North Sydney Municipality is fortunate to have an almost complete set of Rate and Valuation books that have survived to the present day. The collection starts in 1869 with the Rate Books of Victoria, St Leonards and East St Leonards. These were the three councils that amalgamated in 1890 to form the Municipality of North Sydney. The collection continues until 1930 when cards replaced books to record North Sydney Council rates. Stanton Library has these cards scanned on microfilm up until 1971.
The Rate Books are mostly used these days by people researching the history of their homes but they can also be useful in researching the people who lived in them. They will have the owner’s name and the occupant if the property was being rented, but not always the occupant. In some years, particularly later ones, only owners were listed although if the owner’s address was listed this indicated if they were living in the property.
If your ancestor was head of a household and living in North Sydney, the Rate books will tell you where they were living, how long they were living there and sometimes their occupation. Very often you can work out when they died when ownership changed. For example, ‘John Smith’ changes to the ‘Estate of John Smith’. The listed executors and executrixes are often other family members. Occasionally if your ancestor moved, and still owned the property, it would give the address they moved to.
You can get similar info from the Sands directory but the problem with Sands is that it can be very inaccurate. Rate books are a much more reliable source of information. Also Sands is a record of occupancy not of ownership. You will occasionally get misspellings in Rate Books but the typos you find in Sands are more common.
The Electoral Roll is more accurate than Sands and is often better than Rate books in that it lists every person of voting age in a household but there are many years they don’t cover. Australian Federal Electoral Rolls start in 1903 and only were made every 3 years or so.
As with North Sydney most Rate Books in Australia are not viewable online. You must visit the local Municipal Council that has them for viewing. There are however a few exceptions to this such as the City of Sydney City Assessment Books 1845 to 1949 that are freely viewable online. They cover the City of Sydney and surrounding suburbs.
The Assessment Books of the (now defunct) Municipality of Newtown 1863 to 1892 are also available online.
Also the City of Perth’s Rate Books have been scanned and made available on Ancestry.com.au as ‘Perth, Western Australia, Australia, Rate Books, 1880-1946’
If there are others online, my searches didn’t find them. I think eventually, as scanning and memory costs decrease, every council will put their rate books online if only so that residents can research the history of their homes themselves.