Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Keith Halliwell (1916–1983)

by Richard White

This article was published:

Keith Halliwell (1916-1983), mechanical engineer and inventor, was born on 3 September 1916 at Sunbury, Melbourne, second of four children of Eric Halliwell, an English-born electrical engineer, and his Victorian-born wife Olive Muriel, née Baulch. Keith grew up at Maroubra, Sydney, attending Randwick Boys’ Intermediate and Sydney Technical High schools. After taking a mechanical engineering trade course on refrigeration and electric motors, in 1933 he joined F. C. Lovelock Pty Ltd in the expanding refrigeration and air conditioning industry. He was a foundation member and honorary secretary of the Society of Refrigerating Engineers (New South Wales).

Having served (1935-38) in the Australian Tank Corps, Militia, Halliwell enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 9 September 1940. He was employed as an instrument maker in No.24 Squadron (1941-42) and No.32 Squadron (1942) and as a refrigerator mechanic at RAAF Headquarters, Melbourne, and rose to acting warrant officer before being discharged on 28 November 1945. He had married Elizabeth Bird Reid McMechan, a paper finisher, on 3 May 1943 at Fullerton Memorial Presbyterian Church, Sydney. They moved to a new Hudson fibro-cement home on one of four blocks of land he had bought at Manly Vale.

In 1948 Halliwell designed a garage door that helped to change the face of Australian suburbia. In the postwar context of do-it-yourself heroes battling bureaucratic red tape, the story would be told that the Warringah council objected to conventional swing doors blocking the footpath, and in response Halliwell’s ingenuity produced the innovative lift-up `tilt-a-dor’. In reality he simply designed a space-saving door for a tricky block of land. His original wooden door, complete with a fashionable porthole window framed by an old bicycle wheel rim, opened inwards along curved tracks made from disposal aircraft parts, and was fully contained within the roof space. He later refined the design: springs replaced heavy concrete weights and the door swung up and outwards to provide more usable space inside. The original garage became a small factory, and the Tilt-a-dor joined the Hills Hoist and Mervyn Richardson’s Victa lawnmower in tapping the growing consumer market based on postwar suburbanisation.

Bypassed for promotion in the Frigidaire division of General Motors-Holden’s Ltd in 1950, Halliwell was sufficiently confident to resign and set up his own business. He bought American patents for other tilt-door systems, built a factory in 1955, outgrew it and built another in 1962. His brother Ian introduced the `magic button’ garage opener in 1956. Ultimately employing over one hundred staff directly, Tilt-a-Dor Pty Ltd manufactured the fittings but Halliwell’s innovation was to set up a network of independently owned sales and installation businesses, supported by extensive advertising.

A keen game fisherman and boat owner, Halliwell was also a foundation member of the Manly Civic Club and chairman of Seaforth Technical College. He died of myocardial infarction on 29 September 1983 at his Collaroy home and was cremated. His wife, their four daughters and two sons survived him. The business was sold in 1986 to B & D Doors (New South Wales), manufacturers of the `Roll-A-Door’, with whom he had maintained gentlemanly competition since 1956.

Select Bibliography

  • Manly Daily, 11 Mar 1978, p 11, 5 Oct 1983, p 5
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Oct 1983, p 11
  • series A9301, item 33711 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Warringah Council records
  • private information.

Citation details

Richard White, 'Halliwell, Keith (1916–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 September, 1916
Sunbury, Victoria, Australia


29 September, 1983 (aged 67)
Collaroy, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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