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The History Of Joan Ferguson
Transferred to the staff of Wentworth Detention Centre after an apparently exemplary term of service at Bognor Road jail in Queensland, Joan Ferguson was a towering, thickset, dark-haired prison officer whose contribution to the service could only be described as unique and inimitable. Without delay she set about making her mark on her new domain, entering into the procedure of cell-searches and clearly aware of the many ruses the women run - she took no time in locating a false heel in one of Chrissie Lathams shoes. She was quick to don her soon-to-be-infamous black leather gloves in order to bully and body-search the dim-witted Doreen Burns: discovering the women were running a book, the unscrupulous officer pocketed most of the money for herself before forcing bookie Faye Quinn to provide her with a regular cut.
Her attentions soon turned to the remand prisoner Hannah Simpson, and it was Joans heroism in court that thwarted Hannahs attempted escape from custody. Hannah was disgusted by Joans lesbian overtures, but Bea and the others saw Joans sexuality as a possible chink in her armour, a means to expose her rampant corruption. Further light was shed on the officers past when inmate Maxine Daniels arrived at the prison: she had met The Bear before, as Joan had been nicknamed in her old haunt. It transpired that Miss Ferguson had fallen in love with an inmate, Audrey Forbes, who was summarily murdered by her fellow prisoners when they learnt of her liaison with the officer. It was this devastating blow that finally drove Joan to cross the line from hard-working, disciplined upholder of prison rules to the corrupt, wrathful figure that the women of Wentworth were so memorably to nickname The Freak.
Joan soon came to realise that Hannah was incapable of taking Audreys place, not least when she lodged a complaint of sexual harassment against her. So she raised no objections when the inmate was transferred to Barnhurst. By this time the officers reputation in Wentworth was ominously established: having already fleeced Chrissie of a stash of loot following a short-lived escape, Joan hammered home her malice by threatening to ruin her custody battle for her beloved daughter Elizabeth. Joans subsequent brutal assault (which she justified as self defence) on Chrissie raised the governors suspicions that there was a lot more to her than met the eye. On investigation, however, Joans track record in Queensland appeared to be without fault, and she was automatically promoted to Senior Officer.
Determined to remove this new, menacing rival to her swaggering power, Top Dog Bea Smith set about her plans to eject The Freak from Wentworth. The women sent Joan to coventry, refusing to obey her orders whilst blithely acceding to those of all the other officers. Events came to a head when the women launched a protest in the garden: determined to prove just who had the upper hand, a scornful Joan turned the hose-pipes on the women, and the bedraggled inmates were herded unhappily back inside. They next instigated a sit-in in the dining room, but when Lizzie Birdsworth took a turn for the worse, Joan refused to let her out or fetch her medication - unless Bea surrendered the protest. Appalled, Bea was forced to give in to her nemesis, and Lizzie was rushed to hospital.
But not only the inmates were incensed by Joans harshness: officer Steve Faulkner, who had initially been quite pally with Joan (she having backed him against Chrissies fallacious rape allegation), now turned against her. Moreover, Meg Morris had the opportunity, during a brief spell inside as an inmate, to discover the extent of Joans corruption. Thus the officers themselves set about plotting to expose their colleagues evil ways. Joan faced problems from other quarters too, when she was suspected of being the whore-killing psycho who polished off two ex-inmates: one of Joans trademark leather gloves was found at the scene of Penny Seymours murder - and Chrissie well recalled a previous occasion when Joan had forcefully grabbed the inmate by her throat... But Chrissie herself was in deadly peril when the real culprit turned out to be her current beau, prison nurse Neil Murray - and Joan was of course her usual compassionate self: I hear your boyfriend turned out to be a psycho! she gloated malevolently after Chrissies narrow escape from death.
Meanwhile the officer-inmate plot to frame The Freak for supplying contraband was only foiled at the eleventh hour when duplicitous embezzler Barbara Fields lagged to Joan in an effort to save her own neck (the officer having taken possession of some of her dubious financial dealings). Departmental scandal was only alleviated by scapegoat Steves resignation, but Joan was to face an even greater threat when Barbara attempted to wriggle free from her clutches. An accomplice of the inmate burgled Joans house, poisoning her dog and laying hands on her highly incriminating diaries - which then fell into Barbaras blackmailing possession...
For the first time an inmate had the upper hand over Joan, although in Barbaras case the trump card was to prove a dead mans hand. Hostility between Bea and Joan was ever-increasing, in particular since Joan manhandled Lizzie in order to foil Margo Gaffneys planned escape from Woodridge (Joans motives being to wreck the prison concert and thereby discredit its organiser, Deputy Governor Colleen Powell). Tricked into believing that Lizzie was dead, and constantly provoked by Margos stirring, Bea faced the final straw when her own hopes of parole were crushed by Joans less than exemplary references. Having played no part in the womens daring attempt to gang up on Joan and club her to death, Bea vowed to take on The Freak one-to-one. She used the promise of the diaries to lure her to isolation, while Chrissie diverted attention with a fire in the library. Never one to be outdone, the defiant Margo lit a fire of her own - and had the misfortune to lob her Molotov cocktail into a storeroom full of turpentine...
