Postscript: A Divine Perspective

Creative Response to ‘Joan Makes History’ by Kate Grenville
Paperback: Reprint edition (August 1999) 
University of Queensland Print; ISBN: 0702221740

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Statement of intention

My intention in formulating a postscript to Kate Grenville’s ‘Joan Makes History,’ was to explore in greater depth some of the themes the author had raised in this complex book, and present them in the same light-hearted and enjoyable style in which her work was conveyed. Since ‘Joan Makes History’ is unconventional in structure, I too, adopted an unorthodox approach to the creative response in order to do Grenville’s work justice, allowing the piece to take the form of a ‘postscript,’ an epilogue to an epilogue. When studying Grenville’s unorthodox exploration of history, I was intrigued by the relationship between the cast of historical Joans and their twentieth century counterpart. They were so similar to her, yet at the same time so different. It led me to wonder how they would react to her. Since the historical Joans are offered as an alternative, or an echo of specific sections of twentieth century Joan’s life, it seems appropriate that they would have firmly entrenched beliefs concerning the choices that twentieth century Joan made. My plan was to organise a forum for these historical Joans to voice their opinions and debate their ideas. In the telling of the tale, some of the Joans such as Washerwoman Joan and Convict Joan took on a life of their own! Although the characters’ words and actions are hypothetical, some of Grenville’s own words and descriptions have been incorporated in order to keep the spirit of Grenville’s text alive. All the characters are transcribed in accord with the way Grenville created them. Most of these characters make cameo appearances in the postscript, yet I believe that it was crucial to include a great deal of textual detail concerning their personalities and habits to make them believable and true to life (or text!) Since these Joans all ‘existed’ at different periods throughout history, it seemed appropriate to make the ‘afterlife’ their meeting place.

To keep a common thread flowing through the piece, Prologue Joan appears, in the guise of an Archangel. To enable the reader to distinguish between the historical Joans, I have referred to them as Warra’s Joan, Burchett’s Joan, Washerwoman Joan and various other titles that any reader, familiar with the original text, would instantly recognise. Since Grenville’s own views come across so strongly in her book, I deemed it appropriate for the author herself to make an appearance in the thick of the plot.

Language is an important element in Grenville’s work, as it conveys many of her values of simplicity and the importance of the ordinary. I endeavoured to uphold this style throughout my postscript, including ‘Grenvillian’ phrases such as "I, Joan," as well as Mr Radalescu’s attempts at Australian colloquialism and references to Grenville’s frequent mention of skin to describe intimate relationships.

The manner in which Grenville ‘chats’ to the reader in the thick of the narrative is another of her appealing techniques and one which I indulged in when constructing my creative response.

Grenville abandons quotation marks in favour of italicised dialogue. Since only a few characters are present in each of her scenes, Grenville’s disregard for literary convention works well, allowing the focus to remain predominantly on the narrator, either twentieth century Joan or her historical counterparts. Since my postscript is written in the third person, accommodating the simultaneous appearance of so many Joans, bantering, debating and vying for the spotlight, I had to revert to using quotation marks so that the reader would be able to distinguish between the Joans.

Grenville’s work deals with universal Australian issues, incorporating the experiences of both genders, indigenous Australians, settlers, the privileged class and the working class, addressing the continuity of existence. This is a theme I considered important, and have endeavoured to include characters from a variety of backgrounds in the postscript.

On the surface, my references to ‘Cahill Expressway,’ the other text which we studied, and Grenville’s latest book, ‘Dark Places,’ may appear to be comic relief, yet their inclusion symbolises the universal nature of literature and the common elements which many texts share.

Grenville’s spirited Joans struck a chord with me. I was won over by their fiestiness and their irrepressible natures that survived adversity. This exploration has given me an insight into various stages of history as well as a greater understanding of the personal elements inherent within them.



Dear Joans and Friends,

It’s that time of year again!

That’s right - the preparations for the

Thirty Fourth Annual Joan Reunion

are underway.

You’re all invited to share in a night of laughter,

storytelling and memories.

