Oooh-oooh-oooh we all felt our temperatures rising, as the thermometer soared to 42 degrees last weekend but fans flocked to central NSW to share their burning love for the King of Rock and Roll. A sea of Elvis’s flooded the streets and a feverish carnival of enduring love for a rock god engulfed this country town.
Damien Mullin was the show-stopping impersonation performance of the festival. I managed to catch him twice at the Parkes Leagues Club (once in a copy of the 1968 Comeback Special black leather jumpsuit, the other where he sweltered in skin-tight polyester). He planted kisses on the squealing sexagenarians in the front row, bestowed sweat-soaked scarves on the giddy fans and belted out tunes that caused rockabilly riots on the dance floor.
The five-day festival is a major boon to local tourism. A local man working at the Coachman Motel in town, said “With this Elvis thing getting bigger and bigger, Parkes has changed a fair bit in the last 5 years.” With evident pride, he added, “A lot of country towns in NSW are drying up but not us – there’s heaps going for Parkes right now.”
Established 21 years ago and held every year in the second week of January to coincide with Elvis’ birthday, the event is booming. It attracts a bigger and weirder crowd of grey nomads, die-hard fans, boot-scooters, bikies, queer rockabillies and everything in-between, each year. But Bogan Elvis – the prevailing look of choice for attendees – reigns supreme at Parkes, putting a distinctly Aussie spin on the quintessential son of the US of A. He and his companions strut and stumble down the main street, too skinny to fill out his jumpsuit adequately, cigarette in hand, his synthetic black wig slipping over one eye, seeking out chicken devil wings to soak up that bellyful of beer.
The town takes Elvis very seriously with one known resident so ardent a fan of Presley who, with his mother’s permission, changed his name to Elvis by deed poll. Formerly known as Neville, he travelled to Gracelands and returned with 6 suitcases of memorabilia which is displayed during the festival. Other highlights included look-alike and impersonator contests, the unbelievable street parade, wedding vow renewals presided over by the King himself and over 150 other whacky events.
It seemed disrespectful not to visit The Dish while in town, where we copped our dose of nerdy science history while slurping on our ‘Mercury Milkshakes’ and tucking into ‘Eggs Benedish’ served by teenagers sporting beehives and Hawaiian skirts.
If the aliens invaded Parkes during festival week it would be at the empassioned beckoning of the statue of Sir Henry Parkes. Revellers mock his dramatic stance, turning it into an Elvis-style move; bedecking him in oversized gold sunnies and drape a satin cape across his shoulders. Nobody would notice extra-terrestrials as this quirky jamboree takes place – they would fit right in.