While Joan and Bea battled it out in the isolation block, a fire raged through the lower prison: despite being almost choked to death by Bea, Joan managed to fight back, brutally bashing her assailants head against the corridor floor. However in her haste to find her diaries (which were in fact concealed in the governors office, and did not survive the blaze), she neglected the fact that she had dropped her keys: when the fire burnt through the prisons electrical circuitry, the security gates automatically slammed shut - leaving Joan trapped in the isolation block. Beas battered body lay outside the gates - with Joans set of keys. The officer pleaded vainly with Bea to help her, but the Top Dog was either too fatalistic or concussed to pay much heed. At length inmate Paddy Lawson came to the rescue, but she insisted that Joan drag Bea to safety. Joan grudgingly conceded, but the only route out of the raging inferno was via the prison roof - as she hauled Beas semi-conscious body up the ladder, Joan lost her grip and plunged back into the prison...

Fortunately the emergency services had by this time prevailed, and Joans body was laid on a stretcher and airlifted from the roof. Recovering in hospital, with her neck in a brace, she wasted little time in accusing Bea of trying to kill her - despite having promised Bea that no charges would be pressed should they escape alive. She was soon back on duty at the refurbished Wentworth, and her uncanny sixth sense alerted her to the fact that the women had somehow gotten hold of alcohol to celebrate their homecoming.
The women retaliated by devising their own version of Ericas doomed points system: the officer who scored the most points would be dealt with - and there were no guesses which screw headed the list. In response Joan set about enforcing some of the lapsed prison regulations, preventing Lizzie from wearing her (non-prison issue) cardigan, and insisting on the ban of inmate-officer conversation. Wary of the new double-act of Bea and Chrissie, Joan took it on herself to go over Ericas head and made a phone call to Ted Douglas, resulting in Chrissies immediate shanghai to Barnhurst. Erica was furious with Joan, but another issue had arisen: Meg had failed to body-search social worker Barry Simmons, who had supplied contraband cigarettes to Paddy. Meg bleakly offered her resignation - but an adamant Bea threatened that if Meg left the prison, so would Joan, one way or another...
The matter soon passed, and Bea was faced with a more immediate threat in the shape of hardened killer Nola McKenzie. Awake to this new rival of her hated foe, Joan first attempted to set the pair up in a fight in the prison library before muscling in on Nolas various insurance and contraband rackets. Bea was disgusted to discover an inmate actually colluding with Joan, even more so when Maxine was roped into Nolas dealings. Joan turned a blind eye as Maxines friend Roxanne Bradshaw brazenly smuggled in goods during a visit. However a new inmate, Jill Clarke, soon took an unsubtle interest in the dodgy deals at foot in the jail: Joan discovered in the nick of time that she was in fact a departmental spy, and Ted Douglas was happy to believe that his much-favoured Miss Ferguson was quite innocent of any charges that Jill might have mistakenly noted.
Joans smirk was wiped from her face when Bea managed to escape from the prison disguised in her uniform; but with Nola as Top Dog Wentworth at last looked set to run Joans way, not least when Erica was dismissed from the governorship for her manifest inability to inspire any discipline in her charges. With Teds encouragement, Joan applied for the post, alongside Meg and Colleen, but all three officers were decidedly put out when outsider Ann Reynolds was appointed as Wentworths new head. Keen to cement her position, Joan pragmatically made herself as helpful as possible to Ann, although it would not be long before the governor came to realise that her most disciplined officer was also the least trustworthy.
It was around this time that Joans somewhat estranged father, Major Ferguson, re-emerged into her life. Joan had always felt impelled to follow in his footsteps, but her efforts to join the army had proven fruitless. Thus she had had to settle on the prison service. Both father and daughter had always been unable to express their love for each other, and they parted once more on less than intimate terms - until a surprise gift from the Major, a new puppy, broke the ice and reduced the sorrowful Joan to tears.
The recapture of Bea soon spelt an end to Nolas reign, and she and Joan set about their plan to eliminate her for good. Coercing the remand prisoner and dubious psychic Zara Moonbeam into their plot, they laid their deadly trap. Zara convinced Bea that her daughter Debbie was trying to contact her from beyond the grave: Joan even went so far as tracing an old school-friend of Debbie to uncover more details of her past. Beside herself, Joan gloated maliciously at Beas escalating breakdown, and prepared the final nail in the coffin: she gave Nola the tools to construct a zip gun, with which Bea would commit suicide. Only Zaras blabbing saved Beas skin: apprised of the truth behind the Debbie charade, Bea lured Nola to her sickbed and shot her dead - an event that was not however displeasing to Joan, given that it now secured Beas lifelong imprisonment and also rid her of the decidedly uneasy alliance with the callous Nola.
