The 21cm HI absorption-line provides an ideal probe of the gas distribution and kinematics in galaxies well beyond the local universe (z > 0.3). However, we currently lack the understanding to infer galaxy properties from absorption-line data alone. To address this, we are conducting a search for intervening HI absorption in a sample of 20 nearby, gas-rich galaxies. Using observations with the ATCA we are able to detect both absorption and emission from the target galaxies. We investigate how detection-rate varies with distance from the galaxies, and make detailed comparisons of the absorption- and emission-line features to improve our understanding of the interpretation of absorption-line data. In our pilot sample of six, we have made two tentative detections, which we now plan to follow-up with further observations. We also use VLBI observations to investigate how the properties of the background source might affect the detection rate. In this talk I will present the results from pilot sample, and more recent observations, and discuss implications for future absorption-line surveys.