A real Burke. Lewd man, genial mask

The strong and admirable women reporters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Sydney Morning Herald, two venerable (and vulnerable) news institutions, after “slowly and meticulously” considering many allegations, have outed an Australian icon, the celebrity TV gardener Don Burke, accusing the star of “relentless bullying and harassment” of women, spanning decades.

Don Burke

He’s an unpleasant, lewd man, doubly offensive because he’s hiding behind a genial mask.

It started out sounding like it might be a witch-hunt (if America’s doing it, so should we). A very decent male friend watching TV with me when the story broke became flustered, commenting that this could spell the end of flirting and humorous banter “which women also enjoy, with, say, the butcher”.

But the story broke on Monday, and by Tuesday, more than 200 women had come forward, among them winner of eight Olympic swimming medals, Susie O’Neill, who said that when Burke came to film a segment prior to the 2000 Olympics, standing in front of a painting of a flower, Burke had asked “Is your c*** as big as that?”

A publisher said she’d been scarred as a young woman when Burke promised her a career break but ended up pressuring her to spend the night in a “sad hotel room”. Another woman said both  she and her husband had felt they needed to shower and scrub the house after he left, so vile was he –  in stark contrast to his TV persona.

Everyone knew – his crews and management – but they turned a blind, if embarrassed, eye. Burke’s (self-diagnosed) claim that he has Aspergers has drawn the ire of the autism advocacy groups. “Own your behaviour Don. Don’t you dare smear the ASD community with your vulgar actions,” said Nicole Rogerson, CEO of Autism Awareness Australia.

Australia’s brutality to asylum seekers and its offshore detention regime is touted by the government as a deterrent, a cruel-to-be-kind approach to stop refugees from paying people-smugglers and then drowning in leaky boats. But actually, says The Guardian in a definitive comment piece, it’s self-delusional because it’s the billions spent on an armada out at sea that stops the boats, the “ring of steel”, in Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s words.

The Guardian’s assessment: “To be seen to be ‘tough on borders’ has outweighed all other considerations, pushing successive governments towards increasingly extreme positions, grotesque cruelties and risible rhetorical contortions in insisting their actions are reasonable, legal, or morally defensible… Failure, scandal, abuse and death has occurred under the watch of both main parties.”

Dutton says he knows the truth of the lies spread by detainees, advocates, the United Nations, Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières, the Australian Council for International Development, the Australian Medical Association, the Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch, the New Zealand government, PNG’s supreme court, PNG’s grand chief, Sir Michael Somare, multiple member nations of the UN, Australian voters, and even on the front page of the right-wing News Corp’s (Australian) The Daily Telegraph. Quite a list.

In more heart-warming news, a bunch of ambulance drivers in a lovely part of the world, Hervey Bay, diverted their vehicle so that an elderly woman being transported to palliative care could see the beach for the last time, run her hand through the cold water, and taste the salt.

“Diversity on the runway” has taken a step forward with fashion shows parading people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, while Australian department store, David Jones (owned by South Africa’s Woolworths) has models in their 40s to 60s, and Target and Kmart have Down Syndrome children in their catalogues, it is not surprising, since statistics show about 20% of people have some sort of disability, be it physical, intellectual or learning. 

A David and Goliath story saw self-represented peace activists who had trespassed at the joint US defence facility, Pine Gap, score a win against highly paid government barristers arguing for up to seven years’ imprisonment to please their American partners. They were fined, mostly nominal amounts in Australian terms.

It’s been speculated that Prince Harry’s engagement to Meghan Markle could undermine the Australian Republican movement. Because it’s such a popular choice, people might be reluctant to divorce the monarchy.

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