The next ordeal to face Joan was an allegation of sexual harassment laid against her by embittered inmate Tracey Belman, a wheelchair-bound killer. However it was Joans cunning threat of genuine harassment that finally forced Tracey to overcome her paralysis, which Joan had rightly deduced to be psychological and not physical. Another side to the officers character was revealed when she became unwitting witness to a violent siege: she did not get on very well with her neighbours the Coulsens, but even so it was a shock when downtrodden wife Carol finally turned on her slobbish husband and planted a knife in the back of his neck. Distraught, Carol threatened to kill both herself and her young daughter Jilly, but Joans heroism saved the day. Carol was inevitably detained at Wentworth; given her gratitude towards the officer, the women were immediately suspicious that she was on with Joan. In fact, the latter was able at last to give access to her maternal nature, taking the troubled Jilly on outings to the zoo - but all her efforts could not prevent the despairing Carol from hanging herself in her cell.
The sudden arrival on her doorstep of errant niece Lucy caused Joan yet more problems: not only did Lucy ill-treat Major (as Joan had named her new dog), but she was revealed to be a drug peddler and invariably found herself remanded to Wentworth. She threatened to make things difficult for her Auntie Joan, who was impelled to organise her escape (plus that of eavesdropping Maxine) in the back of the laundry van.
After a battle with the potentially fatal Lassa fever during the prison quarantine, Joan found herself with another steely ally against the dictatorship of Bea. New inmate Sonia Stevens proved immediately unpopular when her track record of vice and drugs was revealed to the women. She paid Joan to organise an escape, but determined to prove who was boss Joan scuppered the break-out in front of the very eyes of Colleen. Forced to accept an alliance with Joan (who was the brawn to her brain), Sonia orchestrated grog and numbers rackets to gain a foothold in the prison. Realising that her last effort to remove Bea had been a tad too ambitious, Joan concurred with Sonia that a simple transfer would remove the onerous obstacle. Hatchet-faced Phyllis Hunt was used as a pawn to provoke Bea into hitting her - in front of Joans eager eyes. As the officer escorted Bea to solitary, she could not resist telling her about the way things were going to run from now on... Incensed beyond reason by Joans callous reference to using drugs money to set up a fund in memory of Debbie, Bea violently attacked her enemy. Bruised but not bloodied, Joan dragged herself off to report the incident, but first tore open her own cheek with her nails to add a little colour. Faced with this fresh evidence of Beas uncontrollable behaviour, the authorities had no option but to ship her off to Barnhurst.
With Smith gone, Joan might have looked forward to a period of triumph and power, but instead new setbacks and traumas emerged: her puppet Top Dog Sonia soon lost the womens support to Minnie Donovan; and when Joan set out to punish screw-killer Cass Parker she was herself bashed by the maddened inmate, suffering a fractured rib. Her alliance with Sonia turned progressively sour, and with the backing of Brenda Hewitt, Sonia set about blackmailing her, using an incriminating tape recording of her expounding on her corrupt schemes.
The other inmates thoughtfully took Joans mind off these matters by attempting to hang her: she narrowly avoided death, but almost instantly discharged herself from hospital, desperate to pay-off her blackmailers. However, Sonia and Brendas outside accomplice had made more than a few enemies for himself, and was found dead before Joan had the chance to pay up. This was not the end of her worries, however, as she received a visit at home from a pair of Lionel Fellowes thugs, who force-fed her a tab of LSD. Following a nightmarish trip (wherein Meg appeared in golden face paint looking even ghastlier than usual) Joan came round to discover she had committed an unspeakable act whilst under the influence of the drugs: her dog Major was dead, fatally stabbed with a pair of scissors.
In a wild rage she turned the table on her blackmailers, trashing Brendas cell and bashing her in solitary. Angered that this loose cannon was upsetting his prison drug-supply, crime boss Fellowes decided that he wanted Joan dead... but the ever resourceful officer managed to strike a deal, convincing him that she could be a worthy ally for the future. Joans misfortunes inside the prison continued as the canny Minnie stole her set of keys. In order to avoid any charges of remissness on her part, Joan persuaded Sonia to tie her up in the shower block, making it look as though Minnie and Cass had taken her keys by force. She then furthered her vengeance by poisoning Minnie in solitary and framing the slow-witted Cass, and in order to sow yet more discord she persuaded Sonia to incite a mini-riot in the rec room.
