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Geraldton busker Malcolm Walalgie says WA towns need improved disability access

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Malcolm Walalgie remembers the first time he played a live show. 

He had just turned 18 and performed to a crowd of a few hundred people at a pub in Halls Creek, in Western Australia's Kimberley region.

"I felt like a rockstar," Mr Walalgie said.

"People coming up to you shaking your hand, giving you a hug.

Man in wheelchair holds coffee cup against orange background.
Malcolm Walalgie lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Alice Angeloni)

"Music is really good — it makes you happy and makes everyone happy around you."

Mr Walalgie is a musician and radio presenter in Geraldton, 400km north of Perth.

He is a Jaru and Kija man hailing from the Kimberley region, but has become a familiar face around Geraldton as a regular busker.

Close up of Aboriginal man with Aboriginal street art in the background.
Malcolm Walalgie grew up in the Kimberley.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Alice Angeloni)

Mr Walalgie lives with cerebral palsy and remembers going out bush with his family where his mum would sit by the fire and his siblings would go hunting kangaroo and turkey with uncles.

"We used to go for picnics and they would carry me down the creek bed and we would sit around the campfire and yarn," he said.

Close up of hands and capo on neck of guitar.
Malcolm Walalgie busks regularly in Geraldton.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Alice Angeloni)

An early introduction to music

Mr Walalgie said he would sit around the fire as he got older and learn how to play guitar.

"I used to listen to Slim Dusty and all them old country music singers, that's how I learned, listening to the radio and playing along," he said.

Mr Walalgie now uses a wheelchair and says living with cerebral palsy has inspired his music.

"It's all about fighting your battles and having positive thoughts in your mind and saying, 'I can do this'," he said.

"It's all about making each other happy and we've also got to share the love out there as well. Love is everything."

Man in wheelchair leaving house on ramp.
Malcolm Walalgie moved from the Kimberley to get better assistance.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Alice Angeloni)

Despite his positive memories of growing up in the Kimberley, Mr Walalgie said the lack of support services was challenging, with support workers only travelling to Halls Creek once a week.

He and his partner decided to relocate to her country, Yamatji, where services and accessibility were much better and they had an accessible home.

Even though Geraldton has more support services, Mr Walalgie said he wanted others to be aware of the accessibility challenges people with disabilities came up against.

He noted a 15-centimetre step that lined a row of shops on Marine Terrace.

Concrete step into doorway
Some shops in Geraldton are not accessible for people with disabilities.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Alice Angeloni)

"It's a big issue really, for people like me, who want to go into shops to access and just have a look what's inside," Mr Walalgie said.

"It makes you sad I guess, people like us want to go into the shops as well."

Mr Walalgie recently raised his concerns with Geraldton mayor Shane Van Styn.

Mr Van Styn said the council was looking at ways they could make the city more accessible, but it was more challenging when it came to private property.

"One of the difficult things the city has is touching private property and old buildings or old heritage type buildings, we run into issues there," he said.

Man sitting in the sun in town with bright patterned floor.
The money Malcolm Walalgie raises busking will be used to produce his first album.(ABC Midwest & Wheatbelt: Alice Angeloni)

Mr Van Styn said the city could reach out and speak to the owners of some of these private properties to see what could be done.

Down at his usual spot, Mr Walalgie keeps treating people to his Kimberley, country-style tunes.

His message is simple.

"We're all human beings and I believe that we need to be treated equally," he said.

Source: ABC

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