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There’s something for all ages in Parkes © Five Hours West

Why the country town of Parkes is still a family favourite

Whether you come to celebrate 50 years since the Moon landing or to swivel your hips with Elvis, Aleney De Winter finds this NSW country gem is an enduring family favourite.

Parkes is a small country town with a big personality. The bucolic beauty in NSW’s Central West is surrounded by natural attractions and outdoor experiences, infused with history, and is home to Australia’s most famous “Dish”, as well as its biggest Elvis Festival. Friendly and funny, this is a town that already punches way above its weight when it comes to family appeal. But this year, as the world commemorates the 50th anniversary of the first humans landing on the Moon – a historic occasion that Parkes played a big role in – there’s even more reason to visit Parkes with your crew.

Dive into The Dish

It was one small step for man and one giant leap for Parkes and its radio telescope – aka The Dish – on Monday 21 July 1969 when six hundred million people, one-sixth of the entire world population at the time, watched Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. While two tracking stations in Australia and one in California were receiving signals from the moon, it was the superior pictures coming from the CSIRO Parkes Observatory that the world watched during the telecast. To commemorate the momentous event, The Dish will hold open days on 20 and 21 July with telescope tours, daytime astronomy viewing and talks by guest speakers and expert astronomers.

The Dish © Five Hours West

A highlight of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing 50th Anniversary celebrations will be the screening of iconic Aussie film, The Dish, on Saturday 20 July, in a field right alongside the star of the film, the Parkes radio telescope. Pack a picnic basket with your favourite space food and bring your little astronauts along for a memorable kid-friendly evening under the stars. Or save your space food and enjoy an out-of-this-world delight from the Dish Café.

Avid photographers can jump behind the camera to snap the sky for the David Malin Astrophotography Awards. There’s a category for kids and finalists’ images will be on display at The Dish year-round.

For those families who don’t want to stay up too late, there’s also a whole world of astronomy that you can view on a sunny day. Take a look into sunny skies through the lens of a telescope and play I-spy with the planets, stars and moon.

Families are invited to explore this astronomical icon all year around, and whatever time of year you visit, you won’t actually need a telescope to stargaze as the stars sparkle in the inky black sky.

The Dish’ is a beloved Parkes icon

Rock a little

Sure, Parkes is a little bit country, but it is also a little bit rock and roll. And those who can’t moonwalk in for this year’s lunar landing merriment can hip-slide into town for a hunka, hunka burning hot action at the annual Elvis Festival, held each January to celebrate the King’s birthday. The town comes alive with pelvis-swivelling, snarling-lipped Elvis tribute artists and more than 200 events across five fabulous days.

The festival welcomes die-hard fans of the King with fun events for every age, including a welcome parade showcasing rocking costumes and cars, talent shows and professional performances by guest Elvises from around Australia. Little ones can get in on the action, too, with a junior Elvis and Priscilla contest, ukulele lessons and a series of fun kids’ talent workshops.

If your musical tastes lean more to ‘Dancing Queen’ than ‘Jailhouse Rock’, dance right into nearby Trundle for the ABBA Festival in May.

Even kids get all shook up over the Parkes Elvis Festival

Making history

Head back in time as you explore Parkes’ extraordinary history beyond its lunar links. The Henry Parkes Centre is a great place to start. The modern tourism complex and cultural precinct is located on the northern side of town, incorporating four fabulous museums, as well as the Parkes Visitor Information Centre. Elvis fans can don their blue suede shoes to explore The King’s Castle Elvis Exhibit, an incredible collection of Elvis’ personal artefacts curated by the original Yellow Wiggle, Greg Page. Motoring enthusiasts can toot their horns over the impressive collection of motor vehicles and other motoring memorabilia at Parkes Motor Museum. And visitors can get a glimpse into the early days of Parkes at the Henry Parkes Museum & Antique Machinery Collection.

Parkes was a town that was created by the gold mining boom in the 1860s. Visit the site of one of Parkes’ first gold mines at Bushman’s Hill. Walking tracks to the top pass interesting historical relics of the 100-year-old site. Parkes’ mining history is further on display at the historic Peak Hill Mine, an open-cut gold mine that offers an insight into mining techniques used historically and today.

Indigenous culture at Wiradjuri Amphitheatre © Five Hours West

The junior jet set can explore the history of the sky at the Parkes Aviation Museum, housed in a former RAAF hangar from Parkes Airport’s life as a WWII air force base. While these craft may not be capable of reaching the Moon, aviation exhibits on display include a Bell AH-1 HueyCobra, de Havilland DHC-4 Caribou and Convair 580.

Take a trip way back in time at the Wiradjuri Amphitheatre, where families can learn about the local Indigenous culture of the Wiradjuri people, who have lived in these lands for more than 40,000 years. Or if you want to set your time machine back even further, then the Big Fish Fossil Hut at the Peak Hill Caravan Park boasts a collection of ancient wildlife specimens dating back 700 million years, with cabinets packed with trilobites, ammonites, sea stars, arinoids and dinosaurs, including the enormous rib of a sauropod dinosaur and the shining star of this collection, Xiphactinus, the largest fossil fish on display in Australia.

Getting there

Parkes is 365 kilometres by car from Sydney and just an hour’s drive from Orange. Regular train and bus schedules services operate all year and Rex Airlines flies daily to Parkes Airport.

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