When Ann Reynolds was hospitalised for a mastectomy, Joan began to further her power in the prison: following a rooftop protest by the women Meg was demoted from Acting Deputy Governor and Joan set in her place. There remained only one obstacle now, Acting Governor Colleen Powell, and fate handed Joan a rare treat when she happened to witness an accident in which Colleen ran down a man with her car... While Colleen was under investigation, Joan finally achieved the Governorship, setting her seal by turning up the prison heating to give the obstreperous women a makeshift sauna. She gloatingly forced acting Top Dog Judy Bryant to clean her shoes, but the advent of iconoclastic inmate Reb Kean put a pronounced spoke in her wheel.
A visit to the prison by Joans proud father resulted in humiliation when the women wilfully played up, and the calculating Reb cottoned on to her soft spot for her daddy. The Major was kidnapped by accomplices of Reb, who then demanded Joans complicity in her escape. A powerless Joan was forced to comply, arranging for Reb to be sprung en route to a hospital visit - but when the women learnt what was afoot, they took a hostage themselves: Reb. They refused to let her out of their clutches, and a desperate Joan was forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to ensure her fathers safety: her resignation from the prison.
Rebs escape then went ahead, but Joan vengefully tracked down the kidnappers, shooting one dead (none other than Rebs boyfriend Gary Wilder) at her fathers side. A changed woman, Joan contritely paid a visit to the recuperating Ann and implored her for reinstatement. Duly returning to work as a plain officer once more, she sought to prove her new credentials to the women, and seemed to have genuinely turned over a new leaf - until the wrongly imprisoned Mo Maguire, ceaselessly antagonistic to one and all, provoked her into reverting to type. Moreover, the revelation that her father was suffering from leukaemia caused her loathing of Reb to heighten still further, and she set about plotting her retribution.
On top of Reb, Joan faced a new bete noire when Myra Desmond was remanded to Wentworth. Myra was disgusted to overhear Joans mockery of the by now nervously wrecked Sonia; when Joan tried to dismiss Myras threat the angry new inmate turned on her wildly, telling her in no uncertain terms never to lay another finger on her. Joan thanked her perversely for giving her a new lease of life, and was soon able to hit back when Myras late husbands mistress Gloria Payne arrived inside. Determined to land Myra with as long a sentence as possible, Joan ensured that Gloria should fall into her clutches - Myra almost throttled the woman until Sonia convinced her that she was playing into Joans hands.
Shortly afterwards Joan went on leave to visit her ailing father in Sydney, where she was also able to pay her respects at the grave of her murdered beloved, Audrey. She was at last able to speak fully about her past to her father, whose respect for her only deepened. As luck would have it, while strolling the streets of the city Joan came across none other than escapee Bobbie Mitchell, whom she smugly apprehended. Bobbies fellow escapee Sonia succeeded however in giving both Joan and her gangland protector Kurt Renner the slip, but the capture of Bobbie was a sufficient feather in Joans cap. She duly returned to Wentworth, only to be featured in the tormented nightmares of holocaust survivor Hannah Geldschmidt, where she appeared as a grim Nazi concentration camp officer. But Joan was in fact unusually sympathetic to Hannahs plight, perhaps recognising in her a fellow outsider from conformist society.
The departure of Colleen Powell from the prison (following the horrific murder of her family) spelt new opportunity for Joan, but she was pipped at the post by Meg, who became cosily ensconced as Anns Deputy. Joans cause had been rather hindered by some less than flattering publicity launched by one-time inmate and radio personality Camilla Wells, who continued to represent the interests of the women from the outside. But a new side to Joans character was to emerge when runaway waif Shane Munroe turned up in her home. Seeking refuge from his drunk and physically abusive father, Shane was taken under the ample wing of Auntie Joan, who grew so attached to the boy that she set about seeking custody. Having already suffered heartache when Shane almost drowned in a storm-water drain, and another setback when Shanes father attempted to have her charged with abduction, Joan was dealt a further blow when the courts decided he should be fostered by the Tailor family.
But the return of hardened crim Marie Winter to her old home at Wentworth provided Joan with an ally worthy of her guile and malevolence. Together they plotted the downfall of Ann Reynolds, Marie taking advantage of Myras escape and installing herself as Top Dog. With Joans secret assistance, Marie staged a sudden, wild riot, and only the intervention of high-class remand prisoner Leigh Templar saved Ann from dismissal. Thwarted in her efforts to attain the governorship, Joan was promptly confronted by Marie, determined to claim her side of the bargain. Threatening to get at Shane, Marie forced Joan to organise a spectacular escape by helicopter from the prison gardens. When later recaptured and sentenced to Blackmoor, Marie tried to incriminate the officer in her dynamic escape; but by pulling a few strings - care of her Blackmoor counterpart Cynthia Leach - Joan soon had Maries claims silenced.
