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Character Profiles > Dorothy Burke Maggie Dence

Dorothy Miriam Burke (née McLachlan) 1990-1993
Lived: 30 Ramsay Street
Parents: Clarrie and Stella McLachlan
Marital Status: Colin Burke
Siblings: Russell
Family Tree: McLachlan/Burke
Occupation: Principal at Erinsborough High School

Witty and sharp-tongued, but with a wicked sense of humour, Dorothy Burke was an imposing figure to some with her bold dress sense and black hat, and in summer, was always seen with a parasol. Dorothy nursed her sick mother Stella in her final days after her alcoholic father Clarrie left the family to go walkabout in the bush following the diagnosis of Stella as suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Dorothy began her career as a history teacher, climbing the ladder to become principal of a top girl’s school. She married accountant Colin Burke but following his involvement in a fraud scandal, he was sent to prison and a mortified Dorothy decided to tell people he had died. The ordeal prompted Dorothy to take a career break and travel the world with her long-time best pal Winnie. After a few years of travelling to exotic locations and collecting souvenirs from everywhere she visited, Dorothy returned to Australia and settled in Erinsborough where she bought No.30 Ramsay Street and became the new headmistress of Erinsborough High School.

The students of Erinsborough High greeted Dorothy’s arrival at the school with little enthusiasm. One of her first duties was to segregate the boys and girls for certain lessons, which didn’t go down well with the pupils. And when Dorothy introduced a music appreciation session, everyone thought they would have to sit through boring classical music each week. However, Dorothy showed that underneath the stern schoolmistress exterior, was a principal in touch with what her students liked - for the first music appreciation session featured top Australian pop band, Go 101.

On Ramsay Street, Dorothy was initially a very private resident who didn’t mix with the neighbours, leading to most of them thinking she was rude and standoffish. But eventually, they realised Dorothy was very down to earth with a crafty sense of humour and a heart of gold. She struck up a close friendship with Helen Daniels and Jim Robinson, who she always had a bit of a crush on. A feud developed between Dorothy and the brash Madge Bishop from across the street, especially when Dorothy ran against Madge for local council. Dorothy was determined to win a seat on the council in order to fight proposed plans to close down Erinsborough High, and she was delighted when she won and the school avoided closure. However, her seat on the council led to a temporary rift between herself and Helen when Dorothy refused to endorse a proposal by Helen for a council funded arts workshop. Dorothy was involved in another feud with next door neighbours Joe and Kerry when she demanded Joe move the fence dividing their gardens, claiming he was taking up some of her land and also objected to Kerry operating a childminding service from her home. But when the matters were resolved, Dorothy became quite good friends with her next door neighbours, particularly with Joe after Kerry died in a tragic shooting accident.

Dorothy had always had an uneasy relationship with her brother Russell and his wife Petra, but doted on their children - her nephew and niece, Ryan and Lochy. So when Russell and Petra went on an extended trip to Papua New Guinea, Dorothy was more than happy to let Ryan and Lochy stay with her at No.30. When Lochy went out to join her parents in New Guinea after a few months, Ryan opted to stay on with Dorothy in Erinsborough in order to finish Year 12. Dorothy and Ryan were also soon joined by Clarrie and his sheepdog Rosie, and the tension between Dorothy and her estranged father was quickly evident for all to see. It emerged that Dorothy was still furious with Clarrie for his years of alcoholism and turning his back on her mother in her hour of need. And with Clarrie still fond of a drink, there were plenty more opportunities for Dorothy to remain angry with her father. One such occasion was when he allowed Ryan to hold a party at No.30 while Dorothy was away for the weekend. The party got out of hand and Dorothy was disgusted to come home and find alcohol stains all over her living room floor. The final straw came for Dorothy when Clarrie appeared to have pushed Helen during an argument with her in the driveway. Despite the fact that Helen had actually fallen by herself, her grandson Paul was adamant that Clarrie was responsible and Dorothy was appalled by her father’s behaviour. She refused to listen to his pleas of innocence and instead demanded he leave. Luckily, she discovered the truth before he left, and the two started to make amends, with Clarrie’s commitment to attending AA helping matters enormously. By the time he and Rosie moved on again, Clarrie and Dorothy had finally gone some ways towards mending the long-standing rift between them both.

When Ryan discovered a letter from Dorothy’s husband Colin with words cut out of the paper it was written on, he realised this was how prison officers control their inmates letters, and began to suspect that his ‘late’ uncle was actually in jail. When he confronted Dorothy, she admitted that Colin was alive and well, but made Ryan promise not to tell anyone else. Only one other person in the street knew about Dorothy’s deception, and that was Helen, who Dorothy had confided in when she was forced to turn down a marriage proposal from John Brice because of the fact she was already married.

