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Don Burke: his inquisition ramps up—and up

Don Burke: his inquisition ramps up—and up

After interviewing more than 50 former employees or associates of gardening guru Don Burke, a major joint investigation by Fairfax Media and the ABC on Monday revealed a far darker side to the well-known celebrity. Multiple women alleged that the Burke’s Backyard star had sexually harassed, bullied and, in some cases, indecently assaulted them.

There can be no excuse for Don Burke’s sleazy behaviour.  Burke’s dollar value to Channel Nine was greater than his prey and the dollar won every time. Had that not been so, Burke would have been left to rot in his own compost heap. Those who failed to act are surely worse than Burke because they knew what was going on and they knew it was bad. Burke, on the other hand, so full of himself, the very making of Cannel Nine, obviously believed his depravity would be welcomed from such a great star and he got away with it for many years, and all in the industry knew that. Times were different then but the ramifications exposed today could prove disastrous. This inquisition, this trial by media, could be the fatal trigger for a man in Burke’s mental condition, a man who has lost all in a society that once loved him as much as Channel Nine suffered him. Many will say, fair enough. On the other side of the world is another one just like Burke, Rolf Harris. And just like Harris, will Burke have his Order of Australia rescinded?

Source: Kate McClymont, Fairfax

In their own words: Women speak up against Don Burke


Since then there has been an avalanche of further allegations about the former Channel Nine star.

Fairfax Media has received hundreds of emails and calls from former colleagues, members of the public and celebrities who appeared on his show. They have painted a portrait of a rapacious, vile and cruel narcissist who “viewed women as there for the taking”.

But one thing stands out above anything else. How did he get away with it for so long?

Actress Tottie Goldsmith

“Don Burke came to my home many years ago to shoot a story. My daughter was around seven at the time and his language was so appalling I asked him, politely, to please not use the F and C-bomb in front of her.

“He continued to, as if to rub it in my face. I asked him again but he ignored me so I decided to ask one of the crew for assistance; he merely rolled his eyes, looked very embarrassed and apologised on behalf of the whole crew.

“I felt so uncomfortable asking a man with a profile as big as Don’s, together with the kind of intimidating energy he had, that it was quite a nerve-racking experience.

“Don continued to use foul language as if to challenge me and the men on the crew because you could see how uncomfortable they all felt with his behaviour. The shoot was a wrap just before I was going to ask him to leave.

“He is a narcissistic bully and I am very relieved for the women who have finally been able to unburden themselves of their experiences.”

Julie Howlett

In the late 1980s she was with her son, aged three, in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne when she came upon Burke and his crew. He approached her and commented on “on how attractive I was and that I had great breasts”.

“I was stunned to say the very least, especially as I was a complete stranger to him,” Ms Howlett said.

“He then proceeded to describe how wonderful it would be if we could meet up, have a drink and stay overnight at one of the best hotels in Melbourne.

“At this point I was speechless, felt numb and completely devoid of any feelings whatsoever, except to say that I was disgusted at the gall of this man.”

She went on to say that after Burke thrust his phone number into her hand a crew member came over. “He apologised and told me that Don Burke is renowned for this type of behaviour and to destroy the phone number,” she said.

Publisher Julie Gibbs

“In the early 1990s while working as a book editor, I was involved in filming a segment for Burke’s Backyard with the Doug Anthony All Stars. The location was at a large house in South Yarra. My role was to open the front door to Mr Burke and show him out to the garden where the boys were ‘in residence’. He repeatedly suggested it would be ideal if I answered the door in a negligee or, better, topless.

“Later, out in the garden, he took great pleasure in talking to me about the Rhus tree and what would happen to one’s genitals if one were to have sex on a pile of the fallen leaves (they are highly toxic and cause serious allergies and dermatitis).

“Ever since then I have abhorred him and had to change channels if he was on TV. Ugh.”

