Parkes was originally founded in 1853 as the settlement Currajong, named for the abundance of kurrajong trees in the local area by the settlers, but was then known as Bushman's (from the local mine named Bushman's Lead).
In August 1873, Henry Parkes (later Sir Henry) visited the area and in December 1873 the town was officially renamed Parkes in his honour . (Sir Henry Parkes is recognised in Australia as having played an instrumental role in Australia becoming a unified and federated country.) In March 1885, Parkes was proclaimed a town.
Bushman's Lead Post Office opened on 1 August 1872 and was renamed Parkes in 1873. The railway from Molong to Parkes to Forbes, was officially opened on 18 December 1893.
Parkes attracted significant attention during the gold rush of the 1870s onwards, and even to this day modern mining companies still have sites in the region.
In 1939, Parkes became a sister city with Coventry in the United Kingdom. This was in honour of the fact Sir Henry Parkes was born in Coventry.