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. But as tensions rise, battle lines are drawn among the 70,000-strong contingent of local and American soldiers. A violent confrontation looms…
Judy Nunn’s Khaki Town has all the requisite drama and intrigue of a memorable book club selection. Take your next reading group meet-up to the next level with a 1940s themed gathering: you can find food, drink and outfit suggestions here. Then use the questions below to get the conversations started.
Discussion points and questions:
- The White Australia policy is long gone, the US has voted in a Black president, there are protocols around racist language and segregation that are mostly scrupulously upheld. How far have Australian and US societies advanced in the spheres of civil rights and race relations since 1942?
- This novel was inspired by real events. How did that affect your reading and enjoyment of the story? In what ways did Khaki Town offer a new perspective on your understanding of Australia and America’s Second World War history?
- Strut Stowers presents the reader with certain dilemmas. He’s both a subjugated victim and a vindictive bully. What did you make of him?
- Betty models herself on some strong female film stars of her era. Which actors do you think would be best playing Betty – and the other characters – if Khaki Town were to be made into a movie?
- Betty and Kasey fall in love very quickly. Why do you think each of them was attracted to the other? If the mutiny hadn’t happened, what do you think the future would have held for their relationship?
- Similarly, when the war is over, what do you feel will happen between Amelia and Captain Robinson?
- ‘I’ll sure as hell remember you, Val,’ says Lyndon Johnson. There’s no doubt that Val Callahan is a memorable character, who’s managed to gather around her a family of many different stripes (including, remarkably, a snake!). What do you think it is about Val that’s drawn all these people to her so she, in turn, can flourish during the hardships of war?
- Were you shocked by Kasey’s behaviour and actions during the mutiny? Why do you think he made sure he played a central role in the uprising?
- What are your thoughts on Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the investigation, in particular his management of Captain Maxwell and Sergeant Stowers?
- Pete Vickers is the kind of journalist who wants to keep the bastards honest, hold administrations to account. He’s held back from doing so because of the times he’s living in. Do you think he will thrive when the war is over; and do you think his career would thrive now?
- The fates of Kasey and Betty are in some ways the cruellest in the book. How do you think Betty’s wartime experiences will affect her, taking into account all we see of her personality?
- Kipling’s Just So Stories, Bundaberg’s rum, Magnetic Island’s holiday appeal – a number of aspects of the book endure, even after more than 75 years. What do you think Townsville, Queensland, Australia will look like in another 75 years? Will we still be reading Kipling and enjoying a Bundy and Coke?
- If you had been living in Townsville in 1942 would you have felt safer with the influx of troops, or alarmed by their arrival? Can you imagine your town suddenly becoming a khaki town; how do you think it would affect your community?
For ideas on hosting a 1940s themed book club, click here.