Dave Timbs: Relationship as Reimbursement

David Timbs runs his business decidedly outside-the-box. But it does involve a box: that’s where people leave their koha after receiving treatment from him, and it’s the only form of payment he accepts. David first opened his Natural Therapy Clinic doors some 40 years ago, and for the last decade or so, he’s successfully managed to operate on koha alone. The idea is simple, and perhaps a bit idealistic: David asks people to pay what they think is fair, anonymously. And once he started down that path, he’s never given a thought to doing business any other way.  

A lifelong student and traveler, David is educated and trained in a wide variety of modalities, and they all influence what he offers at his small clinic at Wainui Beach. The majority of his work is spinal manipulation, but he also provides polarity therapy bodywork and Iridology, a study of the eye’s iris to reveal information about a person’s overall health. He holds diplomas in Naturopathy and Ayurveda, and his treatment often blends the different therapies and wisdoms. David himself admits it’s difficult to describe what he does. For him, chiropractic practice always felt a bit too specialized, “I’ve always been more interested in the whole person. I wanted to draw on other things.” His business card reads, ‘Practitioner. Teacher. Surfer’. 

“If you relieve someone of pain and then they put money in your hand, that’s too close. It makes it seem as if my motivation was money”

The koha payment structure arose when he noticed a conflict in client feedback. Until that point, he hadn’t changed his fee for 20 years. Some people were urging him to put his fees up because he was charging too little, while others were clearly struggling to pay and often delaying treatment of their pain as a result. David remembered hearing of a “by donation” system in the States, and he decided to try it out for a week. After the initial week, he decided to continue it through Christmas, which then was just weeks away. “And then I thought, I really like the feel of this.” 

The clinic has run on koha ever since. In the traditional fee setting, David felt uncomfortable with how close a connection there was between the treatment and the money. “If you relieve someone of pain and then they put money in your hand, that’s too close. It makes it seem as if my motivation was money”. In David’s mind, the motivation is to relieve suffering. So much so that he aims to have no repeat appointments, hoping that once someone has seen him, their pain is gone. 

He has no idea what each individual person pays, and he doesn’t take personally what amount he receives. “When I go to my box at the end of the day, I know that I’ve been rewarded greater than what I would’ve set as a fee. Other times when you realise someone has put a lower value, maybe it’s what they can afford. If I wasn’t any good at my job, people wouldn’t come or wouldn’t pay. So it’s an honest view of where you fit into the bigger system. But I would rather not think about the money, and just think about doing the best I can for each person”. 

David’s perspective draws from a lifetime of travel and exploration. He grew up in Wellington, in Titahi Bay, and studied to be a primary school teacher. A keen surfer, he initially came to Gisborne to surf and teach. But at the time, teaching didn’t feel like the right fit. He felt that a person should be worldly and wise before being a teacher, so he set off to adventure abroad, exploring, sailing, and surfing.

On one formative trip David went to America to visit his brother, who was studying to be a chiropractor in Iowa.  David arrived in San Francisco with $70, a one-month visa, and no ticket out.  He hitchhiked across the country to get to his brother, and found himself joining the chiropractic program.  

After nearly a year of study in Iowa, immigration complications forced him to leave, and David resumed his travels in Canada and England. He later discovered Polarity Therapy, and trained with pioneering teacher Pierre Pannetier in California and Mexico before he returned home. Ready to share his knowledge, David opened his first clinic in Gisborne in 1980.  

In the ensuing decades, he developed a pattern of alternating work at home with travel and study, adding Iridology, Naturopathy, and Ayurveda to his repertoire. He regularly returned to India and America, both to continue his learning and share his wisdom through teaching. When David’s offspring Darnelle and Robson were in university, he decided to return to study too, earning his Bachelor of Education, “I’m always a student, the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know.” 

Much of David’s focus has been Ayurveda, the Indian ancient medicine system, or “science of life.” After studying with prominent international Ayurvedic scholar Dr. Robert Svoboda, the two became close, and David even hosted him here in Gisborne. During one trip to India for an Ayurvedic Conference, the organiser announced, much to David’s surprise, that David would give the closing address. He remembers, “I thought, either I grow a new arm and do this or crawl into my shell. So I did it and it was fine. But I also thought if my mates could see me now, they would be rolling on the ground.” 

