When in India

Odette Houghton had been living abroad in India for over a year when she disappeared around August 1991. In April 1990 she had attended her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary celebrations in Phuket, Thailand. Little did her parents know this would be the last time that they saw their daughter.

Regular contact with Odette ceased in August 1991 and the Houghton family have been searching for answers ever since.

Odette was an experienced traveller who developed a keen sense of adventure from a young age. She spent her younger years living in the UK where her father, Edward hails from and holidayed at her mother’s home country, Malta, every couple of years.

When the family migrated to Australia in 1974 they quickly settled into life in the Nation’s Capital, Canberra and Odette continued a happy and fun filled childhood with her three brothers by her side. “Odette was never in strife as a kid, unlike her brothers” says Edward, describing a young Odette as a happy, outgoing and social girl.

Odette was an extremely giving and generous person. Edward remembered fondly that she, “always wanted to do something for someone else”. It was this well-known characteristic that her family and many friends loved about the young “hippy”.

Through her adventures overseas she explored many countries and made lots of friends along the way. One such memory came from her time in Japan as Edward explained; “Odette loved street theatre and would perform as a mime in the streets of Japan to make enough money to get by. She also had the idea of getting strawberries and covering them in chocolate to sell for $5 each. She was an entrepreneur in many ways. Always making something to make money…”

It was this creative side that is her most memorable trait as Edward reflected often on her love for beading, braids and theatrics.

Shortly before August 1991, Edward and his wife sent various items through the post to what they thought to be Odette’s home address in India. After receiving the packages back unopened, they knew something was wrong.

Following continual failed attempts to contact Odette, Edward and his wife considered travelling to see her. They reached out to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) who advised him that travel to the specific region of India in which Odette was living was too unsafe at the time.

Following the 12 month period, Edward and his wife decided to boycott DFAT’s advice and travelled to India with the hope of returning to Australia with Odette in tow. They were met with minimal assistance and came back to Australia with no answers.

The underwhelming outcome of the Trip to India sparked interest with well-known Australian lifestyle magazine, Women’s Weekly who offered to travel with the family back to India to further investigate Odette’s whereabouts. On arrival Edward involved himself in conversations with local authorities and community members to understand the crime and corruption in the specific region Odette lived.

Although there were several allegations and some information provided to Edward, his wife and Women’s Weekly, all came home without any concrete answers or evidence as to where Odette was.

Edward retired at the young age of 50 as the case of his missing daughter began taking its toll on him. “I couldn’t cope with trying to talk to people. I just couldn’t work as my mind wouldn’t be there”.

So began Edward’s crusade to assist other families in similar situations, highlight the issue of missing Australians overseas to Parliament and his many attempts to change the Privacy Act to allow families to access valuable information from DFAT that would assist in locating their loved one abroad.

Sadly, fast-forward 27 years and the whereabouts of Odette is still unknown. Odette’s mother has since passed away, her two brothers have grown up without their sister and her father, Edward is still without his vibrant daughter.

When asked about his fondest memory of Odette, Edward sadly replied, “I can’t think of anything specific as it is all very fuzzy. It was a long time ago…”

Two of Odette’s girlfriends, who strangely share the same birthday as Odette, still to this day celebrate their missing friend’s birthday every year. This special act of remembrance shows that this young “happy, artistic and glowing” woman isn’t forgotten and her memory will continue to live on.

When travelling overseas there are several things that you can do to ensure your safety and make it easier for Australian authorities to locate you should anything unforeseen happen:

  • Ensure you register your travel and contact details with smartraveller.gov.au
  • Leave a copy of your travel plans with family and friends, including passport, tickets, destinations and contact numbers
  • When informing the bank of your overseas travel, consider giving a nominated person access to your account information. In the event that you are uncontactable bank details can provide a record of possible actions.
  • Arrange options for staying in touch with family and friends while overseas (mobile phone, prepaid or postpaid international calling card, SMS, social media, email etc.)
  • Give your family and friends an indication of how often they will hear from you, and stick to your word.
  • Be conscious of your own safety and security while travelling. Review the travel advice on the Smart Traveller website prior to your trip and subscribe to travel advice updates for the countries you are visiting to keep you informed of any changes leading up to and during your travel.

Edward’s daughter, Odette Houghton, had been living in India for approximately a year after a period of overseas travel. She was last seen by her family in April 1990 in Phuket, Thailand. In August 1991, frequent communication with Odette ceased and her family have had no contact from Odette since. Odette was 24 years old at the time of her disappearance.

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