By: Manal Al-Ani
As a multiculturalism officer at a secondary school in the regional Victorian city of Shepparton, the Iraqi-Australian is accustomed to celebrating the fusion and acceptance of different cultures.
It is a job that goes hand in hand with his love for gardening, a childhood passion that has blossomed since he arrived in Australia as a refugee from Iraq in 2009.
It’s the technique of grafting – which is the joining together of plant parts by means of tissue regeneration – that he has perfected since settling in his new country, and one that he was recently recognised with a Guinness World Record.
He was awarded the rare honour for having the most types of fruit on a single tree, by grafting five species and 10 varieties of fruit to a tree.
He says his five species was initially tied with Luis H. Carrasco of Chile, who held the record for more than 20 years.
However, Mr Al-Saraf says he pointed out to the Guinness judges that Carrasco’s entry had been incorrectly counted as closely-related nectarines and peaches were added as two separate fruits.
They agreed and awarded him the honour.
Mr Al-Saraf’s tree features yellow and white nectarines, yellow and white peaches, apricots, almonds, cherries, peachcots, golden and red plums.
It’s a hobby he picked up as a child in Iraq.
“Grafting has been my favourite hobby since my school days in Iraq. It started with me while I studied ‘cultivating basics’ as part of the then school curriculum,” he tells SBS Arabic24.
Each and every student was then required to come up with and implement a small gardening project to pass the subject. Mine was that of grafting.
“The project I initiated and implemented was to graft black and white figs into a single tree.”
Although he attempted to graft trees on a number of occasions in Iraq, it is in Australia that Mr Al-Saraf says he found his rhythm.
In Australia, “grafting took the largest part of my agricultural interest, which later turned into a great passion”.
So much so that each tree in his garden bears at least four different fruits.
He admits that he only applied for a Guinness record after a friend noticed his skill.
“One day, a friend of mine visited my home garden to see some grafted trees. She heard about an almond tree which I grafted using 12 different sprigs of fruit,” he says.
He says the friend “felt sorry” after hearing that Mr Al-Saraf had cut the tree down after its fruits attracted unwanted bird noise.
It was then that she encouraged him to contest for the record.
“[My friend’s suggestion] triggered that great idea of applying for a Guinness record in my mind.
“I started working mainly on grafting a tree with seventeen different fruits, but it ended up with only ten surviving fruits.”
The win has made headlines in Australia and overseas, and he’s humbled and delighted that many have dubbed his creation, a “tree of peaceful coexistence”.