As a final favour to Joan prior to that escape, Marie had brutally bashed lagger Reb Kean, for whom Joans hatred was unceasing (even when Rebs own father died Joan could not resist bating her). But Reb named Joan as her assailant, and the officer was suspended from duty until a (not altogether willing) officers strike led to her reinstatement. Back at work, she faced the usual commonplace obstacles: resentful young officer Heather Rodgers colluded with the women to set her up for an alleged sexual assault on Pixie Mason, only to be caught in her own trap and sacked by a disgusted Mrs Reynolds. Joan was soon after stabbed in the stomach by psychotic teenager Angel Adams, and almost fell to her death from the solitary staircase after an attempt to avenge herself on Reb. However, these were minor incidents compared to the arrival of a new and fearsome rival, relief officer Len Murphy. His brutality made Joan seem tame by compare, and the women rather enjoyed the prospect of playing them off against one another. Len made no secret of his disgust for the dyke Ferguson; after catching him about to rape Lou Kelly (for a second time), Joan battled it out with the thuggish homophobe in the corridor. Forced into submission by the physically overpowering Len, Joan was even more put out when her hated rival stepped in as Acting Governor. But his come-uppance was due, and when male inmate Frank Burke raped Pixie Mason, Joan uniquely conspired with Myra to frame Len for the assault. At a time when forensic evidence for rape was seemingly unheard of, Len was duly dismissed and convicted.
Further threats to her position, and indeed her life, never failed to dismay Joan for long. She had coerced chef Ray Proctor to arrange an accident for Reb in the kitchen. Ray was however unable to go through with it, and Reb forced him to put his name to a letter incriminating Joan. But Rebs cocaine-dealing (and the allergic reaction it produced in Marlene) alienated Ray. When Reb impulsively slapped her in full view of the women, Joan was able to have her troublesome scourge removed to Blackmoor. Shortly after, Joan survived an attempted murder (thanks only to the faultiness of a zip gun) at the hands of rising trouble-maker Lou Kelly. Joan later scored revenge when Lou attempted to poison hapless lagger Janice Grant: Lou was forced to eat the poisoned soup herself.
On a more positive note, Joan had once again proven her forthrightness and valour not only by coming to the rescue of handyman Stan Dobson when he suffered a heart attack in the prison grounds, but also by saving guest male inmates Geoff Macrae and Matt Delaney from a poison gas attack in their cell. She was however still sufficiently unpopular with her colleagues to lose out the post of union rep to pommie whinger Dennis Cruikshank. But a sudden summons to her fathers hospital bed confirmed the worst: his leukaemia was now terminal, and he passed away before her grieving eyes. To add to her troubles, Shane had run away from his foster-parents and turned up hoping to restart his life with Auntie Joan. Realising he was better off with the Tailors, she was forced to turn him away and face a life without both father and surrogate son. She did however commission artistically-inclined inmate Sam Greenway to paint a touching picture of the two most important men in her life.
Ray Proctors dismissal from Wentworth for drinking on duty led to the revelation of Rebs letter, and stern departmental head Andrew Fry had no qualms about removing the problematic Officer Ferguson once and for all, notwithstanding her recent bereavement. However a quick phone call to Cynthia soon ensured that Reb withdrew all charges, and Joans position was once more secure. She found therapy for her fathers death both by slapping the ill-mannered Lexie Patterson and giving her a drastic hair-cut, and also by talking to the new inmate, anti-nuclear campaigner - and nun - Anita Selby.
But when Frank Burke set his sights on evening the scores with the hated officer he did so with real style - by dropping a bookcase on her head! For a while the women actually believed she was dead, and when she did emerge suffering from black-outs, the determined Myra set out to dispose of Joan for good. Myra bashed Lou in the laundry and framed Joan for the deed - and Joan herself was unable to deny responsibility. But she was now too ill to care much for the loss of her job: the blow to her head had caused a dangerous blood clot on the brain, and only emergency surgery saved her. And for once Joan also had an ally on the inmates side of the bars: Anita knew full well that Myras set-up was ethically unacceptable, and her conscience forced her to reveal all to the authorities.
Upon recovery, Joan duly returned to her duties, no doubt filled with new hope following the announcement that her old foe Bea had been incinerated in the Barnhurst fire. Joan found not only a new form of companionship in the form of young officer Terri Malone, but also a new means to wreak vengeance on Myra: deadly crime queen Ruth Ballinger. Joan was herself outraged at Ruths (alleged) paedophile rackets, enough so to risk everything and bash the gloating bitch - and to confess openly to doing so! But the governor, and even Meg, were so filled with disgust at Ruths crimes that Joans lapse was allowed to pass without mention. United only by their hatred of Myra, Joan and Ruth made a deal: Ruths escape in exchange for Myras death... With Lous help they very nearly succeeded, and Ruth would have injected Myra with a lethal dose of heroin were it not for the timely intervention of Meg. Thrown in solitary for her attempt on Myras life, Ruth knew her time was running out, and threatened to take out a contract on Joan - but Ruths underworld kingpin husband Arnie wanted her out of prison living or dead, and sent in a band of guerrillas to free - or kill - her.
