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Sir Keith Douglas Morris (1908–1981)

by Helen Bennett

This article was published:

Sir Keith Douglas Morris (1908-1981), builder and businessman, was born on 13 December 1908 at West Maitland, New South Wales, fifth of seven children of Isaac Thomas William Morris, bricklayer, and his wife Lillian Mary Ann, née Browne, both born in New South Wales. Keith was educated at West Maitland Commercial High School and in about 1930 accompanied his family to Queensland, where he completed a bricklaying apprenticeship. He was an amateur wrestling champion. On 8 September 1934 at St Stephen’s Cathedral, Brisbane, he married with Catholic rites Elizabeth Clarice England, a clerk. That year he established a house-building business in Brisbane and, after being joined by his father and three brothers (all builders), won larger contracts, including Catholic churches and schools. He was president (1934) of the Brisbane Builders’ Association.

In 1939-45 the firm took advantage of wartime building and civil engineering projects. It grew rapidly in the postwar construction boom. The business was reorganised in 1950 as K. D. Morris & Sons Pty Ltd (builders) and Keith Morris Pty Ltd (trading); both became subsidiaries of Keith Morris Constructions Ltd in 1955. Among the significant projects undertaken during the 1950s were hospitals, railway workshops, a bulk sugar terminal and commercial high-rise buildings. In 1958 the company opened a branch office in Sydney.

An excellent networker, Morris diversified his business interests. From 1955 he was a director (chairman 1963-70) of Appleton Industries Ltd, the manufacturer of Naco products. He was founding chairman (1958-81) of Besser Vibrapac Masonry (Queensland) Ltd, known from 1968 as Besser (Q’ld) Ltd. The 1960s were a period of ‘spectacular growth’ for Keith Morris Constructions. Contracts included the Bribie Island Bridge, the first stage of the Sydney to Newcastle expressway, Commonwealth government offices in Canberra, and the 28-storey State Government Insurance Office in Brisbane.

Morris was interested in developing innovative building techniques. In 1958 he invented and patented a plastic support for steel rods used in reinforced concrete; it won a plastics industry award in 1959 and became an international standard. A foundation fellow (1951) of the Australian Institute of Builders (Australian Institute of Building from 1967), he was a president of its Queensland chapter (1958-60) and national president (1968-70). He encouraged training in the construction industry, and in 1957 established the Keith Morris bursary scheme for apprentices. President (1962-64) of the Queensland Master Builders’ Association, he helped to weld it into a powerful employers’ union; he was also the inaugural chairman (1972-74) of the Builders’ Registration Board of Queensland. He was chairman of the Plastics Institute of Australia, a councillor of the Australian Institute of Urban Studies (Queensland division), and a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building (Great Britain), of the Institute of Directors in Australia, and of the Australian Institute of Management. In 1972 the AIB honoured him with its medal and its past-president’s medal. That year he was appointed CBE.

A credit squeeze forced K. D. Morris Constructions into receivership in October 1974. Despite the bankruptcy, Morris retained a personal fortune, community respect, and his company directorships, including General Publishers Ltd (chairman 1973-79), United Packages Ltd (1973-81) and R.T.Z. Pillar Pacific Pty Ltd (Pillar Industries Pty Ltd) (1973-81). He was knighted in 1979. Among the numerous community organisations and charities that he supported were the South Queensland Prisoners’ Aid Society, Boys Town at Beaudesert, the Queensland Cancer Fund and the Spina Bifida Association of Queensland. He was a member of the Queensland Turf and Brisbane Amateur Turf clubs. In his spare time he enjoyed golf, reading, motoring and gardening. Survived by his wife and their three sons, Sir Keith died on 8 March 1981 in Brisbane and was buried in Mount Gravatt cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Notable Queenslanders 1975 (1976)
  • The Australian Institute of Building, Queensland Chapter (1977)
  • P. J. Tyler, To Provide a Joint Conscience (2001)
  • Queensland Master Builder, Jan 1980, p 7, Feb 1980, p 43, Mar 1981, p 7
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 20 Apr 1975, p 5
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 9 Mar 1981, p 2.

Citation details

Helen Bennett, 'Morris, Sir Keith Douglas (1908–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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