Death and Sorry Business

First Australians have a unique and complex process to overcome grief that ensures as communities we can move past death and commemorate those we have lost with consideration and celebration. The base of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies is the concept of community rather than individual. This means that an experience of loss impacts on and changes whole communities as much as individuals within them.

Out on community when someone passes away, the whole community comes together to share that sorrow. Through a process called Sorry Business (a period of cultural practices following the death of a community member), communities and individuals are able to properly mourn the loss of a loved one.

Widespread ceremonies of Sorry Business are held around the bereavement and funerals for a deceased person. However, on some occasions, Sorry Business may also be conducted to mark the experience of grief or loss around other circumstances. An example of this would be mourning the loss of land or land degradation, such as when a Native Title application is abandoned and connection to country goes unrecognised. Some communities feel the loss of cultural connection or land as painfully as they would the loss of a member of the community, reflecting the integral connection communities have with the land.


Funerals are held after an extended period of ceremony which can last a few days, weeks, or even months. A person's obligations to participate in these ceremonies (or Sorry Business) is determined by the status of the deceased person and an individual's kinship relation with them (for more information on kinship).

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, kinship ensures no one goes it alone. Kinship is a complex system that determines how everyone relates to each other, as well as their roles, responsibilities and obligations regarding one another, ceremony and land. For many First Australians, the kinship system is the foundation for determining family obligations, ceremonial roles, the relationship to the environment and even who you can and cannot marry. This complex social structure ensures connectedness within the community and thus whenever an Individual passes away, everyone will mourn their death. It is very important to recognise that for many communities, the expectation is that funerals will involve the whole community.

In some communities, a period of Sorry Business prohibits other events, meetings or consultations from happening. This must be respected by all people working with Land Councils, Aboriginal organisations and communities.

The protocols of bereavement can include, but are not limited to the following:

Not using the name of a person who has passed away;

Not broadcasting the voice of a person who has passed away;

Family members remaining in their houses for a period of time when a death in the family has occurred;

Restriction on participating in non-bereavement related activities or events

Prohibition to depict the image of the deceased person.

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