The first Australian McDonald’s opened in the Sydney suburb of Yagoona 16 years after the company was founded in the USA. It was followed by several other Sydney stores and, in 1973, by one in Springvale Road in Melbourne. The original Yagoona store closed in 1994. The Springvale Road building was demolished in 2016, to be replaced by an updated McDonalds. In December 2021, McDonald’s re-opened the Yagoona store, with decor harking back to its 1970s beginnings.
The launch of the first Australian McDonald’s, on 30 December 1971, was a big event with a chartered double-decker bus conveying guests to the opening. A “man in a clown suit” – possibly Ronald McDonald – handed out miniature yo-yos to children.
I have heard from Robert Sparke, who was the assistant manager of the Yagoona McDonald’s from 1972 and then became store manager. He spotted the Quarter Pounder on the menu picture I’d posted on this page (see below) and protested that I had the date wrong. In 1972, he said, there was no Quarter Pounder on the menu. He was quite correct – the picture, when I looked more closely, was from the USA (I should have noticed the reference to root beer – hardly an Australian classic).
I have since found an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald from 1972 which lists the menu of the day. The prices are astounding: 20 cents for a burger, 49 cents for a Big Mac and $1.20 for a Chicken Dinner. There are notable differences from the American menu, quite apart from the absence of root beer. We Aussies needed to have “Fr. Fries” explained to us, and the fish and chicken menus were clearly designed to respond to our traditional fondness for fish and chips. The chicken and fish dinners, Robert explained, consisted of whole pieces of chicken or fish along with French Fries and Coleslaw.
The Quarter Pounder was invented in 1971 in California and was available nationally in the USA by 1972. By the time McDonald’s opened their first stores in Canberra, in 1976, the Quarter Pounder and the Fillet o’Fish had made their way onto the Australian menu. The Quarter Pounder was priced at 80 cents or 90 cents with cheese. What a bargain!
Most of the print advertising for McDonald’s in 1972 seemed to be about recruiting staff for their rapidly expanding Australian operation. But they hadn’t quite caught up with the sexual revolution. One such advertisement read “We require men to become members of our retail store management team” and suggested the position would suit those with backgrounds in supermarket management, retail store training, tradesmen and the military.
In 1986 the world’s 9000th McDonald’s store opened in Sydney. By that time, McDonald’s was the biggest fast-food chain in the world. In 1990, in the atmosphere of glasnost (openness), the world’s largest McDonald’s with 900 seats opened in Pushkin Square, Moscow. It was a year before the final dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The first Australian McDonald’s is long gone. The Yagoona store closed in 1994, the drive-through was removed and the building became a GIO office. It wasn’t the only Macca’s store that had a limited lifespan. The store in Fairlight, Sydney, opened in 1972 but closed in 1995 when the Manly council refused permission to add a late-night drive-through. In 1998 the Newtown store, operating since 1989, closed “due to the changing demographics of the Newtown area” – the latte set had moved in and McDonald’s wasn’t to their taste.