Giulia Jones exudes an almost Zen-like calm as talks about being mum to six kids while also working as a local representative in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
"I really hate drama," she says, with a laugh.
The average household size in Australia is 2.53, but the Jones household in Duffy stands at eight while the Veikkanen household in Dickson boasts seven people. Not huge but enough to create their own special joys and challenges. So what does it mean to be raising an above-average family in a world of largely one or two-children families?
Giulia, the Liberal Member for Murrumbidgee and deputy leader of the Canberra Liberals, and her husband Bernard, an officer in the military, have six children. Felix is 15; Leo, 13; Nicolina, 11; Ambrose, 9; Maximus, 5; and Liliana, nearly 3. "It's a very loud household," she says, with a laugh.
Giulia is one of five children and Bernard is one of four. "I guess we always thought we'd be in that range, because we were happy with our childhoods. Basically, we liked being from a team. It's not for everyone and even I didn't know if I could handle it, but we just went one at a time," she says.
Giulia, 42, and Bernard, 44, run an organised household at home in Duffy. "The kids have their jobs and they only have to do one thing a day and it helps your workload," she says. The family is up by 6.30am to get the five older kids on the bus to school by 7.45am. "The older ones are fairly self-sufficient now. They even had their own alarms and get up by themselves and they're good."
Giulia often posts scenes of family life on her Facebook page, including of the fortnightly family shop stacked into the back of the car or school lunches with the kids' name on their own banana. The shopping is her domain.
"I go out to Costco. I buy 50 litres of long-life milk a fortnight. It's a bit like living on a farm and you go into town and you shop up for the month. We do sometimes run out of coffee beans or dog food so there are smaller trips but it's basically only for one or two things," she says.
"The trays with three dozen eggs - I'll buy four of them, so we always have eggs. I probably spend $800 or $900 a fortnight on food which, when you think about the number of people, is actually pretty good. Our meals are really formulaic, it's basically meat, vegetables and a carbohydrate."
I like to have a pattern to life that I can maintain. People might imagine a big household is crazy. It's not at all crazy. I do one thing at a time and keep it calm.Giulia Jones on raising a big family with her husband Bernard
Bernard does most of the cooking and picks up Liliana from daycare. They don't do many after-school activities and Giulia says that suits the children's temperaments. "I've got two cases of autism in the house, I've had anxiety issues among the kids so they were never going to be team sport people," she says.
"Swimming is important to us because for the whole summer holidays we go swimming, it's a way to get them tuckered out. Our neighbours have a big pool and let us use it whenever we want, which is incredible. We have the best neighbours. Or we go to Woden or the Cotter or Tuggeranong. So we have active mornings and relaxing afternoons. I like to have a pattern to life that I can maintain. People might imagine a big household is crazy. It's not at all crazy. I do one thing at a time and keep it calm."
They don't want to live by anyone else's expectations. Christmas is budgeted carefully. Birthdays are low-key. Eating cake at breakfast on your birthday has become a much-loved family tradition.
"You do have to slow things down. We can pare life right back and prioritise. The kids need to learn their reading, writing, maths. My kids have really high verbal communication skills, in this house, with all these big conversations going on. And I've realised as my family has grown, you can achieve things but it has to be done peacefully and calmly."
Giulia says being a working mum is a juggle but she considers herself fortunate. "I'm lucky that my job is incredibly flexible, except on sitting days," she says. "If I work back late, I can start a bit later the next morning. I do have control of my diary so it's very different to a nine-to-five workplace in that sense. I do a lot of evenings and on those days, I might start a bit later. I know what I have to do to last."
She and Bernard are a team. They met in Tasmania at university. "I've got the most amazing husband. I think the military guys are a bit underrated. My experience of them and my friends who are married to them is, 'Right, what needs to be done next?'."
And the couple makes sure to give each child special attention at some point. "The main thing is that they know you're putting effort into them and each child is valued. The downside of big families is that some children can get ignored or disappear. One of my children is quieter than the rest and I make a real effort to consider what he's up to, how he's going, otherwise, he's just the easy one. We have a big loungeroom for the kids but over the Christmas holidays I set up this little sitting room with just three chairs for me and Bernard and one of the kids and we can have an actual conversation."