Former crew member

On Burke’s denial on A Current Affair on Monday that he taken a reluctant young woman back to his hotel room in Newcastle (as reported in Fairfax Media).

“Well, that is utter bulls–t,” he said.

“The next day – as was par for the course – he gave us a blow-by-blow description of what happened the night before: ‘She was great. I’ve got a regular next time I am back in Newcastle. Blah blah blah.’

“That happened every time we went anywhere. He would pick up women and we would get the whole account the next day.

“I am not precious about things, but I did not want to hear him go on and on about his sexual conquests. When we went interstate, if it happened on the first night, chances were that girl would come to dinner the next night and we are sitting there thinking, ‘We have had to listen all day about what he did to her and what she did to him’.”

Former Nine employee

“I am sure I heard a loud ‘thank God – at last’ when Don Burke was outed.

“Way back when he was only newish on radio I was seated next to him at a business luncheon at the Sebel Townhouse. He told us he was a gardener, etc. To make conversation I told him about my friends’ beautiful rafus palms.

“He pointed out to me that is was in fact ‘rhapis’ and said it was what we women wanted men to do. Rape us!!! I was horrified.”

Amity Dry

“I was a contestant on the first series of The Block and first heard stories about Don Burke from our production crew when we filmed our backstory in January 2003.

“Many of them had worked for Burke previously and had some pretty hair-raising stories about him and, as a naive 25-year-old who had grown up watching Burke’s Backyard, I was horrified by them. Stories of how obsessed he was with talking about sex, particularly animals having sex, and how he would proposition women and bully and harass his staff with sexual innuendo and inappropriate language.

“My first personal experience with Don Burke came later that year when The Block was on air, when he came to our apartment to film an interview with my husband Phil and I.

“The producers had warned us about what to expect from him beforehand and said just to ignore the bad language and inappropriate jokes. I was also warned not to be alone with him.

“He was vile. I remember there were jokes about bestiality and references to my looks and body. Finally, I remember the ferry going past (we lived in Kirribilli on the waterfront) and him saying something sexual about teenage schoolgirls on the ferry and everyone laughing uncomfortably because we didn’t know what else to do.

“But what I remember more than anything was that after he left, my husband and I said we felt like taking a shower and scrubbing the house. It was though a vile and predatory energy had filled it and we felt dirty for the experience. And then when the story went to air I remember telling everyone we knew how our real experience was nothing like it looked on TV and seeing how others felt the same shock about him we once did.

“He deserves to be named and shamed for who he really is and I’m so glad the women who had to put up with it in their workplaces have finally been given a voice.”

Researcher T

“My self-confidence was ruined by his behaviour for many years after my short stint with CTC (Productions, Burke’s company).

“Getting the job there was such a thrill for me and my family and friends were all so impressed. But from the start I was bullied by Burke and he brought me to tears regularly, he made me feel like a failure.

“His behaviour was so commonly known, the stories in the office were jaw-dropping.

“I was ringing a supplier he wanted me to contact. When the company put me on hold, Don became particularly angry with me and yelled, ‘You’re such a f—ing doormat, I wouldn’t be put on hold, you f—ing doormat’.”

Broadcaster and author Mike Carlton

“No surprises here. Burke put the hard word on my first wife while he was filming in our garden in the ’80s. She told him to f— off.”

Author Di Morrissey

“He came to my home in Byron Bay for a segment on Burke’s Backyard. I have never set eyes on Burke before. He puts his feet up on a chair at the table and launches in … no preamble … says, ‘listen to this’ … and proceeds to tell LEWD VULGAR OBSCENE jokes and stories.

“Boris [her partner] comes out with the teapot and goes red in the face and wants to smash Burke’s face in. I walked around the garden with Burke, me keeping a distance from him as i was so stunned and shaky at what he’d said.

“I was rattled for a week or so, couldn’t believe how slimy he’d been. However things began cropping up after the show went to air.

