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Compassionate leave

Information about Aboriginal people getting leave to attend a hospital or a funeral when extended kin are ill or have died.

Extended families

Extended kinship relationships are much stronger in Aboriginal communities than in many other groups in Australia. It is also important for Aboriginal people to understand where other people sit in relation to themselves. In particular the relationships with aunts, uncles and cousins is very different. For example, the sisters of an aboriginal person's mother are called 'mothers' rather than aunts, and the brothers of their fathers are referred to as 'fathers'. Children from these extended families are also referred to as brothers and sisters, rather than cousins.

Cousins, uncles and aunts are the relatives from the sisters of fathers and the brothers of mothers. These relationships are generally not as close. Kin that are further extended such as second cousins may also be referred to as cousins if they are of the same generation.

Also 'uncle' and 'aunt' are often used as a way of showing respect to an elderly person.

Funeral applications

This extended kinship organisation has meant particular difficulties for Aboriginal people who are in prison if they have a death in the family or a family member who is severely ill.

Aboriginal Wellbeing Officers AWO (or Aboriginal Liaison Officers (ALOs) in the private prison system) will assist Aboriginal people under these circumstances. According to prison rules only 3 people are allowed to get leave to attend any one funeral. The AWOs will speak with the prisoners and also with the families of the deceased to find out who the closest relatives are to the deceased person and who the family would most like to attend.

They will help the prisoners to apply for leave to attend.

If an Aboriginal person has a relative who is very sick, they can speak with their AWO or ALO. The welfare or liaison officers will help them to apply for leave under these circumstances.

More information


Corrections Victoria

Many thanks to Sam Nolan, Program Officer, Aboriginal Programs Unit, Corrections Victoria, for assistance drafting this page.