For 30 years, Amanda Pepe kept quiet about her alleged predatory encounter with celebrity gardener Don Burke. The successful Adelaide businesswoman abandoned her career in TV as a young journalist after, she claims, Burke encouraged her to move to Sydney from her job in Broken Hill with promises of making her career, only to abandon her in a motel room when she refused his advances.
But it never crossed her mind to go public with the story until she saw the news on Monday from Fairfax and the ABC linking Burke to a number of allegations of bullying, harassment and predatory behaviour. It was only because she had been allegedly harassed by the same man that she decided to come forward.
“I hadn’t given it any thought at all until I saw [journalist] Tracey Spicer’s work and read what had happened from [Fairfax journalist] Kate McClymont about how many women had come forward after her story was published. I’d never felt the need to share it before, but I felt quite galvanised, that this is the role I have to play, and maybe my voice could help things change,” Pepe told Crikey.
“I think women feel safety in numbers. It’s still a scary place to go for most of us, but I felt like it’s not just me, I felt a little bit safer in saying out loud what happened clearly, it wasn’t just me,” she said referring to the claims.
Pepe said she’d had a headache since sharing the story — possibly a symbol of the accumulated tension she’d been holding onto for the 30 years since the alleged incident. “I was taken aback by how emotionally draining it’s been. After all these years I thought I’d dealt with that incident,” she said.
Pepe had thought she’d be pursuing her dream of working in TV in the city, but after her alleged encounter with Burke, she moved back home to Adelaide, where she’s now forged a career elsewhere in the media.
“I didn’t ever feel the need to speak out publicly about this. I’ve continued to pursue a career in the media and felt it wouldn’t reflect well on me. Because something bad was perpetrated on me, I felt it was my responsibility to keep that out of the public realm.”
She said it never even occurred to her at the time to report Burke — partly because of the era, as well as his incredible power within the industry.
“I don’t think society was ready and I think I would’ve been blamed for what happened to me. It was absolutely rife in the industry. And I believe it still is. But 30 years ago men ran the place and women did what they were told. It never even occurred to me that I might report it to anyone. It wasn’t even on my agenda. Where would I complain? There was no way anyone would listen to me, I was literally nobody. I just thought it was my responsibility to remove myself from the scene and give it all away”
Pepe said she hoped that by adding her story to those that other women are telling about Burke and the industry, the news story would be more than a flash in the pan.
“I really hope that if the same thing happens to someone else now, that people might at least get a sense that there’s a place for them to go, external to the media. But this shame associated with yourself in that situation is that a lot of them take it on board and move on, but damaged. They don’t move on as a complete and whole person, and that is not OK.”
Burke has denied any allegations of sexual harassment. Crikey approached Burke for comment but did not hear back by deadline.