Australian actor Simon Burke shares his favourite things inside his Sydney inner-city converted warehouse home
Elizabeth Fortescue, The Daily Telegraph, Photos Bob Barker
September 26, 2014 2:00pm
AT HOME WITH SIMON BURKE
WHO: Actor Simon Burke, who is currently appearing in Devil’s Playground on Showcase for Foxtel
WHERE: An inner-city warehouse in Sydney FAVOURITE THING: "My cats Erik and Donni and the cat tower I had built for them when I lived in London."
INSPIRATION: "The bare bones of the place told me what to do with it."
HOME IS: "Peace and quiet, love, happiness, good food, great television and tracky dacks."
THE moment you walk up the stairs to the living room of Simon Burke’s converted warehouse, you appreciate why the leading Australian actor loves home.
Spacious, airy and relaxed — and only a few steps from some of Sydney’s grooviest cafes — the renovated warehouse has a Zen factor that might be left over from its former incarnation as a yoga studio.
“I can’t tell you how many female friends I have who’ve done yoga in this very area,” he says.
Burke first saw the building during the Sydney Olympics of 2000, and moved in on Boxing Day that year.
“It was a fantastically romantic place, and it had never been lived in,” he says.
“It was full of spiders and freezing in winter and incredibly hot in summer.”
After giving himself time to envisage the space the way he wanted it, Burke worked with an architect to bring his dream to fruition.
Burke’s renovations have not turned his warehouse into a stark, concrete bunker but a warm and relaxed home with an arty twist.
With exposed beams and brickwork and the original wooden balustrade, Burke has allowed the building to remain connected to its former histories.
“It’s been a lot of things — a cardboard box factory, for instance. I think it was actually built as a motor vehicle paint business,” he says.
Wall-mounted gas heaters keep even this cavernous space cosy on a cold day.
Actor Simon Burke’s grand piano.
A wall heater helps make Simon Burke’s home warm and cosy.
Actor Simon Burke’s courtyard, which features a fish pond.
From the vast lounge the size of a double bed you can see the television as well as the tiny courtyard designed for Burke by his good mate, landscape designer Paul Bangay.
As well as a fish pond, the tiny courtyard features an outdoor shower which causes a lot of comment.
It’s a brilliant feature inspired by a trip to Bali, and is much used in both summer and winter.
SIMON BURKE'S FAVOURITE THINGS
“I do love trainers. How many pairs? I probably shouldn’t say. Whenever my mum comes over she says ‘you need to throw some of those out’.”
Part of Simon Burke’s sneaker collection. Picture: Bob Barker
“When I did this renovation 10 years ago, they were the finishing touch to the place. I found them at Mr Brassman in Mosman.”
The Moroccan lights at the entry of the home. Picture: Bob Barker
“It’s the 1976 award I won for best actor in (the film) Devil’s Playground. I was the youngest ever winner of that award.”
The Greek bust. Picture: Bob Barker
Simon Burke’s AFI award. Picture: Bob Barker
“It’s one of my favourite pieces. Someone gave it to me as a house warming present but I forget who. If you’re reading this, please get in touch so I can thank you.”
“I spent six months doing a series for Channel 9 called The Alice. I wanted to take home a piece of Alice Springs with me. It’s by Walangkura Napanangka. I love it.”
A framed Devil's Playground poster at Simon Burke’s home. Picture: Bob Barker
A painting hanging at Simon Burke’s home. Picture: Bob Barker
“It’s owned by one of my best friends, Daniel Edmonds, who is a young musical director and composer. He didn’t have anywhere big enough to put it.”
“A friend of mine, Damian Harris, painted it for me. When we came back to Australia (after living in London) we had a welcome back party and he gave it to me then.”
A painting of Simon Burke’s cats Erik and Donald.
Simon Burke: ‘I didn’t hide being gay so much as I didn’t talk about it’
NICHOLAS FONSECA, Stellar Magazine
July 8, 2017 4:00pm
THERE was a time when Simon Burke wanted to be a father.
This was, he tells Stellar, “a period in my 30s and early 40s. I really thought I would have been a great dad.”
Now 55, he does not see the absence of children in his home — cats Erik and Donni don’t quite count — as a missed opportunity.
“I’m quite happy not to be one. But look, word on the street is that I’ve brought up a couple of million Australian kids, anyway.”
Burke is talking, of course, about his two-decade run as a presenter on Play School.
The role suits someone equally energetic and avuncular, and Burke is both in spades, which may explain why “in the last 10 years I’ve played a lot of dads”.
For the 2007 revival of The Sound Of Music, he played Captain Von Trapp.
“I worked with 96 children over a year. Then I went to Toronto and worked with another 40.”
He was Mr Banks in Mary Poppins, Georges in La Cage Aux Folles and even Edna Turnblad — technically a woman, always played by a man — in Hairspray.
Across these shows, Burke worked with actors of a certain age — often a very young one. It forced him to reflect on his own ascent in a business that, for children, can be tricky if not impossible to navigate.
“When you’re a child actor, you remember the people who were decent to you, who didn’t patronise you. The ones who treated you like someone else getting paid to do a job. I try to be like that. My door’s always been open to any young actor or actress who wants to talk about what they do.”
“I walked onstage and, I know this sounds spooky, but a feeling came over me, this kind of epiphany.”
This may be Burke’s way of saying he recognises the hunger in those starry-eyed youngsters. He grew up in Darlinghurst, long a working-class suburb in inner Sydney, the son of “very much not stage parents who had nothing to do with theatre whatsoever”.
