By Roger ALLNUTT
The bustling Central Western NSW town of Parkes has become synonymous with the annual Elvis festival held each year in med January. Train and bus loads of aficionados descend on the town for a weekend of concerts and street parades, gospel services and even renewal of vows ceremony. Time to get out all your Elvis gear.
Parkes is perfectly positioned as a base for touring the town and surrounding region with flights and train service from Parkes, and plenty of road access including the popular Newell Highway route through the town.
Traditional home to the Wiradjuri people, it was the discovery of gold in 1862 led to the establishment of a canvas city called Currajong. Further lodes (Bushman’s Gold Mine) meant the area became one of the richest gold producing regions in the colony of NSW. After then NSW premier Henry Parkes (he was premier for five terms) visited in 1873 the name of the town was changed to Parkes.
At the excellent Visitors Centre at the northern edge of the town on the Newell Highway there is a recreation of his birthplace, Moat House Cottage, in Coventry in England. He came to Australia in 1839 with his first wife Clarinda. A fascinating 15 minute video outlines his achievements leading up to his being called the Father of Federation although he died in 1896 a few years before that momentous event in Australia’s history. Parkes was a man ahead of his time espousing notions of equality, suffrage and the establishment of the Federation. There is a statue of Henry Parkes in the main street which is named after Clarinda.
Also at the Visitors Centre is a splendid small King’s Castle Elvis exhibit with some real items from the Elvis collection in Memphis, the Parkes Motor Museum and the Henry Parkes Museum contains local historical items and antique machinery.,
Parkes is a typical thriving country town with a number of lovely old buildings including some fine churches and municipal buildings. A short drive takes you to Memorial Hill for views over the town and there is a 33m high Shrine of Remembrance. Wiradjuri amphitheatre informs about the local Aboriginal people with lots of art works.
Cooke Park is a large open space at the southern end of the main Clarinda St and a venue for many of the Elvis celebrations. In Kelly Reserve a 3075 S Class steam locomotive memorialises the contribution made by the railway pioneers of Parkes. Of course there just has to be a Hotel Gracelands.
There are many boutique shops in the CBD, some good restaurants (I could recommend Bella’s Italian Restaurant), clubs and the range of accommodation including caravan parks will suit all budgets. I stayed at Station Motel next to the Visitors centre and the unusual building clad in corrugated iron (real country effect) was very comfortable and well-appointed.
Parkes deserves an extended stay as it gives you time to explore some real highlights in the surrounding small towns and countryside.
About 20km north along the Newell Highway is the world famous CSIRO Parkes Observatory. Immortalised in the Australian classic film “The Dish” the centre hosts a 64m radio telescope which has been in operation since 1961 and continues to be at the forefront of astronomical discovery due to regular upgrades. The Visitors Discovery Centre showcases the achievements of the telescope as well as its role in supporting some of the most significant space missions in history. The Dish café is a great place for breakfast or lunch.
Another 30km north is the old gold mining town of Peak Hill. On the edge of town take a walk on the marked trails round the old open cut mine for spectacular views of the five. open cut pits. Another historic item in the small town is the first vertical wheat silo in Australia dating from 1918 and still in use today.
From Peak Hill take the road west to Tullamore. Many Irish born settles moved into the area in the early 1900s and many inhabitants still retain Irish family connections. There is an Irish Music festival over the Easter long weekend.
If short of time turn off before Tullamore to the village of Trundle. While Parkes is becoming well known for its Elvis festival then Trundle has embraced ABBA with its annual ABBA festival held in early May. People come from far and wide to join in the festivities which include a ‘Fashions of the Festival’ catwalk competition – I can just visualise all those ABBA lookalikes – and you can renew your wedding vows ABBA style.
Trundle is also famous for the having one of the widest main streets in the country (60m across) and the historic Trundle Hotel has the longest veranda in NSW at 87.6m. I watched a B-double truck turn a full circle on the street with ease. I am always amazed at the fascination backpackers have with the Australian outback; when I visited the Trundle Hotel the manageress was from England and one of the other helpers was from Finland. Both want to stay and work there.
South from Trundle the road join the Bogan Way that runs west from Parkes to Condobolin and beyond. It is worth taking the road as far as the tiny settlement of Ootha about 70km west of Parkes and then turn down the road marked Mulguthrie for about 3km to the ‘Utes in the Paddock’ spectacle.
In 2008 the owners of Burrawang West Station commissioned a local artist to place an old painted ute in a paddock next to road. In the next four years this increased to 20 in all shapes, sizes and paintwork. My favourites of this unique bush attraction is one in the shape of a Bundaberg rum bottle and another an outback dunny with Dame Edna inside. All the old utes are Holdens. There is a plan to relocate this display to Condobolin.
Roger Allnutt was a guest of Central Western Tourism.