DOUG Miller was bitten by the dinosaur bug 12 years ago.
Now the parishioner from St Anthony’s and St Luke’s, Alexandra Hills-Capalaba, spends more and more time digging, sifting and preparing fossils for all of us to enjoy.
His travels take him to the heart of dinosaur country in Winton, western Queensland, and he has just returned from a second trip to Mongolia.
When he’s not on a “dig”, Mr Miller, 62, can often be found spreading his love and enthusiasm for palaeontology with neighbourhood school children, retirees and the scores of interested people who attend his library talks.
One of his favourite stories involves his part in helping to unearth Banjo, Australia’s most complete carnivorous dinosaur fossil – the remains of a creature that roamed the continent 9.5-10 million years ago, was five metres long, stood 1.5m high at the hip and weighed 500kg.
“His arms are articulated and if he grabs you, you’ve got three very long claws sticking into you. The more you struggle, the deeper they go in,” he said.
Mr Miller became interested in dinosaurs after watching the BBC TV series Walking with Dinosaurs in the 1990s, but his personal passion for palaeontology began in the waiting room of a doctor’s surgery.
He picked up a local paper with an advertisement seeking volunteers to join a Queensland Museum dinosaur “dig” at the Mt Etna bat caves north of Rockhampton.
He rang, only to find the dig had been cancelled, but he was told if he was really interested he should call David and Judy Elliott, the founders of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History in Winton.
“So I rang them, got myself onto the following year’s dig,” he said.
It was knee-deep in the dirt of outback Queensland that Doug discovered his lifelong passion.
“Where’s this been all my life?” he asked himself.
“I couldn’t believe what fun I was having digging dinosaur fossils up. And I’ve been involved with them ever since.
“When you find a fossil you are the first person to have ever seen that fossil. You are the first person to have dug that fossil out. And we are all contributing something to Australia’s natural history.”
The Age of Dinosaurs Museum at Winton is built on the edge of a “Jump Up” or mesa, and it is here that Mr Miller said he found the tranquillity of the outback landscape that could soothe the soul.
“There are places out there where you just sit on the edge of the cliff and look out over the valleys below and you can sit there for hours and nothing would bother you – a totally quiet, reflective place.” he said.
“Everywhere you go is God’s country, well certainly it is out there, that’s for sure.”
Apart from the thrill of discovering dinosaur bones, Mr Miller volunteers as a dinosaur fossil technician.
This entails preparing fossil specimens and can include moulding, casting and painting casts for research, display and education.
“Becoming an honorary fossil technician was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Mr Miller said.
From western Queensland, his horizons widened even further when he was accepted to join an international fossil dig in Mongolia.
“Now, to do it overseas I couldn’t believe it. I always wanted to go to Mongolia – but to go to Mongolia and dig up dinosaur fossils – wow,” he said.
On his first trip in 2015, he joined an excavation party in the sandy wilderness of the Gobi Desert.
It was the first independent dig organised by the Mongolian Academy of Science in conjunction with National Geographic magazine.
Mr Miller has just returned from a second trip this year, travelling to the Mongolian “badlands” – a vast region of grass and shrubs that is almost void of trees.
“This time we found a protoceratops, a small creature called a hadrosaur and an ankylosaurus,” he said.
“Our group also found 45 fossilised birds eggs.”
Mr Miller has been invited for a third visit to Mongolia next year to spend three weeks in fossil preparation.
In the meantime he’ll continue his public talks, and particularly encouraging youngsters to try fossil hunting.
“If I’d known about dinosaurs 40 or 50 years ago I know what I would have been. I would have been a palaeontologist,” he said.
“It didn’t work out that way, but I’m just an enthusiastic amateur and volunteer.”
By Mark Bowling