LOVES TO WRITE: Gold Coast author Joanne Herkes delves into the way the past has such an influence on the present in her book Grace Under Pressure.
LOVES TO WRITE: Gold Coast author Joanne Herkes delves into the way the past has such an influence on the present in her book Grace Under Pressure. Yvonne Gardiner

Australian pioneers inspire Gold Coast author

JOANNE Herkes' first novel was inspired by the resilience of the Australian pioneers, especially women.

During extensive research for Grace Under Pressure, she was also saddened by historical racial issues.

"I am always fascinated about how the past has such an influence on the present," she said.

"Education through time is fascinating. That goes for the teaching methods/subject matter and rules/behaviour management.

"How far greedy people will go is a common element of stories."

Joanne, now retired and living on the Gold Coast, is a softly spoken, reluctant self-promoter with no ambition to become rich and famous from her writings.

"I never thought to make another career. I do it for fun," she said.

"I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit I wrote it for myself. It's the type of book I'd like to read.

"However, the other element is the continuation of the story into a more modern era and I guess I couldn't help thinking that it might be interesting for a young teacher bound for a bush posting, an educator in the prison system, or educational psychologists."

The plot goes like this:

In 19th century Australia, Virginia and her husband Charles seek gold in Granite Ridge, Queensland.

Their friends, a Chinaman and his Aboriginal wife, are driven away by racial tension, but leave their son in Virginia's care, with a huge gold nugget.

This nugget is left behind "for all the children".

When Grace arrives in the outback town decades later, as its teacher, she learns of the rumour surrounding Jessica Campbell and her son Snowy - and that gold nugget.

Someone believes that Grace knows where it was hidden.

Until the mysteries are solved, an undercover police officer comes to stay in the town.

When her time is up, Grace moves to a different school in another outback town which is an unfriendly contrast to Granite Ridge.

With a serious drug problem, an unofficial "boss" and a disappearance, Grace is again placed under pressure. 

The story comes full circle when Grace, determined to make a difference, finds herself in Virginia's old home, where it all started.

The book's author, in her working career, was a teacher, educator and administrator.

"While working in the Canberra region over 14 years I taught community classes in writing and drawing. I was also a volunteer board member and library consultant for the ACT Critical Incident Stress Management Organisation," Joanne said.

"In the Outback I served on the Bush Hospital Board and the Country Women's Association.

"I've also managed an Anglican Parish Office."

"My passions now though are children, grandchildren and general mental health issues."

Living and working in Canberra gave Joanne lots of access to the National Library.

"I enjoyed doing heaps of research and followed up with visits to country town museums including Cobb & Co in Bathurst and Toowoomba," she said.   

She incorporated her own bush school experiences and lovely old coppers she'd met.

"When I was training for a school principal role, they showed us a film about a single female who went to a bush school and it had a very frightening outcome," she said.

"It was one of those things that stick in your mind.

"There was also an Australian classic psychological thriller called Wake in Fright that was made into a film in the 1970s about a young teacher going outback.

"While my book isn't scary or a thriller, the topic of isolation has obviously concerned people over the years."

Joanne is currently half-way through a collection of short stories.

Grace Under Pressure by Joanne Herkes is available through the publisher's website: book/grace-under- pressure or it is also available at: www., on kindle or paperback.

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