The central New South Wales town of Parkes is on track to become Australia's transport hub.

Story By Nick Cook

With a squeal of brakes the B-double comes to a halt and for a few quiet moments the flashing red lights softly illuminate the insignia on the truck bonnet. A sharp horn blasts and a freight train emerges from the darkness, sweeping past with a clickety-clack until the final carriage slides by, carrying the steady, almost hypnotic rhythm, into the night. Then the red lights are extinguished, the boom gate lifts and the truck shudders into gear and continues its journey through the sleeping town.
This is a scene played out at countless rail crossings throughout Australia, but here the crossing has a special significance. The town is Parkes and the intersection is the exact point where the Newell Highway that links Brisbane and Melbourne, meets with the Sydney to Perth railway line. This is, quite literally, the crossroads of the nation.
For a long time now, the central New South Wales town has been working to build up Parkes’ reputation as the business centre of Australia’s freight transport industry. In June the Federal Government announced that Parkes will be a stop on the Brisbane to Melbourne inland railway route, set to be completed in 2019. It is a decision that will help bring in thousands of jobs for the population of 10,500 and millions of dollars to a town best known for its iconic radio telescope and affinity for Elvis Presley (although the town has no historical connection to the King, each January up to 5,000 tourists – many in white jumpsuits – descend on the town to celebrate his memory).
Mayor Cr Robert Wilson welcomes the State Government’s decision, “We’ve been working for 20 years to convince the government it was a piece of infrastructure that was desperately needed. There have been a lot of studies done in the past and everybody’s quite excited that it’s finally happening … it’s certainly going to have a big impact on Parkes,” he says.
Now in his twenty-second consecutive term, Mayor Wilson stands in the foyer of his council chamber, beside a crude scale-model of the Parkes transport hub as it is currently envisaged. A coating of seeds and grain have been glued to a wooden board with a neat black texta line stitched across the landscape to represent the many kilometres of existing and planned railway track. Like a father outlining the career of a distinguished son, the Mayor recounts the history of Parkes, “The town began as a gold rush, then grew around the railway. It was strengthened by the agricultural industry and now mining is giving us the stability to plan for the future. This [he gestures towards the model] is the next stage of our development. Unlike mining this will go on forever because what you’re looking at here is the next hundred years of Australian transport.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #55

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2007