The inner meaning of Elvis in Australia

The Australian letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australian office. Register to receive it by email. I first learned to lo...


The Australian letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australian office. Register to receive it by email.

I first learned to love Elvis Presley when I was in my early twenties visiting Graceland on a cross-country trip with a few friends. I remember watching videos of his concerts in a dark theater there and marveling at his energy and talent. Then there was Baghdad Elvis.

When I covered the war in Iraq in 2007, a photographer we worked with had mastered a near-perfect rendition of “Suspicious Minds.” At one point, in our heavily fortified compound on the Tiger, he showed up wearing a tailored white jumpsuit, circa 1973, dragging us all into a night of loud karaoke – loud enough to drown out the sound of bullets at the far.

And then there was Parkes, the small rural town in New South Wales, home to the biggest annual Elvis Festival in the Southern Hemisphere (and possibly the world). I had been hearing about it since I arrived in Australia but this year I decided to go and bring my 11 year old daughter with me.

I was looking for more than just a show, even though there were a lot of them. I was looking from the heart. Why are 25,000 people coming out to celebrate the death of an American rocker in the middle of a continent where Elvis has never performed?

I thought maybe there was something to be said for the America he seemed to represent, a country that had been more optimistic, carefree, expansive and excessive than the more serious and angry United States than we have seen in recent years. Maybe the nostalgia for Elvis was also the nostalgia for America?

But what I found – as you can see in my articlewith great photos of Abigail Varney – was simpler and more local, if not less profound. America really wasn’t the issue. Small Towns Australia and Participatory Australia ‘try it’ hosted the event.

According to Elvis tribute artists – and the former Elvis tour manager, who made the trip from his home in the US – Australians of all social classes, political persuasions and ages were more likely to dress up, sing, parade or play rugby. , while dressing up as Elvis, while encouraging each other to get involved and have fun.

The Australian festival was unique because the lines between serious and silly were blurred. While Americans listened to and admired Elvis, Australians made him their own.

I’ve written extensively about this Australian penchant for drawing people into an activity – it’s a big part of the idea-driven memoir I’ve published here, titled “In the tear”, which will be released in the United States in the coming months with a different title. But in Parkes there was an extra layer of verve that only the combination of Elvis and small town Australia could possibly provide. My daughter loved it. Me too.

Here are our stories of the week.




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Newsrust - US Top News: The inner meaning of Elvis in Australia
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