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Local News

September 4, 2013

Positive message

Australian official visits Duncan

DUNCAN — A leading Australian diplomat brought a message of goodwill to Duncan on Tuesday, saying the bonds between his country and the United States are strong despite the tragic, drive-by shooting death of Christopher Lane.

“I don’t think it has divided the countries, I think it’s just a tragedy,” said Mauro Kolobaric, minister counselor and consul general of the Australian Embassy in Washington.

“It could have been an American, it could have been a Canadian, it could have been any other nationality running along that strip. It just happened to be an Australian. I don’t think it reflects on the relationship we have.”

Kolobaric was given a “windshield” tour of Duncan and attended an early-evening reception at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center as part of his visit, which he arranged at the invitation of Duncan Rotary Club member Butch Whitten.

He planned to talk to students at Duncan High School Wednesday morning and then speak to the Rotary Club at noon before leaving the city.

On Tuesday, he also met privately with Randy and Cindy Harper, the parents of Sarah Harper, Lane’s girlfriend.

Lane, 22, was in Duncan visiting them on Aug. 16 when he was fatally shot while jogging along Country Club Road. Three teenagers from Duncan are charged in his death.

“For the families, I guess, it will never be over,”  said Kolobaric, who planned to talk with Sarah on Wednesday.

“This is not a time to look at any type of blame, this is just the time for the family to reflect that they have lost a son and Sarah has lost a boyfriend and a relationship that was obviously flourishing.”

Tim Fischer, a former deputy prime minister of Australia, expressed anger after the shooting, saying the gun culture in the U.S. was “corrupting the world.” He also said Australians “should think twice and take into account the risk of going to the U.S.A.”

Kolobaric spoke about gun-control measures that were put in place in Australia after a gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle there killed 35 people in 1996. Some guns in Australia are now illegal to own and more than 700,000 guns were handed in and destroyed.

Kolobaric said there has not been a mass shooting - defined as five or more people killed - since then.

But he said it was not his intention - nor his place - to debate gun laws in the United States. The cultures of the two countries are different in some respects, he said, and Fischer was speaking as a private citizen.

He noted that national elections will be held in Australia this weekend and said voting is compulsory in his country. Australians can be fined if they don’t vote, and hundreds who are visiting the U.S. plan to cast ballots at the embassy in Washington, he said.

But he said the ties between the U.S. and Australia are many, and he promotes them during his travels in this country, including his visit to Duncan.

The nations share so much in their work ethic and freedoms they cherish, and Australia has some of the same economic drivers that dominate Duncan and Oklahoma, including the energy sector and agriculture.  

“The links are very, very real,” Kolobaric said.

He said Duncan has a wonderful sense of community spirit and hospitality, and the people were “lovely.”

“The people are super, super friendly and their sense of humor is something I really like,” he said. “Interestingly, sometimes the sense of humor in Australia is a bit dry and is sometimes missing in D.C. Here it seems to hit the right mark.”

He followed that statement with a hearty laugh.

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