Shortly after Ryan left Erinsborough to join the army, Colin was released from prison and turned up on Ramsay Street pleading with Dorothy to take him back. After some persuasion, Dorothy believed that her husband had turned over a new leaf, but within weeks he was having an affair with Helen’s daughter Rosemary and when Dorothy found out, she threw him out and vowed never to get involved with a man again. And although Rosemary had not known Colin was married - or the husband of one of her mother’s closest friends - a rift developed between her and Dorothy, which placed Helen in an awkward position. When Dorothy accidentally broke an antique plate Rosemary bought Helen, she was convinced Rosemary would think she had done it on purpose. Helen’s crafty granddaughter Lucy stepped in to take the blame, in return for Dorothy giving her some extra tuition with her schoolwork. But Dorothy soon realised she was being stupid and was being taken for a fool by Lucy, especially when Lucy’s demands got out of hand. Dorothy was forced to confess all to Helen, and Helen assured Dorothy she had actually done her a favour since she had hated the plate anyway!

Dorothy was soon hit with a much more serious problem when she found a lump on her breast and was found to have breast cancer. Only Pam Willis knew about Dorothy’s illness, and was a huge source of support to Dorothy as she underwent a mastectomy.

When Dorothy began giving grinds to Jim’s nephew Todd Landers, she left him alone at No.30 on one occasion and after he stumbled across her diary, Todd was unable to resist the temptation to take a peek at his principal’s innermost thoughts. But he was shocked to find she harboured a crush on Jim, and couldn’t wait to tell his friends. But Dorothy overheard the conversation, and went straight to Jim where she owned up and admitted to liking him, before hatching a clever plot to teach Todd a lesson. Dorothy and Jim decided to announce their ‘engagement’ to a stunned Todd, who was suddenly faced with the prospect of living with his headmistress. But once he had learned his lesson, Dorothy and Jim put him out of his misery, and revealed it had all been a joke. Meanwhile, Dorothy and Jim were thrown together again when they both joined a dating agency and were set up with each other. But there was never anything more than an innocent crush on both their parts, and they opted to stick with being good friends and cycling partners.

No.30 began to fill up again when Dorothy found herself caring for two more youngsters. She took in Year 12 student Phoebe Bright following the death of her father, and also gave Joe’s 12-year-old son Toby a home when Joe toured Europe with his new wife Melanie and young daughter Sky. Toby’s stay at No.30 became more permanent when the Mangels moved back to Australia but to a small country town where the new school was plagued with problems and was months away from opening. Dorothy, Phoebe and Toby - and Toby’s pet labrador Bouncer - made an unusual family, but it worked. Both Toby and Phoebe adored Dorothy, who they affectionately called ‘Mim’, a shortened version of Dorothy’s middle name, Miriam.

When the school maths teacher, Peter Knotts, fell in love with Dorothy, she was unaware of his feelings for a long time until she received a love letter from him. Dorothy politely told Mr.Knotts she wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with him, but he shocked her by telling her he had received a letter from her confessing her undying love for him. Dorothy quickly realised she was the victim of yet another school prank and eventually discovered cheeky Rick Alessi was the culprit.

Dorothy made another crack of running for local election when her first term as councillor came to an end. This time round, Dorothy found herself up against Julie Martin who proved to be a worse rival than Madge had been. Although Dorothy was disappointed to come second in the elections and thus, lose her seat, she was delighted by the fact that she had received thousands of votes while Julie received a mere two!

Love finally blossomed for Dorothy when school inspector Tom Merrick arrived in Erinsborough and fell in love with Dorothy. Dorothy, however, was reluctant to commit to another relationship having been burnt so badly in the past, and the fact that Tom was ten years younger than she was also unnerved her. Although she tried to deny that she felt anything towards Tom for a long time, in the end she finally had to let her heart rule and she admitted she had fallen in love with Tom. But the odds seemed to stack against her once again. Toby’s school finally opened in the countryside, and Tom was appointed principal. Dorothy was then faced with bidding Tom goodbye, or leaving Erinsborough behind to join Tom in the country. After agonising over the situation, Dorothy opted to throw caution to the wind for the first time in years and resigned from Erinsborough High to take a teaching post at Tom’s school. Having packed up her tribal masks and souvenirs from across the globe, Dorothy bid a tearful farewell to all her many friends in Ramsay Street and left No.30 in the care of Phoebe, and her new husband Stephen, before riding off into the sunset with Tom, Toby and Bouncer for a new life.


Biography by Moe