Julie Burke left a lasting impact on Wimmera netball | Legends of Yesterday

NETBALL ICON: Julie Burke is well known in the Wimmera for her successful netball career. Spanning more than 30 years, she coached and played in about 35 premierships. Picture: SEAN WALES
NETBALL ICON: Julie Burke is well known in the Wimmera for her successful netball career. Spanning more than 30 years, she coached and played in about 35 premierships. Picture: SEAN WALES

WHETHER it was playing or coaching netball, success followed Julie Burke wherever she went. 

Burke, originally of Edenhope, always immersed herself in sport.

In 1978 when she moved to Horsham, she started playing at Horsham Netball Club.

“I came as a player and the next year, like all country clubs, they were looking for coaches and at 22 I coached,” Burke said.

After a stint at Horsham, Burke then found herself coaching and playing at Laharum.

“Laharum was a great club with the likes of Michele Mibus, who was such a big part of Laharum,” she said.

Burke then returned back to Horsham for another stint, before heading out to her home town in 1988.

“It was different but certainly good to go back to Edenhope after all those years,” she said. “We had a lot of success there and we were in three grand finals.”

Upon her return to Horsham in 1990, Burke started coaching at Horsham United.

Burke considers herself lucky to have had success at every club she went to.

“I was lucky that I made grand finals with all the clubs I coached at,” she said.

Despite playing and coaching at a number of clubs, Burke considers the Demons to be her home team.

“I’m a life member at Horsham, so I played at least 200 games there,” she said.

“It was a real honour to get a membership there. They are a wonderful club and have had such success, which comes from having good people. These are team sports and you cannot get those results without having good people around you.

“I played A Grade with my daughter Brianna and my son Jordyn still plays there.”

The fondest memory Burke has of her netball career was a Mobil Country Cup win in 1996. 

Playing against other Victorian regions, Burke coached the Wimmera-Mallee team to a remarkable win in what would be the final country cup to be held in the state.

“Netball Victoria poured money into country netball and developed the Mobil Country Cup,” Burke said.

“Each zone was funded and we went and played. It was a competition getting netballers to play at an elite level. Often country players never had the chance to play at that level.

“We went to Warragul and played against Diamond Valley. It was televised and I think we were down by 11 goals at one stage and we came back and won.

“The whole of the Wimmera region from Hopetoun all the way down was behind us. People travelled down to watch and it was fantastic.

“We were the final winners of that cup. It was probably one of my fondest memories.”

After that win, Burke and her country cup side had the chance to play an exhibition match against Fiji.

Listen to Julie Burke speaking about winning the Mobil Country Cup.

Representing her region as a playing coach against a national team from Fiji was a special moment for Burke.

“Because of that country cup win Fiji then came to Horsham to play a game,” she said. “We played against them as the Wimmera-Mallee team as an exhibition match at the basketball stadium. It was absolutely packed.

“Fiji even had their own entourage where they did traditional dancing before the game. We ended up winning, which was very exciting. It was a special era. Now we have a lot of those people pouring back into netball in the Wimmera, which is great to see.”

Despite having success at every club Burke joined – she said she played or coached in about 35 premierships – Burke does not accredit the wins to herself.

“I brought a new coaching style to teams and just had them working well,” she said.

“It wasn’t just me that made them get to grand finals – it was everyone’s hard work. Players used to say I was a tough coach, but it was the fact that I expected everyone to do what I did. As a playing coach you have to lead by example. A lot of that was through self discipline, tough training and getting people to believe in themselves.”

FOND MEMORY: Burke coached the Wimmera-Mallee team that won the Mobil Country Cup in 1996. Burke is in the front row, third from the right.

FOND MEMORY: Burke coached the Wimmera-Mallee team that won the Mobil Country Cup in 1996. Burke is in the front row, third from the right.

As a playing coach, Burke said it was sometimes tough to be a coach on the court but then socialise as friends off it. 

“It’s hard as a coach because you have to be a coach and it’s hard to be a friend as well,” she said.

“You need to have that divide and make game choices, but still socialise and be part of that time. Drawing that line can be difficult at times, especially in country clubs where you are all playing with families and the same people.

“You have to make those hard calls but then go and live with them, whereas in the city you are more removed from everyone after you go home.”

Burke moved away from Horsham in the early 2000s, joining the police force in Ballarat.

“I coached at Redan for three years in Ballarat,” she said. “Then I moved to Melbourne in 2006 and from there it was too hard to coach so I stopped.

“I moved back to the Wimmera in 2012 and coached Horsham B Grade netball to a premiership and that was the last time I coached. I do miss it and now I’ve taken up the most frustrating sport ever – golf.”

Burke has not ruled out making a comeback to netball coaching – she said the memories and friends she made during her netball career was fantastic. 

“I could make a list of people a mile long of people I met through sport,” she said. “It’s always difficult to nominate any one person who was an influence in my life, because everyone plays an important role. It’s not me just coaching this team and winning, it’s everyone around you.

“My daughter lives in Geelong, so I’ll probably retire there, help look after them and just play golf. 

“I have two granddaughters and a third grandchild on the way, so once they get involved in sport I hope to support them.

“You never say never to coaching again.”

Julie Burke’s story is part of a new weekly series about Wimmera sporting greats. If you know someone with a story to share, email newsdesk@mailtimes.com.au or phone the newsroom on 5362 0000.