‘Rain Stones’, first published in 1993, is both the title of the book, and of a story that appears in the book along with four others, all by Jackie French. All of the stories deal with the natural world but ‘Rain Stones’ is the only one which addresses an Indigenous theme. The protagonist of the title story is Helen, a 10-year-old living in a time of severe drought. She hears about rain stones, used by some Australian Indigenous people to bring rain. She finds there is an Indigenous man in town and tries to persuade him to look for the right kind of stones and use them to bring rain.
Her conversations with him highlight for the reader the loss of cultural knowledge among some Indigenous groups as well as emphasise, that there are many different clan groups and it is a racist view of thinking that all groups have the same beliefs and customs. However, this is somewhat undercut by the ending when the Indigenous man, Mr Saracen, appears at the creek where Helen is looking for rain stones and offers to help her.
Importantly, Jackie French, who is not Indigenous herself, has included a Note to this edition in which she explains that racial discrimination towards First Nations peoples in Australia was far greater than it is now. She includes an apology to the reader: ‘Please excuse the racism in this story – it is a product of its time.’ These racist attitudes are reflected in the book with the use of terms such as ‘blackfellers’, stereotyping – a local Indigenous woman described as ‘always drunk’ as well as being the ‘last of her tribe’ and skin colour being a ‘marker’ of Indigeneity.
Jackie French is one of Australia’s most respected and prolific writers for young people. She has been Australia’s Children’s Laureate and has won many awards for her books. She has been awarded an AM for her services to children’s literature and youth literacy and was Senior Australian of the Year in 2015.The significance of this collection comes in the fact that it was French’s first published work. She tells how this came about in the Afterword.