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Don Burke Faces Multiple Allegations of Sexual Harassment

Every Friday night of your childhood, ruined.
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Thought the Harvey Weinstein phenomenon was confined to the United States? Think again. In a thorough, damning joint ABC-Fairfax investigation led by journalist Kate McClymont, the smiling TV gardener of your childhood Don Burke has been accused of indecent assault, sexual harassment, and bullying of women while he was a host of Channel Nine’s Burke’s Backyard throughout the 1990s.

Multiple women employees of Burke’s Backyard have gone on the record in their allegations that Burke groped them and on some occasions attempted to remove items of their clothing without consent. Many said that Burke often spoke to them in a professional context using highly inappropriate and explicitly sexual language. Even male colleagues described him as a “bully” and “psychopathic narcissist” whose off-camera persona was completely different to what the public knew of him.

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The investigation also alleges that Burke boasted about touching the breasts of several 14-year-old girls under the pretense of teaching them how to hold a puppy correctly.

Burke has vigorously denied all claims made against him.

“I am deeply hurt and outraged at the false and defamatory claims…It is evident that these baseless claims concern statements from a few ex-employees of CTC productions who bear grudges against me,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

The statement is remarkable for its complete refutal of numerous detailed on-the-record allegations…as well as its bold claim that Burke’s Backyard was a feminist show.

"The bitter irony is that I have had a life-long opposition to sexism and misogyny…Burke's Backyard was a lone bastion of anti-misogyny from its inception in 1987," it reads.

Burke’s Backyard aired from 1987 to 2004, to consistently high ratings. Burke was such a beloved national figure that he received an Order of Australia in 2010. Disturbingly, Channel Nine appears to have been very much aware of Burke’s inappropriate conduct throughout his tenure as the host of Burke’s Backyard, given multiple women made complaints about him to their superiors. But the ratings success of Burke’s show made him bulletproof.

In one telling example, Burke’s female producer Bridget Ninness told Channel Nine boss David Leckie she planned to take legal action against the star.

"He said to me 'Think seriously about that, Bridget. Don is a major money earner for this network. We wouldn't want to crush you'," Ninness recalls.

There are likely more news stories featuring predatory male media figures yet to come. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, veteran journalist Tracey Spicer announced she was seeking stories from women in the industry who had experienced sexual misconduct. According to Fairfax, Spicer has amassed 485 complaints about 65 media figures so far, and is almost ready to publish them.

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