In the ensuing siege Joans heroism and endurance were put to the test, as both she and officer Joyce Barry were locked away with the inmates and terrorised by their new captors. Following an unsuccessful attempt to elude the guerrillas, Joan became their hostage when they embarked on their escape to the airport. Managing to untie her hands and avail herself of the gun thoughtfully hidden on the police-rigged getaway van, Joan shot dead one of the terrorists, and very nearly shot Ruth too as she was apprehended on the runway.
As a consequence of her valiant efforts against Ruth, Joan found her life under threat from the mob. She narrowly escaped an arson attack in her own home, and a car-bomb meant for her and Terri seriously injured a neighbour. But by passing records of Ruths paedophile crimes to Cynthia at Blackmoor, where Ruth was now incarcerated, Joan was able to engineer a violent bashing of her evil foe. Faced with the fact that Ruth would be killed should any further harm befall Joan, the mob relinquished their efforts to get Ferguson.
Meanwhile, as a backdrop to all the drama and violence of Ballinger, Joans friendship with Terri had developed into love. Terri deeply admired the older womans strength of character and purpose, and despite Joans misgivings (Terri was once mistakenly identified as her daughter) Terri moved in with her. Accustomed to a single life, Joan found it hard to maintain the relationship, not least when Terri made such a faux pas as opening Joans private mail. But it was Terri who was ultimately to wreck their union: forced to quit Wentworth after the inmates discovery of her lesbian relationship with Joan, and ostracised by her parents for her (to them) unacceptable lifestyle choice, Terri began to question her feelings. Finding a new job, she was unable to resist the charms of her (male) boss Barry. Leaving work early one day, Joan chanced to hear the incriminating sounds ensuing from the bedroom... Although a stoical Joan was initially willing to turn a blind eye, the relationship rapidly disintegrated, and Terri finally left without a word, Joan coming home to find her keys returned and the house empty. This was not quite the end: Joan tried one last time to have a heart to heart with Terri, but it was soon evident that the qualities Terri admired most (You taught me that strength was power) were incompatible with the genuine tenderness and intimacy for which Joan longed. Even when a tearful Terri made an effort to return to Joan (having been finally rejected by Barry when he discovered the truth of her friendship with the older woman), Joan had to make the agonising decision to shut her lost soul mate out of her life once and for all.
Love had tempered Joans attitude to the women, but now with Terri gone she was a hollow woman. Caught in a private moment of grief by Lou, Joan bitterly slapped her across the face - in full view of Meg! But ever-compassionate, Meg turned a blind eye to the incident, realising only too well following her own split from Dennis that Joan was genuinely distraught and not acting out of malice. The departure of Dennis (following a nifty knee-capping) had in fact allowed Joan to ascend to the role of union rep: she sensed that it would bring her power, and of course she did her best to implement it. She was characteristically hostile towards the latest act of departmental wisdom, the Scared Straight delinquents scheme; and she did all she could to deny Julie Egberts appeal to visit her dying mother. However she did also speak up for officer Pat Slattery when she was suspended, having been wrongly accused of participating in the double-invoice embezzlement scandal.
Joan had not even dried her tears over Terri when a summons from the shady Cynthia alerted her to an unwelcome blast from the past: Reb Kean was being returned to Wentworth, and moreover, Cynthia wanted her dead... Reb had been bashed at Blackmoor so severely by Cynthia and the inmates that she suffered a nervous breakdown; transferred to Ingleside, she then endured twenty-seven counts of electro-convulsive therapy, effectively wiping her brain. For good measure Cynthia wanted her silenced for good, but Joan was initially averse, even when a terrified Reb suffered a flashback to the earlier attempt by Joan to throw her down the solitary stairs. Opinion was divided: was Reb faking it, or had she genuinely lost her mind? Joan publicly favoured the former, but secretly approached Reb in order to instil the false memory that Cynthia was actually Rebs friend. Finally, the malevolent officer provided the neurotic inmate with a razor blade, persuading her that suicide was the only option left. Reb duly slit her wrists... but was found in time by the other women.