“Seems every woman I met had a horror Burke story. Even an Ansett hostie mentioned she’d seen the show and cautiously asked how I’d found Burke, so I told her. She rolled her eyes and said he was famous for groping the stewardesses, pushing hands up their skirts, etc etc. They had complained to Ansett to ban Burke as they refused to go near him.”


“I am just another female who had the misfortune to encounter Don Burke and his appalling behaviour.

“About 12 years ago I was on an afternoon flight returning to Sydney from Melbourne. I was with work colleagues. Don Burke and one or two companions were also on the flight and seated in the middle section about three rows behind me.

“For some reason, Burke decided to start yelling across the plane to me and my row companion, his suggestions for how we should entertain ourselves during the flight.

“Comments included suggestions for sex in the toilet/mile high club, rubbing up against me, and similar. His comments were so inappropriate and crude I was shocked, but before I could say anything, one of his companions got him to quieten down.”

Entertainer Debra Byrne

“We had this beautiful house that overlooked the ocean at Glenaire (in Victoria). We were sitting in the lounge room looking through the French windows.

He was rabbiting on as the crew set up for another shot. He then said words to the effect about ‘the size of his penis’.

“I went, ‘Excuse me, you can’t talk like that in my house’. I had two young daughters around. There was no invitation to that conversation, he just launched into it.

“I thought, ‘What a jerk, what a weirdo’.”

Researcher R

“My greatest difficulty working there was his unpredictability.

“If someone is a bastard all the time, you develop strategies to deal with it. But Don would be all charming and build you up one day, then tear you down the next.

“You never knew what to expect and I can see how, if you worked with him for years, it would do your head in.

“I lasted about six months.”

Researcher J

“My job interview with Don and Marea (Burke’s wife) was conducted in the CTC offices at Crows Nest. I was asked how I would research a story on coffee machines.

“I was going into detail, discussing how frothing the milk is important and you’d get a coffee expert on camera to demonstrate etc.

“Don’s comment included the line of, ‘Yes, it’s important to get good head’, said in a sleazy manner and looking for my reaction.

“Naturally, I was stunned. I also remember Marea sniggering, tittering in the background. I left there quite shocked and thinking, ‘Did he really say that?’

“Most staff rarely spoke a word in these meetings, as you knew it would just draw his attention to you and he’d then try and humiliate you in front of everyone.

“This was one of his favourite pastimes, like a game.”

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Lorraine 02/12/2017, 8:04 am

    They were all disgusted and shocked, but Don Burke was bringing in the moolah back then. I use to watch the show as I do a little gardening. This group were complicit , they all knew and they excused his behaviour, in fact crew members warned in advance what to expect. The public were not informed.
    There were no whispers about the man in the public domain, I have heard that DR Harry the Vet on better homes and Gardens is a vile rude man.Will someone tell me if this is so or is it covered up for the moolah

  • bushwanker 02/12/2017, 8:08 am

    Whilst it seems Burke was an arsehole, the complainants are not without blame either particularly the celebrities among them. They are all keen to relate their colourful horror stories now under mob rule where they are protected by the mob.
    Is anyone going to try to tell me that these celebrities are models of virtue, who don’t often dress in a way that says ‘come & fu@k me. The whole entertainment industry is a cesspool of sleaze.

    • Joe Blogs 02/12/2017, 8:39 am

      Agree, bushy. Those people who turned a blind eye or “felt like” belting him or whatever at the time are, as Lorraine also says, complicit / enablers. Now they think they’re “bravely” coming forward (as the snowball of resentment gathers speed), when in fact they’re demonstrating that they trashed their own morals / succumbed to their own fear for a quick buck / a flash of “fame”. Pathetic.

  • Penguinte 02/12/2017, 9:13 am

    Reading this and other reports about this bloke I’m reminded of Hitler and the failure of Germans to bring him to account. Hitler was surrounded by sycophants and others who were bullied and too scared to speak up. Seems churlish for all these complainants to shout out after the event. Still better late than never. Burke should have been sprayed with a herbiside and not this verbiside much sooner!

