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 And just like Harris, will Burke have his Order of Australia rescinded?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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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’.”
“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.”
“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.”