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Outback Elvis: The story of a festival, its fans & a town called Parkes

Thursday 12 January, 2017 sees the Sydney Station transported to another time and place with the annual arrival of the Elvii and Priscillii, amongst the many other Elvis fans getting ready to begin their annual pilgrimage to Parkes, a country town in regional New South Wales to get into all thing Elvis; to pay homage to the ‘king’ of rock and roll some 40 years after his death in Memphis, Tennessee in 1977; to turn back the clock to a time when things seemed to be so much less complicated.

The dreary morning commute for those unfortunate to have to work is turned into a festival of fun, noise, Elvis look-alikes and tribute artists and a wanna be’s, as they gather for this weekend of fun, laughter, reminiscence and temporary transformation

The satin suites are dusted off, the hair is teased, greased and combed into either a ducktail or beehive, hair-dye is freely and lavishly used to replicate the jet black locks of the man who lives on through his music.

But how did a festival dedicated to Elvis Presley, a man who never came to Australia, spending all but a few years in America, never travelling far from his home, come to have such a significant presence in the outback of Australia, in the middle of summer, in a region known to have skyrocketing temperatures.

Parks, like many other small country towns was suffering from a downturn in the traditional industries within the area. Known as a predominantly agricultural area the region was hit with economic decline. The 1990’s recession was beginning to bite, and bite hard. People were moving to the city in search of a better way of life. Parkes was starting to see local commerce closing with no hope of ever reopening.

It was obvious something needed to be done to try and bring people back into the area, to try and generate some sort of cash flow. A small group of locals sitting over a few wines came up with the idea of holding an Elvis Festival in the town to celebrate the ‘Kings’ birthday. After a few more wines, and a considerable amount of local debate, the Festival was launched in January 1993, with look-alike competitions, impersonators, Stevie Lennox had his memorabilia collection on display, people struggled to find enough accommodation and so there was a beginning.

Like many festivals it got stuck in a rut, almost failed with eventual salvation bestowed by a rugby club who thought it would be great weekend away to go to Parkes, dress up as Elvis and party!  It became an annual club event and the rest is history.

Told through the eyes of two long time Festival fans, in Connell and Gibson, they present the full history of this flamboyant event that has captured the imagination of a nation, created a new economy for a town that was slowly sinking into oblivion, helping to keep the memory of Rock and Roll alive and well in the outback of regional Australia.

Many of the Elvis fans and fanatics would not miss it, and even as they grow older, till turn up in droves, younger people come to the event simply to enjoy the music, the townsfolk, some of whom even after all these years’ still leave town only returning when the last of the Elvii and Priscillii have left, while the rest rent out their rooms, set up stalls and join in rocking the town.

What it has done for the local Parkes economy and associated township is legendary, with the demand for more growing as the years move along.

If you have not yet gone to Parkes and been a party goer at least once, perhaps it is something that should be put on the bucket list, as you too can wear an ‘American Eagle’ suite, tease up the hair to be a Priscilla look-alike and while there get ‘All shook up’, have a heap of fun, and maybe indulge in a ‘Hunk-a-hunk a burning love’!

Author John Connell, Chris Gibson
Publisher New South Publications
Website http:/www.newsouthbooks.com.au
Distributor New South Books
Released January 2017