On 22nd August, 7.30pm at the Devine Arms Hotel.

A surprise feature attraction has been organised

for this special occasion.

Hope to see you there.

Kind regards,

Archangel Prologue Joan,

on behalf of the Great God Grenville.

RSVP by 7th August, email:




Guest list for the Thirty Fourth Annual Joan Reunion:


Archangel Prologue Joan (M.C.)

Joan Cook and Captain Cook (he couldn’t make it, he was out sailing that weekend.)

Cook’s botanist ("Aha! Mrs Cook is attending alone. With the Captain’s absence, I may have a chance!")

Convict Joan (whose foreign foot was the first to step ashore in Botany Bay as her sharp, rude laugh rang out across the water.)

Warra’s Joan (still struggling after her thwarted attempt at making history) and Warra

Irish Joan ("I’ll have to clean the soil from under my fingernails. By the way, Jim’s not coming. What has he to do with my history? He is irrelevant!)

Washerwoman Joan ("squeezing clothes through suds does not by any means engage the whole of my mind, I’ll have you know!") and Ted

Burchett’s Joan (a woman as plain as a frying pan)

Lady Joan Stoneman ("I must buy a new pink and mauve outfit for the occasion.")

Part Aboriginal Runaway Joan ("I’m off!")

Photographer Joan (she clothed, fed and sheltered herself from her own labour) and Henry

Alfred, the photographer ("I, myself, am quite unprovoked by female flesh!")

Wallaby Track Joan and Ken ("I am no great shakes, Joanie.")

Joan, the Mayor of Castletown’s wife (mother of six, grandmother of three; now that’s nothing to be sneezed at.)

Mr and Mrs Radalescu ("Our Joan made her marking. We are so very proud, we are beaming from eye to eye.")

Duncan ("Oh, Joanie, how I adored you.")

Lilian ( a fit companion for a woman with a future)

Miss Mary ("We really must be more cautious, Knightley, dear, or my soiled garments will give away our little rendezvous. I’m sure the washerwoman already suspects...") and Knightly

Burchett’s Joan’s aboriginal friend. ("The white people laughed at my anguish.")

The Cherub, Joan Radalescu’s baby who died in the womb. ("I understood my mother’s dream of making history alongside the great men of the past, but empathise with my father; he was so sad when I looked on the face of death and was snatched away before my time.")




The gate crashers:


Barnaby (this chauvinist won’t have a hope in hell - pun intended - among so many strong willed women!)

Burchett (don’t touch his damper, it’s a killer!)

With a special guest appearance by The Great God Grenville (the spirit of one of Australia’s greatest writers).


Archangel Prologue Joan slammed the door against the unseasonal Heavenly downpour and stood in the doorway of the Divine Arms Hotel, her wings still dripping. A multitude of expectant faces turned towards her.

"Did you get it?" Warra’s Joan badgered her. Prologue Joan nodded, indicating the bundle of film reels clutched under her arm. She collapsed on a bar stool, exhausted from her trek to the Life Archives in search of the footage documenting the existence of twentieth century Joan Radalescu, later known as Joan Redman, when her patriotic father selected a more typical Australian surname.

"Why do I always have to be the one to organise these things?" She had muttered irritably as she went in search of the entertainment for the Thirty Fourth Annual Joan Reunion. "I suppose it goes with the territory of being the literary Archangel. Well, at least I didn’t have to organise name tags for this convention. Not like that Cahill Expressway gathering I put together. Gee, the name tags for that party were a real killer. How many names can a bunch of writers give a fat, bald guy in a blue suit, anyway?"

She sat in the public bar recovering from her ordeal, observing the Joans who had already gathered. There was Lady Stoneman, clad in pink and mauve, tightly corsetted and puffing out her chest in an attempt to make her diminutive bust appear larger. Convict Joan was perched on a nearby bar stool, exchanging maritime experiences with Mrs Cook.

Joan, the mayor’s wife approached her. "Why don’t we get started, luv?" she suggested, eyeing the clock above the dart board. "It’s well after half past. I don’t think any more Joans are going to turn..."

