Drummer with no hands or feet has found his groove

Ralph Hall playing the cajon at Kirbys Hotel.

Ralph Hall playing the cajon at Kirbys Hotel.

Rhythm didn't come naturally to Ralph Hall.

It took months of practice, but now people can't wait to hear him pound out the beats.

And not just because they're curious to see how a man with no hands or even feet can play a drum, they scratched that itch a long time ago.

Now they all come to see him play.

Ralph can be regularly seen in his wheelchair around the CBD of Katherine, always smiling, always chatting.

Many people naturally wonder what a man in his predicament could do to fill his days.

Popularity is one thing, he says it takes him hours to get anywhere, everyone knows him and they all want to catch up.

But every Thursday he makes a beeline to Kirbys Hotel in Katherine to warm up for his set.

He makes sure he leaves with plenty of time to buy cigarettes at the Smokemart and to get in an hour's practice with local musician Megan Ashley before his set.

He plays the cajon - a box shaped percussion instrument with origins in Peru.

Typically, people sit on it, slapping the front with hands and fingers.

But Ralph doesn't have hands, the lower part of his arms were surgically removed long ago, and he is bound to a wheelchair.

So adjustments were made.

"I'd watched Ralphie for a while, he was always at my sets right up the front dancing in his wheelchair," Megan said.

Ralph's dance moves are the stuff of legend, we should add.

A life-long musician she said she could spot passion a mile away, and Ralph had it.

Megan Ashley plays a set at Kirbys.

Megan Ashley plays a set at Kirbys.

She has held the midday slot, which remains nameless, since around 2015, and before that, for years it was her husband up on stage.

She plays anything and everything, from country to jazz, and says Kirbys is the most unique place she has had the fortune of playing.

But it wasn't until her show doubled in number with Ralph on board she truly realised how special it was.

"He adds character, and heart. The cajon is its own instrument and when he's on fire and on time it just works."

She said it all started a year ago.

He had no arms and no legs but you could see he got the beat.

"He had no arms and no legs but you could see he got the beat.

"I had seen people play the cajon with no hands so it was working out how to make it work with his wheelchair, we searched all over the world for a stand and eventually we had it made specially.

"He was here all the time, singing and dancing, and now he's a part of the show and everyone comes to see him."

Ralph Hall says his music is an inspiration to some and a connection for others.

Ralph Hall says his music is an inspiration to some and a connection for others.

Ralph wasn't always in a wheelchair.

Around the same time Megan took to the stage at Kirbys for the first time, tragedy struck.

It was a case of melioidosis, the devastating mud bug, an infectious disease found in soil and water, particularly in the Northern Territory, northeast Thailand and Vietnam.

"I was in Darwin, clambering through mud but with no shoes and I got a scratch," he said.

At first insignificant, it got much worse. And when he couldn't move his hands and feet, amputation was the option if he wanted to live.

He had to re-learn everything and fiercely independent, most things were learnt the hard way.

"I am a proud man, I don't like to be lifted. I learnt how to control my wheelchair with no hands.

"The only thing I can't do is roll a cigarette, but my brothers and sisters are happy to do that for me."

His life appears to be one of intense hardships dotted with beautiful high notes: the front lawn of the court house was his home for years, and has overcome a disease that kills too many.

Ralph Hall's niece Tasha Lane (right) says she never misses a set.

Ralph Hall's niece Tasha Lane (right) says she never misses a set.

He had a stint in the Army, has travelled all over the Top End, has five children he is immensely proud of, grandchildren as well, and family spread far and wide across the Territory.

"I am full of happiness," he said.

He says his music is just for him, despite the many who come to watch.

"It is a connection to my culture and it connects people and my family, but mostly I love it because I am doing something I want to do."

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