In this case it was a truly tragic situation of a man dying after falling three floors in a Westfield car park. This headline read "Man dies after falling from third level of Westfield shopping centre carpark". My first concern was for someone local as I live near Westfield Doncaster, but in this case it was Westfield Parramatta. How weird I thought. Even such a powerful and emotional headline trips me up with what I consider is probably a secondary spelling. The spelling had got in the way of the message.
So which is the correct spelling? The preferred spelling in Australia is using two words or car park. The single word variation carpark is a secondary spelling variation.
To check the ratio of usage in Australia I now use my search engine (www.advancedsearch.com.au/SearchAustralia/) which only includes sites with domains ending in .au and selected Australian sites. I enclose each spelling variation in double quotes which then returns the number of pages found by Google. In this case the numbers were:
car park - 1.9 million
carpark - 484,000
The Macquarie dictionary has car park as the header word (the entry) and carpark in that entry as an Also spelling. That is, carpark is a secondary spelling. The Oxford dictionary does not have a separate headword and only includes car park as part of the definition for car. The Oxford does not list carpark as a spelling.
The problem with dictionaries is they document usage which doesn't help us to know what most people would normally consider to be the correct spelling. Both spelling variations are considered correct by the dictionaries, as years ago dictionaries across the world decided to stop be prescriptive (telling us how to spell) to being descriptive (documenting how we spell). That doesn't really help people who simply wish to use the best spelling option.
If you were writing for an audience you could expect 80% would be expecting the spelling car park and around 20% carpark. In my opinion it is best to write using the spelling the majority of people use and that way it is considered correct by the majority of people. Far easier to argue your case if someone then challenges your spelling, who may themselves prefer the secondary spelling.
Making it easier to Australians to know the preferred Australian English spelling.