Narelle Oliver grew up in Toowoomba, Queensland, in a family that keenly pursued the visual arts, especially photography, drawing and painting. Her mother was an artist and her father a photographer.While studying for a Bachelor of Education degree, Oliver majored in design and printmaking and became interested in children's picture books. She spent seven years teaching at the Queensland School for the Deaf. Oliver tutored in language and children's literature courses at the University of Southern Queensland, before beginning her first picture book Leaf Tail (1989) about a lizard, set in the Queensland rainforest.
Oliver's keen interest in nature and conservation inspired the natural environment settings for many of her books. Her linocut prints, hand coloured with watercolour, ink and pastel, are a feature of her award-winning illustrations. The original illustrations from her picture books have been exhibited in galleries in a number of Australian states.
Oliver's publications include Baby Bilby, Where Do You Sleep? (2001), set in the desert, The Hunt (1997) and The Best Beak in Boonaroo Bay (1994) which was based on her observation of the teeming birdlife of a mangrove swamp in Queensland. She also collaborated with Gary Crew (The Well, 1996) and Mark Svendsen (The Bunyip and the Night, 1994), to produce illustrations for these books.