Objective. To examine the time, frequency and duration of each direct care activity conducted by personal carers in Australian residential aged care homes. Methods. A time-motion study was conducted to observe 46 personal carers at two high-care houses in two facilities (14 days at Site 1 and 16 days at Site 2). Twenty-three direct care activities were classified into eight categories for analysis. Results. Overall, a personal carer spent approximately 45% of their time on direct care, corresponding to 3.5 h in an 8-h daytime shift. The two sites had similar ratios of personal carers to residents, and each resident received 30 min of direct care. No significant differences between the two sites were found in the time spent on oral communication, personal hygiene and continence activities. Personal carers at Site 1 spent significantly less time on toileting and mobility activities than those at Site 2, but more time on lunch activity. Although oral communication took the longest time (2 h), it occurred concurrently with other activities (e.g. dressing) for 1.5 h. Conclusions. The findings provide information that may assist decision makers in managing the operation of highcare residential aged care facilities, such as planning for task allocation and staffing.