Olney was born in Nedlands and attended Perth Modern School and the University of Western Australia. He was admitted as a solicitor in 1957 and as a magistrate in 1965, being called to the bar in 1974. He became Queen's Counsel in 1980 and served as a Labor member of the Western Australian Legislative Council from 1980 to 1982. From 1982 to 1988 he was a Justice of the Supreme Court of Western Australia, moving to the Federal Court from 1988 to 2003. Between 2005 and 2011 he was an acting judge for the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. He was appointed Aboriginal Lands Commissioner in 2007.
- "Olney, Howard William". Who's Who in Australia. 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2011. (password required)
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