This week’s release, “The Sapphires,” tells the story of a 60’s girl group from Australia that toured Viet Nam to perform for American military. It is based on a play written by Tony Briggs, the son of one of the singers, portrayed as a toddler in the movie. Over the credits, viewers get to see the real Sapphires and find out what happened to them.
The Sapphires feature film is inspired by a true story about four extraordinary Aboriginal women, sisters Laurel Robinson, Lois Peeler and their cousins Beverley Briggs and Naomi Mayers. Yorta Yorta women born along the Murray River, they were part of an extended family of brothers and sisters who regularly sang together during the 1960’s and 70’s. Sisters Laurel and Lois toured Vietnam in the late 1960’s singing to the American troops - an extraordinary achievement for two young Aboriginal women, considering that Aboriginal people had just received the right to vote. All four women still live in Australia. Naomi Mayers has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Medical Service for 30 years. Beverly and Laurel have tirelessly worked by her side striving to improve the health of the Aboriginal community. Naomi received an Order of Australia Medal in 1984. Lois Peeler became Australia’s first Aboriginal model and is now the Executive Director of Worawa Aboriginal College, a secondary education facility for young Aboriginal Women, founded by one of her seven sisters the late Hyllus Maris. Lois is also the former head of Aboriginal Tourism Australia.
Sadly, there are no films of their performances in the 60’s. In real life, only two of them went to Viet Nam. The other two were opposed to the war and did not want to go. And it was their aunt, not their cousin, who was part of the “stolen generation.” They have a great interview with Australia Geographic about their lives as singers and what happened afterward, and what comes next, and what they love most about having their story told in a movie:
That someone took a chance on us. That someone took the time to tell our stories. That my son, Tony, has received so many awards for telling our stories. We’re so proud of him. The next story Tony wants to write is about our grandfather on our mother’s side. I’ve started writing my life story. But I’ve only done one page.