Joan Ferguson was a towering, thickset, dark-haired prison officer whose contribution to the service could only be described as unique and inimitable.
Joan had originally wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and join the army, but when this proved fruitless, she opted for the prison service.
"I was a good officer. Straight down the line. Then I met her." - Joan Ferguson. Joan had fallen in love with Audrey Forbes, an inmate at Bognor Road Jail in Queensland, Audrey was murdered by her fellow prisoners when they learnt of her liaison with the officer they had nicknamed "The Bear". 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.
After the death of Audrey, Joan was transferred to the staff of Wentworth Detention Centre and 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 Joan's heroism in court that thwarted Hannah's attempted escape from custody. Hannah was disgusted by Joans lesbian overtures, but Bea and the others saw Joans sexuality as a possible achillies heel and a means to expose her rampant corruption.
Joan soon realised 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 governor's 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.
It wasn't only the inmates of Wentworth who were incensed by Joans harshness. Officer Steve Faulkner, who had initially been quite friendly with Joan had now turned against her. Officer Meg Morris, during a brief spell inside as an inmate, had the opportunity to discover the extent of Joans corruption. The officers themselves then set about plotting to expose their colleagues evil ways. but to no avail. Inmate Barbara Fields "Lagged" to the Freak in an effort to save her own neck. Thus leading to Steve Faulkner's resignation.
Joan faced problems from other quarters too. She was suspected of being the prostitute-killing psycho who polished off two ex-inmates, and almost tried for a third, Helen Smart. One of Joans trademark leather gloves was found at the scene of one of the victim's murder. The real culprit, was revealed as prison nurse Neil Murray.
An accomplice of Barbara Fields poisoned Joan's beloved dog, broke into Joan's house and stole a couple of incriminating diaries.
For the first time an inmate had the upper hand over Joan, although in Barbara's case the trump card was to prove a dead mans hand. Hostility between Bea and Joan was ever-increasing and Bea's hopes of parole were crushed by Joan's less than exemplary references. This was the straw to break the camel's back. 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 Bea's 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 and 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.
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 Governor Erica Davidson's 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 Erica's head and made a phone call to Ted Douglas (Head of the Department of Corrective Services) and this resulted in Chrissie's 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 Nola's various insurance and contraband rackets. Bea was disgusted to discover an inmate actually colluding with Joan, even more so when Maxine was roped into Nola's dealings. Joan turned a blind eye as Maxine's 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 going on in Wentworth. 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.
However, 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 Joan's way, not least when Erica was dismissed from the governorship for her manifest inability to inspire any discipline in her charges. With Ted's 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 Wentworth's new governor. 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 Joan's somewhat estranged father, Major Ferguson, re-emerged into her life. 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 (which she named Major), broke the ice and reduced the sorrowful Joan to tears.
The recapture of Bea soon spelt an end to Nola's 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 Zara broke down and confessed everything to Lizzie Birdsworth. Lizzie found Nola's zip gun hidden in Bea's dressing gown and told bea everything.
Bea lured Nola to her sickbed and shot her dead - an event that was not however displeasing to Joan, given that it now secured Bea's lifelong imprisonment and also rid her of the decidedly uneasy alliance with the callous Nola.
Joan's next ordeal was an allegation of sexual harassment laid against her by embittered inmate Tracey Belman, a wheelchair-bound killer. However it was Joan's 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 Joan's character was revealed when she became unwitting witness to a violent siege. She did not get on very well with her next door neighbour Des Coulsen, but even so it was a shock when his 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 Joan's errant niece Lucy caused yet more problems: not only did, Lucy ill-treat Major, 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 Daniels) in the back of the laundry van.
After a battle with the potentially fatal Lassa fever, 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 Bea's 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 Joan's 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, Brenda's 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. Underworld boss Lionel Fellowessent round a couple of his thugs, who force-fed her a tab of LSD. Following a nightmarish trip, 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 Brenda's cell and bashing her in solitary. Angered that this loose cannon was upsetting his prison drug-supply, Fellowes decided that he wanted Joan dead, however the ever resourceful officer managed to strike a deal, convincing him that she could be a worthy ally for the future. Joan's 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 hit 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 women (who had organised a sit-in in the Rec Room) 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 Joan's complicity in her escape. A powerless Joan was forced to comply, arranging for Reb to be sprung en route to a hospital visit.