David is not a man afraid to try something different, and that attitude may well make his patients more receptive to his various methodologies. You may not expect a rural shearer to seek treatment, but it’s not out of the ordinary for David. His clientele ranges from Wainui locals to people coming from up the coast, a diverse group in age, background, and socioeconomic status, and that means a lot to him. When someone walks through his door, he makes sure that they feel comfortable and safe, no matter what their story is.  

Now aged 70, David typically only works in the afternoon. In the morning, he goes for a surf or meets friends for coffee at Zephyr cafe down the street, Bosco the dog at his side. Twice a week he teaches Yin Yoga. He lives simply, and without hustle. “Money comes and goes. I don’t ever feel there’s a shortage of it, it’s just how you tap into your share of it.”

David concedes the koha model would be difficult to just pick up and do, and that what he built was based on decades of relationships and reputation. He emphasises, “It’s all based on the relationship with the person. The relationship is the reimbursement.” 

In a world where it often feels like everything has a price, David’s approach is remarkable and refreshing. “I’m not trying to sell myself, I’m just trying to listen to the person and be of some use to them.” He’s also careful to say he’s not a healer, “All I’m doing is assisting them to heal themselves. The whole thing is to empower the person, to make them responsible for their own state of wellbeing.”

There’s no doubt David inspires empowerment, showing that a shift in the way business is done is possible, and sustainable. His is a heartening example of what it could be like to operate in an ‘Aroha Economy’ where currency depends a lot less on commodification, and a lot more on community.

Story by Victoria Williams

* This story was brought to you with the support of Tāiki e! Next week is Global Entrepreneurship Week.

The festival aims to connect diverse parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, give visibility to key areas of focus, and inspire our Tairāwhiti community to embrace entrepreneurship as a tool for community transformation and long term impact.

It also provides a platform for expressing our own unique Tairāwhiti style and flavour of entrepreneurship which is deep rooted in community and aroha. Stay tuned to find out what Tāiki e! have planned for us!

Plant-based Locals: Tess Stevens

In the third episode of Plant-based Locals, Alex talks to to Tess Shaw, a chef and mum bringing her family up vegan. Amongst sharing her thoughts on making the transition to a plant-based lifestyle she shares a really easy and delicious-sounding vegan Mac n’ ‘cheese’ recipe! Thanks for talking to us Tess..


Gizzy Local’s Alex Andrews talks to some locals about their plant-based lifestyles and what it’s like being vegan in Te Tairāwhiti. In this first episode Alex talks to long-time vegan, Renee Raroa who is also one of the people behind the Facebook Page, Vegans of Tairāwhiti, a social group for vegans, plant eaters and those keen to transition to being vegan.


In this episode of Plant-Based Locals, Alex Andrews talks to Tiago Kerber. Tiago moved to a vegan way of life about the same time as he moved to Gisborne about two years ago. For those of you who haven’t found it yet, Tiago and friends recently opened up a dedicated vegan joint called Zephyr, based in the former Wainui Store. It’s an awesome addition to our Gisborne eateries catering to plant-based locals. We love your commitment Tiago, thanks for investing in our community with such a whole-hearted vision!


Revive is a three-day-long festival being brought to life by two brothers Jock and Sam alongside an array of collaborators from all over the country here in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa, Gisborne from the 2nd of January 2021. 

Despite sitting bang in the middle of Summer Festival season, Revive is not your average summer festival, aiming as it does to elevate its attendees to a state of uplift, joy, connectedness, and wellbeing, with a whole lot of fun as we transition into a brand new year. 

After resigning from their jobs as Geotechnical Engineers Sam and Jock decided to finally action an old dream that had lain dormant for some time – a soul mission to help improve the mental health of Kiwi communities, through making wellness and holistic health more mainstream and accessible.  The idea of a Festival in which people can show up as they are and gain useful lessons and experiences to either start or further a personal wellbeing journey became the starting point for their mission. 

Sam and Jock spent the winter of 2020 traveling the country, North to South, sleeping in the rooftop tent on Sam’s truck and visiting every holistic health establishment they could find, from organic produce stores to yoga studios, wellness teachers, instructors, speakers, and health advocates seeking out like-minded folk keen on contributing to the vision.

