David and Goliath. We’re all familiar with the story, but maybe not in its latest incarnation. A battle is currently being waged between a small town and fast-food giant, McDonald’s. The suburb, Tecoma, is located in the picturesque hills of the Dandenong Ranges, and though it boasts a population of only 2000 people, its residents have banded together to oppose a 24-hour McDonald’s that has recently been approved to be built there, proving that they may be small in number, but they are determined to still be heard.
The battle for McDonald’s to get a restaurant into the Dandenong Ranges is not a recent one. In the 1980’s, and again in 1993, applications to build in neighboring suburb, Belgrave, were rejected by the council. In 1997, they tried again and were successful. But community opposition led to an appeal being made to VCAT (the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal), resulting in the decision to be overturned. Now, 15 years later, McDonald’s are trying again only mere kilometers away from their three previous attempts, and the same community is rearing up once more to save itself from being engulfed by big corporation.
Some might be confused as to why there is so much opposition to McDonald’s in this location. After all, it’s alleged it will bring more people to the town and create more jobs, as well as giving residents another dinner-time option. So what’s the problem? To understand the opposition, it is necessary to have knowledge of the community’s concerns. The site of the approved restaurant is located on the main street of Tecoma, which has a handful of scattered, locally owned stores. Shop owners worry that the restaurant will take away from business, rather than contribute to it. They also fear that having a 24-hour restaurant in the town will attract vandalism, robbery and hooligans to the area. Secondly, the restaurant will be located opposite the town’s primary school, and parents are outraged, claiming this will contribute to the already rapidly rising rates of childhood obesity. Another drawback is that the road it will be on is also the main thoroughfare into the Dandenong Ranges, and will not be able to sustain the large amounts of traffic a McDonald’s will attract to the town. There are also fears of the amount of litter that will be found strewn across the hills, and neighboring residents’ concerns regarding light and noise pollution. Dwarfing over all these negatives, however, is the simple fact that a McDonald’s restaurant just doesn’t fit with the vibe of the currently fast-food-free Dandenong Ranges. A fast food restaurant goes against the very grain of the community, which places an emphasis on local business and small, independent cafes. Residents argue that to put one in this special place would be to take away what makes it so special.
While this latest battle between corporation and community has been raging for over a year, there is still no end in near sight. When the council rejected the application last year, the community had first believed they had won. However, McDonald’s appealed to VCAT and won, despite the council and community opposition. Now, the community are trying to garner support for an appeal to the Supreme Court, doing everything in their power to stop McDonald’s in their tracks. In the mean time, the community has been organising peaceful protests and town meetings, fighting the threat together. Last week, the future site of the restaurant, currently a vacant block, was taken over by locals, who transformed it into a peaceful place of community protest. People turned out in droves to turn the site into a community garden, filling the block with plants and adorning the area with placards and signs which shouted catchy anti-McDonald’s slogans. In response to this, the land owner who is selling the land to the corporation has erected fences on the property, preventing access, but this has not stopped the town. This is a community that will not stop until they win; a community that will do whatever it takes, fiercely defending their town from the threat that McDonald’s poses.