One of Australia’s biggest TV stars of the 90s, celebrity gardener Don Burke, has been accused of serial sexual harassment and bullying of women during his time as the star of Channel Nine’s iconic Burke’s Backyard which ran on the network between 1987 to 2004.
A joint ABC/Fairfax investigation reports on allegations that Burke was a “psychotic bully”, a “misogynist” and a “sexual predator” who sexually harassed and bullied a number of female employees during his time with Nine. The report apparently includes 50 women prepared to make allegations against the now 70-year-old.
Burke has vigorously denied the allegations and apparently has called in high-profile lawyers to mount his defence. During its 17 year history, Burke’s Backyard won six Logie Awards.
The Fairfax article quotes David Leckie, then CEO of Nine, who was damning of Burke’s time at the network. “I’ve been trying to think of Harvey Weinstein-type people [in Australia] and the only one I can ever come up with is Burke. He was a horrible, horrible man,” Leckie said. Although it’s not clear why Nine’s management didn’t act at the time.
Leckie’s predecessor at Nine, Sam Chisolm, said: “Don Burke was a disgrace because of his behaviour internally and externally” before adding he was a “terrible grub”.
The article also quotes Bridget Ninness, a former producer on Burke’s Backyard, who said: “He was a vile, vile human being. He was lewd and he was crude” before adding the constant talk about sex was “designed to confront you and to demean you”. Ninness later settled with Burke out of court for “sustained and systemic psychological abuse”.
Louise Langdon, a former researcher on the gardening program, was reportedly subjected to ongoing harassment by Burke which included trying to remove her clothing, and on another occasion Burke “put his foot into my rear end, with the view to checking the tone of my … my backside”. Burke reportedly then told Langdon that the firmness of her “backside” wasn’t “up to scratch”.
Langdon also claims Burke made her watch a video of a woman having sex with a donkey. “Don was getting so much pleasure from seeing my reaction to it … I was just, just … speechless,” she said. “I was really overcome.”
Another unnamed woman said she was indecently assaulted by Burke. “I loathed him, he was just a pig. He was lecherous and sinister,” she said.
In a statement sent to B&T this morning, Channel Nine said of the allegations: “The current management of Nine is simply not in a position to comment on these specific allegations or on how these sorts of matters may have been dealt with in the past.
“The allegations are extremely serious; the behaviour described is completely unacceptable and would not be tolerated at Nine today.
“Nine has zero tolerance of sexual harassment and workplace bullying and no employee should be subjected to this kind of behaviour. Everyone is entitled to come to work confident that our workplace is safe, free from harassment and unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with effectively.
“Nine has robust policies and procedures for dealing with complaints and to support staff in such circumstances.”