John Lawrance spent 14 years in Victorian orphanages and suffered shocking abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for him.
The 62-year-old stepped out in Melbourne on Monday to protest for the first time with a small group on the steps of state parliament to highlight what he calls inaction by the Andrews government over a National Redress Scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse.
His mother died in a car accident in 1961 and his family was separated, he and his brother put into a nun's home first before being moved around various religious institutions.
He's decided to protest after a lifetime of battling alone because he believes his 44-year-old alcoholic brother's death was the result of abuse suffered in institutions.
"What I saw in those places was atrocious. The punishments to kids, a brother tucking you in at night and putting his hands down into the bed," Mr Lawrance told AAP.
"You've got a kid in the next bed saying 'please sir, don't do that'. The next minute you might hear a door opening and see a kid going in.
"You hold that in your head for a lifetime, you can never get rid of that."
Locked behind the walls of institutions, Mr Lawrance said he knew little of the outside world.
When he finally got out he was lost and tried to commit suicide before finding a path forward with music and starting a band, singing about his struggles.
The Care Leavers Australasia Network, who organised Monday's action, said the the federal government's opt-in national scheme "has given institutions an out" and, so far, not a single state government has committed to it.
"We couldn't have the choice to opt in for abuse. We have care leavers dying as we are sitting here, we've had two members die in three weeks. People deserve justice now," CLAN executive officer Leonie Sheedy said.
"My message for (Premier) Daniel Andrews is that successive Victorian governments were our legal guardians, it's time to show leadership and opt in and be the first state."
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.
Multicultural Mental Health Australia www.mmha.org.au.
Local Aboriginal Medical Service details available from www.bettertoknow.org.au/AMS
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).