Temporary migration: transnational mobilities, big sisters, and social reproduction

A/Prof Robyn Mayes

Queensland University Of Technology


According to the Cultural Au Pair Association of Australia (CAPAA) au pair agencies in Australia are unable to meet the rising demand. The increasing use of au pairs in Australia is enabled through the Working Holiday Maker visa program. Under this program people between 18 and 30 years of age from designated countries visit Australia for 12 months and support themselves through short-term employment. Not surprisingly, this visa is criticised for providing a ‘back door’ supply of low paid workers to support the Australian economy. This paper presents an analysis of online narratives delineating the au pair ‘experience’ as presented by industry bodies and leading Australian au pair agencies. In doing so it delineates the ambivalent construction of the identity of the ‘au pair’ in Australia as both domestic worker and ‘big sister’. In particular, the analysis foregrounds attendant transnational spatial dynamics and experiences of ‘family life’. It highlights au pair work, not least in terms of the figure of the ‘big sister,’ as an important dimension of contemporary global care chains and contributes to understandings of the ongoing gendered and classed divisions informing the work of social reproduction.


Robyn Mayes is an Associate Professor at Queensland University of Technology. She has a long-standing interest in mobilities of work with recent publications on trailing wives, fly-in, fly-out families, and geographies of digital platform work (ARC Discovery). robyn.mayes@qut.edu.au


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

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