At the beginning of World War 2 less than 2 per cent of Australia had been adequately mapped. As a consequence, an emergency mapping scheme was instigated in November 1940 and resulted in 80 per cent of Australia being covered by preliminary mapping by the end of the war. The inadequate mapping situation pre-war and the post-war national economic development need to have an adequate national geographic framework were considered at a conference of the Commonwealth Survey Committee and State Surveyors-General in January 1945. A recommendation from this conference to form a National Mapping Council (NMC) was approved by the commonwealth government in March 1945.
The NMC's role was to coordinate the national mapping activities of commonwealth and state government civilian and defence force mapping entities that comprised the council's membership. The NMC was initially chaired by Frederick Marshall Johnston, the Commonwealth Surveyor-General. Johnston assumed the coordination responsibilities of the newly created role of Director of National Mapping in addition to his other duties.
By 1947, national mapping coordination activities had grown to such an extent that Bruce Philip Lambert was appointed Deputy Director of National Mapping to head the National Mapping Section, Property and Survey Branch, Department of Interior. On 29 March 1949, following Johnston's retirement John Noble Core Rogers was promoted to Commonwealth Surveyor - General and Chief Commonwealth Property Officer as well as Director of National Mapping. In 1951,following a restructure of the Department of Interior, Rogers assumed the additional responsibility for the planning and development of the Australian Capital Territory and as a consequence Lambert became Director of National Mapping and replaced Rogers as chair of the NMC (Rogers continued as a council member until retirement as Surveyor-General in 1963). As a part of the 1951 departmental restructure, the National Mapping Section became the National Mapping Office.
The Division of National Mapping was created within the Department of National Development by Executive Council Minute of 2 August 1956 (Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 47 of 16 August 1956) and operated from 1 July that year. (Lambert continued as Director of National Mapping and chair of the NMC until retirement in 1977.)
The Division (and its earlier organizational forms) was a commonwealth government executive mapping agency and to that extent a distinct and separate entity from the National Mapping Council which was a national coordination forum. The Division was given responsibility for geodesy and medium and small scale topographic mapping required for commonwealth purposes, for coordinating these activities with those of the States, for making bathymetric and thematic maps of Australia and its territories, for providing technical advice on international maritime boundaries, for provision of an astronomical time service for Australia, for the sale of maps and air photographs and for the provision of reproduction material and digital data used in map making.
In the early 1960s National Mapping carried out part of the geodetic survey of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and followed up with topographic mapping. Other geodetic surveys were carried out in later years to improve and integrate the PNG geodetic network.
The late 1970s saw the development of remote sensing technology using satellite imagery. This capacity eventually led to the creation of the Australian Centre for Remote Sensing (ACRES) in 1986, within the Division to manage the data receiving station in Alice Springs, and to handle the processing and distribution of satellite imagery.
Under machinery of government changes in July 1987, the Division of National Mapping was amalgamated with the Australian Survey Office within the Department of Administrative Services. The amalgamated entity was called the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group (AUSLIG).
In September 2001, AUSLIG merged with Geoscience Australia to become the National Mapping Division within the then Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism.
National Mapping, together with its successors, has been the Australian government's key civilian mapping and land information agency. The contoured, 1:250 000 scale National Topographic Map Series (NTMS) relied on small scale aerial photography, photogrammetry, cartographic drafting and extensive field surveys and took more than two decades to complete. Since 1992, the 1:250 000 scale series has been progressively released as a digital GIS product, GEODATA, and updated using satellite and now digital aerial imagery and continues to evolve to meet 21st Century user requirements.