Dorothy Burke

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Dorothy Burke
Dorothy Burke.jpg
Neighbours character
Portrayed by Maggie Dence
Duration 1990–1993
First appearance 7 March 1990
Last appearance 3 February 1993
Created by Ray Kolle
Introduced by Don Battye
Classification Former; regular
Occupation Principal of Erinsborough High (1990–1993)

Dorothy Miriam Burke (also McLachlan) is a fictional character from the Australian Network Ten soap opera Neighbours, played by Maggie Dence. She made her first on-screen appearance on 7 March 1990. The character departed on 3 February 1993, to live in the Australian countryside.


During an interview with a writer from The Soap Show, Dence revealed the role of Dorothy came along unexpectedly and she had not thought about going into a show like Neighbours again.[1] The actress was appearing in a theatre production when she was approached by a representative from Grundy, the production company behind the show.[2] Dence stated that she was glad she accepted the role and added "It took quite a long time to find my feet but again there were some terrific people to work with. The writers were good to me."[1]


"Many of the neighbours found Dorothy, the Erinsborough High School principal rather prickly. She had severe looks and sharp features and usually wore black, giving her a witch-like appearance. But in truth Dorothy was just a little eccentric. She was well travelled, could speak many languages and clearly had a past that would shock most of her students."[3]

— The official Neighbours website on Dorothy

Dence stated that viewers initially expected Dorothy to be a Mrs Mangel type character, which was inevitable.[1] She explained "I think it's one of those things when you go on a very established show, the writers need a period to see what your best bits are and then they pick it up and go with that."[1] Dence commented that she was happy with Dorothy's storylines being a mixture of comedy and drama and revealed that she shared some great moments with Sue Jones (Pam Willis), Anne Charleston (Madge Bishop) and Anne Haddy (Helen Daniels).[1] Dence added she had loved working with the younger cast members, when Dorothy took care of their characters.[1] Dence told Ian Morrison, author of the official 1992 Neighbours annual, that while she played Dorothy with a "school-marmly authority", she was nothing like her in real life.[2]

In 1993, Dorothy meets Tom Merrick (Robert Essex), a school inspector who comes to evaluate Erinsborough High.[4] Dorothy expects Tom to be old and "stuffy" and he expects her to be a "dope-smoking hippy", but they are both surprised by each other.[4] Dorothy learns Tom is an honest and imaginative man, who uses his free time to have adventures. A writer for Inside Soap said "Like Dorothy, Tom was also a bit of a radical in his student days and it's clear to all the neighbours that these two are soulmates."[4] Dorothy and Tom become good friends and their relationship later turns romantic. Tom announces he is moving to Erinsborough, which causes Dorothy to back off.[4] She tells Helen Daniels that she is scared of a physical relationship with Tom after her mastectomy. Helen encourages Dorothy to tell Tom how she feels and they couple move in together.[4] However, Tom's department transfers him to a rural town and Inside Soap said Dorothy faced a choice of a lifetime. She eventually decides to leave Erinsborough to be with Tom.[4]



Dorothy was born in Adelaide in 1934, the elder of two children to Clarrie (Frederick Parslow) and Stella McLachlan. When Stella developed Alzheimer disease, Dorothy was forced to take care of her, while Clarrie, an alcoholic left the family to explore the Outback. After graduating University, Dorothy began her teaching career at a girls' school as a history teacher and eventually became principal. Dorothy later married accountant Colin Burke (Robert Alexander), but he was later arrested for fraud and jailed. Dorothy, mortified, preferred to let people think she was a widow rather than married to a fraudster. After this ordeal, Dorothy travelled for several years with her friend, Winnie and later returned to Australia.


Dorothy brings her car to Jim Robinson (Alan Dale) to be serviced. Several weeks later, Dorothy moves into Number 30 Ramsay Street and becomes the principal of Erinsborough High, much to her nephew, Ryan McLachlan's (Richard Norton) displeasure. Dorothy's neighbours initially think she is stuck up at first but she soon forms strong friendships with Jim and his former mother-in-law, Helen Daniels.

Dorothy finds herself in a feud with Kerry Bishop (Linda Hartley) and her husband Joe Mangel (Mark Little) over a boundary dispute and matters are not helped when Dorothy's niece, Tiffany (Amber Kilpatrick) complains about Kerry mistreating her. Dorothy threatens to report Kerry to the Department of Childcare Services but Tiffany later confesses that she lied.

Dorothy runs for local council against Madge Bishop which causes friction between the two. She wins and is able to prevent the school from closure, but this puts Helen temporarily offside when she refuses a proposal from her to fund an arts programme. Clarrie reappears in Dorothy's life and it is evident that she has not forgiven him for walking out while her mother was dying and things are uneasy between father and daughter. Dorothy's patience with her father is soon tested when she goes away for the weekend and he lets Ryan hold a party. When it appears that Clarrie has shoved Helen during an argument, Dorothy orders him to leave but soon discovers the truth. Clarrie agrees to attend Alcoholics Anonymous and they part on better terms.

When Ryan finds a letter from Colin, he begins suspect his uncle is in jail rather than dead. After being confronted, Dorothy tells Ryan the truth about Colin swears him to secrecy about his imprisonment. Colin is later released and arrives in Erinsborough keen to make amends but Dorothy refuses to hear him out at first. Eventually, she softens and agrees to give another chance. Dorothy discovers that Colin has been cheating on her with Helen's adoptive daughter, Rosemary (Joy Chambers), and throws him out. Colin pleads for Dorothy's forgiveness, but he is escorted from the street by Jim and Joe. Dorothy discovers a lump in her breast and it is found to be cancerous. Pam Willis, the only person she tells, offers her support.

When Joe leaves for England with his new wife, Melanie Pearson (Lucinda Cowden), Dorothy agrees to let his son, Toby (Ben Guerens), live with her. Dorothy also becomes fond of Toby's dog, Bouncer. They are soon joined by Phoebe Bright (Simone Robertson) after her father, Arthur (Barry Hill), dies. Toby and Phoebe both call Dorothy "Mim", a contraction of her middle name, Miriam. After Phoebe falls pregnant to her boyfriend, Todd Landers (Kristian Schmid), and decides to have an abortion, Dorothy supports her. When Todd is killed after being hit by a van while racing to the clinic, Phoebe decides to keep the baby.

Tom Merrick, a school inspector, arrives in Erinsborough and Dorothy is instantly taken with him, but denies her feelings as she is afraid of getting hurt again. After some thought, Dorothy agrees to give the relationship a chance. When she learns Tom will be principal at Toby's new school in the country near where Joe and Melanie have settled, Dorothy agrees to leave with Tom and bids farewell to Erinsborough and leaves Number 30 in the hands of Phoebe and her new husband Stephen Gottlieb (Lochie Daddo).


A writer for the BBC said Dorothy's most notable moment was "When Dorothy and Jim Robinson got drunk and ended up spending the night together after passing out".[5] In January 1994, Ben Thompson from The Independent observed "The void left by feisty head-teacher Dorothy Burke's departure has yet to be filled".[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Maggie Dence". The Soap Show. TV Favourites Ltd. 2008. Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Morrison 1991, p.18.
  3. ^ "Dorothy Burke". Network Ten. Archived from the original on 16 February 2003. Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Love at last for Dorothy!". Inside Soap. Attic Futura (UK) Ltd (16): 52. December 1993. 
  5. ^ "Character: Dorothy Burke". BBC. Archived from the original on 23 December 2003. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  6. ^ Thompson, Ben (16 January 1994). "Television". The Independent. Retrieved 19 April 2014. (subscription required)

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