  • Crankykoala 02/12/2017, 9:18 am

    Well, have any of these blabbers had charges brought against Burke? Will he have his day in court? ” innocent until proven guilty”. Or is, charged by media, tried by media, found guilty by media, “executed” by media enough these days. Not that I give a rat’s about Burke one way or the other.

  • Ibbit 02/12/2017, 9:44 am

    This reporting of every outraged or offended person’s reaction to some perceived, historical overture – real or imagined is tiresome. Why don’t they acknowledge that they are piling on because others are leading the way, not because they are brave or were offended to the point they did something about it at the time. Tottie Goldsmith is a good example. If she objected to the Burke language, when he did not stop swearing she could have removed her daughter to another area of the house and told her to stay there, which a well-disciplined child would have done.
    The world has gone crazy and certain of the world’s people are taking advantage and making the most of it. Thank God ordinary, decent people are wise enough to let it pass, but have to put up with the dribble from the poor little darlings. There would not be an older woman in Australia who did not have to put up with a difficult boss at some stage, but who dealt with it without delayed histrionics.
    The MAN I feel sorry for is Rush who has to deal with an accusation he is not allowed to know the content off. How typical of today’s world that the victim of something becomes the accused. Trial by media seems to be the refuge of cowards.

  • sniperbait 02/12/2017, 10:14 am

    Just to add my 2 cents worth, my father-in-law is a world reknown (retired) sportsman famous mostly back in the 70s and 80s. He’s had dealings with Don Burke. When this all came to light my aged mother-in-law started telling me about what an asshole Burke was to them. Strong words from a lady in her 70s. I’d didn’t ask any details but from her manner I could see she was pissed off. I have my suspicions as to what he tried to do or suggested to her.

  • Jack Richards 02/12/2017, 10:28 am

    If all this is true ( and I have no reason to doubt it) it seems Don Burke is some sort of psychotic and sociopath. About 25 years ago I worked in a place that had a woman branch head who was very similar. Her staff, almost all females because she’d got rid of the men, lived in abject fear of her. One day she’d be just soooo sweet and understanding but the next she’d be a raging tyrant. I remember well one day when the lift opened on Level 4 (I worked on 7) and there she was, standing at her office door, screeching “Collins! Get your f$%^ing arse in here NOW!” I once saw her throw a folder of documents in a fellow’s face, screech all manner of profanities and storm off. On many occasions I saw her really humiliate people, both men and women, and call them the vilest things in public.

    I’ve known some men who were similar. It’s not just a male thing.

    • Ibbit 02/12/2017, 10:50 am

      Absolutely correct. Above I write about difficult bosses, and yes a couple were women who were best dealt with by leaving their employ as they were impossible – nasty witches, beyond reasoning with.

  • Bushkid 02/12/2017, 11:34 am

    It’s not always easy to speak up at the time. There is an immense sense of shock and disbelief that someone would step so far outside the bounds of ordinary, decent behaviour. It actually happened to me this week.

    There are types of people you meet in everyday society of whom you do expect a degree of sleaze or vulgarity, and you avoid them or deal with them in a forewarned and forearmed manner. Easy.

    But for those occasions when someone suddenly and unaccountably steps right outside the normal bounds, reveals themselves as some deranged sort of sociopath who does and says vulgar, obscene and utterly inappropriate things, you’re totally unprepared. By the time you’ve overcome the shock and disgust, it’s often too late to call them out without looking like some sort of whinging woman who’s “invited” the approach in the first place.

    In the case of some “celebrity” like Burke, there is an added power gradient (anyone who’s done anything like cockpit/crew resource management will understand the concept), it becomes even more difficult.

    In Burkes case, there is the public persona that goes to air that apparently totally belies his true character. I would not blame the people (women and men) who have not spoken up, but the TV company that continued to put him to air, raking in the money and ratings on the back of his appalling off-screen behaviour right under their noses and obviously with their knowledge and blessing. The crew and management knew all along and warned people, yet they didn’t ever stop him or take him off air, which would have been the decent thing to do.

