to his office to toast the upcoming signing of the Civil Rights Act. The liquor he offers up is Bundaberg Rum, a gift from when he was serving in Australia during the Second World War. This prologue immediately reels you in – something happened in Townsville during the war, a race riot which LBJ was sent out to investigate… a story he shares with Bobby Kennedy…
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 Bar in Townsville, could not be happier as she contemplates the fortune she’s making from lonely, thirsty soldiers.
It seems to have happened overnight, Val thought. How extraordinary. We’ve become a khaki town.
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 …’
Judy Nunn’s new bestseller is a breathtaking historical novel, inspired by a true wartime story that has remained a well-kept secret for over seventy years. Nunn once again delivers a fantastic story – she really is one of Australia’s great novelists. This polished, well-paced, exceptionally well researched book isn’t always the easiest read – Nunn certainly doesn’t shy away from digging into the horrific racism of the time, the shocking racial events the book is based on or language from the time period. But stories like these need to be told. This isn’t just great storytelling, but important storytelling.
Nunn absolutely nails the time period and setting – The North Queensland tropical heat hung on my skin, and I’d love a beer at The Brown’s Bar. The characters are well-crafted and I especially loved feisty publican Val. And despite the often dark themes, there are some extremely funny moments seamlessly interwoven into this novel.
Khaki Town is an exceptional Australian historical from one of the country’s best authors. Unputdownable.
About the author:
Judy Nunn’s career has been long, illustrious and multifaceted. After combining her internationally successful acting career with scriptwriting for television and radio, Judy decided in the 90s to turn her hand to prose.
Her first three novels, The Glitter Game, Centre Stage and Araluen, set respectively in the worlds of television, theatre and film, became instant bestsellers, and the rest is history, quite literally in fact. She has since developed a love of writing Australian historically-based fiction and her fame as a novelist has spread rapidly throughout Europe where she is published in English, German, French, Dutch, Czech and Spanish.
Her subsequent bestsellers, Kal, Beneath the Southern Cross, Territory, Pacific, Heritage, Floodtide, Maralinga, Tiger Men, Elianne and Spirits of the Ghan and Sanctuary confirmed Judy’s position as one of Australia’s leading fiction writers.
In 2015 Judy was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her “significant service to the performing arts as a scriptwriter and actor of stage and screen, and to literature as an author”.