Author Mark Chamberlain had an immigrant story of his own to tell when he launched his new book, NZ Immigrants: Their Stories at Te Ahu last week.

He was the grandson of an Irish immigrant, a "peasant labourer", who arrived in New Zealand in 1860 to work for his uncle on the main trunk line, he said.

It had been a brutal introduction to the life of a working man, the physical demands at times reducing the young man to tears, but it also laid the foundations for a very successful New Zealand family.

His grandfather, he said, had valued hard work and education, values that had been inherited by succeeding generations.

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The family had gone on to produce doctors, lawyers, a High Court judge and even a physics lecturer at Cambridge University.

He might have added a highly respected teacher and author to that list, but did not.
The same ethic was still seen in today's immigrants, he added.

The writing of the book, however, had been somewhat serendipitous.

A fellow churchgoer had long been urging him to meet a South African family in Auckland, which he finally did.

"I listened to their story, which was very interesting, and wondered if there were any more like them," he said.

There were plenty more, and he found them in all sorts of places, from the streets to a bus on the way to Auckland Airport.

He had adopted a simple format, asking his subjects for their background story, how they had made the transition to a new country, and how they were getting on.

The results were fascinating, offering a new perspective of those who had chosen to make New Zealand home, and their warts and all impressions of the society of which they were now part.

NZ Immigrants: Their Stories is available at Marston Moor in Kaitaia, at www.mochamberlain.com and www.shihvillage.com.