When the women learnt what was happening, 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 father's safety, her resignation from the prison.
Rebs escape then went ahead, but Joan vengefully tracked down the kidnappers, shooting one dead 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 nemesis when Myra Desmond was remanded to Wentworth. Myra was disgusted to overhear Joan's 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 Myra's 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 Joan's 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. Bobbie's 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 Joan's cap.
Joan 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 Hannah's plight, perhaps recognising in her a fellow outsider from conformist society.
Colleen Powell's departure from the prison spelt new opportunity for Joan, but she was pipped at the post by Meg, who became cosily ensconced as Deputy Governor.
Joan's 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.
A new side to Joan's 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.
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 took advantage of Myra's escape and installed herself as Top Dog.
With Joan's secret assistance, Marie staged a sudden, wild riot, and it was 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.
As a final favour to Joan prior to the escape, Marie had brutally bashed lagger Reb Kean, for whom Joan's hatred was unceasing. Reb named Joan as her assailant, and the officer was suspended from duty until an officers strike led to her reinstatement.
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.
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 was sacked by a disgusted Mrs Reynolds.
Joan was soon after stabbed in the stomach by psychotic teenager Angela "Angel" Adams, and almost fell to her death from the solitary staircase after an attempt to avenge herself on Reb.
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.
Having already suffered heartache when Shane almost drowned in a storm-water drain, and another setback when Shane's father attempted to have her charged with abduction, Joan was dealt a further blow when the courts decided he should be fostered by the Taylor family.
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 Reb's 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 Dennis Cruikshank.
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 Reb's 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 Ruth's (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 Ruth's crimes that Joan's lapse was allowed to pass without mention.
United only by their hatred of Myra, Joan and Ruth made a deal. Ruth's escape in exchange for Myras death. With Lou's 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 Myra's 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 Joan's 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 colleague/lover Terri Malone seriously injured a neighbour.
Terri deeply admired the older womans strength of character and purpose, and despite Joans misgivings, 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.
However, 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 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 were incompatible with the genuine tenderness and intimacy for which Joan longed.
By passing records of Ruth's 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.
Barry discovered the truth about Terri's friendship with Joan and rejected her. A tearful Terri made an effort to return to Joan. Joan made 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 had 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 inmate Julie Egbert's 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.
Meanwhile, as a backdrop to all the drama and violence of Ballinger, Joan's friendship with Terri had developed into love.
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 Reb's 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 Ann's (temporary) resignation as governor. Her successor Bob Moran, 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 Bob's 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, Lurlene Snook, who was now operating under the new name Lorelei Wilkinson. They had first made their acquaintance when Joan worked in Queensland, 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 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, Joan accepted the offer of wealthy socialite Amy Ryan to scupper the proposed marriage of doctor/prison handyman Steve Ryan to inmate Julie Egbert.
Joan enlisted 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 Rita's 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 Janet's sister Sandra was caught bringing drugs into the prison.
In order to enforce Joan's co-operation, Parker arranged the hit-and-run death of Andrew, and made threats to get at Andrew's 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 Joan's life with a knife, Rita made a more daring attempt when the woman were on work release at sea. Only the intervention of Wentworth's 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 Rita's 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 Rose 'Spider' Simpson's 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 Rodney 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 Joan's 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 the Blackmoor unsavoury inmates - 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.
Craven 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 Craven.
Ann was suspended, and her chair taken by Craven himself, before Joan forced him to step down, allowing her to take control of Wentworth once again.
Craven's 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 Craven's ghost was haunting her, and would only be put to rest by Joan's 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 Joyce Barry, Meg Morris and her son Marty Jackson to another prison.
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 Craven's 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 father's 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.
"I ran this place. Me. It's me they hate. Ferguson. Ferguson stuck to the rules. Ferguson kept them in line. Ferguson was always one step ahead of them."
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.