Love & Family

Aussie super mum: I’ve got 16 kids… and counting!

They're one of Australia's biggest families

When Jeni met Ray Bonell and fell in love, she was adamant she never wanted any children.

Now, more than 30 years on, they are proud parents to 16 kids and haven’t ruled out the possibility of having more.

Recently Jeni Bonell, 50, took time out of her very busy schedule to tell us what it’s like about being part of one of Australia’s biggest families…

Looking around the dinner table, I felt truly blessed.

With 18 seats in the dining room, there were a lot of hungry mouths to feed.

But as parents to 16 beautiful children, my husband, Ray, 51, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Meeting at a club over 30 years ago, I hadn’t been looking for love. But I was instantly swept up by Ray’s sense of humour.

One of six children himself, he always dreamed of having a big family. ‘I’d like to have at least four kids,’ he admitted.

‘You’re nuts,’ I laughed, adamant I’d never want any.

Meeting his family for the first time, I felt like my head was spinning.

How am I meant to remember all of their names? I fretted.

When Ray proposed a few months later I was over the moon. And soon he convinced me how much joy having a family would bring.

‘I’ll meet you in the middle and have two kids,’ I joked.

Incredibly, in September 1989, we welcomed our first son, Jesse. Then 16 months later, our girl Brooke arrived.

Though I’d never planned on becoming a mum, it turned out to be the best job I could’ve asked for.

Supplied
My husband Ray and me (Credit: Supplied)

Watching my kids grow and play together was such a special reward.

‘How about we try for number three?’ I asked Ray one day.

We both loved being parents and with Ray’s steady income as an electrician, we were confident we could provide for our growing family. Plus, I enjoyed being a homemaker.

So, in July 1993, our daughter Claire made her entrance into the world, followed by Natalie 18 months later. But we still had more love to give.

Sadly, during my fifth pregnancy I suffered a miscarriage.

Every child we are gifted with is a blessing, I realised. So we decided we’d stop only when nature forced us to.

In the years since, we’ve also welcomed Karl, 23, Samuel, 21, Cameron, 19, Sabrina, 18, Tim, 17, Brandon, 15, Eve, 13, Nate, 12, Rachel, 11, Eric, nine, Damian, eight and Katelyn, five.

And although I’m 50, I haven’t ruled out having more.

Supplied
Now I love being a grandmother (Credit: Supplied)

While five of our brood have now flown the coop, we still have 11 children to look after. We’ve also welcomed two gorgeous grandkids who we love having over too.

With so many children, we have to stick to a tight schedule to make sure we’re out the door on time.

Waking at 5am each day, we ensure each kid is dressed, has brushed their teeth and finished breakfast, before loading them into our 16-seater bus ready for school.

During the day, I’ll spend my time sorting through washing and pre-planning our meals for the week.

When I go shopping, I usually end up pushing two trolleys. Though I do get a few strange glances, I tend to stock up when things are on sale and store it in our two deep freezers at home.

Bulk-buying items such as bread, milk, washing powder and cereal, I spend about $600 a week.

At night, some of the older kids and I prepare dinner, and afterwards we’ll sit down to work on homework together.

While Ray is good at maths and science, I prefer to assist with the more creative subjects like English and art.

And it’s great to watch the older kids helping out their younger siblings when they get stuck.

With so many people living under one roof, different personalities can sometimes clash. But our kids are all such good friends they barely fight.

‘There’s no time for grudges or fighting in this house,’ I say.

Supplied
Meal times are very busy (Credit: Supplied)

While we live quite comfortably and don’t rely on government benefits, we’ve learned to prioritise what’s important when it comes to spending money.

Rather than splashing cash at the cinema, we have our own movie night at home and often gather for a family picnic at the local park.

When we’ve been on holidays in the past, it was always more practical to drive to our destinations.

But recently, we organised a trip away to Port Douglas through travel company booking.com, who helped to make it a stress-free getaway.

With 21 family members, including our children’s partners, we filled up three whole villas at the resort.

For many of us, it was the first time ever on a plane.

Taking time out of our busy lives together was such a treat and it really helped
us to focus on making precious memories.

When I talk to people about how we manage, they always ask how much coffee I drink to get through each day. But the truth is, I don’t have any caffeine – I simply thrive on love.

While having a big family certainly isn’t for everyone, we feel so grateful to have
16 happy and healthy kids.

And if we were lucky enough to have a 17th, that would be the biggest blessing of all!

Related stories