How to find someone in Australia in the late 90s
November 16, 2021 8:16 PM   Subscribe

(Yes, this is for a fanfic.) What it says on the tin, y'all. How would someone go about locating a couple who had recently immigrated to Australia in roughly 1997, if all one had were their names?

Additional details: I can give the seekers a contact in-country, if it would help, and neither time nor money is any object; I just don't want to have readers old enough to remember how one does this sort of thing before the internet to be thrown too badly out of the story.

(Yes, I realise this is a ludicrously small detail, but hey, what else is AskMefi for. TIA!)
posted by Tamanna to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The white pages phone book or maybe the electoral roll on microfiche but if they were recent to the country, they might not be enrolled yet.
posted by Jubey at 8:32 PM on November 16, 2021


Response by poster: (NB: the seekers don't know the city, just that the people they're looking for are in Australia.)
posted by Tamanna at 8:38 PM on November 16, 2021


Larger post offices would have a table of phone books, but I don't remember whether what area that covered. If money was no object, you could buy a CD with reverse indexed names extracted from the White and Yellow pages for about 6 grand - 1997 would be two years before Telstra started trying to sue the company into bankruptcy. More details in this Whirlpool thread.
posted by zamboni at 9:00 PM on November 16, 2021 [1 favorite]


Assuming the only information you had about the couple was their names, this would have been quite difficult. Notoriously, this was the last era one could simply move interstate (especially to the NT), change one's name, and for all practical purposes, disappear.

If you also knew which city or country town they lived in, you would first have gone to the White Pages in which residential phone numbers, but not street addresses, were listed by surname, initial, and suburb (the Yellow Pages were for businesses). For Sydney, by the 1990s, the White Pages were two big volumes, each at least 15cm thick, and any library would have fairly up-to-date White Pages for all the capital cities, and most large towns. Since there just aren't that many big cities, and since most Australians live in one, it's pretty easy if they have an unusual surname, not so good if they're Smith or Singh or Nguyen. A free call to directory assistance at Telecom might give you the same information, or it might not.

If they had become citizens and registered to vote, and you had a good guess where they lived geographically, to a State or Federal electorate, you could find their addresses by the electoral register. In the late 1990s this would have meant visiting the AEC office or the State Library and looking up the most recent register in microfiche, then looking through electorate lists, separated by electorate, listed by surname, this time with an address but not a phone number. Electoral rolls were updated once every few years, at least once between elections.

If your couple might have been actively looking through them (an unlikely scenario), you could have paid for a classified ad in one of the state-based newspapers that ran them, which had all had seeking-lost-contact sections. That would have been an expensive and low-probability means to get in contact.

Those are the *nice* ways.

If you were a debt collector or a skip tracer in the late 1990s, which I would not like to admit to had I ever worked as one, what we did was go through billing information from the person's accounts with our company, in this case phone call records. Everyone would have ten most-called or most-answered phone numbers, which we'd systematically call and ambiguously ask if they had forwarding information—which used to work surprisingly well; especially if they'd been calling businesses, like the video shop. Another, if you knew a rough geographic location, was to have someone visit local real estate agents to ask about a former tenant, if they were renters, and try them for forwarding addresses, which lots of people did leave with their former agents.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:03 PM on November 16, 2021 [6 favorites]


directory assistance at Telecom

Mid 90s is the switch from the old Telecom name to Telstra - I think the domestic rebrand was in 1995.
posted by zamboni at 9:17 PM on November 16, 2021 [1 favorite]


Might it matter how they got there? Immigration records that may or may not be filed somewhere, airline records? If they were relocated there as refugees, perhaps NGO records?
posted by vrakatar at 9:36 PM on November 16, 2021 [1 favorite]


Best answer: I think I know which fanfic universe you are writing in.

If they're British immigrants to Australia, then probably they're living in one of the state capitals - all the British immigrants I know from that era ended up in Perth, Sydney or Melbourne. So, I think the white pages would be a good answer. Plus there are strong expat communities in those cities and I think there would have been in the 90s as British immigration to Australia has been a thing forever. Those might be a helpful feature.
posted by plonkee at 2:10 AM on November 17, 2021 [4 favorites]


A person working in a Medicare office would have access to any person who had signed up for a Medicare card which accounts for all citizens and eligible visa holders from reciprocal countries (such as Britain, Italy, Sweden, Greece, et al.). It would be a state by state search but that's only 6-8 searches and even a common name could be found within minutes if you filtered by how the recent account opening was.
posted by Thella at 2:24 AM on November 17, 2021


Response by poster: Marking this resolved. Thanks for the excellent answers, everyone!
posted by Tamanna at 4:46 AM on November 17, 2021


I would add that many city directories -- not sure if these still exist, but they definitely did in the nineties -- would list all the people at an address, their ages and occupations, and many would have a little star to indicate "New neighbour" (that is, any listing that was not there in the previous edition year earlier).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:45 AM on November 17, 2021


Are these people by any chance dentists? Then a goods-and-services directory (in the US this was usually a phone book called the Yellow Pages) for a major city might also be a useful tool.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:35 PM on November 17, 2021 [1 favorite]


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