So, as I was whiling away the hours at work yesterday, I skyped my father and we were chatting about my work on the family tree and the articles announcing his grandfather’s death in the Northern Territory. My father then asked if I could search for his grandfather’s will, as my uncle was curious to learn why nothing was passed on to his children.
Immediately, I set about leaving queries on various ancestry websites about how to locate a will or probate matter in the Northern Territory. In the interim, I took it upon myself to purchase a copy of the death certificate in the hope that might provide some clues. Having found the form required to order said certificate, I was perplexed to find I had to prove my identity to purchase a historical record and that the proof had to be certified by the appropriate Australian officer – a bit difficult given I live in the UK. So, I skyped the records office and spoke to a lovely lady who informed me there were other options and then offered to search for the relevant record just in case it wasn’t there and I was wasting my time. As I had the exact date and name, the record was quickly found.
The amazingly helpful person, working for the Northern Territory government, spoke to me for some time about the certificate and the information contained therein; very helpful information; and I was also informed that they happily accepted applications via facsimile. Not only that, the lady in question also explained to me which cemetery was in use at the time and provided me with the telephone number for the current trustees, advising me that they did searches over the telephone by name. How wonderful is that?
So, after finishing my conversation with the most helpful government employee I’ve ever encountered on official business, I then proceeded to telephone the office of the trustees of the Gardens Road Cemetery and found myself chatting to an extremely helpful auditor.* Currently the cemetery is undergoing an audit, but the person conducting this audit also hopes to catalogue all the graves, photograph them and make this information available online for family researchers like me. Once again, the record of my great-grandfather’s burial was quickly found and an apology was given because, as yet, this industrious soul to whom I was speaking had not photographed the part of the cemetery where he lay – yet. A promise was given to photograph said plot next week and to email the photograph to me. How much I owe to the kindness of strangers.
At this point, I was feeling kind of smug (proud, really) to encounter so many Australians providing service “above and beyond” for those of us remote from that country. I was on a such a high.
I went back to the rest of my tree research and tried to find an online form which would allow me to purchase a marriage certificate from the Queensland Registrar’s office. And, my mood started to turn. I located a form and then clicked on yet another link to find a (read: one of many) fees schedule which I found confusing because I wanted a full (standard) certificate – it didn’t have to be certified – and I wanted it posted overseas. The information on the fees schedule page distinguished between a standard certificate and a certified copy, the difference in price being AUD$10.00; however the actual application form only had a place where you could tick to apply for certified copy, nowhere could I see a place for a standard certificate. Then, I got to the payment section of the form and realised I had to determine how much extra cost was involved to have the certificate posted overseas; I located this information on a completely different page.
So I filled out the form and not being able to locate where on the website I could pay for the application, submit it or even a fax number to send it, I sent it via email along with my query on the price given I wanted a standard copy, but had to check the box for certified. 45 minutes later an email arrived stating, rather curtly, that the Queensland BDM Registrar did not accept applications via email. Well, great! How about answering my query? Nope? Great PR there folks.
So, I emailed the form to my sister, who will print the form and post it to them from Australia (saving on postage costs). What’s the difference? Really? They get my money either way. And, isn’t it cheaper for them to deal with it via email rather than by post? If I am completely honest, I don’t want a paper copy. I’m happy with a .jpeg or .pdf copy as it happens, because that’s all I do with paper copies of BDM certificates: I scan them into my computer and upload them to the family tree. Actual paper copies end up behind a particular shelf of books at home (completely hidden from view and forgotten).
I have only ever dealt with three of the states in Australia when searching for BMD records: New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. NSW allow you to accomplish an awful lot online and make it easy to purchase what you need, quickly, efficiently and securely. I’ve never had to deal with a real person from the New South Wales government with regard to a query, but I’ve never needed to; the online presence runs very smoothly. The Northern Territory may not have much online, but they make up for it on the personal touch. Queensland – nothing but hassle. Folks, this wasn’t my first run-in with the government departments of Queensland and its insistence on avoiding the 21st century. My drivers licence (for which I have to physically return to Oz to renew), my passport, and other official documents are all held by the Queensland government, unfortunately.
Isn’t it strange though how a border between two states can make such a difference? The same government department from two adjacent states and the level of service, friendliness, helpfulness would indicate they are continents apart.
To the government of Queensland: “Wake up! It’s the 21st century; you can save time and money by giving people access to information online and make still turn a profit. You might also want to check your manners.”
I say: “Well done to the wonderful people of the Northern Territory“. I wonder, are you known as The Friendly State? You should be.
* All the people I spoke to in the Northern Territory – the BDM Registrar’s Office, the auditor, and the staff at the Supreme Court – were tickled to learn that I was telephoning them using Skype, from a computer physically in the UK via an internet connection based in Texas. The wonders of technology.