Selwyn Muru was born in Te Hapua, Tai Tokerau, and was educated at Northland College and Ardmore Teachers’ College where he obtained a New Zealand Trained Teacher’s Certificate. He taught at Matakana District High School in 1960 and Huiarau Primary School in Ruatahuna in 1961. In 1962 he began working as a full-time painter and was also a part-time Art Tutor at Mt Eden Prison and a professional pianist. From 1963-64 he was involved with the feature film Runaway as an actor, art director, adviser, composer, musician and set builder. Muru was a part-time lecturer in art at Victoria University’s Adult Education Department from From 1967-70 he was appointed Assistant to Head of Programmes at Radio New Zealand where he launched Te Puna Wai Kōrero, a weekly current affairs programme in English on Māori issues, and Te Reo o Te Pipiwharauroa, a weekly current affairs programme in Māori. After Wiremu Parker’s retirement, Muru reported and read the national weekly broadcast News in Māori, and from 1967-70 he helped script and narrate Māori programmes on the Looking at New Zealand weekly television series. From 1970-77 Muru was Radio New Zealand’s Programme Organiser for Māori and Pacific Island Programmes, Auckland. From 1977-79 he was National Cultural Affairs Consultant for the Department of Māori Affairs, was Arts Adviser to the Ministry of Works, Māori Affairs Representative on Historic Places Trust, and Māori Affairs Representative on the Planning Committee for South Pacific Arts Festival in Papua New Guinea.
Muru wrote editorials for The Dominion, Evening Post and the Listener, and wrote the first Māori language play to be broadcast on radio: Te Ohaki A Nihe (The Gift of Nihe. This was later adapted for television.
In 1973, along with Hone Tuwhare and Para Matchitt, he was one of the founders of the Māori Writers and Artists’ Association (Nga Puna Waihanga). He acted in Rowley Habib’s play Death of the Land (1978), and in Hone Tuwhare’s play On Ilka Moor B’aht ‘at. Muru also worked as a broadcaster and director of radio and television. In the 1980s he was a columnist for the Sunday Star. He writes plays for theatre and television and has written a film script, Milo Dobro Ehoa, concerning the Māori-Dalmatians relationship in Northland’s gumfields.
He has had an active involvement in television work, writing scripts, advising, reporting, producing documentaries.
In 1980 he was appointed Māori Adviser for General and Special Interest Programmes at Television New Zealand and was director/reporter for the television series Koha. In 1982 he wrote the stage play Get The Hell Home Boy which was performed at New Zealand Independent Theatre. In 1983 he helped to coordinate a symposium on Art and Drama with Don Selwyn at the Waiatarau Centre in Auckland. In 1984 he represented Māori at the first Pan Pacific Writers’ Conference at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and delivered three papers. In 1985 he wrote a second stage play The Gospel According To Taane which was staged at Mercury Theatre. From 1985-93 he was a consultant for Television New Zealand, part-time tutor at Te Taonga Films established by Don Selwyn and continued to exhibit his art work at a number of exhibitions. In 1986 he wrote, directed and produced The Mataatua Canoe Reunion, and was an adviser on the Māori episode of the television Legacy programme with Michael Noonan. In 1987 Muru, Don Selwyn and Brian Kirby established the first Māori Training Course for television and Muru tutored in scriptwriting, directing, editing and Māoritanga. In 1988 he wrote a regular column on Māori issues in the Sunday Star. In 1990 he was commissioned to write articles on Māori language and broadcasting for the New Zealand Geographic 1990 publication. In 1991 he was commissioned to write an article on Māoritanga for American international magazine Travel and Leisure. In 1991 he was invited by Northland Polytech to be their artist in residence and guest lecturer. In 1992 Muru was a guest speaker at the Australasian and Pacific Art Educators’ Conference in Auckland. From 1993-97 he has held dual Senior Lectureships at the University of Auckland as Senior Lecturer in Māori Whaikōrero and Senior Lecture/HOD of Contemporary Māori Art at the Elam School of Fine Arts. In 1993 he assisted Jane Campion to write the Māori part of The Piano. In 1997 he recorded audio tapes in English and Māori to accompany the Goldie exhibition at Auckland City Art Gallery which later toured Australasia.
He has exhibited his painting and sculptures in New Zealand and overseas. In 1995 he was invited by the National Art Gallery to represent New Zealand artists by exhibiting at the first International Biennale held in Johannesburg, South Africa, which celebrated the end of apartheid.
- Correspondence from Selwyn Muru, 9 Sept. 1998.
- Te Ao Mārama: Regaining Aotearoa: Māori Writers Speak Out. Comp. and ed. Witi Ihimaera. Contributing ed. Haare Williams, Irihapeti Ramsden and D. S. Long. Vol. 2: He Whakaatanga O Te Ao: The Reality. Auckland, N.Z.: Reed, 1993. 244.