TV

EXCLUSIVE: Sylvania Waters icon reveals why she vanished from the spotlight

The Sylvania Waters star reveals what happened to her famous in-laws.
Loading the player...

After her family’s life in a south Sydney waterfront mansion was laid bare in Sylvania Waters – the fly-on-the-wall reality TV series that fascinated Australia and the world back in 1992 – Noeline Baker was forced into hiding.

Now, in an exclusive interview to mark the show’s 30th anniversary, Noeline’s former daughter-in-law, Dione Bilsborough, tells New Idea:

“I don’t think any of us really thought about the aftermath.

WATCH: Reality star sparks debate on the ‘right’ way to use soap

“I haven’t seen Noeline for many years, but I can’t see that she would have changed.

Being the woman that she was, she spoke her truth and if she had an opinion, she would state it. But that was just who Noeline was, I guess.”

SHOCK DEBUT

When we first met Dione all those years ago, she was 21 and living with Noeline’s blond-haired surfie son, Paul Baker, two dogs, and a white sulphur-crested cockatoo.

sylvania-waters
When we first met Dione, she was 21 and living with Noeline’s son. (Credit: Supplied)

Their fibro cottage in Mortdale was just down the road from Noeline and partner Laurie Donaher’s million-dollar mansion.

“Paul and I knew at the time how Noeline was going to be painted during the whole thing,” Dione, now 51, reveals. “It was so obvious to us. The drinking, the smoking and just how Noeline is.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t fare well with viewers at the time.”

Sylvania Waters launched to outrage here and over in the UK (where five million people also watched it), after loud and obnoxiously rich Noeline and Laurie invited the world into a front-row seat to bourbon-fuelled, screaming family arguments.

sylvania-waters
Sylvania Waters launched to outrage here and over in the UK. (Credit: ABC)

“I have no idea, still to this day, what possessed Noeline to make that call to 2GB after they put a call out to say the ABC was looking for families for a reality TV series,” Dione says.

“And we were really only paid a pittance for having our lives turned upside down.

“At the time I guess it was like, ‘Oh, wow, we’re going to be on TV.’

“There were times when it was intrusive and you wanted to be able to speak freely and you had to be very guarded.

dione-sylvania
“I have no idea, still to this day, what possessed Noeline to make that call to 2GB.” (Credit: Supplied)

“Noeline volunteered us and it was made to sound like harmless fun, but it broke the family.”

Paul, then 26, and Dione were paid a little over $4000 for their participation in Sylvania Waters, which also featured Laurie’s amateur race-car-driving son Mick and his wife Yvette.

Noeline’s then 16-year-old son, Michael, also narrated much of the series.

The blended family provided a snapshot of three different tiers of Aussie life, starting with self-made millionaires, Noeline and Laurie.

dione
“We were struggling and we were young – and I was pregnant at the time.” (Credit: ABC)

They were very successful, owned a mansion, and spent their weekends on a luxury cruiser or drinking at a yacht club.

Matriarch Noeline was rarely seen without her beloved Winfield Red cigarettes, or a bourbon in hand.

Mick and Yvette, who had two young daughters when Sylvania Waters was filmed before later adding a son to their family, represented the middle class.

They were depicted as “getting there” with their Lube Mobile business while paying off their mortgage.

“And then you have Paul and Dione … the paupers,” laughs Dione.

dione
Dione spent years trying to escape the notoriety of the show. (Credit: ABC)

“We had a fibro house with a tin roof and our teacups had chips in them. We were struggling and we were young – and I was pregnant at the time. We were renting, both working
full-time, but living hand to mouth.”

Dione says even though Noeline released a single ‘No Regrets’ a year after Sylvania Waters aired, she and Paul were embarrassed to have the family’s dirty linen aired so publicly, and spent years trying to escape the notoriety.

“Unfortunately, you don’t learn your lesson until you watch yourself on television with the rest of Australia and you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, my God! I can’t even look at the television, I’m cringing watching this.’”

FAMILY FEUD

Dione says the family imploded after the first episode aired, when it emerged that Laurie and Noeline constantly whinged about Paul and Dione’s lack of money and their ‘crappy’ house, and unfavourably compared them to Mick and Yvette.

dione-abc
Dione’s labour was filmed as part of the show. (Credit: ABC)

“I’d be thinking in my head, ‘just shut up’, when the cameras were there,” she says.

But it wasn’t all about their family fights, drinking and smoking. Indeed, Dione, who married Paul on the show, concedes that she loved watching the footage of the day she gave birth to son, Kane, now 30 – even if she didn’t know at the time that her labour was being filmed!

“One of the things I did love is that forever I’m going to have my son’s birth on film, and it’s lovely to watch. I’ve seen him shed a few tears when he’s watched it and seen Paul holding him for the first time – it’s a beautiful moment.”

Dione and Paul split up a few years after Sylvania Waters and engaged in what she says was “the world’s worst custody battle” over Kane. Eventually, he went to live with his dad in a beach shack at Boat Harbour in Sydney’s south.

kane
All grown up! Kane now lives with his father in Boat Harbour. (Credit: Supplied)

After the split, Dione spiralled into drug addiction before turning her life around. She welcomed a daughter, Eve, who is now a 22-year-old university student, with another man.

However, that relationship also ended acrimoniously – but she’s since found love again with a man named Lee.

“I’ve been in a relationship for four-and-a-half years with a man who I can honestly say is the love of my life. Lee is lovely, and we’re engaged to be married,” reveals Dione, who now lives on the NSW’s Central Coast and works as a disability support coordinator.

“We did have good times together [on the show]. There were lots of good times at that house.

“But there were definitely times when it was dysfunctional. And it seems like a million years ago – it really does.”

Related stories