Noelene Lever had so many children in her house at one time that she'd sleep on the couch so they could take the "big bed".
What started as taking care of children "on loan" for friends or because their biological parents couldn't look after them resulted in the NSW woman looking after 50 kids.
The children included five who were her own, who she was left to care for as a widow at 38 when their father was killed in a car accident.
Ms Lever took her five kids to Sydney in 1976 so she could work in legal services but ended up working two jobs to support her family — and all the others she was about to take in. She also worked at the children's hospital on weekends.
"First off it was unofficial fostering, the kids wanted to bring their friends home who then wanted to stay," she told news.com.au.
"Some of the children didn't have safe homes to go back to, so the doors were always open for them.
"There was about eight at any given time and I would sleep on the couch if the kids needed the big bed. It didn't worry me, so long as they had a place to rest their head."
These are among the many reasons why Ms Lever was announced as Australia's Barnardos Mother of the Year 2018 this week.
Now 78, the Aboriginal woman has dedicated her life to caring for children from all walks of life.
One of those children is her foster daughter Sarina Kapeli, 39.
Ms Lever started caring for Sarina "on loan" when she was just two weeks old, but made sure she knew about her birth mother and family through stories and a journey to North Queensland to meet them.
Ms Lever met Sarina's mum, Jean, through her work in Sydney.
Jean asked Ms Lever if she wanted to go and see her newborn baby, and then ask the generous foster mother to care for Sarina for a few weeks.
Sarina has been by her side ever since.
At one point Jean even moved in to become part of the family, acting as another unofficial daughter of Ms Lever's until she moved back to North Queensland.
When Jean passed away, Sarina was only nine years old and stayed with the family she was growing up with.
Noelene now has 30 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren and just recently welcomed a great-great grandson.
With her mum still alive at 98 there are currently six generations in the family.
Ms Lever said she had always just done what she could to ensure her children were safe, loved and happy.
"Love doesn't cost anything, and the door never closes — even after they leave, it's still open," she said.
"We have all moved around but they are all in contact and we see each other when we can."
Now in its 23rd year, Barnardos Mother of the Year is the charity's flagship campaign and aims to drive a social movement around the importance of mothering.