The streets of Parkes are wide, and largely empty when we arrive the day before the Elvis festival is due to kick off. At 6pm, as we wander down the main street, tinny-sounds of Elvis waft across the town. There is a haunting note to the music. If it was a story, it would have Stephen King all over it.
There are three pubs offering to quench our thirst after the long drive out from Sydney, and we err with our first choice which provided karaoke and wine in a champagne glass. However, we soon stumble into the action at The Cambridge Hotel. Our very first Elvis impersonator is up on the stage, and the crowd is pumped, rocking and rolling like they were there the first time round. Friends are gathered in matching Elvis paraphernalia and someone has even gone to the trouble of shaving ELVIS into his hair. It is hysterical, and enchanting, and we are soon joining in the antics on the dance floor. The Memphis Cowboys steal the show by not being impersonators at all, but rather excellently engaging musicians rocking out their own version of the songs. I suspect they must be on their way to the Tamworth Country Music festival next. We dance extravagantly, without any expertise nor embarrassment. It’s that sort of place.
By the time we’ve been in town for two days, we’ve seen all manner of Elvis impersonators. Young and old, fat and thin. We’ve experienced the buskers, the pub-players and the in-it-to-win-it professionals. What a strange life, I muse, living forever in the shadow of greatness. On the road, never quite yourself, never an original. Then again, perhaps it is no more strange an existence than doing market research for a living, and perhaps in that sense, it is more authentic because it comes from passion.
The vibe in the town is friendly, welcoming. Old cars line the street and all the shops are bedecked in Elvis mania. Whilst it is putting on a show, it feels very real. As though the townsfolk would do this for fun anyway, even if no-one came. But come they do, in their droves. Bussed in, trained in, driven in. The streets are soon buzzing with Elvis chops, Rockerbilly skirts and bejewelled polyester jump suits. The town-piped Elvis of the night before has been supplanted by buskers who crowd the pavement and croon out their own versions of Elvis’ most famous hits.
It’s a fun way to spend a couple of days, but I am soon sick of hearing Blue Suede Shoes over and over again. Following my own passion, we make a break for The Dish. It looms large on the horizon, visible for miles around. A resident astrophysicist is giving a talk that we are lucky to catch. She explains radio waves (which is a form of electro-magnetic energy, like visible light) – as a radio telescope is what the Dish is. She lights up when she talks about pulsars. They’ve located more than half of all known pulsars, gazillions of light years away, from this unassuming outpost of science in the middle of country NSW.
It is quiet here, away from our noisy society, and that’s important if you are a radio telescope. All around us, the landscape stretches flat to the edge of the horizon. Peaceful and serene. Green paddocks, blue skies, red earth and an ear to the Universe and the possibilities of tomorrow.