The man who put camel meat into pies and had the vision and determination to build what has become another of the iconic attractions at Birdsville is being remembered for his dedication to living and working in the outback.
Robert ‘Dusty’ Miller, 70, passed away on December 13 and his funeral was held in Kapunda, South Australia, on December 19.
Speaking from Kapunda, Diamantina Shire mayor, Geoff Morton, paid tribute to the legacy he left behind.
“Not many of us can say we’ve built something that’s become iconic in our own lifetime but he did,” he said. “I’ve hosted a lot of dignitaries – Prime Ministers and Governor Generals – over the years and they all asked to go to the bakery and have a camel pie.”
Dusty, who’d never baked a loaf of bread before opening the doors to the Simpson Desert community’s first bakery in 2004, was described on the Birdsville Bakery Facebook page last week as “forever being remembered for his direct speak, big heart and for the interesting character that he was”.
Cr Morton agreed, saying the pair had become good friends.
“He did something at an age when everyone else is trying to slow down. He put all his energy into making it work and he did.
“What he did meant a lot to Birdsville: he encouraged people to stay the extra night. It was easy to go there and have a yarn, and it was a place that mum, dad and all the kids could go to.”
As far as the beginnings of the famous camel pies go, Cr Morton said they probably came about because Dusty gave anything and everything a go.
“It was the name more than anything – I defy anyone to tell the difference between beef and camel in a pie – that people took a liking to.”
For the bakery to become such a recognised phenomenon took hours of work at times, especially in the lead-up to and during the Birdsville Races.
In September 2015 he told the North West Star he and his staff worked seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours at a time, to serve up 14,000 pies, sausage rolls and pasties on the race day weekend.
The business was for sale then – Dusty said he wanted to be a grey nomad and travel the country – but it wasn’t until March 2017 that the business changed hands for $1.2 million, selling to Townsville 4WD tour business owners, the Josselyn family, in what was the single biggest private tourism investment in Birdsville for over a decade.
In their Facebook message, the Josselyns said they hoped they could continue to build Dusty’s vision, hoping also that he and his family would always be a part of such a magnificent legacy.
The Member for Maranoa, David Littleproud, also paid tribute to Dusty, describing him as an institution that should be held up and celebrated.
“I’ve been educated in the bakery by Dusty and he wasn’t too far off the mark.
“He was famous for the camel pies obviously but I think he should also be famous for his resilience.
“He believed in what he was doing. Without that connection to country, and people like Dusty, our towns die.”
Dusty was born in South Australia and was a Vietnam veteran, serving in the Australian Navy.