Tecoma is a peaceful village in the Dandenong Ranges, 40 kilometres east of Melbourne, with a population of 2085 residents.The Dandenong Ranges are where Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs meet the mountains and forests. Protected parklands and National Parks preserve the natural beauty of this area which includes valleys and hills covered in thick temperate rainforest and dense ferny undergrowth. It’s a bushwalking and cycling paradise with extensive trails through lush vegetation.
From the peak of Mount Dandenong are panoramic views of the city, while the surrounding villages offer boutique accommodation, galleries, markets, beautiful gardens and many plant nurseries. The Puffing Billy steam train runs between Belgrave, Emerald and Gembrook, taking in the scenic landscape of the Dandenong Ranges.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the Dandenong Ranges each year to experience life away from suburbia, away from mass development, noise and pollution. Locals live there for the same reasons…
In 2011, McDonald’s lodged a planning application for a 24 hour outlet with drive thru in Tecoma. This application was met with a record number of 1,170 written objections directed at local Council by Hills residents. The numerous objections raised concerns relating to traffic, litter, noise, crime, impact on existing local businesses, locality opposite a Primary and Pre School, proximity within 1 kilometre of a National Park, the development not befitting the character of the Hills, the demolition of the historic Hazel Vale Dairy building which currently resides at the proposed site, local amenity issues and the fact that there are no 24 hour fast food outlets with drive-thrus in the entire Dandenong Ranges.
On October 11th 2011, local Councillors met and voted on the proposed development. A reception centre had to be hired to stage this meeting as a record number of 650 local residents attended to hear the decision and once again voice their objections. The Shire of Yarra Ranges Council UNANIMOUSLY rejected the proposal. The McDonald’s Corporation then escalated the application to VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal) for review. On October 10th 2012, VCAT overruled Yarra Ranges Council’s decision, deeming the overwhelming objections of the local community as “irrelevant“, and granted McDonald’s planning permission for this highly inappropriate and unwelcome development.
On Sunday October 14th 2012, within 4 days of this decision being passed, approximately 600 local residents united to ‘Reclaim Tecoma’ and planted a Community Garden at the proposed site in protest of the devastating VCAT ruling and the McDonald’s Corporation’s refusal to take ‘No’ for an answer.
A month long 24 hour peaceful vigil was maintained at the garden until police eviction in November 2012.
The community next sought independent legal advice from Barristers and Solicitors specialising in planning, and a high profile Melbourne QC, in order to establish grounds for a Supreme Court appeal. Grounds for appeal were established, and the community sent hundreds of letters and emails to Yarra Ranges Councillors requesting that they appeal the decision at the Supreme Court. A motion for a Supreme Court appeal was raised at the next Council meeting, in response to the community’s concerns, but was in turn rejected by a majority of Councillors who claimed that appealing the ruling at the Supreme Court would not be a “responsible” way to spend Council funds.
This disappointing set back did not stop the determination of the community, who continue to peacefully protest the failure of the democratic process which allowed this inappropriate development to be approved, and McDonald’s indignant stance that they will build in Tecoma irrespective of the community’s wishes and concerns.
On October 24th 2012 Deputy State Opposition Leader James Merlino raised the issue in State Parliament, calling on the State Planning Minister Matthew Guy to intervene and “ensure that the number of objections to a proposal are given appropriate weight at Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearings“. Mr Merlino also directed his concerns to the Minister regarding the proposed McDonald’s development in Tecoma, describing the VCAT decision as “disgraceful” and that it “in no way reflects the views of the community or Yarra Ranges Shire Council“, adding that “what may be appropriate in a fully urban environment is simply not appropriate in an area such as the Dandenongs“.
On November 15th 2012, delegates from the community met with Minister Guy in order to express resident’s concerns regarding the proposed Tecoma development. The delegates requested that planning overlays be put in place in the Dandenong Ranges in order to restrict further inappropriate developments in the future and asked that the Minister lead a push to have VCAT legislation amended to recognise community objections as a relevant factor in hearings. During this meeting, the Minister emphasised that areas like the Dandenong Ranges carry strategic advantages for their distinctive character, stating: “I am becoming more and more concerned that the character of certain areas needs to be taken into account” and advised that he would consider a submission from the Shire of Yarra Ranges which articulates a new design and development overlay for the Dandenong Ranges. The Minister agreed to a second meeting with the delegates to discuss the issue further. The Minister also advised that he was happy to meet with representatives from the McDonald’s Corporation to discuss the issues surrounding the proposed Tecoma development, McDonald’s declined this offer.
