Amy Robertson, Monash Journalism
The mountains are a luscious green. The sun filters through the trees and creates prismatic layers of light. The leaves dance past, brilliant colours of red and purple – a flurry – an explosion of autumn, and then…
…a single McDonald’s wrapper floats by.
The golden arches are one of the most recognisable symbols on the planet. Two thirds of three-year-olds are able to identify them before they can recognise their own name. But the golden arches in Tecoma – the gateway to the Dandenong Ranges – are unwelcome in this little town.
Since the stores opening, the battle against a McDonald’s in Tecoma may appear to be lost, but Tecoma residents and those opposed to the store continue to fight.
Media spokesperson for the Burger Off group and Tecoma resident, Garry Muratore, says protesters and those from the community are now focusing their energies on promoting other businesses in the area, and ensuring that similar developments cannot occur in the Dandenong Ranges in the future.
“We will continue to hold the council to account over the development laws so they can’t do this again,” he says.
“We’re working with tourist groups to sort of say that if you come up here, don’t go anywhere near it, don’t support it. Instead support the local cafes and the people that are doing the right things.”
“For what they did to us they really don’t deserve the customers.”
Mr. Muratore is enthusiastic about an app currently being developed that will direct visitors to the Dandenongs to other local businesses and cafes.
“We’ve had a guy donate an app, which we’ll probably call the Burger Off app. Anywhere up in the Dandenongs it will tell you where to go, so we’ll promote those businesses at the expense of that business.”
Mr. Muratore says the main problem locals have with McDonald’s is the manner in which they dealt with protesters, and their consistent attempts to shut down protesters right to free speech and peaceful protest.
What began as a protest over a single McDonald’s store became a fight for freedom of speech and democracy in general.
“I think above all what binds all these people is the fact that our democratic right was just run over,” he says.
“McDonald’s went and spent $900,000 at VCAT, essentially overturning a democratic decision, and that is what most people get angry with. What happened to our rights?”
Tecoma McDonald’s store owner, James Currie, says there are many benefits to a McDonald’s store and that the store is largely supported by the local community.
“We’ve created well over 100 jobs here,” he says.
“Also, McDonald’s is actively involved in helping the community – from a sponsorship point of view, from a fundraising point of view.”
“The majority of people, in a 5km area in the radius of this restaurant, want a McDonald’s here.”
But locals paint a different story.
Opponents conducted an extensive community survey in which they door-knocked every house in Tecoma. The survey revealed that 88.2% of locals are opposed to a McDonald’s store in their town, and only 5.3% actually support the store.
A McDonald’s in the Dandenong Ranges, opponents say, is both aesthetically and environmentally inappropriate for the area. It is too close in proximity to national parks and schools, it will increase litter, pollution, and traffic, and will negatively impact on local economic diversity and businesses.
The proposal for a McDonald’s in Tecoma was first announced in 2011, and it met with strong opposition. Originally denied by the local council after a record breaking 1,170 objections by local residents, the decision was overturned by VCAT, and building on the site began in October 2013.
Members of the community lobby group “Burger off – No Maccas in the Hills” have been tirelessly protesting, petitioning and campaigning ever since the proposal for the development.
All efforts to stop the site from opening were unsuccessful. In the face of community opposition, the controversial Tecoma McDonald’s site officially opened on April 7th.
Hundreds queued up on the day of the store’s opening. On my visit a mere three weeks later the store is unusually quiet; the initial enthusiasm for the store seems to have died down.
What has endured is the community’s spirit and strength; protesters and local residents remain united, and have made it clear they will continue to fight for their town.