4 February 2014
In January 1956, Elvis Presley bust onto the scene with “Heartbreak Hotel” and hit #1 in the USA shortly after. More than 50 years later, Elvis is still breaking hearts with his rockabilly tunes, but not just in the USA. Apparently, rural Australia is nuts about The King. I travelled to Parkes, New South Wales to find out just how passionate the Elvis fans were.
Central Station gets packed with people in the Grand Concourse who can’t wait for the Elvis Festival to start before they start shimmying and dancing––this is at 8:30 AM. As the train boards, performances, full-blown Elvis portrait t-shirts and amazing personalities are everywhere. Every carriage is packed with different groups of people, seemingly more enthusiastic as you go. The 7-hour train ride from Sydney is full with Elvis superfans unloads into Parkes and 18,000 Elvii (plural of Elvis) take over, outfits and singing voices prepped. When you consider the average population of Parkes is only 10,000, you realize they’ve nearly doubled the population in a week. Whoa.
Hundreds of people line the platform with their cameras to capture the Elvii and fans in all their glory. Getting off the train, you’re the celebrity as flashes go off, people cheer and welcome you to their home: Parkes, New South Wales. Immediately, you can tell that it’s an annual event that has become loved by everyone locally. The town even commissions Al, better known as “Alvis”, to hype up the town two weeks in advance. It’s the real deal.
In its 22nd year, the festival rolled out look-a-like contests and a Miss Priscilla competition, and an Elvis Gospel Service. I joined the Elvis Street Parade in a vintage Ford Mustang looking on at hundreds of other Elvii. When the Kissing Cousins themed float followed us and the marching bandleader was also dressed as The King, I realised just how deeply you can sink into a different world. Clarinda Street, the main drag in Parkes, could double as the set for an authentic Elvis movie as the parade carries on.
The best part of most outfits is that at least 1/3of the hairdos you see are real. They must ship brill cream by the truckload to Parkes as every era of The King is covered amongst the attendees––black leather, white jumpsuits and capes. The Priscilla outfits are just as impressive if not more detailed. Whether their hairspray will ever come out or not, it looks amazing. The enthusiasm is a great representation of how the people in Parkes are. They’re excited for the festival, but more than that, they’re excited you’re there, too. Each night, the entire town fills up every restaurant and pub to come together with old friends and make new ones.
When you think of Texas – sideburns, Mustangs and Elvis fit right in. However at this point, Parkes, New South Wales might bring those things to mind first. The Parkes Elvis Festival is one of those unique things you don’t forget. It’s such a great chance to experience regional New South Wales and its hospitable people.
The Funster stats
7 hours from Sydney
357 km driven from Parkes to Sydney
21 Parkes Elvis Festivals
150 events at the festival
5 days of celebration
One Big Hunk O Love