As far as I’m aware, Elvis never visited the small town of Parkes, about an hour’s drive from Dubbo in NSW, but he’s certainly making his presence felt now. There’s statues of Elvis, there’s murals of Elvis you can even buy a bit of his hair – so, where should you stop on your Elvis Tour of Parkes?
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The Elvis Rhino
Vegas-years, white studded suit, big gold glasses is my favourite Elvis, I even want the Battle Hymn of the Republic (the glory, glory, hallelujah bit) from An American Trilogy played at my funeral as I shuffle off to wherever my final resting place might be… so, imagine the deep joy I feel as we pull into the parking lot of the Parkes Information Centre to be confronted by a giant Elvis Rhino dressed in that very outfit.
Rhino statues are big around these parts – literally and figuratively.
They first arrived in Dubbo in 2015, as a celebration of the successful rhino-breeding programme at the city’s famous zoo and, while many of the 140 original sculptures have been sold, you’ll still find a fair few around Dubbo and the nearby towns – including Elvis rhino here.
Once you’ve taken your selfie with him (and posted it on social media with the hashtag therhinoadventure), it’s time to head inside the Information Centre, where you’ll find The King’s Castle, spot two on your Elvis Tour of Parkes.
The King’s Castle
This is probably the number one of the things to do in Parkes for an Elvis fan as it’s an exclusive exhibition of Elvis memorabilia.
You’ll find various movie posters, record covers and facts about The King – but also items of his clothing, paperwork like his gun licence – and some more unsual things like the jacket his girlfriend was wearing when they went to the dentist the day before he died!
However, that’s not the strangest thing about this collection of memorabilia – that prize is given to who owns it as it’s the property of Greg Page, better known to millions of children worldwide as the (OG) Yellow Wiggle!
Page now owns what’s estimated to be the fourth biggest collection of Elvis memorabilia in the world, and he’s been kind enough to loan some 800 items from it for this display in Parkes.
This is also where, if they haven’t sold out, you’ll be able to buy your piece of Elvis hair!
Five thousand pieces of hair were collected and sold by Elvis’ hair stylist one day after a trim – and there’s a decent sized wodge of them on sale at The Kings Castle (although there’s one less than available now than there was before Differentville entered the museum!).
Once you’ve seen all you need to see at the King’s Castle (and the car museum next door which is also included in your entry), it’s time to take this show on the road and head into the town of Parkes itself.
Park your car wherever you can on Clarinda Street and carry on with the tour by foot. The sights here can be done in any order, but this is the way I did them.
The Elvis Emu
John Murray is a prolific Australian artist best known for his fun use of Australian animals, like emus and cockatoos, in his work – and so, it’s not surprising that when contributing a piece of work to Parkes he turned Elvis into an emu!
The mural is on the wall of the Parkes Services Club that faces Caledonia Street and the story is that Murray was driving through the town on his way back to his home in Lighning Ridge and decided it needed to some extra brightning up – and so he asked around and got permission to paint in the town.
He’d already painted an Elvis Emu on AC/DC lane in Melbourne the year before so it seemed only right that the bejazzled bird should be the theme of his mural here too.
The Elvis Statue
Just a few steps away from the Elvis Emu in the green space of Cooke Park, is Parkes’ Elvis statue.
Created by sculptor Terrance Plowright, the statue is dedicated to all the people who organise and help with the Parkes Elvis Festival that brings so much to the town.
The eight-sided plinth it rests on reflects Elvis’ birthdate of January the 8th. There are also eight famous Elvis quotes set around the statue.
While you’re here, check out the orange spaceman statue which reflects another side of Parkes – it’s role in the space race and moon landings.
Elvis Street Art
There’s a public art trail in Parkes consisting of 12 murals – and not surprisingly, a number of them feature Elvis, or things associated with him!
Close to the spaceman you’ll spot a mural summing up the different sides of Parkes, including a great black and white image of Elvis.
On the wall of the Parkes Leagues Club, you’ll find a mural called Priscilla – although, I actually walked past it twice, not realising that was it, as I was expecting something far more bouffant in the hair department with that name, and this has more of an Audrey Hepburn vibe to me.
But apparently, it’s not supposed to be Priscilla herself, but a reflection of 1950s style – and look closely at who is reflected in her glasses.
Lastly, there’s another Elvis mural on the wall of at the corner of Court and Clarinda streets.
The Mantiques Shop
Okay, it’s not specifically Elvis-themed, but, if you love all things 50s (or 60s, 70s and 80s), you’re going to want to stop in Dad and Dave’s Mantiques and Collectibles which has an amazing display of ‘stuff’.
They’re only open on a Friday and Saturday though so, if this is an essential part of your Parkes trip, you’ll want to be there at the weekend.
