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May 9, 1995

A group of five Australians were in Perry recently as part of an adult study exchange program sponsored by Rotary clubs of this district. Five Oklahomans have been in Australia this spring for a similar tour. Each of the teams visited cities and towns in an area of each other's country to learn more about their neighbors in lands across the sea.

While in Perry the group toured some of our points of interest and they asked dozens of questions at each stop. They were very obviously serious about learning how things are done in the U.S., and particularly in this part of the country. Each point on the local itinerary seemed to excite them and stimulate their curiosity. They were complimentary, as good guests should be, but it was sincerely expressed and their local hosts felt it was not just flattery.

Several things about Perry interested them. Two of the team members were from small towns in Australia, but even those from the larger urban areas were impressed with our full-service YMCA, our wonderful Carnegie library with its outstanding children's area, the hospital with its technological facilities and medical services in general, the Chamber of Commerce office in the architecturally interesting Foucart building, a daily newspaper in a town this size, the courthouse building and those who serve in public office there, the variety of agricultural programs, the Ditch Witch factory and its world-wide product distribution (Australia is a major purchaser of Ditch Witch equipment), our local schools, and just any number of other things which all of us probably take for granted.

Unfortunately their itinerary provided for a stop of only about a day and a half here, so of course we could not begin to show them all of the extraordinary things about Perry. As I say, they were appropriately appreciative of what we have, but they were astonished to learn how few Americans take the trouble to vote on election day.

In their country, which has the same love of freedom and democracy that we boast about in the U.S., the voter turnout is just short of 100 percent. Excused absences account for the less than total participation. Fines are imposed for those who fail to exercise their right to vote without a legitimate excuse. Our visitors remarked on this without sounding critical, but you could sense their incredulity when we told them only about one-third of registered Perry voters bothered to cast a ballot in our spring election.

What makes that low figure even more appalling is the fact that many of our people who are qualified to vote do not even register. That was just too embarrassing to mention to the Aussie visitors.

The group arrived here about the time of the bomb explosion in Oklahoma City and they came to Perry only a few days after Timothy McVeigh was identified here as a prime suspect in that crime. One of the Australian visitors is a constable in a small Australian town and he was particularly interested in all aspects of that tragic event. He noted that Australia has a single police force which serves the entire country, its metropolitan cities, small villages and also patrols its highways. He was interested in the fact that we have a separate Federal Bureau of Investigation, Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, sheriffs officers in each county, and a local police force in each community. As a member of the Australian constabulary, he is trained and qualified to serve at any level -- local, provincial or federal. In his present assignment he is a one-man police force for a very small community, but next week he could be assigned to Melbourne or Sydney along with hundreds of other equally well trained officers.

The five team members who were in Perry were a warm, friendly group, and they found people in this part of the U.S. to be the same. One even remarked that he hardly felt he was away from home because the people here were just like folks in Australia. They urged Perryans to think seriously about a trip "down under" to explore the wonders of their country. After our brief encounter with this particular group, it seems like an invitation well worth considering. We were sorry to see them leave.