In 1977, during the height of an Australian summer, I remember coming home from my suburban Western Sydney High School to find the Granville rail disaster unfolding on my TV.

It was horrible, compelling coverage at a time when live television news was in its infancy.

The Blue Mountains train had derailed on its way to the city and brought down the Bold Street Bridge.

Passengers in parts of carriage three and four were crushed where they sat.

They were still under there hours after the crash, and I could just about feel the enormous weight on my own chest.

A total of 210 people survived and each year, on the anniversary of the crash, 83 roses are strewn for the dead from the new Bold Street Bridge on to the tracks.

Twenty-six years later in 2003, as the Granville anniversary day approached, I arrived for work in the ABC's Sydney Newsroom to learn I had a train crash to report on.

The carriages had left the tracks on a bend near Waterfall on the Southern Line. 

My colleague and close friend of 30 years, Nonee Walsh, commuted from the South Coast for work and would stay overnight in Sydney on occasion.

My first thought was: 'I hope she wasn’t on the train'. She was. 

Fear turned to relief on finding out she had already called the newsroom from the scene and, some time later, managed to make contact again with a borrowed mobile phone.

The reporter's instinct to remain objective is a strong force.

In spite of the shock and her injuries, Nonee had written a voice report on the accident to file but we both realised quickly that she was the story this time and she agreed to be interviewed as a witness.

Lest you think I'm callous, my first question, before the tape rolled, was whether she was OK.

Accepting that she was out of immediate danger, I got on with it, as she expected me to do.

As a result of her fortitude, ABC listeners were the first to hear an eyewitness account of what happened.

Nonee said she must have been dozing on her way back to the Illawarra when she realised something was wrong.

She woke to find the train going too fast as it approached the bend. Her carriage, at the back, ended up on its side.

She suffered a spinal injury, blacked out and was trapped by doors that refused to open.

Eventually she joined the walking wounded when rescuers helped her climb out of a carriage window they smashed with a large rock from the trackside.

Seven people, including the driver, died and 40 people suffered injuries. 

It later emerged the driver had had a heart attack causing him to slump on the controls, leading to a chain of events that ended in tragedy.

Nonee’s reports from the scene were recognised with a Walkley Award that year. 

Among the finalists was ABC colleague Alan Atkinson, who had found himself reporting on the bombings at Paddy’s Bar and the Sari Club while on a family holiday to Bali.

It's a mixed blessing to be awarded for filing on events like these.

Nonee and Alan were anything but lucky to be part of the story, but they dealt with the circumstances as they were trained to do and society benefitted from their insights.

I too, have been personally invested in news stories. 

As a teenager I remember watching the news in disbelief when, without notice, the wreckage of the light plane in which my grandmother disappeared 13 years earlier was dredged up from the bottom of a dam.

I remember taking a journalist to task when they upset my mother by phoning for her reaction the next day.  

Since becoming a reporter I’ve been on the other side many times. 

More recently I’ve called into work to break the news of the death of my colleagues, journalist Paul Lockyer, pilot Gary Ticehurst and cameraman John Bean in a helicopter crash.

On another early shift I remember my blood running cold when reporting on a fatal crash between a pleasure boat and a Sydney ferry.

When I’d finally taken a proper look at a front page photo I realised the victims were friends and acquaintances. A teenage girl my son had been with just the day before was among the missing. 

Like the emergency workers at the Waterfall crash, I got on with the job of informing the public, delaying the shock and reserving the grief for a time when I could reflect quietly on what had happened.

It is human nature to be fascinated by tragic events such as Waterfall, Bali and Granville. 

Rather than ghoulishness, we are compelled to witness and mull over the horrible, as a foil to our imaginations, which are often worse.  It is part of the way we cope.

The Day of the Roses, a TV docu-drama on the Granville rail disaster, was criticised as exploitative by some on its release in 2001.

Dead Man Brake, , at first seems a strange topic. 

On reflection it is full of dramatic possibilities around the human cost of the derailment.

In the end it is, I think, a valid way to explore, understand and make sense of that which we cannot change, but from which we can learn much.