Story so far

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 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.

Check out the UPDATES page for the continuing story of Tecoma, the little town that ROARED.

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30 thoughts on “Story so far

  1. John Weeks

    Feel free to use any photos from my website pages :

    or if you are going to have a Links page etc, please add the links.

    Great job guys

    John Weeks

  2. David

    I’m like hundreds who are active volunteers on Puffing Billy and would prefer the mountains stay the way they are. If its good enough for ‘Billy’ to be in a time warp, then it’s good enough for Tecoma too – and remember that ‘Billy’ used to stop at Tecoma station up to 1953 and then for a few years until 1958.

    I would really hate to see McDonalds branded litter spread along the Puffing Billy line.

    A friend has suggested lobbying the council into preventing large trucks from using Sandells Road – if that was done the semi trailers used by McDonalds for deliveries would not be able to use the road.

    Good luck and keep fighting.

  3. Peta

    I’m a resident of Berwick, but a regular visitor to the beautiful Dandenong Ranges. It angers me that the strong weight of public opinion against a McDonalds in Tecoma has counted for nothing with VCAT and the Yarra Ranges Council. Why must all suburbs be the same? Why must there be fast food outlets and franchise businesses everywhere we go? It’s ludicrous to me that your local Council won’t help residents protect the beauty and character of this magical part of Melbourne. I don’t even live in The Hills, yet this issue really gets me fired up. I would hate to see a Maccas in Tecoma. That doesn’t mean I never visit McDonalds. On the odd occasion, I do. But some places just don’t need McDonalds – it won’t add, it will only take away (pardon the pun).

    1. Alex Brown

      I totally agree with you Peta, Its appalling that the views of so many can be regarded as irrelevant, and just shows what bad shape our so called democracy is really in.
      One thing tho, I used to go to McDonald’s on occasion also, it’s so convenient it’s hard not to (especially since they started making reasonable coffee!), but after the way they have treated the Tecoma residents and the Tecoma 8, I’m not going back. It’s really important to ‘vote with your dollar’, its the only thing that motivates these big corporations!!! I feel a lot better for it, and supporting non-franchised food outlets its another positive. Do it!!!

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  5. Joan Dwyer

    I can not find an address on this page as to where to post a donation towards legal expenses. Please email it to me and I suggest you place it prominently on this site.

  6. Mark

    Its interesting to read that threats have been made to a gentle bystander who is working for his community for the greater good. Its typical of the weak and scared to make veiled threats that cant be traced against a peaceful individual. Just let it be known Dave, many of us up here have your back. Its probably a pathetic pre-pubesant teen at his computer trying to be funny.
    Who ever you are, there’s plenty of us up here who aren’t scared at all, and if you want to discuss this further then name a place and time….

  7. Alex

    You are fighting for what the local community and the greater population of Melbourne want and that is no McDonalds in Tecoma or the beautiful Dandenong Ranges. The Devil against you is this huge American Corporation that is using its money and muscle against the people to have its way at any cost. FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT AND I HOPE YOU WIN.

  8. Megan Flint

    Plan B: I hope you win before this is needed. But if not, then your community must ensure that not one $$$ ever gets made at that store. Money is the most powerful communication device there is with corporations. Protest and fight against any would be customers, until everyone involved in opening this store is bankrupt.

  9. Patricia Skytte

    Power to you Tecoma protesters. Keep fighting till some wise and good person has enough courage to produce the necessary legal and political solution to your situation. What sort of country has Australia become? The people who live in and support your community and any other with a majority of consensus on a significant issue should be able to expect their wishes to be given precedence. Particularly should they be given precedence over a greedy foreign company which puts nothing into a community that could not be done better by a local company.
    What else can be done? Publicity through high profile Aussies like Dick Smith or Clive Palmer. Don’t give up. All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing!

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  11. squig

    Maccas have wanted to open up in Katoomba for years but it hasn’t happened due to community objection. It might be worth looking into what’s been done to stop them there. That VCAT decision reeks of corruption.
    I’ll be avoiding every Maccas like the plague from now on, and my kids too! Bastards!

