Kate Gunn wins Excellence in Agricultural Research gong at Farmer of the Year Awards

A smiling white man in a checked shirt has his arm around a smiling blonde white woman in black and a pink blazer in a theatre.
Riverland farmer John Gladigau and University of SA researcher Kate Gunn at the Kick off Ya Boots show.(Supplied: Vocal Locals)

From play to practice 

When Kate Gunn created ifarmwell, she did not expect it would inspire a play, and a movement. 

Last year the University of South Australia senior researcher collaborated with Alawoona grain farmer John Gladigau to develop his stage production about rural resilience called Kick Off Ya Boots.

“I think doing research in a university and publishing papers is one thing, but what really excites me is finding ways to get those lessons out into the real world,” Dr Gunn said.

After the play sold out its first season, Dr Gunn’s expertise was again called on to create Vocal Locals, a project supported through funding from the federal government’s Future Drought Fund.

“I think what this project has demonstrated is the importance of having trusted people in local communities spreading those messages,” Dr Gunn said. 

Play Audio. Duration: 2 minutes 31 seconds
Second season of Kick Off Ya Boots almost sold out

Mr Gladigau, who coordinated Vocal Locals, said it had been great to continue the conversations sparked by his play.

“Whilst these are not taboo subjects, we don’t talk a lot about mental health and wellbeing,” he said.

“However, people are willing to [share] if they have the opportunity to.”

Mr Gladigau said he and Dr Gunn had been impressed with how open the participants had been in about their struggles.

“Even some of the really tough times … people have related to that and have jumped on and talked about their own experiences and encouraged each other.

“I think it’s about normalising those conversations.”

A blonde woman Dr Gunn stands next to a big green tractor with a grey-haired man in glasses Mr Gladigau.
Mr Gladigau says he wanted to work with Dr Gunn to increase awareness of the ifarmwell resources.(Supplied: Vocal Locals)

Keeping it rural

Growing up on a farm in streaky Bay on the Eyre Peninsula, Dr Gunn said it had been important to “farmerise” mental health programs to make them accessible to people in rural communities.

“Basically, just taking out any psychobabble or academic jargon and turning it into language that everyday farmers would use,” she said. 

“One example is in ifarmwell, where we talk about sorting out your thoughts into different categories … we talk about drafting your thoughts into different pens in the same way that you might draft some sheep.

Kate Gunn, a smiling blonde-haired woman wearing a navy jumper and jeans, sits on a rock with gum trees behind her.
Psychologist Dr Kate Gunn has been awarded Researcher of the Year for her work in rural mental health.(Supplied: University of South Australia)

After nearly 15 years working in her field, Dr Gunn said being recognised for her work was a pleasant surprise.

She was the recipient of the 2022 Award for Excellence in Agricultural Research, as part of the Farmer of the Year Awards, and also received the National LiFE Award for Innovation from Suicide Prevention Australia.

“What’s really rewarding about what we do is the opportunity to get out in the community to work with farmers and help them find ways to improve their wellbeing,” Dr Gunn said.

“So there are a lot of farmers who’ve helped us win these awards as well.”

This article was written by Eliza Berlage and published by ABC Rural. Read the full article on their website here: Kate Gunn wins Excellence in Agricultural Research gong at Farmer of the Year Awards – ABC News