All Shook Up over Parkes
Sue marr discovers there is astronomy, aviation, animals and a whole lot of Elvis action packed into Parkes.
It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what makes a visit to the NSW central-west town of Parkes so memorable and downright enjoyable. Just an hour’s drive from Orange and a tick over 360 kilometres from Sydney, it’s easily accessible as a holiday destination, as a base for exploring the region or for a must-stop breather on an intrastate road trip.
As the local tourism slogan encapsulates, ‘it all adds up’ and yes, it does. In so many different ways.
It starts with the friendly welcome that only a true country town can administer and resonates long after you leave. It wraps you in a blanket of hospitality and service rarely experienced by big city residents. For children growing up in cityscapes especially, the warmth and openness of a country community can’t be undervalued.
The town is laid out on a mostly flat, grid system that fans out from the main street, Clarinda, so it’s very easy to navigate and even easier to walk around. Pretty Cooke Park is a central starting point, surrounded by family-friendly motels, shops, cafes, restaurants (including Thai and Chinese) and clubs. A walk up the main street to the Wholesome Blend cafe (and it offers a great blend indeed) and central Parkes is covered.
The resident population just tops 12,000, which makes the number of pubs and clubs in town seem extraordinary. This is terrific news for visitors as there are so many affordable dining and entertainment options, from the Parkes Services Club to the Sports and Bowling Club and everything in between.
During the hot, dry summer months, the impressive Parkes Shire Library complex offers welcome respite from the heat, as does the nearby Aquatic Centre with its Olympicsized swimming pool, perfect for laps or just some fun and a splash for the kids.
To infinity and beyond…
Just 20 kilometres up the road from the town, movie buffs will recognise the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope, better known as The Dish, from the movie of the same name, which highlighted the important role Australia played in the Apollo space mission in 1969. Children are invited to explore the world of astronomy and ‘listen to the stars’. You can easily make a day trip of it by taking advantage of the free barbecue and picnic facilities.
On a clear night, however, you won’t need a telescope to view the night sky. It is something special to behold as the Milky Way, Saucepan, Southern Cross and other Southern Hemisphere constellations reach out in 3D from a velvety black backdrop.
A little further afield, you’ll find the Peak Hill Open Cut Gold Mine, the Big Fish Fossil Hut and the iconic Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo. Back in Parkes, your visit list should include the Aviation Museum and the impressive Henry Parkes Centre, which houses the Parkes Visitor Centre, Motor Museum and the King’s Castle. The latter is the personal Elvis memorabilia collection of original Yellow Wiggle, Greg Page.
All Shook Up
While there is reason enough to visit Parkes at any time of year, we’re in town for the annual Parkes Elvis Festival. Held to celebrate the King’s birthday in mid-january, the festival sees the town’s population ‘all shook up’ and swelling with 25,000 visitors as all things Elvis are celebrated around the clock. Families of fans flock from far and wide for this worldclass event, earning itself a Destination NSW accolade and further cementing the tourism status of this friendly inland town.
The festival welcomes young and old and everyone in between, and encourages participation across the age groups. The welcome parade showcases cars and fashion from the Elvis era with talent shows and professional performances by guest ETAS (Elvis Tribute Artists) from around Australia and the world. There’s also a junior Elvis and
Priscilla contest for the kids, allowing the whole family to get involved.
Cooke Park hosts a live stage each day with free entertainment and dancing from 10am until late. An old-fashioned lemonade stand, food stalls, coffee carts and market stalls keep everyone occupied and refreshed. Misting fans keep a lid on the heat as the dance floor warms up the revellers.
What impressed us most was the care and encouragement the Elvis community gives to interested youngsters, keen no doubt to nurture the next generation of fans.
Accommodation is at a premium during the festival with many visitors opting to bring their own for the well-appointed tent and caravan sites or taking advantage of shuttle buses running to the satellite towns of Forbes, Tullamore, Peak Hill, Manildra and Orange.
We opted to take advantage of the local Ray White’s home rental service, only available during the Elvis Festival. It’s a great option for families with two or three children, or even a couple of families travelling together.
One thing is for certain, the festival brings out the best in this town with the locals turning on a world-class welcome. Getting to know the locals is certainly a highlight of a visit to Parkes. You won’t need a map; just ask someone for directions and before you know it, you’ll be introduced to the family and be privileged with insider information on the best places to eat and things to see. As you can imagine, nothing much escapes the locals in a small town so there are always interesting stories on tap.
There are many other festivals and events held in the region throughout the year and Parkes is an ideal base for checking these out as well.
After only a few days in Parkes, the connections we’ve made with the local community make it an emotional farewell when it comes time to leave. Will we be back? For sure. What was it that made a visit to Parkes so special? It’s not just one thing but… it all adds up.
Parkes Report Card
Info visitparkes.com.au Getting there Parkes is 365 kilometres by car from Sydney and around an hour’s drive from Orange. Regular train and bus services operate year-round and Rex Airlines has daily flights to Parkes Airport. Do parkeselvisfestival.com.au