Australian TV star Don Burke has been accused of indecent assault, sexual harassment and bullying during his 17 years as host of Channel Nine’s popular gardening show Burke’s Backyard.
In the expose published in the Sydney Morning Herald and various other Fairfax publications on Monday morning, both women and men involved with Burke during the late 1980s and 1990s came forward to call out the media personality’s alleged shrewd behaviour, likening him to Australia’s Harvey Weinstein.
In total, more than 50 people have made serious allegations against the 70-year-old. “He was a vile, vile human being,” Bridget Ninness, a former producer on Burke’s Backyard told Fairfax and the ABC. She later launched legal action against Burke for psychological abuse.
“He was lewd and he was crude” and his constant talk of sex was “designed to confront you and to demean you,” Ninness said.
Another woman, Louise Langdon, who worked alongside Burke in 1987, says she was warned to be careful of Burke.
“I was told before I went to meet Don that he was sleazy and to be careful,” Langdon told Fairfax journalist Kate McClymont.
“I was quite shocked about that because the only Don Burke that I knew was the affable Friday night Burke’s Backyard gardener. So I thought, ‘Oh well, how bad can it be?”
Langdon, who was 27 at the time, says Burke offers “persistent commentary about anything sexual” and frequently tried to remove her clothing and see her underwear. She alleges that on one occasion, Burke attempted to take her top completely off while sitting next to her on a bus.
Multiple former male executives at Channel Nine have confirmed the claims, calling Burke a vile human being who preyed on female employees.
“[Management told staff] to ‘suck it up’ because it was the number one rating show, the cash cow for Channel Nine,” a long-term male producer on Burke’s Backyard said.
“Lots of women I know just left. There was a huge staff turnover. He had the power, the profile and the tacit backing of Channel Nine.”
Former chief executive of the Nine Network David Leckie revealed he isn’t surprised about the allegations against Burke.
“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,” he told Fairfax.
Burke has denied the accusations in a written response to the Sydney Morning Herald, saying he is “deeply hurt and outraged” by the allegations, which he says are baseless and were made by former employees with grudges against him. Burke has allegedly called in a top defamation lawyer.
Read the full investigation here.