Before she could finish her sentence, the doors flew open and Part Aboriginal Runaway Joan entered, propping the stolen bicycle which she had recently learned to ride, against the wall. She extracted some gold nuggets from her cleavage and approached the bar to purchase her ale.

Prologue Joan got to her feet, adjusted her halo and cleared her throat loudly. The buzz of voices ceased abruptly and all eyes turned to regard her with anticipation. She launched herself into her role with feeling. "In the beginning, there was nothing, centuries passed, generations of babies grew old and died..."

An exasperated sigh resonated from the corner of the room where the significant men in the Joans’ lives were gathered. "Here we go again," muttered Barnaby, the nineteenth century chauvinist and aspiring rapist. Then, more loudly, "Get on with it! Bloody woman!" Aboriginal Runaway Joan glanced in his direction. She remembered how his sexist and racist attitude had oozed out every pore of his body as he called her a hot, black slut and attempted to rape her. She shuddered with disgust.

"How uncouth!" exclaimed a horrified Lady Stoneman.

Prologue Joan paused mid sentence. "Why on earth did I ever encourage the Joans to bring along their fellow characters?" she muttered under her breath. "I should have known it would lead to nothing but trouble." She recognised Miss Mary, perched daintily beside Washerwoman Joan."Why can’t they all be so sweet?" she wondered. She pulled herself up to her full height and addressed Barnaby. "Whoever invited you anyway? I’m sure Aboriginal Runaway Joan didn’t ask you along. Hmph! She’d have invited Mrs Cheeseman, the busybody who badgered her on the train, instead of you, any day. I’d watch myself, if I were you Mr Barnaby. Remember you were only admitted to Heaven by the skin of your teeth. If you recall, I was there when the Creator weighed up your misdemeanours. If I had been in her shoes, I would have sent you on your way to warmer pastures, if you know what I mean." Part Aboriginal Runaway Joan nodded her agreement, while gatecrashing Barnaby, embarrassed by the revelation that he was almost refused admittance to the Heavenly realm, slunk to the rear of the saloon.

"Where was I?" continued Prologue Joan. "Oh yes, in the beginning, vague things swirled and whirled..."

"You were about to role the film..." interjected an impatient Mrs Cook.

"Was I?" the absent-minded Archangel enquired. "No, I’m quite sure I was about to tell you about the life of twentieth century Joan. You see, she thought her story was one the world had never heard before. She loved and was bored. She betrayed and was forgiven; she ran away and returned. All these things were her personal and highly significant history!"

The host of Joans was impatient for the show to start. Conceding, the Archangel dimmed the lights and rolled the projector. "This is our evening’s main attraction," she explained as the credits formed on the screen. "Our common bond: the life and times of twentieth century Joan..."

A round of applause reverberated around the saloon.

"Ooh, wasn’t she a sweet, young thing!" cooed Joan Cook as young twentieth century Joan crawled across the screen, brandishing a tiny Australian flag.

"She was always truly blue," the thickly accented voice of Mr Radalescu cut through the darkness.

"Ssh!" hissed Irish Joan.

"Turn the volume up!" suggested Convict Joan as an image of twentieth century Joan perched on Uncle Laslo’s knee appeared. "I, Joan want to make history!" the youngster declared on the scratchy, accompanying soundtrack, amidst guffaws from the elderly Transylvanian. A gold toothed smile adorned Mrs Radalescu’s face as she sat beside her husband, a stocky man in a lumpy, cheap suit. The audience bantered and joked good naturedly as images of Joan’s schooldays flickered onto the screen. Her brown skin contrasted starkly with the pale puddings that were her classmates. As they tucked into neat sultana sandwiches at lunchtime, Joan gobbled down her ethnic feast alone, ashamed of the thick, dark bread and olives lovingly prepared by her mother. As Joan shared the changing room with her classmates after a schoolyard game of rounders, the audience witnessed her envy as she regarded the other girls’ melting rolls of biscuit coloured flesh, so different from her muddy, boyish figure. Next were images of Joan’s wild university days. As she had her mind improved by the great men of the past, Joan cut her hair off and dyed it every different colour available. The resulting shade of green gave her an eccentric appearance which was exacerbated by her attire, a scarf tied precariously around her flat chest. Lady Stoneman, looked on in disbelief, marvelling that a woman could find it in her to dress in this manner. There was no doubt about it, Joan Radalescu stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the pinks and mauves and polka dots in the land of Angles and Saxon.

