Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Sapphires


Though it’s hard to believe, right up into the early 1970s Australia did not count aboriginal people as human beings in their census. They were classified as “flora and fauna.” Animals. My, my. America has a lot to answer for in our treatment of native populations—still does—but I think we take a back seat to the Aussies.

This is an unabashed feel-good movie about a rather incredible thing that happened in the ‘60s. There was a trio of aboriginal sisters who entered a singing competition—very much to the anger of the fucking whites in the show—singing a C&W song. They were the only “talent” there who had the least bit of talent, but of course they couldn’t be allowed to win. But the drunken piano player who was part of the show recognized that they had possibilities, if only they started singing soul music. They had never heard of soul. But they go to Melbourne where they visit their fully-assimilated cousin. Why is she assimilated? Because she was kidnapped as a young girl and forced into the white system. And who kidnapped her? The government. There’s no other way to describe what happened to her. All the girls are light-skinned, and she was the lightest of the bunch. The policy of the Australian government was to kidnap aboriginal children from happy homes and force them into white homes. I forget what the perverted rationale for this was, but I do know that it was only recently that the government has admitted this was a bad thing to do. I don’t know if they have ever apologized for it. What a bunch of motherfuckers.

Anyway, the four practice, practice, and are able to land a job entertaining the troops in Viet Nam, a place none of them could have pointed to on the map a few weeks before. This was the ‘60s, remember, and the war was going hot and heavy. Even behind the lines there were constant acts of sabotage; nowhere was really safe. But they did shows a lot closer to the guns than Bob Hope ever did.

The script was by the grandson of one of these girls, who are all alive today and active in aboriginal causes. My guess is that a lot of it was fictionalized, but I don’t really care. It did my heart good to see these young women breaking away from the stifling racism of their past. I guarantee you that none of these American and Aussie troops gave a shit about their skin color. All they cared was that they were out there, singing and dancing for them, and that they could rock on!