By Rachel Hickingbotham
Travelling in a group of 21, when 16 of them are your own children is not for the faint-hearted.
Holidays for the Bonell family, Australia’s biggest, are usually short, sweet and on a tight budget, however earlier this year, Toowoomba parents Jeni and Ray Bonell surprised their kids with something extra special.
They called a family meeting around the dinner table – “Mum and I have some news”, announced Ray “anyone want to guess what it is?”.
Understandably, many of the children’s guesses were “a new little brother or sister” followed closely by hopes of a pet dog.
“First things first, Mum is not pregnant … sorry … and we are most definitely not getting a dog!”, Jeni announced in her family YouTube video.
The big news was that the couple had a holiday planned for their children. Everyone was invited including the eldest kids and their new babies.
Before long a total of 21 tickets were booked for Port Douglas with promises of a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.
“For most of us, this is the first time on a plane!”, Jeni said.
Jeni Bonell is used to juggling life with her big family.
Her number one tip for travelling with children “is to organise as much a possible before a holiday to make the most of the time away”.
For the Bonells this means lists upon lists.
“I am the Queen of Lists”, laughs Jeni. “I made lists of all of our bags and what was in each one”.
Each suitcase had a matching ribbon tied onto it and was well-labelled and numbered.
“We count the bags as they come off the airport carousel”.
Although the Bonell family packed as light as possible, they still had a mountain of luggage.
“I put a limit to 10 bags for the 21 of us. Two whole bags were just our 21 beach towels!”, explained Jeni.
When looking for places to stay, Jeni found searching online for accommodation that would house her entire family was very limiting.
“All of the online accommodation companies only allowed her to search for up to 6 children”.
That’s when booking.com came in.
“Booking.com was able to help us find enough space for us all. We booked 3 villas with 3 bedrooms each”.
The holiday involved two buses and one plane ride which sounds simple. Imagine that with a group of 21.
“Everyone had a buddy for the bus rides and the plane, so no-one got left behind”, explained Jeni.
It’s safe to say that no matter how organised you are, life will always throw curve balls. On their day trip to the reef, Jeni said that “9 of us found our sea-legs while 13 found sea-sickness bags”.
In all of her organising, Jeni admits “I forgot that some of the kids get motion sickness”.
Jeni is a caring mum but couldn’t help giggling when explaining the crazy sight of her and Ray bouncing around the boat on choppy seas assisting vomiting children.
“Having a big family eliminates your time to sweat the small stuff”.
Having a big family like this doesn’t happen by accident.
We were fascinated to hear that when Jeni was married at 19, she didn’t want kids. Her husband Ray, arguably Australia’s most persuasive partner, is one of 6 siblings and had his heart set on lots of children. He inspired his wife to try for one baby and, before long, Jeni was convincing Ray for a third child.
“I agreed to have one, maybe two kids, but it was actually me who asked for number three because I loved being a mum so much,” Jeni explained.
“It is not for everyone, but it feels right for us”.
Jeni’s love of being a mother grew with the birth of each child.
“Each and every child is a gift for us”.
Now at aged 50, Jeni and Ray have 16 children ranging from 5 to 30 and are more than happy to welcome more babies in their lives. These days they are fulfilling their craving for baby snuggles as grandparents since their two eldest children have had their first baby each.
“These days we have only 13 of them living at home and counting out that few dinner plates still doesn’t feel right”.
Jeni admits that all is right in her world when the entire family comes together for a Sunday roast and 21 plus plates are laid out.
The Bonell family shares a big part of their large family logistics on social media including an ongoing series of YouTube videos. Jeni’s inspirational rostering system to get their kids helping in their busy home plus tips on saving money by meal prepping are proving helpful to other families, big and small.
“We do not put up the posts about our lives to get attention, we do it to share and help others. As mothers we should build each other up not pull each other down”.
One of the ways Jeni does this is by starting her week by sharing motivational words. Just as she says, her family of 16 did not grow by accident and believes that “people don’t succeed by accident either. It takes standards, hard work, dedication, sacrifice and persistence”. Her children have learnt this and will carry these lessons throughout their entire lives.