Fiona and Adam Veikkanen, who run the Polo restaurant in the Polish White Eagle Club in Turner, both in their early 30s, have five children - three boys and two girls. Zebulon is 12; Bayar, 10; Horatio, 8; Waratah, 5; and Ushi, 3.
Adam, 34, and Fiona, 33, born and bred in Canberra, met when they were teenagers through boys brigade and girls brigade. They had a surprise backyard wedding more than 12 years ago. Both are from large families - each has five siblings - but the idea of having their own big brood was never actively discussed.
"Our first baby was a surprise baby when we were both still at art school and after that, we both loved having a lot of siblings growing up and we were open to that," Fiona says.
And they embrace standing out among their friends and acquaintances. "We're pretty much always the largest family of our group. But it's like an instant party, right?" she says, with a laugh.
Fiona studied sculpture at the ANU School of Art while Adam did drawing and printmaking. They started running the Polo restaurant as a stand-alone eatery in the Polish White Eagle Club in 2015. Adam is the chef while Fiona manages the business.
"It's pretty crazy. It's a combination of Adam and I sharing child-minding and Adam's mum also minds the youngest on a Thursday, so I can sort of catch up then," she says. "I do a lot of my work from home or driving around picking up ingredients with a couple of kids in the car or whatever. Or I'm answering phone calls while I'm pushing a child around on the swing. I think with working from home becoming more normalised, it's made my job easier. Like, I've been doing this for years - working remotely with a child in tow - but since last year [with COVID lockdowns], I can say, 'Actually, I'm working from home today' and people understand."
Fiona doesn't pretend she and Adam do it all alone. "It's also about having a village. My kids go to the local public school and other families help with driving the children around and it's really about having that sort of support system from other families. Not just take from them, but also contributing."
The family rents a three-bedroom home in Dickson. "The main challenge with having a larger family is the whole housing affordability thing. Sometimes I think we're never going to get there because how can your savings keep up with appreciation?" Fiona says. "Maybe we could afford a townhouse but how can you fit seven people in a townhouse? We have a big backyard in Dickson and we are so lucky with the location and we have the best neighbours. We'll enjoy it while we can."
Feeding and clothing the tribe is not as difficult as it might seem, with a bit of thrift and ingenuity. "I've always got a load of washing on the line. Clothes are expensive so I go to op shops. Also, the Buy Nothing Facebook page is amazing," she says. "It's about stocking up with things so the children grow into them. And I'm really good at mending clothes, that's another one of my hidden talents. With shopping, we can use the restaurant leftovers. We grow a fair few of our veggies. We go to ALDI and we have a subscription to a local farm produce box, which we get weekly. And because of the restaurant, we are used to cooking for large numbers."
Like Giulia and Bernard, Adam and Fiona share the load. "And it's not like one person has a specific role. We both contribute to everything," she says."Everyone has to help out, even the little ones. Everyone contributes."
Being relatively young with a large family has its benefits."With my first child, I had heaps of energy and my body just sprung back. I had my fifth child the day before I turned 30 and by then, I was thinking, 'I don't think I have the stamina for this'. And I was only 29," she says, laughing. "I do think we have more energy but at the same time, especially in the beginning, I really noticed that age gap. The other parents in the mothers' group would be 20 years older than me, so that was strange. These days, with my youngest, there's more parents of a similar age when I'm doing an activity with her."
Holidays are rare. "I set aside a small amount of money each week so we can go on holidays but it's definitely one of those things that can become really expensive, like accommodation. It's more like we'll go camping.
"Last year, we obviously didn't go anywhere which was handy because I spent the holiday fund on the dog when the dog was sick."
The kids get a big birthday every five years, when they turn five or 10. "That's still one big party every year [for one of the kids]. But as long as they get a cake and nice presents, I don't go crazy with birthday parties."
There is lots to love about having a big family.
"First of all, we have so much fun," Fiona says. "It's chaos but it's five times the fun and I have five people - six with Adam - who I really enjoy spending my time with.
"I really love each one of them."