The family and friends of the late Lewis 'Buddy' Kelly gathered in Armidale Cemetery on Sunday to pay their respects and conduct a smoking ceremony, before the body is exhumed as part of the family's search for answers surrounding the teenager's death 37 years ago.
Lewis 'Buddy' Kelly was found dead on train tracks in South Kempsey on New Year's Day in 1983 - he was just 16 years old. Despite initial investigations concluding the apprentice glazier was responsible for his own death, his family maintains he was murdered.
When Buddy's case was reopened in 2018 Greens Aboriginal Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said the investigation following Buddy's death was inadequate. Mr Shoebridge spoke at the service in Armidale.
"People ask me why are we here 37 years later still demanding that there be justice for Buddy," he said.
"Why won't the family just move on? And I say to them: imagine that's your brother or your cousin, you just don't give up on your family. And when I look at your family today - the size of it and the strength of it - and while I know the next few days are going to be very unsettling when Buddy's grave is opened, I also see the strength you get from each other."
Following the service, the family hosted a barbecue at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place then held a media conference. All Buddy's seven surviving siblings joined Mr Shoebridge to explain what the exhumation meant to them and their fight for justice.
"What we saw today was an extremely powerful cultural ceremony that saw a family coming together from not just across the State but from across the country," Mr Shoebridge said.
"It's been 37 years since Buddy's life was taken and in that time we've seen a family grow stronger, and we've seen a demand for justice grow louder, but we've also seen a failure, up until now, by police and the authorities to step up and deliver justice for Buddy.
"We know that what happened 37 years ago was an example of racist policing and we know that if that was a young white boy in Sydney, we would not have the family here today searching for answers. But the strength of the family means we are here, and this was an important step in the journey."
Mr Shoebridge said nobody knows if Buddy's body is going to provide critical answers because there was never a post mortem done at the time of his death.
"But when I spoke to a very experienced homicide investigator, it was his view that unless we do this, and the proper forensic examination is done, then we won't have answers, so it's going to be a tough time for the family in the next few days."
Buddy's sister Margaret Kelly-Taukeiaho said there were four generations of family at the memorial service.
"It has affected the whole family unit, so it is intergenerational trauma," she said.
It is this trauma that has given the family the determination to carry on, and they say they will not stop until the truth is told, and those responsible are held to account. Since 1983 they have collectively spoken to dozens of witnesses who were at a party Buddy attended before he died.
Mr Shoebridge said the stories he had heard of Buddy were of a protector.
"He was a young man who stood up for those who couldn't stand up for themselves," he said.
The family believe these virtues were the reason he died and the forensic examination will help prove this.
"Our main aim is to prove that the train didn't kill him," said Monica Kelly.
"We believe Buddy was deceased before the train hit him."
the truth is going to be found out one way or anotherDavid Shoebridge MLC
Mr Shoebridge said an exhumation warrant is only granted if there are strong grounds to do so.
"Port Macquarie detectives will investigate it, but the State Homicide Squad is overseeing the case," he said. "It was important to the family that there was an impartial oversight. The family's legal representative is Mark Tedeschi AM QC, and he has been extremely helpful and wrote a powerful representation to the coroner."
Monica Kelly said the family was not going to give up.
"Technology today is a whole different ball game, so we hope something will come out of this exhumation, but if not, we will just keep moving forward fighting for justice."
The Kelly family also feels that people are more willing to talk now than they were back in 1983.
"Everyone one of us has spoken to community members, and they have told us a lot of stuff," Ms Kelly said.
"From where it was in '83 with three or four statements, we've made big progress.
"We have got out as a family and found out there were hundreds of people were there that night - but they were never interviewed because it was swept under the carpet. This should have been dealt with years ago - there are policies and procedures that everyone should abide by."
Buddy's brother Dennis said people need to be held accountable.
"Whether that is the police or the hospital staff - at the end of the day all we want is justice and we want people to be behind bars -it is never too late to go to jail," he said.
I think a lot of people out there are going to be nervousDennis Kelly
"We will keep going even if it takes 10 years again. But this is a big step in the right direction, and I think a lot of people out there are going to be nervous and if they want to point the finger then so be it.
"Our family was never the same after it happened. There were a lot of people that came into our homes since that fateful night who had information and withheld it from us."
Mr Shoebridge said the fact that the coroner and the police have now agreed to exhume the body is a message to the people in the community who have evidence and have answers.
"They should come forward because the truth is going to be found out one way or another," he said.
"The message is come out and bring the truth forward to the police and family now because this is not going away."
Dennis Kelly said there were a lot of people in the community that know something - including the entire Kelly family.
"In reality each one of us here - we know exactly what happened and we know who it was."