General News

25 September, 2022

Queen of the chutes

Dianne Luppi is happiest when she is on the back of a bull or horse, dedicating her life to the adrenaline rush she gets at every rodeo. With a new book inspired by her life being recently published, ELLIE FINK spoke with Dianne to learn about the adversity she faced and how she overcame it.

By Ellie Fink

Dianne dressed as boy to compete in rodeos
Dianne dressed as boy to compete in rodeos

ADRENALINE junky and fearless fighter, Dianne Luppi (nee Lucas) rode beasts triple her size at rodeos across the country in the 1970s by pretending to be a male to compete in the sport she loved most, whilst battling a rare illness.

Her incredible life has recently been documented and turned into a novel by local author Frances Dall’Alba, telling Dianne’s story through her main character Grace.

Dianne was born in Mount Gambier and travelled across the country to live in mining towns for her father’s work and fell in love with country living.

In one of their many moves, Dianne found herself in Perth falling in love with the many horses she would meet, wishing nothing more than to have one of her own.

School didn’t come easy to Dianne as she struggled with dyslexia, and she would often “wag school” to ride a horse she was gifted.

“His name was Megaton. I had no saddle or bridle, and I just rode him with a rope hobble strap around his neck,” she said.

“I used to walk five miles just to be near horses whether it was burning hot, raining or hailing just in the hope that if I cleaned people’s gear and stables that they would give me a ride. That was be-fore Megaton was given to me.

“He was an ugly horse with a big Roman nose, long body and short legs, but he was fantastic to ride and would go from a gallop to sliding stop with just pressure on the rope.”

Dianne was always sick in her younger years and soon learned she had a rare liver condition, making her allergic to pain killers and preventing from ever consuming a drop of alcohol in her lifetime.

The condition is something that she has struggled with every day, coping with constant pain since she was a child. Today, she drives from her home in Malanda to the Cairns Private Hospital up to three times a week for dialysis.

But when she was a young girl, her overwhelming desire was always horses so to get closer to the animals, Dianne began working at a poultry farm. Whilst working there she met Liz Johnson, who would take her to rodeos in the area.

That was when Dianne’s need for adrenaline began to really emerge, finding herself at bull and bronc rides whenever she could wishing she was the one on the back of the dangerous beasts.

At this time, the Australia Professional Rodeo Association’s (APRA) rules stated that women were not allowed to compete but in 1966, Liz entered 12-year-old Dianne in her first poddy calf ride pretending to be a boy.

With her short hair and slender figure, pretending to be a male came easy and she dominated the arena and took out first place.

“I ended up winning and once they found out I was a girl they didn’t want to give me the first prize which was a trophy western saddle about eight inches high,” she said.

“That got me hooked – seeing the bulls being bucked out was the most thrilling thing I ever saw.”

Determined to get back on the back of a bull, 16-year-old Dianne found herself in the chutes at the Riverland Corral Rodeo in Mandurah, Western Australia pretending to be a man.

She rode the full eight seconds on the back of a steer and on the back of a huge buck jumper which gave her a “rough ride”.

“Being long and lean, people mistakenly took me for a boy every time so I decided that I would join the APRA under the name of Deat Lucas which I managed to get away with for a few rodeos,” she said.

“I made time more than I bucked off but after being discovered as a girl, I was once again not allowed to compete.”

No longer allowed back in the chutes, 19-year-old Dianne decided to settle down and marry twice and have two kids.

After some rough years in an abusive marriage, Dianne moved with her two children up to Cairns with three suitcases and $600 to her name.

She began rodeoing again in Mareeba, taking a pair of jeans and boots from a fellow cowboy to compete as Deat once again and was only a second short of time.

In this time, she met the love of her life, Peter Luppi, who supported her and her children through thick and thin.

A few years later, she felt the urge to go back to her love of bull-riding and took the opportunity to enter the Mt Garnet Rodeo, keen to show the crowd what a woman could do.

“Because the anti-discrimination laws had come in, I was allowed to ride in the open bull ride on contract bulls.

“To me, it was the most exciting thing I could do and had a passion for it, and I continued to compete at several rodeos when the chance arose.

“My last time bull riding was The Caves Rodeo Bicentennial in 1988 – that was going to be my last rodeo as I was 34. The day before the rodeo I knew I had to give it away before I was hurt. The kids were there cheering me on.”

In 2016, her sickness grew worse and she had her first spinal fusion on her lower back and was put in the intensive care unit and operated on two days later where they discovered a perforated bowel.

That operation put her into a 25-day induced coma, 71 days on life support, 80 back in the ICU to administer antibiotics to control sepsis caused by kidney failure and double pneumonia and several weeks of rehabilitation to learn to eat, walk and talk again.

“Since then, I have undergone dialysis for 15 months, a neck fusion during an eight-and-a-half-hour surgery where my blood pressure dropped dramatically and put my body into shock,” she said.

“My kidneys were working at 10 per cent so my specialist, Professor Rob Fassett, said they would try me off dialysis for a few days and see how I went.”

Dianne managed to spend four and a half years off dialysis, feeling healthy and fit until her kidney function decreased again to three per cent, becoming sicker than ever.

Unfortunately, at age 68, Dianne is unable to receive a transplant due to lack of organ donors and the state of her condition.

“I had to sell my horses as I was too sick to do anything with them,” she said.

“Not sure how the story ends as I am being taken off the kidney transplant list but my life has been an adventure with lots of highs and lows.

“My son Colin passed away from leukaemia when he was 25 in 2006, my daughter Natalie works at the 24-hour Emergency Vet Clinic in Cairns as head nurse.

“Her and my grandchildren, Sunny and Jada Grace Mawer, are my pride and joy, and they keep me going. Peter is a wonderful husband and takes really good care of me.

“So, no matter how the story ends I have had a full life that I’m happy with.”


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