Bonell family
Bonell family

For this family, there’s no such thing as isolation

THERE is no such thing as isolation for this Queensland family of 16, who relish being together during coronavirus lockdown - frustrating, heartwarming and funny moments and all.

The Toowoomba Bonell family still have 11 of their 16 children living at home, including Katelyn, 5, Damian, 8, Eric, 10, Rachel, 11, Nate, 12, Eve, 14, Brandon, 15, Tim, 17, Sabrina, 18, Cameron, 20 and Claire, 26.

"For others, having 11 kids in the house might be very chaotic but we are finding it remarkably quiet at times," mother Jeni Bonell said.

Jeni Bonell with eight of her children as they study around the kitchen table. Picture: David Martinelli
Jeni Bonell with eight of her children as they study around the kitchen table. Picture: David Martinelli


She said there was "no such thing as isolation" in their household, with "a lot of people" under one roof who usually all enjoy each others company.

"But it is very different not being able to let the kids visit friends or to go out whenever they like. The rules about social distancing are very important to follow but we have had to do some adjusting."

The coronavirus pandemic has seen frustrations, heartwarming moments and those of hilarity for Mrs Bonell, who says having her big family together is priceless during the crisis.

One extra chore has been the added washing and cleaning "to keep the germs at bay", she said.

"We've had so many people send us messages of encouragement and even had a lady anonymously donate a packet of toilet paper to our family because she wanted to help us," she said.


And when it comes to homeschooling, the kids still sit around the dining room table like any family would.

"This 'modified homeschooling' that we have been faced with is a new challenge," she said.

"Our kids really love school and they love their teachers so having to stay at home and away from school and their friends has presented a few issues but nothing we can't cope with. There is a lot of sharing of computers to make sure that our 8 youngest kids can complete everything they need to get done.

"So far the internet has been holding up, the real test will come once the Easter holidays are over and we launch into all of term 2's requirements."

Normally, the family spends about $600 per week on groceries, shopping a couple of times a week buying generic brands and "stockpiling" when Mrs Bonell can find a bargain.

"I have found the limits on grocery items very restrictive for our large family, forcing me to shop daily for some products like milk," she said.

"And the panic buyers/hoarders have made it extremely difficult for everyone to be able to buy what they need."

"I've encountered quite a few rude people in the shops and have had a lot of looks and comments made to me."


Ray Bonell reads to his children. Picture: David Martinelli
Ray Bonell reads to his children. Picture: David Martinelli


Mrs Bonell said people assumed their regular shop is actually panic buying.

"Common sense tells you that a family of our size is not going to be able to get through the week with just a couple of tins of soup or a few litres of milk, we need a minimum of 12 three-litre bottles of milk per week."

Joining forces with other "big family" mums, they called on supermarkets to lift the limits if they could prove how many mouths they have to feed.

"So far we've been told it's up to each store's manager to use their own discretion in making that decision," she said.

"I've also found that because we can't find generic/home brand products it's very much affecting our budget, because we are having to buy more expensive brands."


The key to normal family life for the Bonell's is routine, and during the pandemic this has become even more important as well as finding things to enjoy and ways to relax.

"It is a very worrying time and I want them [the children] to be aware of what's going on but I don't want them to feel stressed about it.

So we are still getting up at the same time and making our beds, having breakfast and getting dressed and ready for the day."

"There is so much joy to be found in having a big family but there are challenges too."

As a family, all living in the same house, they can all go as a group for a walk to the park, and father Ray takes the family in small groups for bike rides around the block.

"We have a lot of different types of personalities to get along with and we all learn a lot of patience and how to be kind to each other here.

"Big families are not for everyone and that's OK but it's perfect for us.

"We feel so blessed. And in times like this, the encouragement and support we get from each other is priceless."

Originally published as For this family, there's no such thing as isolation

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