"That’s when I met her," Duncan commented wistfully, distractedly sipping his beer. He turned to Lilian, who was watching, enraptured beside Lady Beauman. "It was you who introduced us, wasn’t it, Lil?" he said, almost to himself, "All those years ago..."

Lilian nodded, lost in nostalgia. "Those were the days," she sighed in agreement. A look of fondness crossed Duncan’s face as his wife’s swelling belly filled the screen.

"Ah, she succumbed too," the quietly spoken Miss Mary sympathised, patting her own abdomen. Washerwoman Joan watched approvingly as Miss Mary, the young newly wed sidled up beside her husband Knightley, who was chortling at the on-screen antics as he nursed his drink by the bar. There was a time when she had disapproved of the union, muttering, "He doesn’t fool me," when she saw him slip a hand into his pocket. "I, Joan, his washerwoman, know all about the lascivious intended holes in the pockets of his pants. Women who wash other people’s soiled garments learn a thing or two." She chortled at how he had changed his ways now he had a wife to cherish and a child on the way. Satisfied, she turned back to the cinematic proceedings. She found it a rather unpleasant time to tune in, as twentieth century Joan was in the throes of a miscarriage. Barren Washerwoman Joan, longing for a child of her own, watched with horror as twentieth century Joan’s breathed the words, "I’m free," when the trauma had ceased. "At least the good Lord gave her the chance to have a child!" the infertile washerwoman sighed forlornly. "For Ted and I, the years passed without issue, in spite of every kind of remedy tried that anyone had suggested, in the way of wort swallowed, sage infused, eucalyptus and tar applied, and gymnastics somewhat creakingly employed. All to no avail..."

Washerwoman Joan was not the only one for whom this scene evoked painful memories. Burchett’s Joan was reminded of the time she had found an aboriginal woman miscarrying on Burchett’s property, desperately trying to keep inside her what was determined to come out. Burchett’s Joan, now seated beside the aboriginal woman, saw her distress and gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. They both threw a disgusted glance at Burchett himself, the man whose poison damper had robbed the aborigine of her child. "However did he get into Heaven?" Burchett’s servant wondered incredulously as the Anglophile downed a pint of lager at the bar. "The heavenly bouncers must be getting careless these days; they’ve allowed the scum of the earth, the devil himself, through the gates this time!"

A cherub trundled over to the distraught washerwoman. Her anguish was reinforced by Runaway Joan’s pro-choice argument that "it’s a woman’s right to choose if and when to have a child!"

"Who might you be?" the washerwoman enquired of the infant who was crawling into her lap. "And whatever are you doing in a public bar?"

"I came to comfort you, Aunty Joan. You see, I, Joan’s baby, died before I was born because the time wasn’t right for my mum to have me. She had history to make, you see. At that time, she thought history consisted of famous men doing great things and the only way to make her mark was to emulate them. My mum thought I would interfere with her goals. At one stage, she even wanted to be the Prime Minister! But it’s okay, I understand, really I do. Just keep watching the movie. You’ll see, she’ll make a good mum to Madge. But first, her views and values change." The washerwoman marvelled at the infant’s insight and maturity beyond her years. "Must be an old soul," she concluded.

"In the meantime, Aunty Joan, will you look after me?" the rosy cheeked youngster enquired. "At least ‘till I can go back down there and be somebody else’s baby." The tears constricting Washerwoman Joan’s throat prevented her from responding. Instead, she hugged the baby to her ample bosom, relishing the touch of the soft curls on her skin.

