Mark Chamberlain has a way with words.
And he is versatile. He's published books about TE Lawrence (of Arabia), short stories, novels, teaching manuals and a collection of writing by international students.
Much of that writing betrays the influence of years spent in the Far North, where he and his wife Eleanor are firmly ensconced once again, seasoned with experiences gained in the course of an extraordinary life and experiences overseas.
But this time he's looking at his homeland through the eyes of immigrants, ranging from a British soldier to a Barbadian teacher, who have come to this country.
They also share the good and bad things about life in New Zealand, from wide open spaces and a scattered population to the drinking culture, a cavalier attitude towards education and domestic violence that prompted one arrival to write home describing Kaitaia as Hell on Earth. He's changed his mind since.
This is a valuable book whose timing is perfect. Immigration is one of the big political issues, but for most it boils down to numbers, specific skill shortages and how the rest of the world can fill them. It's about people arriving here and putting even more pressure on infrastructure that is already struggling to cope.
It's about people from all parts of the world taking our jobs, buying our houses, clogging our roads — people who don't look like us, talk like us or share our values.
NZ Immigrants paints a very different picture. It gives us the rare opportunity to see ourselves through the eyes of others, people quick to appreciate what is good about New Zealand, and not shy about suggesting what is wrong with it. The things they share are a love of their new land, determination to contribute to it, and a humbling gratitude for the fact that they are privileged to live here.
That sense of privilege is perhaps most important of all. It reinforces the not uncommon view that many New Zealanders take their blessings for granted. They see what is wrong but cannot fix it; they rarely see what is right, and do not always appreciate it.
This book tells the reader that those who live in God's Own Country, which it doesn't seem to be called so often these days, are fortunate indeed. This country has qualities and advantages that are seemingly invisible to many who have never seen anything with which to compare it, but which are instantly recognisable to those who are here by choice.
It might also change a few perceptions regarding how New Zealanders respond to immigrants. We are a nicer people than we sometimes give ourselves credit for. And in that, if nothing else, Mark Chamberlain has done us all a real service.
Perhaps there was no one better qualified to write these stories. He has worked as a truck driver, a fisherman, a dishwasher, a probation officer, a drain digger, a factory worker, a pokie machine attendant, a scrub cutter, a drug and alcohol abuse counsellor, and — one night — as a bouncer.
He's had more than his share of ups and downs, and does not see the world through rose-tinted spectacles. He is a realist, which gives his words even greater power, although he also sees the good in people, and is undoubtedly a proud New Zealander.
Since marrying Eleanor, who he found in Kaitaia, and settling down, most of his waking hours have been devoted to teaching, journalism and other writing.
Living in the Far North, he now spends his time fishing, hunting, planting trees, spraying gorse and kikuyu, with writing thrown in during the winter months.
Author Mark Chamberlain will officially launch his new book, NZ Immigrants: Their Stories, at Te Ahu in Kaitaia on Friday. Everyone is welcome at 10.30am.