IT IS their story up on screen, although not exactly as it happened - but it is inspired by their lives, their energy and their sense of adventure.
Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs, Naomi Mayers and Lois Peeler are the women behind The Sapphires, a movie about four young indigenous women who went from singing together at a country mission to performing for the troops in Vietnam.
It has already made a splash at Cannes. The four got together with family and friends for its Australian premiere on the opening night of the Melbourne International Film Festival, and now they are keen to see what the rest of the country will make of it.
Laurel Robinson's son, Tony Briggs, wrote a play inspired by stories of his mother, and other women of his family, on which the movie was based. He was fascinated by the time when Robinson and her cousins, Mayers and Briggs, made up an indigenous girl group called the Sapphires, and sang soul numbers at St Kilda's Tiki Village in the late 1960s. When the club's band asked them to go on tour to Vietnam, Robinson went, along with her sister, Lois Peeler, but the other two decided not to go. At that time, Mayers says, ''I was protesting against the war.''
The American troops they performed for, Robinson and Peeler say, knew nothing about Aboriginal Australia.
Performing at the Tiki Village, Robinson says: ''We'd sing Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We loved it so much and they loved our harmonies.''
They had full-time jobs, she says: ''Naomi was nursing, and Beverly and I were working as telephonists at the PMG.'' They performed at cabarets, universities, private parties and a big concert at Dallas Brooks Hall organised by the late Bob Maza, an actor and activist. (Maza's daughter, Rachael, played one of the Sapphires in the first stage production in 2004.)
There is a scene in the film in which three of the girls sing perfect harmonies in front of a stony-faced audience at a talent contest. It represents the kind of thing that happened to them from time to time. They were sometimes introduced as American or Tahitian, because that went across better.
''As soon as the word Aboriginal came up, no one was interested,'' Robinson says. There was an event at Puckapunyal army base that is still fresh in their minds, when slights about Aboriginal people were bandied around.
But their memories are generally exuberant. ''We used to sing in family groups,'' Mayers says. ''We were in the Harold Blair choir, singing was always a part of our lives. We sang in the church with Uncle Doug [Pastor Doug Nicholls] raising funds for his church.''
Robinson remembers regular fund-raising shows, with rehearsals on Saturdays at her parents' house, and her mother and grandmother sewing their outfits.
Three of the Sapphires now work at the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, where Mayers is chief executive. Peeler is executive director of Worawa College, a boarding school for girls. But they all still sing. ''People still ask us for those Sapphires songs,'' Mayers says.
The Sapphires opens in cinemas next week.