A petition calling on the State Government to change the planning laws in the Dandenong Ranges obtained 3775 names, addresses and signatures in just one month and was tabled in State Parliament on December 12th 2012. State Planning Minister Guy then made the surprise announcement in March this year that funding would indeed be provided to Yarra Ranges Council in order to prepare a new planning statement, via a community consultation process, stating that the Yarra Ranges has “geographic and physical features which contribute to the quality of life for all Melburnians and Victorians” which he believed to be worthy of preservation for future generations. This new planning statement would not affect the proposed McDonald’s development in Tecoma, but was a great win for the campaign and a huge step forward towards protecting this region going into the future.
A Change.org petition, which calls on the McDonald’s Corporation to retract their intentions to build in Tecoma, has so far gained over 80,000 signatures from people from all over Australia and around the globe who view the Dandenong Ranges as a special place of beauty and significance which should be protected and preserved.
A door-knock survey of 80% of the adult residents of Tecoma was then conducted in November/December 2012. Every household in Tecoma was door-knocked. All households that were not home in the first instance were door-knocked a second time during the following fortnight. One question was asked “Are you for or against the proposed McDonald’s development in Tecoma?” The results were overwhelming, with 88.2% of Tecoma’s residents stating that they are against the development (1085 people), 7% didn’t know or didn’t care (86 people) and a lowly 4.8% were for it (59 people). Names, addresses and signatures were obtained from all adult residents who stated their opposition to the development in order to further validate these findings. Despite this overwhelming evidence of the strength of resident opposition to the proposed development, the McDonald’s Corporation still continues to make claims that they have “very clear” support in Tecoma.[/column][/column-group]
In a quirky twist, the Dandenong Ranges Gnome factions also expressed their concerns at the proposed development and the impact it would have on their environment. The National Parks and forests of the Dandenong Ranges are widely renowned as the long term home of Fairies, Elves, Pixies and Gnomes, it was only right that the Gnomes also spoke up on behalf of their fellow forest inhabitants. Gnomes bearing protest signs began popping up throughout the Hills, much to the surprise and delight of residents, and to the interest of the local press. Photos and footage also began appearing online, and in local newspapers, of Gnome factions gathering in preparation for an impending “Gnomeageddon” intended to be unleashed on the McDonald’s Corporation. The ancient prophecy of “Gnomeageddon” came to fruition on February 4th 2013 as two hundred Gnomes gathered on the steps of McDonald’s Melbourne Headquarters, placards in hand, in protest of McDonald’s refusal to communicate with the human inhabitants of the mountains and their relentless intent to destroy the Gnome’s habitat. The Gnome protest received a huge amount of media attention with two major news channels, the Age newspaper, 3CR radio, and one of the regular tv morning shows covering the story and footage for days after the event.
On March 2nd 2013 a rally was held, “The Hills March Against Maccas”. 3000 Hills residents, and additional supporters from all over Melbourne, gathered and marched from neighbouring Belgrave to Tecoma to show their opposition to the proposed development. This was by far the largest rally the Dandenong Ranges have ever seen, with musicians, speakers and countless volunteers donating their time to make the day a resounding success, and to show the McDonald’s Corporation, once and for all, that they are not welcome in Tecoma.
A CD was also launched at the rally, “Resistance is Fertile – No McDonald’s in Tecoma”. The album is made up of 16 songs written and performed by talented local Hills musicians, many of which have been written specifically for the campaign.
This story has gained an enormous amount of nationwide media coverage on an ongoing basis for the past two years. Every major news channel, radio stations and many major newspapers continue to publish updated accounts of this ongoing ‘David and Goliath’ battle of a small town taking on a multi-billion dollar corporation. This story has quickly spread nationally and is now receiving major international coverage.
Global news giant CNN has now covered the story of our David and Goliath battle against the McDonald’s Corporation. News of what’s happening in the little Australian town of Tecoma has now reached a potential audience of 10′s OF MILLIONS worldwide and continues to spread. News broadcasters from around the globe quickly followed CNN’s lead with over 100 news stations and websites from all over the US, UK, Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Greece, China, Japan, Malaysia, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Czech Republic, Belgium, Turkey, Hungary, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Dominican Republic and the Middle East reporting or publishing links to our story.
