Dubai: A British emissary who single-handedly mapped the original pre-United Arab Emirates borders of the Trucial States has died.
Julian Walker, a colourful envoy who put the UAE literally on the world map, died on July 7, aged 89, after a remarkable career spent in the diplomatic corps across a number of frontier corners of the Middle East from the middle of the 20th century.
British Ambassador to the UAE Patrick Moody tweeted shortly after Walker’s passing: “While driving from #AbuDhabi to #Ajman today I witnessed a part of Julian Walker’s lasting legacy. He was the architect of the #UAE‘s boundaries and borders. With his sad passing, we have lost an expert who truly understood this region.”
According to his UK obituary, Walker served in the British diplomatic service from 1952 to 1993 and served as British Ambassador to Yemen from 1979 to 1984 and to Qatar from 1984 to 1987.
He also served as British Consul-General in Dubai, the original small outpost which had served as his home office as he set out on his morning treks on foot or by Land Rover to con local landmarks, take his bearings and transcribe them into legible borders for future travellers.
But it was his work in the 1950s when Walker left his legacy for all time by demarcating the borders of the Trucial States, a collection of independent Shaikdoms partnered with the British Government by treaty in 1892, well before a young new UAE’s formation as an independent country on December 2, 1971.
In an exclusive interview in 2002 with Gulf News, Walker said the task of meticulously laying down the boundaries with pen and paper was extremely cumbersome because he had no official maps or documents to help guide him through the coastal, inland mountain regions of the UAE.
Before arriving in Abu Dhabi in 1953 when it had a population of only 3,000 people, Walker recounted: “I thought I was going to Bahrain and was looking forward to some golf and sailing. But, here I was in the Trucial States mapping the borders, a job not as easy as the British initially thought it would be. There were large areas of dispute and no maps, just naval charts and a map of Abu Dhabi made by Wilfred Thesiger during his travels.”
He then quickly went to work at hand, rolling up his sleeves and conjuring up the tools needed to map a wild desert.
“I purloined the largest paper available on the coast from the oil company accountant, took names from any knowledgeable local tribesman I met and with the help of my compass, my Land Rover milometer and the back of my fountain pen, plotted them (frontiers) on the paper,” he said.
Walker rolled into the desert to ask Bedu tribesmen, their leaders and the rulers to help him understand where their frontier lines were.
“I would then map the line and the place around their claim. I would then meet another ruler who had a different interpretation and I would map the area around their idea of where the frontier line should be,” he said.
“Once the Fujairah Ruler had to rescue me and another time entering Wahalah, south of the Oman border, I just walked up alone into the tribe without my Land Rover or guide to get their confidence and that I meant no harm.”
One funny recollection by Walker involved the time he met a group of men deep in the desert who had never seen a car and asked him if his Land Rover was male or female and whether they could feed it.
He ended his mapping exploration sorties with nothing but respect for the Bedouin tribes.
“One way this place is home. I’ve known the difficulties and suffering the older people have gone through. Be it the Qubaisi, the Rumaithi, the Mausir or the Awamir (where Thesiger’s friends came from) tribes who are all big names now,” he said.
Walker, who penned a booked entitled ‘Tyro on the Trucial Coast’ recounting his experiences, said that he had essentially completed his mapping Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman and Fujairah emirates by the spring of 1957 and in the early 1960s, his 31 hand-drawn maps were used to create proper formal maps by British Foreign Office for government use.