Elvis fan Ross Cummings
Ross Cummings gets in the swing as the Elvis Express prepares to leave for Parkes. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS
  • arts, culture and entertainment

Fans can’t help falling in love at Elvis extravaganza

January 11, 2024

Under the strains of Jailhouse Rock, the Elvis Express rolled into Parkes as smooth as the king’s iconic Cadillac.

“Get excited,” the stationmaster said over the loudspeaker, but the hundreds of Elvis fans didn’t need the encouragement.

The arrival of the train from Sydney on Thursday afternoon marked the official start of the annual Parkes Elvis festival, Australia’s biggest – and wackiest – celebration of the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

Alfred Vaz
 Alfred Vaz broke out into a rendition of (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

Regular attendee Alfred Vaz – better known as “Bollywood Elvis” – made the journey to his 15th festival in a bejewelled red jumpsuit dripping with gold.

On Central Station’s platform one, Mr Vaz broke into a rendition of his favourite Elvis song, (Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.

First-time attendees Liz Connell and Nancy Richards were joined at the wrist with handcuffs and wore matching police and prisoner costumes to go with the festival’s Jailhouse Rock theme.

The duo are life-long Elvis fans.

“Sixty-four years old and we’ve never been before,” Ms Connell said.

Uncle and nephew Damien and Luke Barden wore matching gold Elvis costumes for a trip they have been making together for several years.

Elvis Fans Luke Barden (left) and Damian Barden
 Luke Barden (left) and Damian Barden arrived in matching gold Elvis costumes. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

“It’s just too much fun … when 30,000 Elvis fans are at the same thing as you, you can’t go wrong,” Damien Barden said.

Mel Gray is not an Elvis devotee, but she is attending the festival with her husband and fan David, as well as friends Mandy Connor and Noami Clarke.

The couple wore matching Elvis and Priscilla costumes.

“We’re not Elvis fans, we’re his harem,” Ms Gray said with a laugh.

The train’s interior was decorated with coloured streamers and fans sang their favourite songs together.

The festival is in its 31st year and attracts about 25,000 visitors to the small town in central west NSW, bringing in an estimated $13 million per annum.

Parkes’ Clarinda Street has transformed into a country Australia version of Graceland: shop windows are filled with Elvis cut-outs, vintage cars line the streets and crooners sing on every corner.

Elvis fans
 Fans wore outfits to match the festival’s 2024 theme Jailhouse Rock. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

International tribute acts Taylor Rodriguez and Cote Deonath will headline a concert series, while Elvis-themed rock ‘n’ roll dances, dog shows and bingo rounds will fill the town’s pubs, clubs and street corners.

With temperatures set to rise as high as 35C during the festival, revellers will be full of burning love for Elvis in their polyester suits and pompadour wigs.

Festival director Joel Ulbricht said while the event has international recognition, the town’s residents remained at the heart of festivities.

“For small businesses, hotels, restaurants, cafes, retail outlets, all of our 25,000 visitors help bring a great start to January, which is traditionally a very dry season for the central west,” he said.

“It’s not just one or two people running this event, this is community-driven.”