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A Town Like Alice

From Academic Kids

A Town Like Alice is a novel by the English author Nevil Shute. It was first published in 1950. The "Alice" in the title refers to Alice Springs, Australia.

It was made into a motion picture in 1956 starring Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch.


A few years after World War Two, a young woman, Jean Paget, who was working in Malaya when the Japanese invaded, tells her London lawyer the story of her time in Malaya during the war. She is one of a party of European women who were marched around Malaya by the Japanese, since no camp would take them in and the Japanese army would not take responsibility for them. Many of them die on the march, and the rest survive only by the charity of the local villagers.

On their march from one village to another, she meets a young Australian soldier, Joe Harman, also a prisoner. He steals food and medicines to help them, and is severely punished by the Japanese authorities. The women are marched away and believe that the soldier died.

Jean survives the war and returns to London. A few years later, she unexpectedly inherits a substantial amount of money from a distant relative. She discusses the matter with her lawyer, and decides to return to Malaya to attempt to help the people in a village who sheltered them.

When she arrives, she learns that Joe Harman survived his punishment and returned to Australia. She travels on to Australia and visits the town of Alice Springs, where Joe lived before the war. She then travels to the outback Queensland town of Willstown, where Joe has moved to, managing a cattle station. But in the meantime, Joe has learned that Jean survived the war, and he has travelled to Britain in search of her, but in vain. On her lawyer's advice, he returns to Queensland and they meet.

They eventually decide to marry. Using her inheritance, Jean helps to build the small outback town of Willstown into a place where people would like to live—a town like Alice Springs.

Despite the title of the book, very little of the action actually takes place in Alice Springs. Jean stays there whilst searching for Joe and is much impressed with the quality of life there. Jean and Joe start several business enterprises in an attempt to convert the primitive outback Willstown into 'A Town Like Alice'.


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