Convinced that Reb had indeed lost all (or sufficient) memory of her ordeal at the hands of Cynthia, Joan turned to face a prisoner at last worthy of her stature: towering bikie queen Rita Connors. Initially indifferent to the inmates power struggles, Rita lost no time in advising both the prisoners and The Freak to keep out of her way. Lou Kelly, now Top Dog, saw the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: she first sowed fresh seeds of hate by blaming Joan for spilling paint on Ritas precious leather jacket. Then, with Alice Jenkins, she smashed a chair over the back of Joans head and dragged her unconscious body into the laundry dryer, intending to frame Rita for the crime. Joan was mysteriously saved by unknown hands, and set about wreaking havoc for Rita, slicing up her jacket in front of her horrified eyes. The reprisals escalated as Ritas gang The Conquerors trashed Joans house; but never one to be outdone, Joan followed them to their haunt and torched their bikes. The ensuing chaos provoked a gang warfare, in the course of which Ritas boyfriend Slasher was killed.
Meanwhile, pressure over the death of escapee May Collins had led to Anns (temporary) resignation as governor. Her successor Bob Moran, an ex-military man much in the vein of Jim Fletcher, struck Joan as an infinite improvement, but he was awake to her power-hungry corruption and took her firmly down a peg or two. Furious at Bobs harsh regime, Lou organised first a hunger strike, and then a full-scale riot. Treacherous femme fatale Eve Wilder had apprised Joan that she had rescued her from the dryer, and now sought her aid in undermining the reign of the unbalanced Lou. But the deadly alliance of Joan and Eve never had the chance to get off the ground, as the phantom lagger was lynched by Lou. Held hostage by the carnage-maddened inmates, Joan was locked in the laundry with Rita, still distraught over Slasher; the pair were ordered to fight to the death, and Rita was hungry for revenge... A long and violent duel ensued, the officer and inmate battling it out with tenacious fury until both were too battered to continue. Desperate for blood, Lou set out to kill Joan herself, holding her at knife-point, but Rita managed to disarm her as Bob and Meg arrived on the scene with handguns, bringing the riot to a dramatic end.
Following recent events Joan found it increasingly difficult to put her life back together. Painfully aware of her frustrating and tragic loneliness, she eventually found a close male friend, Andrew Hinton, with whom she enjoyed a round of golf and dinner for two. The relationship was of course bound to remain that of friends, but when The Conquerors torched Joans house down in revenge for her role in Slashers death, she moved in with Andrew. Whilst out for dinner one day, Joan happened across a face from her past, Lurleen Snook... now operating under the new name Lorelei Wilkinson. They had first made their acquaintance when Joan worked in Queensland - but Lorelei had been an inmate at the time. When she came to be admitted to Wentworth on fraud charges, Lorelei surprised all with her sympathetic attitude towards the so-called Freak. In time, however, she had to accept that the once well-disposed and amiable Miss Ferguson had indeed grown a lot darker and more threatening since her days at Bognor Road.
Faced with the fact that her home was uninsured (Terri had neglected to renew the insurance), Joan accepted the offer of wealthy socialite Amy Ryan to scupper the proposed marriage of doctor/handyman Steve Ryan to inmate Julie Egbert. Joan enlisted the much-misunderstood Kath Maxwell to slip Julie a tab of acid, but love prevailed and Steve and Julie succeeded in marrying before the latter was returned to Barnurst. The feud between Joan and Rita moved on apace; bent on avenging the loss of her home, Joan set out to bash Rita in the night, but Rita was awake to her plans and lay in wait, coshing her and dragging her for a scare to the prison roof with the assistance of Alice.
Another incident involved a hoax bomb scare in which Joan was embarrassed in front of the Minister himself. But Joan brought Merle Jones to H Block as muscle for Kath against Ritas band of Wentworth Warriors - provoked, Merle was capable of knocking even Rita for six. Meanwhile, Joans drug-smuggling alliance with Janet Maggot Williams brought her to the attention of another crime magnate, Harry Parker. In return for help against The Conquerors, Joan agreed to work with him, but events turned sour when Janets sister Sandra was caught bringing drugs into the prison. In order to enforce Joans co-operation, Parker arranged the hit-and-run death of Andrew, and made threats to get at Andrews daughter too. Bitter and grieving for her friend, Joan told all to Inspector Grace, who rigged her with a wire in order to record Parker admitting to his activities. Joan barely escaped with her life when Parker realised he was being bugged, but the police came to the rescue, and Grace was sufficiently grateful to Joan for exposing Parker to neglect to charge her for any of her own implicit crimes.
Following an abortive attempt on Joans life with a knife, Rita made a more daring attempt when the woman were on work release at sea. Only the intervention of Wentworths moral fibre Nancy McCormack foiled Ritas effort to kill Joan aboard the boat. As the inmates took control of the vessel Joan rowed ashore for help, followed swiftly by Rita, intent on carrying out her work. But once ashore the tables were turned, and Joan herself had the opportunity to dispose of Rita when she lost her footing and found herself dangling from a cliff. Amazingly, the officer rose above temptation and actually pulled her nemesis to safety.
