Remembering the real Sapphires

Black Screen in Narrandera
 Andrea Briggs
Cedric Briggs doing Welcome to Country, with Black Screen Coordinator Andrea Briggs.

The free screening of the Indigenous Australian hit feature film The Sapphires in Narrandera (Wiradjuri Country) in mid-December 2012 was a great hit. Seats filled left, right and centre as people of all ages came to enjoy the film at the local CRC Church theatre.

This screening was a very rewarding experience for me professionally and personally. Not only is The Sapphires a story of youth, courage, love, family and soul music, it is also based on the lives of my aunties and written by my cousin Tony Briggs.

There were 500 tickets distributed via the local Aboriginal Foundation and Narrandera Library, and still people arrived on the night in hope of spare seats.

Prior to the screening we enjoyed drinks and nibbles and were entertained by guitarist and vocalist Dane Kennedy, a Nqiyampaa man who now lives in nearby Wagga Wagga.

Once all were seated I welcomed my grandfather Cedric Briggs, a Yorta Yorta man, to welcome everyone to country and introduce the film. He is brother to two of the original Sapphires, Beverly Briggs and Naomi Mayers, and cousin to the remaining two Sapphires, Lois Peeler and Laurel Robinson.

Cedric recalled fond memories of his sisters and cousins always singing at Cummeragunja mission where they grew up. He also witnessed the first-ever mass strike of Aboriginal people in Australia, when the mission residents swam the Murray River to cross into Victoria in 1939 to draw attention to the poor living conditions and the lack of basic human rights to which they were subjected.

The evening concluded with claps and cheers from all through the theatre. I’ve had a lot of wonderful feedback from the community. Many were very grateful that the film had come to their town. Others said the film had made them laugh and cry and that they had no idea about what happened in those times. Last but not least many expressed their wishes for Black Screen to return.

The Sapphires event in Narrandera was not only a highlight but a great ending to a big year for Black Screen. Other highlights for 2012 were our Eddie Mabo event at Arc Cinema in Canberra, with guest speaker Gail Mabo, to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Mabo Day, and our tour to eight Indigenous communities in the Kimberley region in Western Australia.

In 2013 Black Screen will again head to Western Australia, but this time we’ll visit the Pilbara region, to provide remote communities with free screenings of Indigenous films. Black Screen will also make new and entertaining films available for festival and events throughout the year with our busiest time being during NAIDOC week.