A Colourful History

From gold to Sir Henry Parkes, great progress was forged.

The Parkes Region has a proud and colourful history linked with gold mining, agriculture and transport, all of which are still the strongest industry sectors of our economy today.

The Parkes area remained relatively unsettled until 1862 when the discovery of gold led to a hastily erected ‘canvas’ town known as “Currajong” which accommodated thousands of hopeful gold seekers.  A further discovery of gold in 1871 at the nearby Bushman’s Gold Mine helped the district to become one of the richest gold producing areas in the colony.

In 1873, the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Henry Parkes, showed his interest in the district by visiting the diggings.

On December 1, 1873 the name of the settlement was changed from Bushmans to Parkes in honour of the great statesman.  Sir Henry Parkes visited Parkes in 1887 and gave the town the Fontana Bust, which is displayed at Parkes Shire Council.  In that same year Parkes changed the name of its main street to ‘Clarinda’ - lady Parkes’ Christian name.

As mining diminished in importance, the plough, the combine and the harvester became the new symbols of progress.

Parkes Shire contains some of the richest and most productive agricultural and grazing land in New South Wales.  Wheat, barley, canola, oats, oilseeds and winter legumes are grown annually.  Fields of canola can be seen flowering in magnificent blankets of yellow during late August/ September.  Peak Hill was in fact the site of Australia's first public wheat silo in 1918.  Sheep grazing lands are predominant in Parkes Shire, producing significant volumes for both the wool and meat markets.

Parkes Shire has six key economic strengths: mineral resources, agriculture, retail activity, government services, tourism and transport.  Parkes is developing as an important inland hub of Australia's transport network.  Parkes Shire's mineral resources sustain ongoing mining activity, including Northparkes Mines.  Parkes itself continues to attract new businesses, with major retail developments occurring in recent years.

Sir Henry Parkes

Sir Henry Parkes, as he became in 1877, enjoyed a close relationship with the citizens of Parkes who named their town after him in honour of his achievements. He visited Parkes three times and his bond with the town was demonstrated by the gifts he gave including the Marble Fontana Bust, which is on display at Parkes Shire Council, and a book of his speeches.


Sir Henry Parkes

Henry Parkes was born on 27 May 1815 in Coventry, England, now a sister city with Parkes. He was born and raised at Moat Cottage, a replica of which has been constructed adjacent to this building.

Henry Parkes reached Sydney in 1839 a penniless English immigrant bringing with him his first wife Clarinda and their newborn daughter. He was an ivory turner, farm labourer, journalist, newspaper proprietor and a failed businessman who went bankrupt several times. But he was also a man driven to self-betterment. A politician extraordinaire, he rose to become Premier of New South Wales five times.

The town of Parkes was originally called Bushman’s however the citizens petitioned Sir Henry Parkes while he was still alive to have the town named after him. The NSW Parliament officially changed Bushman’s to Parkes in 1873.

Henry Parkes was the driving force for Federation, the joining of the colonies to form a nation, and on 24 October 1889, in a speech in his seat of Tenterfield, Parkes issued his clarion call, “The great question… is whether the time has now arisen for the creation of this Australian continent of an Australian Government and an Australian Parliament. I believe the time has come.”

More than ten years passed before his vision was fulfilled. Henry Parkes died in 1896. It was four years before Federation came.  He is most notably recognised today as the 'Father of Federation'.

In 2008 a statue of Sir Henry Parkes was unveiled at the corner of Clarinda and Dalton Streets, Parkes. The statue was sculpted by artist Terrance Plowright to mark the town’s 125th anniversary of local government.

The great statesman continues to be honoured in Parkes today, with the naming of ‘Henry Parkes Way’ and celebrations to mark his 200th Birthday in 2015.

To learn more about Sir Henry Parkes visit the Henry Parkes Museum collection at the Henry Parkes Centre.