1. Gawk at the Dish
Parkes has had The Dish — aka the Parkes Radio Telescope or the Parkes Observatory — for very nearly 60 years and it’s certainly true that it played a crucial role in covering the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969. But it really didn’t become iconic until a film called The Dish was produced in 2000 with Parkes’s role in that coverage as main focus. The movie may have been largely fictional but The Dish was front and centre from that moment on. It was a well made, huge hit, and with stars such as Sam Neill and Tom Long really couldn’t go wrong. I’m told by my cab driver that you certainly can’t play cricket in it, but that they certainly did override the safety mechanism that would have prevented it fulfilling its Apollo 11 coverage because of high winds. It’s about 20 miles from Parkes but well worth the drive to see a piece of history and perhaps have a bite to eat in the café that overlooks it. Visit www.parkes.atnf.csiro.au
2. Visit the Parkes Centre
This is on the edge of the city and doubles as a tourist information centre. It commemorates Sir Henry Parkes, long-standing Premier of NSW and widely recognised as ‘The Father’ of Australian Federation. It’s home to a general historical museum, an excellent motoring museum, a collection of antique machinery and the King’s Castle Elvis exhibition. Visit www.visitparkes.com.au
3. Admire the Henry Parkes statue
Parkes was founded in 1853 as the settlement of Currajong, but became known as Bushman’s after a local mine. Sir Henry Parkes visited the area in 1873 and the locals were obviously mightily impressed by the man’s ideas and eloquence. A few months later they named their town after him. A huge statue has him proclaiming in the main street. Coincidentally, the new statue of Elvis Presley in Cooke Park is by the same sculptor, Terrence Plowright. Visit www.visitparkes.com.au
4. Dine on some very good seafood
There’s an adage that I’ve heard many times — that you shouldn’t eat seafood in a place where you can’t hear the ocean. Well, Parkes certainly breaks the rule. I had prawns and squid in three places recently and the chefs all had some first-class ingredients and did a terrific job — Bella’s (www.bellascafe.com.au), Bent Food and Wine (www.bentfoodandwine.com.au) and the Station Restaurant Café (see www.southerncrossmotelgroup.com.au).
All had their own versions of encrusted prawns and they were all delicious. I’m not going to try to pick the best, so I’ll plump for Bella’s Signature Prawns, just because they sere first cab of the rank, with chilli-and-lime crust, aioli and lemon — scrummy as. And the groovy Matt and staff really get into the whole Elvis thing. Great fun. Bent Food and Wine also has some spot-on lemon-and-pepper squid as well as crisp prawns crumbed with macadamia and served with prosciutto. And talking of dining, I can also vouch for the steaks at the Railway Hotel (www.therailwayhotelparkes.com.au).
5. Drive up Memorial Hill
Memorial Hill, at the top of Bushman Street, features splendid views of the district and a distinctive 33-metre-high Shrine of Remembrance. Spend some time strolling the Remembrance Walk and contemplating the Theatres-of-War Gardens. Visit www.visitparkes.com.au
6. And do try to scoot along to Parkes at least once for the Elvis Festival
It really is good fun, even if you’re only a marginal Presley fan. The five-day festival is held the second week of January to coincide with the King’s birthday. The town really has embraced the occasion, but do make sure you have accommodation lined up. There are far more visitors in Parkes then than there are tourist beds so be prepared.