The image on the screen now depicted Joan’s existence as a country wife. Her boredom and frustration were evident as she struggled with the trivialities of pickling peas and making scones. "I know how she feels," Lady Stoneman, clad in mauve, empathised. "I wasn’t born for that kind of small beer either." She spritzed some rosewater onto her skin. It was so readily available here in Heaven, unlike when she lived in Australia, at the governor’s mansion and had to do without it.

On the screen, twentieth century Joan was deserting Duncan at the Royal Show, leaving her bewildered husband standing alone amidst rows of pickled peas and unripe pears, as she headed for the open road.

"Cooee! Way to go Joan!" Lively, part aboriginal runaway Joan showed her approval of her namesake’ stand for independence. "It’s the only life worth living!" she commented, gulping down her beer. Photographer Joan caught Duncan’s pained expression as he relived the anguish he had sustained when Joan betrayed him in her attempt at making history.

"She’ll miss him, mark my words," photographer Joan, who had helped to capture Ned Kelley, if only on film, declared loudly. She glanced over at Alfred who was trying to sell some suggestive photographs of women, hovering seductively over their garters, to leering Barnaby in the corner. She remembered the days when she had worked for Alfred, the photographer. Admittedly, she had not revelled in flaunting her flesh in seductive poses, yet when mixing the collodion for the plates, she felt she had a hand in the machinery of life, something she had never had as simply the wife of Henry. Yet she had come to realize that without her beloved Henry, she felt empty. As twentieth century Joan’s reconciled with Duncan, embracing in the swaying doorway of a train, the photographer, glanced appreciatively at her own husband, Henry, who had not left her side since their reunion. She nodded smugly. "See, what did I tell you?"

It wasn’t long before the audience was witness to steamy scenes of skin as Joan reconsummated her love for Duncan. Washerwoman Joan covered the eyes of the little cherub perched on her knee. Wallaby Track Joan smiled knowingly as her namesake announced that she was with child. There was not a dry eye in the house when tiny Madge was finally born. Amy smiled at Wallaby Track Joan, the woman she regarded as a sister. They had only recently been reunited and had so much to catch up on.

"I remember when it was your turn," Amy reminisced.

"Aye, I recall the birth of my first daughter as vividly as if it had occurred yesterday," Wallaby Track Joan agreed. "I couldn’t have managed it without you, though," she added gratefully, "You saved me from facing my destiny alone." As twentieth century Joan lovingly nursed tiny Madge on the screen, Amy, a stout woman whose voice could have cut through ironbark, but whose knowing brown eyes shone full of kindness, observed, "That twentieth century lass did make a good mum after all!"

"Yes," Archangel Prologue Joan acknowledged, turning the projector off and flicking the light switch on. The audience who had been enthralled by the saga voiced their dismay. "Oi!" Barnaby objected. "I was watchin’ that!"

The Archangel threw him a glance that silenced him immediately. "I wanted to leave some time for discussion," Prologue Joan explained. "So what do you think, folks?" she posed the question. "Did twentieth century Joan succeed? Did she make history?"

Prologue Joan was astounded by the response that this simple enquiry elicited. It was so overwhelming that her halo was knocked askew in the commotion that ensued.

"Of course she made history!" Wallaby Track Joan insisted. "She was a mother, wasn’t she?"

"That’s not history!" Knightley scoffed.

"It’s priceless!" Joan, the mayor of Castletown’s wife insisted. "Its one of the things no book would ever mention. The peculiar, lopsided and absurd sorts of things that would look silly in a book and no one would be willing to make a bronze statue out of. But they mattered just the same, for they were the rest of history, and without them, it would have been all wrong!"

Lady Stoneman, who believed that her own mauve coloured existence didn’t amount to much, was sceptical of the significance of twentieth century Joan’s contribution. "Well she wasn’t exactly Joan of Arc," she muttered feebly. Her quiet comment was unacknowledged amidst the bar room drama that was unfolding.