Dad Michael, a policeman, was “a complex, pretty hard guy”. Mum Bobbie was a clerical staffer who worked, for a time, at the Royal Commission on Human Relationships.
“Very, very crazy,” he says, trying to stifle a laugh. “Very ’70s.”
Burke quite literally walked into his future career when he was eight years old. A neighbour was making costumes for a children’s production at a nearby theatre; asked to help her carry them down the street one day, he obliged.
“I walked all the way, lugging those costumes,” he says.
“It was the first time I’d ever been in an empty theatre. Nobody was in the stalls. I walked onstage and, I know this sounds spooky, but a feeling came over me, this kind of epiphany: This is where I want to be. And just as I felt that, the woman directing the show said, ‘Oh, you look the right height to play Ro-boy! Would you like to be in our play?’ I got cast then and there.”
By the time he was 12, Burke was acting opposite Peter Carroll and Maggie Dence; in 1976, he became the youngest-ever actor to win an AFI Award (the feat still stands) for his work in The Devil’s Playground.
Six months out of high school, he played Mel Gibson’s servant in Romeo And Juliet.
“I never trained because I kept working,” Burke says.
“I never wanted my early success to be a free ticket — I always made sure I was starting over again.”
This commitment to his career never came at the expense of an enriching personal life — with one exception.
In 1996, Burke was living in London, “doing A Little Night Music at the National Theatre with Judi Dench,” he recalls.
“There I go, name-dropping again. I’d planned to keep my career going there, but my dad got ill with cancer and I had to come home to say goodbye since he only had a few months to live.
“It sounds harsh, but when I saw him I remember saying that I had to get back to London. Then I realised, no, you can’t do that. We weren’t terribly close, but I let the opportunity go to spend time with him. As it turned out, he lived another three or four years. But life took a very different turn because of that.”
Burke’s latest show, the backstage classic Noises Off, opens in Melbourne this Wednesday. When rehearsals began in Brisbane, where this revival originated, Burke was in the last week of another play interstate.
For seven days he played super-commuter.
“I was getting a 6am flight every day,” says Burke.“I would then leave at 1.30pm to catch a 3pm flight back to Sydney — then do a show at night. Both shows were farces … the whole thing was farcical. I’m not sure how much work I did on either project that week — I mostly obsessed about whether planes would arrive on time.”
This story appears in Stellar July 9.
His mum will be in Melbourne for opening night; so will Peter, his partner of 13 years. In a nice bit of kismet, Burke met Peter on opening night of the last show he starred in for the Melbourne Theatre Company.
“So he’d better be there for this show,” he says with a laugh.
Burke never really “came out” to the Australian public, is loathe to examine what his sexuality has or hasn’t done for his career, and tries to avoid being labelled as such. His reasoning?
“Being a performer is such an exposing thing. You’re always judged on superficial factors — you literally may miss out on a role because you’re two inches too short, or due to your eye colour. I wouldn’t call myself a gay activist, but a political person who is deeply concerned about a number of issues.”
For years, says Burke, “I didn’t hide [being gay] so much as I didn’t talk about it.”
But if you think he loses sleep at night, wringing his hands over what might have been had he talked about it more or never spoken about it all, think again.
“Here’s what I do want to say: when you become more comfortable with the industry and your place in the world, it’s easier to become comfortable with the whole of yourself.”
Burke with the cast of Noises Off.
Burke pictured in The Devil’s Playground.
Burke with Todd McKenney (left) and Rhonda Burchmore in La Cage Aux Folles.
Noises Off opens on Wednesday July 12, at the Arts Centre Melbourne; mtc.com.au
Naughty jokes on Play School: Simon Burke says Noni Hazlehurst ‘taught him everything he knows’
WHEN it comes to slipping in adult jokes on Play School, Simon Burke revealed it was Noni Hazlehurst who led the way. Here’s one of her best gags.
Andrew Bucklow news.com.au December 12, 2015 5:31pm
PLAY School is Australia’s most famous children’s TV show, but every now and then there’s a joke for the grown-ups.
And when it comes to slipping in some slightly adult humour, former host Simon Burke suggested some presenters do it better than others.
“Noni (Hazlehurst) taught me everything I know, let’s put it that way,” he joked to news.com.au on the red carpet at the AACTA awards.
Burke appeared on the ABC TV show over a 23-year period, and he still recalls one of Hazlehurst’s wittiest quips.
“We sang a song once that went:
When the kangaroo bumps with a bumpety bump
He’ll never walk when he can jump
And people laugh at him in the street
Goodness gracious what big feet!
“And as the camera was pulling out, Noni said, ‘Well you know what they say about big feet, Simon’.”
In an interview with news.com.au last year, Noni Hazlehurst, who also had a 23-year stint on the show, said there’s no real harm in dropping the occasional suggestive joke on Play School.
“Of course it happens,” Hazlehurst said.
“Bearing in mind you had fairly stretched parents watching at home as well who were using the opportunity to sit down and have their child engaged by someone other than them for half an hour, there was occasionally a little double entendre but never at the expense of the child’s enjoyment.”
Play School 50
Royal Australian Mint in Canberra unveils Play School fifty cent coin set
22 May 2016
Play School presenter Simon Burke was at the Royal Australia Mint in Canberra to unveil Play School's fifty cent coin set to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
To celebrate 50 years of Australia's most iconic children's television program, Play School legend Simon Burke during a sing-a-long to launch the Royal Australian Mint's adorable three coin set, featuring the show's famous toys.