Janine Watson and owner Joel Freeman speak with police. Photo: John Weeks
About a dozen police officers assisted in removing the last protester against a plan to build a McDonald's restaurant at Tecoma in the Dandenong Ranges.
Protesters had been occupying the site for four weeks, since the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal gave the fast food chain permission to open a store in the town.
Tecoma resident Janine Watson, a stalwart of the protest, was at the camp alone when police arrived.
The gardens site adjoins two shops earmarked to make way for the fast food outlet. The shops and garden area are owned by paediatrician Dr Joel Freeman, who attended with police at 7.45am, demanding that Ms Watson stop trespassing on his property.
"I was a bit nervous and started shaking when they asked me to leave," Ms Watson said.
Police assisted her with removing a tent, chairs, gardening equipment and a water tank installed to support the community garden. She refused to give police her mobile.
Tecoma Village Action Group spokesman David Jewell described the police numbers as an overreaction.
The camp site was turned into community gardens after residents and the Yarra Ranges Shire Council lost their fight to prevent the development of the McDonald's. Up to 1100 residents were opposed to the development.
"The community gardens grew in response to the VCAT decision," Ms Watson said.
"It was not intended as a rallying point, but it has become one, with people dropping in for a cuppa and finding out what is happening," she said.
Dr Freeman removed signs from the site and argued with Ms Watson. "He asked me how I would feel if he came and camped in my backyard, when it is not the same thing at all," Ms Watson said.
Dr Freeman said protesters had brought tanbark and rocks to the block. He said they had refused to leave when asked twice in October.
"I am not opposed to any protest of any sort but they cannot do it on private land and they cannot damage the land," Dr Freeman said.
"If they want to protest they should get a permit and protest on public land – that's fine with me," he said.
Ms Watson said the protest would continue and the Tecoma Village Action Group would meet tonight to discuss its next move.
"We are fighting to keep McDonald's out of the region – this is just the beginning of the next chapter. When we run into problems like these we turn them into something positive," Ms Watson said.