"A woman making history?" the Botanist from the Cooks’ voyage chortled, sipping his sherry. He extracted his fob watch from the rich brocade of his waistcoat, noted the hour and snapped it shut. "Why, the notion is preposterous!"

"Damn right!" echoed Burchett, sculling his umpteenth beer and placing the empty mug on the bar with a thud. "Should have been made illegal years ago."

Convict Joan, a robust, self-assured woman, overheard snatches of this chauvinistic conversation. She sidled over and emptied a large jug of ale over Burchett’s head. A round of applause rang out from the women’s corner and was soon accompanied by raucous praise from the men who were assembled.

"Bravo!" Prologue Joan enthused, beaming with approval.

"You show ’em, Joanie!" Duncan winked.

Lady Stoneman observed the attention bestowed on the convict, with envy. "I wish I could have been the one to do that," she sighed forlornly.

Mr Radalescu was delighted by Convict Joan’s display. "Good onto you, Joan!" he congratulated her, while his wife, sitting beside him in a fur coat, smiled mutely. She wanted to express her delight, but found that her foreign tongue was imprisoned in her gold toothed mouth.

"This is all very interesting," Pioneer Joan acknowledged, "but we’re not addressing the heart of the issue here. Did she, or did she not make history?"

"Of course not," Warra replied dismissively. "I thought we’d already cleared up that little misunderstanding. My Joan never made history. Oh she tried all right, havin’ all her hair lopped off and then goin’ for that explorer with ’is own scissors en all. ’Course that was before I put a stop to all that nonsense. I was too strong for her and she knew it. Cor, women tryin’ to make history! Huh!" His Joan ran a hand through her cropped hair and glanced at him sullenly.

"Why you... you... arrogant... pig of a..." Runaway Joan seethed, flying at the chauvinistic aborigine. As he caught her flailing fists, a hush descended over the bar room.

"It is our creator!" Archangel Prologue Joan breathed as the hotel’s doors flew open of their own accord and the Great God Grenville entered.

"Tut, tut," she muttered, shaking her head sadly. She tucked her Book of Judgement under her arm along with the manuscript of her latest work, ‘Dark Places.’ She glanced around the room disapprovingly, her eyes finally resting on a bedraggled Burchett. "Oi!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here? I thought I banished you to your hell when I transported you to Australia!"

"I’m... I’m out on probation," he replied meekly.

"Watch yourself," his creator warned sternly. Then, turning to the congregation she enquired, "Now what’s all this fuss about? I was trying to get some creating done on cloud nine and I couldn’t concentrate because of the racket you guys were making!"

"Our humblest apologies, O Great one," offered Prologue Joan. "We were merely having a discussion."

"Oh." The Great Grenville God’s interest was sparked. "What about?"

"We were just trying to determine whether twentieth century Joan did in fact make history," Prologue Joan explained. "And perhaps if we did too..."

"I thought that was self evident," the Creator replied, slightly peeved. "So many lives! Explorers, prisoners of the crown, washerwomen, ladies of leisure, photographers, mothers, mayoresses. You, Joans, have been all these things. You are every woman who has ever drawn breath. Yet you are only a small selection of those other Joans who made the history of this land. You’ve all made history. Yes, even you Barnaby."

"Aah," the congregation breathed in awe at this divine revelation.

"And you all did your best as you saw it," the Creator continued. "You all made history in your own special way. Good. Now that we’ve settled that, be quiet! I must finish writing this new book! It’s about men, you see. Yes, I thought you’d like that idea, Knightley. Well it’s about time I balanced the scales and talked a bit about the male part of the species for a change. I must get back to it! The poor characters’ lives are on hold every time I’m forced to take a break. Some of you Joans wouldn’t have been too pleased if I took a coffee break while you dived into Botany Bay, or lopped off a European explorer’s locks, now would you? Besides the publication deadline is looming! The publisher is banging on heaven’s gates every day. My ulcer’s flaring from the pressure of it all! I’m off. I, Kate, have history to make!"

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Copyright © 1994 Ilanit Tof, All Rights Reserved.