As first-timers to the world-renowned Parkes Elvis Festival, we were utterly unprepared and utterly under-dressed for one of the most entertaining festivals in the country.
On a searing hot January summer’s day, we roll into Parkes in our boring white rental car, and quickly grasp the magnitude of our faux pas. We were not gel-haired, beehive-touting, diamanté-encrusted, jumpsuit clad, diehard Elvis fans. Staring down the main drag during the annual Parkes Elvis Festival, the streets were lined with some of the finest vintage cars we’d ever seen. We immediately gauged that we shouldn’t have brought a Kia to the party.
A country town transformed
Every being in eyesight (dogs included) was dressed to the nines in Elvis and Priscilla ensembles. They were either dancing, swinging, clapping or singing as they walked. At the very least, they mosied.
Elvis hits blared out of every pub, café, restaurant, Bowls Club and RSL. A mass of bodies could be seen in gyrating motion beyond the Elvis bouncers.
Jailhouse Rock had the epicentre of the event, Cooke Park, in a Hound Dog-induced frenzy. Buskers everywhere were jamming it up while women on every corner were swooning before a myriad of Kings rocking around the clock.
And to think we prided ourselves on throwing fancy dress parties!
We hid the Kia, grabbed our bags and scurried into our room at the newly renovated Astro Dish Motor Inn. We hoped that no one had spotted us in jeans and T-shirts. Couples and carloads of revellers continued to cruise into the hotel’s carpark; lounging back in their roomy Cadillacs with the windows rolled down, Elvis on shuffle. We closed the blinds and slipped into our sparkling spandex jumpsuits. It was now or never!
The Elvis event that keeps on growing
Every year Parkes Elvis Festival continues to grow, and it’s already the largest honouring Elvis outside of the USA. In previous years, more than 25,000 Elvis fans hit the streets for five days packed with live music, special events, talks, markets, pop-up stores and more, all in celebration of The King. The event also attracts stars from around the world.
To highlight the serious nature of this event on the Australian calendar, there are now Elvis express trains. The Elvis Express and Blue Suede Express bring revellers from Sydney to Parkes each year. This year, Rex Airlines also put on a Rex Hound Dog Express from Sydney, Parkes livery and all. Every seat was sold out, and thousands of locals came to greet the trains as they pulled into the station.
We attended so many events and shows; the Northparkes Mines Street Parade (think Mardi Gras meets Elvis) and Sunday’s Elvis Gospel Service. Even a Renewal of Vows Ceremony in Cooke Park. Apparently,hundreds of Australians want to tie the knot while impersonating the Presleys.
Don’t miss The Dish
We also visited one of Parkes’s other main tourist attractions: the 64m-wide radio telescope called The Dish. Here, you can learn about its purpose, the people involved in its construction, the ongoing maintenance and its important place in history. The centre has fascinating displays, hands-on exhibits and a 3D theatre with shows, all focused on space and astronomy.
Most people know The Dish from the Australian comedy-drama of the same name. It explores how Parkes Observatory was used to relay the live broadcast of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission.
A brief history of Parkes
Parkes was called Bushmans prior to 1873. It was named after a local man who owned most of the mine leases during the gold rush. It was then renamed after Sir Henry Parkes, a colonial politician often referred to as the Father of Federation. He rallied behind the federation of Australia’s six colonies, and didn’t support British convict transportation. He was also instrumental in the creation of Australia’s continental rail network.
Touring the town in style
To get a good grasp on the city, we jump aboard an aptly glittering red four-seater trike with the owner of Trike Adventures. Peter takes us for a cruise through the Elvis-flooded streets up to the best place to get the lay of the land: Memorial Hill Lookout.
The well-groomed hilltop, with its 33m tower, commemorates those from the district who have been killed in action during wars in which Australia was involved. Down below us in Parkes we could make out thousands of glittering specs of colour dedicated to Elvis, jiving away in the distance.
The legend lives on
After a fabulous five days living through a lens focused on the legendary King of Rock ’n’ Roll, we were different people. We knew which cars Elvis had loved and collected, we knew all about his everlasting love affair with Priscilla. We read and heard endless tales about the tribulations, tragedies and triumphs that gave Elvis the ups and downs that ultimately ended his life in 1977, when he was just 42. And we most definitely knew most of his songs by heart.
For our departure, we approached our white Kia in more appropriate garb than we’d arrived in; me in a silk, full-skirted ’60s swing dress with white and blue stripes, and pink flamingos decorating its hem so that when I twirled they went around like a carousel. My partner was dressed in a ’70s patchwork suede three-piece suit, his black hair coiffed in a quiff. We both wore gold-rimmed sunglasses. As we mosied through the carpark another couple strode confidently towards us — they could have been Elvis and Priscilla themselves.
Elvis nodded and grinned. We smiled back. “Nice outfits,” he said. Well, I’ll be!
In 2021 Parkes Elvis Festival will celebrate its 29th year with the theme “Speedway”, inspired by his sensational musical film.
Find the event program and get your tickets at parkeselvisfestival.com.au.