    1. Tecomagal

      Thankyou. Lots of people have spent lots of time to find loopholes or precedents relevant to our case, but to no avail. Planning laws really need to be reviewed.

  12. Jane Langford

    I truly sympathise with your plight. I supported a fight against a development in our local area in the past 10 years. Our local Council would not take on the fight to prevent the development as they said it was a waste of community funds. We took the Council to court and fought against their decision to approve the development (600 bed backpackers + entertainment – wave park). We won. I did not lead this fight and had little involvement but I supported it. We were, however, fighting against a local developer, not McDonalds. The land for this proposed development remains vacant to this day.
    Is anyone in your organisation aware of the McDonalds that closed its doors due to lack of patronage? Unless I have been misled, McDonalds opened a store in Hong Kong back in the 1980s. It closed its doors some time later due to lack of patronage. I believe McDonalds has since re-emerged there as the population of Hong Kong & China has ‘discovered’ the ‘benefits’ of fast food.
    Whilst I do not wish to sound defeatist. I believe, at this stage, the best option is to allow them to build and then, watch them waste their money. However, I also have to comment that McDonalds is a franchise. Who has bought, or is behind, the opening of the franchise for your area? With such a small population, I cannot believe that McDonalds thought it up all on their own. Why would they concentrate on such a small local area in Victoria? They must have had some incentive/proposal.
    This is only a suggestion, for perusal, and I wish you well in your plight.

    1. Kerry Furnell

      Hi Jane – McDonald’s were approached by the previous owner of the land who is a pediatrician and land developer. The original franchisee pulled out due to the overwhelming objections and another franchisee (who has the Boronia store) took over. And yes, there are McDonald’s that failed:

      McDonald’s actually tried to get land in Belgrave, right at the end of the Burwood Highway, in the 1990s but the community objected and eventually they gave up. They have told us they have been trying to find an ‘in’ ever since. The reason< 730,000+ tourists that come through annually. Thanks for your support.

  13. Paul

    Such stupidity on the part of Vic planning and such arrogance on the part of McDonalds.

    I travel a lot and for better or worse have macca’s 4-5 times a week.

    No longer.

    I’m voting with my feet and going to my local store (NSW) to tell them why they just lost a customer and got themselves an anti Maccas advocate.

  14. Thomas A Lawson

    McDonald’s did not get to where it is by being irrational. The onlooker wonders: “Why is one store in Tecoma so bloody important that Macca’s is willing to take all the bad press? What is in it for the bottom line?”

    I doubt very much that this is a “calculated risk”. The Net Present Value of a Tecoma store over the next 20 years is insignificant compared with the PR damage.

    It probably boils down to common or garden variety hubris. Some bigwig in the hierarchy has taken a stand and is prepared to die in a ditch for it.

    Let’s hope it does’t quite come to that. But, if it does…

  15. Ross

    Community opposition to a proposed McDonalds in Seaford was successful in preventing a store from being built. Keep up the fight!

  16. Keith

    Simple answer, don’t buy anything from them.

    Of course you could arrange a slow moving queue of vehicles through the drive through each asking a bunch of questions about their products (how many calories, fat content, price, which artificial colours are used etc.) before deciding not to buy anything. Then turn up an hour later with some more questions.

  17. Eleanor Ruby Moon

    It’s the deplorable state of the corporate elite running the world. The corrupt US Supreme Court affects the global community, like it or not (and none of us do!). My suggestion is that the community somehow ensures that nobody ever buys from this McDonalds. Ever.

    I love Keith’s suggestion above – to slow jam the drive-thru – but excruciatingly slow – then no buying after all at the end.

    And there’s no saying how much of a nuisance can be made once it’s open for business. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, McDonalds. And yours was a massively invasive action. There should be a moratorium on buying at Macca’s Australia wide. I bet it could be done, too.

  18. Wanda Bray

    Good job and don’t give up. Like others have said, don’t give them your patronage. Maybe this calls for a world wide boycott!!

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