Back at Wentworth, Joan stepped up her alliance with Ritas determined rival Kath. She had also found a new ally among the staff, in the somewhat obtuse shape of trainee officer Rodney Adams. On Joans instructions, Rodney paid a late-night visit to Spider Simpsons cell and gave her a brutal bashing: for a while Spider actually believed she would be able to prove the officers malicious intent, but as always Joan rode out the storm. Although clearly despising Rodney, Joan exploited his soft spot for Kath. A prison shop was set up, and Kath took the opportunity of her shopping trips with Rod to purchase contraband for her behind-the-counter sales. Awake to Joan and Kaths collusion, and wrathful for Kaths un-sportsmanlike use of a lump of lead (at Joans suggestion) in a Top Dog showdown with Alice Jenkins, Rita found herself at a disadvantage when Joan set her up for wrecking the shop. With Ann away from the prison, Joan exerted her full authority by transferring the bikie queen to Blackmoor.
This was not the end of Joans adversary, however: Rita incited a riot and fire at the top security prison, and was returned to Wentworth along with many of Blackmoors unsavoury populace - not least the villainous governor Ernest Craven. A man whose methods made The Freaks seem tame, he conspired with Joan to remove Ann once and for all. But he went too far when he arranged the rape of Lorelei (who as a close friend of Rita was fair enough game in his eyes). Under yet further threat, Lorelei was forced to lie to the authorities that her rape was a fabrication on the part of Ann to discredit Ernest: Ann was suspended, and her chair taken by Ernest himself, before Joan forced him to step down, allowing her to take control of Wentworth once again.
Ernests subsequent murder at the hands of the traumatised Lorelei left Joan in sole command; it also gave the ever-ingenious Spider and Vicki McPherson the means to plot Joans downfall, as they tried to persuade the impressionable Merle that Ernests ghost was haunting her, and would only be put to rest by Joans death... But beyond the usual dissent among the inmates, Joans determination to run the prison her way and her way alone led her to arrange the transfers of Meg, Marty Jackson, and Joyce Barry to other prisons. However her soft side prevailed when she personally delivered a tape-recording of messages from the women to Lorelei, who had been taken to the psychiatric hospital Ingleside. Recovering sufficiently, Lorelei was able to tell the full story: with Ernests corruption made public, the Minister had no option but to reinstate Ann to the governorship.
More than a little disgruntled at her latest setback, the demoted Joan accepted a leave of absence and made the agonising decision to quit the prison service. She thought she had found a worthwhile alternative in a security company, only to discover that her new boss was none other than ex-inmate Willie Beecham! Forced to return to work at Wentworth, Joan had to face the fact that she had lost whatever respect she had previously coerced from the women. Kath had finally turned against both her and the dim-witted Rodney, and Joan was forced to resort to her age-old tactics to inspire a little terror: she gave inmate Lisa Mullins one of her typical heavy-handed body-searches. The women were not the only ones to lose all fear of Joan, as a provoked governor Ann actually slapped the dissident officer across the face for an ill-judged snipe at her private life.
Realising her days were numbered, Joan finally made a deal with her erstwhile adversary Rita, who had been diagnosed as suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer from which she had little hope of recovery. Mindful of her own fathers battle with illness, Joan offered to escort Rita to the hospital for chemotherapy. Perhaps realising Joans desperation, Rita told her of a finance company that she had always been planning to rob. Rapidly persuaded of the swiftness and ease with which the robbery could be committed, Joan assisted a late-night escape by Rita, who carried out the crime and stashed the loot in an agreed hiding place. She was soon recaptured, her health now seemingly in terminal decline.
Joan fretfully bided her time until the news reached her that Rita was dead. Without that complication, the melancholy officer made her way to the hidden location and retrieved the loot - only to be arrested as soon as she attempted to leave the building. She was practically speechless, but the horrified realisation that the police were remanding her to none other than Wentworth prompted an appalled reaction. Inducted by Meg, she found herself increasingly unable to contain her despairing scorn. She was taken to a specially prepared cell for her own safety, but the women had already discovered that she was now one of them, and their defiant chanting of her name inspired her with an almost psychotic egoism: Ferguson was indeed synonymous with Wentworth. She was however unprepared for the final surprise: her meal was brought to her cell by none other than Rita, seemingly back from the dead... I trusted you... a dumbfounded Joan could barely speak. Undone, she spent a single night as an internee of Wentworth before the police transferred her to another prison out west, where she would stand trial for her crime.


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Who Is Joan?

Senior Officer (sometime Governor) Joan 'The Freak' Ferguson, the lynchpin of the Australian Corrective Services...

Acknowledged as one of the seminal creations of antipodean television culture, the goddess Joan entered the portals of Wentworth Detention Centre in episode 287 (mid-1982) and was soon ensconced as the undisputed saviour of 'Prisoner (Cell Block H)', taking the series all the way to its final, heart-wrenching episode 692 in late 1986.