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Outback Elvis: Riding with the King in Parkes, Australia

From: Southern Cultures
Volume 19, Number 1, Spring 2013
pp. 98-110 | 10.1353/scu.2013.0009

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Aboard the CountryLink Elvis Express, Australia's Channel Nine News interviews Ross Mancini, an Elvis tribute artist from Sydney.

For the past twenty years, Australian fans have gathered in Parkes, New South Wales, to celebrate Elvis Presley's birthday. Since the initial gathering of two hundred, hosted by Bob and Anne Steel at their Gracelands banquet hall, the CountryLink Parkes Elvis Festival has turned into a community-wide effort, and attendance has mushroomed to 18,000, nearly double the town's population.

But why Elvis? He never traveled to Australia; nonetheless, this agricultural and mining town approximately 200 miles west of Sydney stakes a sizeable chunk of its annual economy on celebrating the Mississippi-born icon of American rock and roll. Free of the gravitas involved in a memorial festival like Elvis Week in Memphis, the scheduling around Presley's birthday induces a celebratory atmosphere and encourages men to don the Elvis jumpsuit. After all, as festival founder Anne Steel says, "Elvis was a bloke." The Parkes festival also tends to encourage a more conservative or wholesome image of Elvis, and yet the various depictions create the festival's gonzo feel that is rich with an uncalculated, homespun hospitality. Most of all, the event creates a place for Elvis fans in Australia to celebrate the birth of the King of Rock and Roll without having to leave the continent.

The festival's growth is a sure sign that Elvis's popularity continues to reverberate globally. Last year, after the Friday, January 13th, arrival of the Country-Link Elvis Express from Sydney, Elvis tribute artists performed onstage for a crowd in Cooke Park through the weekend. Elvis buskers lined Clarinda Street, which also served as the route for the Elvis parade. Shops featured Elvis window displays; couples renewed their marriage vows before an Elvis wedding celebrant; and even the statue of Sir Henry Parkes, the town's namesake, sported Elvis's seventies-era sunglasses.


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Elias (opposite, top), Australia's representative at the 2011 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist contest, performs in Sydney Central Railway Station before passengers board the CountryLink Elvis Express train to Parkes, New South Wales. On-board the Express, things heat up for a rapturous fan (opposite, bottom), and later another adoring fan poses with Elvis tribute artist Paul French (above).


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Opposite: Elvii greet the Elvis Express in Parkes and stroll past Elvis Central, an outlet for costumes and festival souvenirs.
Above: The Confederate battle flag was a common sight in Parkes and included this one, customized with the pop icon's face. A statue of town founder Sir Henry Parkes even donned Elvis shades.


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Opposite: Pricillas pose for photographs on their parade float, and an Elvis with mad hair waves to crowds during the Elvis parade.
Above: The Elvis parade rolls past Dimmeys, Australia's iconic variety chain store.


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Opposite: Celebrant Andrew "Elvis" Appleby (top) conducts the annual renewal of marriage vows for about thirty couples. Brides (bottom) line up before an Elvis wedding celebrant.
Above: Elvii—and Elvettes—are everywhere.


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Married thirty years, Allison and Dick Howlett of Parkes share a kiss after renewing their vows.


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Above: Gnarnayarrahe Waitairie (left), an Elvis tribute artist of Aboriginal descent, greets fans before the karaoke competition, and, in Cooke Park, Elias (right) strikes a pose for the crowds.


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Below: CountryLink representative Cameron Nichols (left) poses with fans, and the winner of the junior division in busking, Bailey Sutcliffe (right), performs his winning moves.


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A busker croons for the crowd on Clarinda Street.

Gretchen Wood  

Gretchen Wood is finishing her MA in Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi. During her twenty-year hiatus from higher education, she worked in the music business in various capacities involving sales, as well as broadcast and print journalism. Currently, she is editing her thesis film, Chinese Whispers: Southern Roots in Australia's Swampy Sound, which depicts country and blues influences on...



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