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Tea Leaves

Time to listen to Australia's Indigenous voices

After 234 years, original inhabitants deserve proper hearing

Uluru, the massive sandstone monolith also known as Ayers Rock, is one of Australia's most important Indigenous sites. (Getty Images)

Listening to stories told around a campfire under the stars in Outback Australia is one of life’s great experiences. But listening -- really deep listening -- to these stories from the past requires discipline. I learned that awkwardly many years ago with a group of Japanese and American athletes in Central Australia on an adventure training exercise.

We were in Kings Canyon, a spectacular area of soaring cliffs and palm-filled gorges. After an adrenaline-charged day of physical activity, our hosts had arranged for a traditional Aboriginal custodian of the land to talk to us about how the First Nations people viewed the cosmos. But as a cross-cultural communications exercise, we turned it into a disaster without even realizing it; we were too noisy and too self-centered to listen properly to what the old man was trying to tell us in a quiet, low-key way.

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