Off the Top of my HeadBy Paul Murray
A thirst for inspiration, wisdom, experience and understanding led Gerar Toye (52) on
an international quest from his birthplace in South Auckland to Karamea at the top of
the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand.
The youngest of six children, Gerar spent his formative years in Manurewa––one of the
most multi-cultural suburbs of Auckland and also one of the roughest and toughest––
before moving to Borneo for a couple of years with his father Dallas, a school teacher,
and mother Pauline, a volunteer nurse.
On returning to New Zealand and completing his primary education, Gerar developed a
strong interest in photography and became a darkroom printer for New Zealand’s top
professional photographers. The job satisfied his passion for photographic printing, but
the formulaic style of the photography he was charged with printing and the sterile, safe
and conservative images he constantly saw emerging in the developing fluid left him
wanting to make his own images and express his creative ideas through photography.
Gerar quit the job that no longer inspired him and went to Australia in 1982 for a couple
of years before returning to Borneo to hook up with childhood school friends there. The
trip triggered his wonderlust and he spent the next two decades travelling the world and
gaining the international experience, self-education and wisdom that travel affords.
Sri Lanka was next and there he met fellow travellers from the north, who had strange
tales of India to share. “In Aragum Bay, I met people who had travelled through India
who told me crazy stories about the country with sparkles in the eyes, which inspired
me to visit the country,” he said. “I couldn’t believe the tales I heard and wanted to
verify them for myself…I wanted to prove them wrong, but after seeing the country for
myself, I found out that all I’d heard was true and more!”
His tourist visa allowed for six months in India, but that was in no way sufficient once
his interest in the country and its diverse culture was piqued. He returned 10 times and
travelled extensively all the while with his camera at the ready.
In 1989, he heard about the Kumbh Mela Festival, a Hindu pilgrimage that takes place
every four years in four different locations in rotation. Hindu devotees flock to bathe in
the sacred Ganges River and here he photographed the religious, cultural and
anthropological spectacle of the largest gathering of humans on the Earth.
The experience was overwhelming, 30 million people assembled in one location, with
70 million attending the event over the course of one month inspired Gerar to return to
participate in the Maha (large) Kumbh Mela festival in 2001, which occurs every 144
years and is held at Triveni Sangam the “meeting place” at the confluence of the
Ganga, Yamuna and the Sarasvati rivers.
There Gerar photographed the myriad people assembled in the largest-ever
congregation of religious pilgrims with his unique “shooting from the hip” style that
enables him to capture candid moments, spontaneity and genuine emotion in his
subjects. The hand-printed images are now being exhibited at the Global Gypsy Gallery
With the travelbug’s teeth now deep into his flesh and Gerar ventured to numerous
countries, travelled through the Americas, Europe and Asia, all the while with camera at
the ready to capture moments of human emotion, joy, expression and life moments.
With three cameras and 200 rolls of film each year Gerar had no room for cold or wet
weather clothes so spent his time in constant warmth with only one winter in his twenty
years on the road.
Opportunities abounded and he helped everyone he met basically woofing before it
was invented. These led to some marvellous experiences, including being invited to
tour America with Paul Kelly and Crowded House, which he turned down to follow an
affair of the heart. Using his darkroom skills he built a darkroom on a 1910 Danish Gaff
rigged ketch from Fremantle West Australia through Indonesia, Micronesia and Japan
and on to Alaska.
He now had a body of work that he could share with others and market to finance his
vagabond lifestyle. Years on the road had also furnished him with wisdom and spiritual
understanding well beyond his years and he decided to mix both his spirituality and
photography to create postcards, posters and T-shirts of his images matched with
inspirational quotations and put his experiences out into the retail market. Despite
significant effort and attempts to offer his cards to retail outlets, shop owners were not
keen to stock his products, so he decided to go it alone and sell them himself.
He returned to New Zealand in 1990 initially to Mangawhai Heads north of Auckland
where his now retired parents live. While there, he painted an ecological mural on the
public toilets as a move to think globally and act locally. The mural was graffiti-free until
it started to peel ten years later and he was commissioned to return to repaint it for the
locals but the building was eventually demolished.
