Set in Malaya during the Second World War, A Town Like Alice tells the story of Englishwoman Jean Paget. When Paget is captured by the advancing Japanese army, she joins a group of women and children who are forced to march from prison camp to prison camp because the Japanese had devised no plan to deal with them. She later meets up with an Australian digger, Joe Harman, who hails from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Although a prisoner of war, Joe is occasionally allowed outside his camp to help his guards, and subsequently helps the group with medicine and food, which he appropriates from the Japanese without their knowledge. When Joe is eventually caught and tried for stealing the commandant's chickens, he is sentenced to death. After being forced to watch him being tortured, Jean and the group are sent once more on the relentless march to nowhere. When their sole remaining guard later dies, they seek refuge in a village, where they remain until the war ends. Shortly before she returns to England, Jean finds out that Joe's execution was stayed and that he is still alive. She later travels to Alice Springs to find him. Joe, in the meantime, has travelled to England in pursuit of her. They eventually meet in the Alice Springs airport lounge and are finally able to express the emotion they feel for one another.