The Parkes Dish
This behemouth is 64 metres across and tracks signals from space – and, considering Elvis was a firm believer in the existence of aliens, I know if he ever came to Parkes he’d be here.
The story goes that Elvis’ father Vernon actually saw a UFO the night Elvis was born and through his life Elvis himself had a number of spooky encounters that he attributed to UFOs and alien life.
Okay, I’m reaching a bit now with the Elvis connection, but you can’t come to see Parkes and not take a quick trip to see what’s known as The Dish as it’s kind of a big deal around here.
This Dish was involved in broadcasting the film of the moon landings, but because they touched down on the surface a bit earlier than they were supposed to, the signal wasn’t reached by the Parkes dish which meant the honour actually went to the Honeysuckle Creek dish near Canberra.
If that’s the kind of fact you love, you might also want to check out this post on the role a non-descript building on Sydney’s Oxford Street had in the proceedings.
Yummy Treats Elvis Would Be Proud Of
Apparently Elvis’ favourite sandwich was a mix of peanut butter, banana, bacon and honey; as far as I can see, none of the cafes in Parkes have that on the menu (missing a trick there fellas), but, there are plenty of indulgent yumminess in the local cafes and restaurants to soothe any Elvis-style sweet cravings that might hit when you’re in town.
Packed Cones Gelato
First must stop should be Packed Cones Gelato, where you can buy some seriously stacked sundaes – and other treats like waffles with their homemade gelato on top.
They open at 12 and you’ll find them at 316-320 Clarinda Street.
If you’re looking for
trouble, cheescake, pudding pots and pancakes, then head instead to Deja Brew at 9/169 Clarinda Street.
I’m pretty sure the Plain Jane Pancakes served with cinnamon, sugar, maple syrup, cream and ice cream would have satisfied The King!
And, look, I got all this way into this before making an Elvis pun!
If you prefer your calories in a more savoury form, then head to Burger Hub, where you can find a triple burger with cheese, or a stacked burger with a patty, bacon and cheese. Add a side of loaded fries and you’re good to go for about a week.
Past specials have also included a bun filled with ‘a Belgian waffle between chicken snitty and smashed with a maple bacon cream sauce’ and something that looked like a burger topped, not with a bun, but with bits of doughnut, so definitely keep an eye out for the specials.
The Parkes Elvis Festival
Let’s address the elephant in the room, the big question we haven’t answered – why is Parkes obsessed with Elvis?
And for this you have to thank the owners of Hotel Gracelands – no, not the mansion in Memphis, but the hotel in Parkes of the same name.
Bob Steel and his, long-time Elvis fan wife Anne decided that the town needed an event to draw people to the town during what’s Australian summer holiday season and so they decided an Elvis festival was just the thing.
The first one took place in 1993 and, now, it more than doubles the population of the town during the five days it’s on.
The Festival takes place in January, at the closest weekend to Elvis’ birthday on January 8th.
In town you’ll find 50s themed markets, Elvis trivia, Elvis films, talks more Elvis tribute acts than you can shake a stick at alongside events that fit that year’s sub-theme – so, in 2022, for example, the theme was the Elvis movie Speedway and so, there were also lots of car racing themed events.
And you get the chance to wear your best 1950s outfits.
I’m desperate to go!
In fact, I I tried to book to visit the festival for January 2023 in January 2022 and was told ‘no dice’ everywhere is already booked out!! Although it might be because it’s the 30th anniversary of the festival and so perhaps all those people know something we don’t about how amazing it’s going to be!
So, plan ahead and be prepared to wait for a cancellation if you’re not lucky enough to get in on your first try.
You’ll find all the details on their Parkes Elvis Festival website.
If you’re travelling from Sydney don’t miss the chance to travel on the special Elvis-themed train, or plane, which means the fun starts before you even leave Sydney.
Full details are available on the transport section of the website.
Where to Stay in Parkes
Having looked around when I was trying to book my own trip to the Elvis Festival, there are actually a lot of cute motels in Parkes and I definitely hope to get there to stay overnight at some point as the town has a great feel to it.
However, if you’re on the Elvis tour of Parkes, Hotel Gracelands has to be your first choice as then you get to support the team responsible for all things Elvis in Parkes.
Not surprisingly, you’ll find a few images of Elvis (and Marilyn, Audrey Hepburn – and even Amy Winehouse!) located around the newly renovated hotel.
You might also want to check out the Memphis Motel, just for the name!
This has fewer 1950s touches but, gets amazing reviews for it’s customer service.
They also have pet-friendly rooms if you’re travelling with your furry friend.
When it comes to Parkes, Elvis has most definitely not left the building – and I’m all here for it! Now if you excuse me, I need to go and find a suitable home for my piece of Elvis hair.