The incredible journey of six Irish potato farming families who emigrated to Australia in the 1860s and 70s, and now have thousands of descendants across the country, especially in the Shoalhaven, was the focus of a new book launched in Berry at the weekend.
Family, Farms and Faith: Two Strong Families and Kin has been written by Gillian Shadwick (nee Strong), telling the story of Irish brothers, James and Henry Strong, their wives Mary and Margaret and their 11 children who emigrated with kin to the colony of New South Wales in 1864.
Families of Clarkes, Walkers and Lamonds came with them, with some Boyds, HanIons, Morrows and Dugeons in the mix as well.
Along with the help of her husband, Ken Olah, Gillian, who is a descendant of James and Mary Strong, has produced a book that spans 250 years but looks back centuries earlier to Scotland and Loghros Point, County Donegal, Ireland, where the families were tenant farmers.
The farming families emigrated to Australia, escaping the Great Irish Famine, and settled in the Shoalhaven.
They forged homes and farms in the Broughton Creek, Berry, Brogers Creek and Woodhill areas, but the family's reach would soon expand across the country.
This extensively researched and illustrated publication, which took the couple around the world, begins with the families in County Donegal in the 1830s before being driven "Down Under" by the famine.
In the Shoalhaven, they became dairy industry pioneers.
"It was an incredibly hard life," Ms Shadwick said.
"It is an incredible story of perseverance and resilience, of family and faith.
"They had no idea of the dangers they were facing. Snakes were one of them - Ireland doesn't have snakes. Other dangers were illness, even falling off horses. It's about the ups and downs and hardships on life.
"They cleared the land with the sound of the axe and established dairy farms. There was nothing there in most cases, not even roads. It was virgin country.
"With other pioneering families they built farms, churches, cemeteries, communities, roads, dairy co-operatives and schools.
"Most were deeply religious, their Wesleyan faith both driving and uniting them."
They contributed to local government, driving the formation of the Municipality and Council at Broughton Vale.
In the late 1880s, some descendants sold up and went north, beginning again as pioneer dairy farmers in the wider Richmond River area.
However, many Strong descendants and kin, stayed in the Berry, Jaspers Brush, Kiama, Nowra and Gerringong areas and quite a few are still connected to the land.
"The history of these families is integrally connected to the history of our nation," Ms Shadwick said.
"Their lives, their values, beliefs and aspirations were shaped by and helped to shape that history.
"This book not only explores the stories of our pioneer ancestors but also the generations that followed."
Family, Farms and Faith: Two Strong Families and Kin concludes with snapshots of the lives of 60 of the thousands of living descendants of those first 11 Strong children.
"It is all about the legacy of those original settlers, six generations of cattle and horse breeders, but so much more," she said.
Proud Berry family patriarch, Ray Strong (Henry and Margaret Strong descendant), said the book was a "wonderful record of an incredible history".
"It's just superb," he said.
"Gillian and Ken have put so much work into the book with contributions from numerous family members and the result is splendid.
"The family's really is a fantastic story. Incredible when you look at what they did and how they did it.
"A small book (The Strongs from Donegal) was produced by Alec Strong and my sister Margaret (Binks) as part of a family reunion in 1985.
"That was special, but now with the technology of today, the internet and such this has been expanded and taken to a new level.
"This book is just superb. A wonderful record of the family's history."
Gilmore MP Fiona Phillips, also a Strong family descendant, launched the book at the Wesley Church Hall on Saturday, October 19.
Copies of Family, Farms and Faith: Two Strong families and Kin are available at the Berry and District Historical Society's Berry Museum for $40.