The Twittersphere also went crazy with the story being tweeted and retweeted by people from all over the world, reaching over 10 MILLION Twitter users! CNN tweeted the story to just under 8 million followers, as did Your Anon News to over 900,000 followers. Tweets of particular note also came from Morgan Spurlock of ‘Supersize Me’ fame, Christine Assange (Mother of Julian Assange) and even Father Bob Maguire.
Over a thousand emails, letters and Facebook comments have been directed to the McDonald’s Corporation asking that they meet with the community to hear their concerns, and requesting that McDonald’s retract their intentions to build where they are unwelcome and unwanted. After a long wait; and only days after the internationally widespread CNN coverage, the McDonald’s Corporation responded and agreed to meet with a delegation of six community members to hear their concerns.
At the three and a half hour meeting on the 22nd of April 2013, the six community delegates made it abundantly clear to prospective franchisee James Currie, and the McDonald’s representatives present, that a McDonald’s outlet will never be welcome in Tecoma or anywhere in the Dandenong Ranges. They spoke of the passion of this community, and the uniqueness of the area, explaining that this movement continues to grow exponentially as opposition against their proposed development increases. The delegates successfully painted a very clear picture for the McDonald’s corporation of how protests would continue if they persist with this inappropriate and unwelcome development.
Despite all of this effort by the community, on July 1st 2013 McDonalds finally moved in to attempt the demolition of the Old Hazelvale Dairy building. Protestors rushed to the site to begin peacefully resisting the demolition. Scores of police and McDonald’s security worked to secure entry to the site by workers and vehicles in the face of a spirited blockade. A number of protesters also began what was to become a two week occupation of the roof of the Old Dairy.
This defiance in the face of McDonald’s bulldozers continued into a second and the then third day. July 3rd was a day of highs and lows. Firstly the CFMEU pulled all its unionised workers off site, citing respect for the rights of the community to protest and OHS concerns, which was a huge win for the campaign. As of July 4th there has been an official Union position endorsed by the Victorian Trades Hall Council asking workers not to work on the site citing OH&S concerns.
Whilst the construction was halted and our protests continued, McDonald’s continued to work hard to use its massive financial and legal resources to attempt to crush the opposition of this community. On July 16th, in a shocking move, McDonald’s began issuing writs against eight protestors, now known as the Tecoma 8. One of the eight is alleged to have momentarily delayed a truck in an incident in which they were not even charged with an offence. Others are accused of acts such as briefly being on a roof to take photos or delaying a portaloo truck. McDonald’s is potentially seeking damages and legal costs from the Tecoma 8 of hundreds and thousands of dollars.
McDonald’s, on July 18th, also obtained an interim injunction in the Supreme Court that included not only “the 8” but anyone else who had obstructed a vehicle or trespassed in the previous two weeks, excluding them from certain areas around the protest site and restricting what they could say on social media. The civil liberties implications for this law suit and injunction are serious enough that Maurice Blackburn is now representing the Tecoma 8 pro bono and preparing to vigorously fight the law suit.
If McDonald’s thought the Supreme Court injunctions had broken the community’s spirit they were very wrong. On July 28th over 4000 people flooded the streets of Tecoma in a rally against McDonald’s and in support of the Tecoma 8. By the end of the day a second roof occupation had began with our “Roof Angel” a lone young female protestor evading police and security and making it onto the roof. She was replaced later in the week by the equally brave “Roof Girl”, who managed to stay on the roof for over a week.
July 29th saw BR Demolition, a non-union demolition company owned by Bernie Rafferty move onto the site. However it was not until August 7th that BR Demolitions were able to start the real dirty work of demolishing the old Hazelvale Dairy. At 4am a major police operation began with approximately 60-80 members of the Public Order Response Unit moving in to clear the site. Whilst rows of police escorted trucks, workers and equipment in, the Search and Rescue team began to remove “Roof Girl” from her week long rooftop vigil.
On August 8th demolition work began, as the community were forced to stand by and watch whilst the buildings we have fought so long and hard to defend were destroyed. In heartbreaking scenes, over a period of a few days, we watched first Saffron Cottage crumble, followed by the old Hazelvale Dairy, and finally Hippie Haven.
Despite all that the community have endured, the daily protests at the site continue. Although McDonald’s have now demolished our beloved buildings, we are now more determined than ever to continue this fight.
Thousands of people make up this campaign, from passionate locals to supporters from all over the globe. The people of the Dandenong Ranges are strongly united and galvanised on this issue. Protest actions against this proposed development will continue until the McDonald’s Corporation display some of the “community mindedness” that they so proudly purport and retract their intentions to build in Tecoma.