The result of that trip is Revive Festival, which they describe as three days of conscious celebration, a combination of wellness retreat and music festival; bringing together experiences that move participants physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Live music, light and art installations, delicious nourishing food, speakers and workshops in yoga, meditation, breathwork, fitness, ecstatic dance, healing, art, and wellness make up the lineup, which can also be seen as a toolbox of tricks with which to set out on a more connected, present and joyful 2021.

Revive Festival is also an opportunity to experience a tranquil and magical setting with lowland native bush, some of the country’s oldest trees as well as viognier grape vineyards; a lush setting in which to ground yourself and reset. The standard ticket price includes camping, but there are also VIP glamping options available. Having both lost friends to mental health, an emphasis on Mental Health awareness is key for both Jock and Sam and a sum of their revenue will be donated to the mental health foundation of New Zealand.

Jock and Sam encourage people to ‘come as you are and leave inspired for more’. They hope that Revive will be a time and a space in which for people to connect with themselves and their tribe, from which people will take away useful lessons and experiences that will ultimately make their health and wellbeing journeys easy, realistic, and enjoyable.

* Day Passes are available/kids under 12 are FREE/12-15 year olds half price

You can check out the details and purchase your tickets for Revive Festival 2021 here: 



I recently resigned from my job to look after my mental health. Just a few hours later I found myself sitting next to Sarah from Gizzy Local and somehow, in a brief kōrero, we shared honesty and understanding around mental health. 

After I left my job I thought life was going to get better, and then even better. But that’s not always how the story goes. I remember lying in bed, feeling physically incapable of getting up. I wondered how much water I needed, to replace the stuff streaming from my eyes. I felt groggy drunk with shame and inadequacy. The work I’d left was not easy by anyone’s standards, but the incredible people around me were sticking it out, with far busier lives and way more on their plate than me, so why couldn’t I? 

I slid a prescription across the pharmacy counter and felt like I’d failed. Having spent the last 10 years managing my mental health without medication — through exercise, meditation, creativity and mindset education — here I was. Antidepressants can take up to 4 weeks to work. Yikes. It sounded like a very long time. 

Back in bed, popping my first pill, I read through the long list of potential side-effects like it was the menu at a really bad restaurant. Insomnia was the special of the day, with a side of nausea and dizziness. Slamming the door shut to the one place I could escape to, I spent 4 nights owl-eyed in bed while venlafaxine tried to rally the sad and sluggish neurotransmitters in my brain.

Telling my flatmates (puffy eyed and wearing a dressing gown) that ‘I’ll return as a butterfly!’, I drove non-stop to Wellington to cocoon away with whānau and be looked after while adjusting to the medication. I manifested a transformation. It took longer than expected and I kept thinking “next week I’ll find work and get myself back together.”  It didn’t feel true even as I said it. My body and mind demanded stillness and patience while wings formed beneath my skin. It was a few weeks before I noticed they were there and longer still for them to unfurl. 

Now I’m a full-time artist pumping things out on social media as I take on an art challenge for the last 100 days of my twenties. It all looks very “go-get-it-girl!” and it’s nice to feel and share the excitement. It also feels important to share my humanness and be authentic. The project was born from a vulnerable and challenging place. I’ve bounced back with a resiliency owed to mental health education, financial security, family support and no dependants. 

When I think of those among us who live with depression while managing things like poverty, family violence, drug or alcohol abuse and the responsibility of looking after kids or the elderly, I recognise the incredible strength in our community and how many unsung courageous individuals we have here. 

One day, I’d like to be as comfortable telling my boss I need a day off for my mental health, as I would telling them that I have a cold. One of the top 5 leading causes of death in Aotearoa is people taking their own lives and yet we are still not in a place where taking “mental health days” is encouraged, normalised or fully accepted. Are we okay with that? Sharing our stories and strategies helps reduce shame and shows how common but complicated mental illness is. Checking in on each other, normalising kōrero about mental illness and encouraging healthy social catch-ups (e.g. a hīkoi up Titirangi instead of a beer) are all ways that we can make a change.

It’s no fun being swallowed up, but when the black dog spits you out, you might just catch the wave of your life.

* * *

Words & Moving Images by Stephanie Barnett. Photograph X Ellen Taylor

Find more of Steph’s work & follow her 100 day project on Instagram @ stephmarybarnett or www.facebook.com/steph.barnett.77