    Personally, the moment the crew told me about Burkes behaviour I’d have tossed him out of the house and bugger the opportunity to be on TV (a particularly uninviting prospect anyhow). That’s what needed to happen to him, instant rejection on the basis of his character and behaviour.

    • Joe Blogs 02/12/2017, 12:43 pm

      We’ve had ~40 years of community policing; EEO / female-friendly legislation and workplaces; female-dominated customer relationship departments; female-preferred affirmative action policies; female this; female that – mostly run autonomously by “talented young women”, ie over-promoted, PC graduates.

      The only reason for failure to report criminal offences to the police or immoral offences to an employer are self-interest, lack of interest or fear (witness Emily’s List).

      Now we have “the offended” “telling on” Burke, but leaving to a few with the guts and sense of responsibility to do so complain to the relevant authorities. In the meantime, due to the delinquency of “the offended”, untold others have suffered at Burke’s hands.

      In a past life I had occasion to professionally help many people of both sexes and all ages deal with all forms of abuse. Just knowing that they had someone on side who they could depend on often enabled them to deal with the issues – and I’m talking very serious criminal and workplace stuff here. Also busted 4 cults (by challenging the leaders in the presence of their followers), uncovered and reported several sexual abuse rings; a paedo ring so big that it had to be dealt with by a psych hospital as well as the police; and another smaller one that had operated for generations and involved both sexes, kids with disabilities, animals, and wives who turned a blind eye. In all, several felons were jailed (one died there); one fake guru suicided; many (mainly women) received compo for workplace abuse and/or were reinstated or promoted; etc, etc.

      On a personal level, if any of the females (in particular) in my life were mistreated in any way, the perps had me to deal with. Things are very different these days, but community policing often works well.

      I hope Burke is dealt with by the law, not by the media – except that he’s made a public statement, so to some extent – short of matters sub-judice – he’s made himself fair game.

      • Neville 02/12/2017, 11:02 pm

        Fair game is right, JB. And thank you for relating a bit about the situations you had to deal with in that past life. Kinda puts a bit of perspective on it all.

    • Honeybadger 03/12/2017, 9:47 am

      Excellent summation BK. Ask him to leave your property. However they weighed up it was more in their interests to keep him there for the TV exposure (no pun intended) and put up with his obscenities. Ch 9 Management knew and did nothing. I know I was very surprised when the show was suddenly axed and wonder now, if it was because of this.

  • Graham 02/12/2017, 12:19 pm

    I’m not excusing bad behaviour but this trial by the mob is dangerous and could backfire. If one person decides to fight the allegations in a court, and if there is no solid evidence produced then the complainant will leave themselves open to substantial damages. That will certainly discourage others from making accusations.

  • DB8tr 02/12/2017, 5:59 pm

    Im with most comments re the hysteria that is now going on – as it was a different era with cultural laxities (for want of a better phrase) – and from a time past – but it doesnt excuse it. This Burke is a real dipshit – he reminds me of the guy who would normally not win anything – let alone a pretty woman – as he’s ugly and gross. But with accidental power (and it is accidental – as he is a nothing) he thinks he’s king. Power goes to his little brain and he reveals himself as a grotesque man – a weak man. If he had tried anything like that in my presence I would have decked him and taken him out. Hope he gets everything deserving of his heinous behaviour.

  • Smoko 03/12/2017, 7:21 am

    I have to say I am with Bushkid on this. It’s not easy to bring these matters up.

    And piling on the women who are doing it now and affecting cynicism about motives and their personalities is only proof that women face terrible challenges. Cursed and doubted if they do, sneered at if they don’t.

    It’s also proof that if it is happening this minute, you don’t bring it up. Nothing has changed. The predators are encouraged by the way we are shooting the messenger, while affecting to condemn Burke.

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