He later travelled in a purple 1956 Bedford bus called “Carpe Diem” with the Kiwi
Gypsy Fair for five years, circling the country six times and selling his wares at markets,
festivals and fairs. The response to his products was very positive and the feedback he
received encouraged him to produce a book compiling his photographic images and
quotations. However, finding a publisher to handle the idea proved frustrating as the
idea was considered unsaleable. “The images and quotes were very popular with the
public, so I knew a book would work,” he said. Publishers thought otherwise and he
was forced to go it alone and using five credit cards to produce his first book “Reality is
for those with no Imagination,” which was published in 1997.
The next challenge was to find book retailers that would stock and
sell his book. This again proved frustrating as he wasn’t backed by a publisher and as a
sole trader, retailers were less than helpful and he met with similar resistance from
bookshop owners he had experienced when marketing his quote cards.
Around that time the Internet was gathering popularity and he set up a Web
site to stock his own work and market it online. This proved a
good move and his product started to move. Retailers gradually came on board and his
work is now stocked in over a hundred outlets across New Zealand and Australia. His
book sold out and has been translated into French, German and 10 other languages.
He now has eight books on the market and has sold over 15,000 copies making him
one of New Zealand’s best-selling authors.
In 2002, Gerar and his then partner Amla had boy/girl twins Kiva and Rimu. His
nomadic lifestyle quickly changed and he became a father, settled back into life in New
He decided to pursue his creative passion and enrolled in a fine arts degree at
Canterbury University in Christchurch. He initially decided to study painting, but on
reflection switched to filmmaking as he felt the artform had a greater propensity to
influence people in a positive way. “I didn’t feel I could change the world by painting,”
The challenges and responsibilities of fatherhood forced him to leave university before
graduating, but he managed to express his talent for directing and writing film and
produced a low budget ($400) 20-minute short film titled “Zen and the Art of
Hitchhiking,” which can be seen online:
Invited by Paul Murray to revisit Karamea and the LivinginPeace Project he had started
Gerar was inspired to be part of the dream to bring people together and he settled into
life in the small remote rural community in 2007 after purchasing the old information
centre building in the centre of town. He painted it in rainbow stripes and established a
retail outlet of his own to market his growing range of books, postcards, T-shirts, fridge
magnets, jigsaws, bumper stickers, framed photographs and posters and expanded
with a range of goods and products including; organic food, local produce, artworks, fair
trade items, second-hand goods, accessories, curios and pre-loved natural-fibre
clothing…the Global Gypsy Gallery was born.
Today, the Global Gypsy Gallery is a veritable emporium and must-see shop for any
visitor to Karamea. It has become a Farmer’s Market where local organic fruit and
vegetable growers can sell their excess produce, local artisans can sell their creations,
the best cup of tea and coffee in town and hours of browsing through a treasure trove
of quality new and used products from around the world. Gerar’s photographs adorn
the walls and he again has overcome the challenges of unsupportive retailers and
conservative mindset by doing it himself…and doing it very well.
Gerar lives in Bellingen N.S.W. Australia
where his twins who are nearly 15 and attend the Chrysalis Steiner School. He is working ontwo film scripts “Holy Cow Shit” and “My Sweet Revenge,” which is about 7 strangers
who kidnap former U.S. President George W. Bush and hold him captive for a week.
Gerar is currently seeking funding for the film. (more on film page)
His dream now is to make films that will inspire others to reflect and think for
themselves and to connect with the love of giving and compassion.
Another long-term goal is to establish the Global Gypsy Cafe Project where cafes
would be set up in countries of need and staffed by Wwoofer volunteers to train
orphans and children of sex workers to grow food and run the cafes. Gerar considers
that the way to freedom for many in their cycle is to receive skills and not handouts.
Each cafe would be self-sustaining and provide healthy organic food to travellers, while
encouraging people to see a notice board of locals that need assistance.
Disillusioned by charity tourism, Gerar sees a way that the efforts of travellers can be
harnessed and directly helping those in need. After his time in Calcutta with Mother
Teresa and working in Dr Jacques clinic, he saw a direct way he could help by creating
a system where travellers can be placed where they can help the most without anyone
lying anywhere and without money changing hands.
His upcoming Holy Cow Shit film will express the concept in film and all that is required
is $20,000 funding if you have more than you need and would like to share in a project
which will touch the lives of many.
Gerar is seeking funding to establish a not for profit entity for the project, which could
potentially place thousands of travellers in areas where they can give and receive the
most and help needy people take charge of their lives.